A Summer’s End – Hong Kong 1986 is the debut LGBTQ positive yuri visual novel developed by indie game studio Oracle and Bone. Follow the story of Michelle and Sam, and how their chance meeting evolves into a deeper relationship. Taking us through the various stages of their relationship—from their first fateful encounter to the confusion and joy of falling in love. Set in vibrant Hong Kong in the year 1986, it is an original story about love, family, and culture. Inspired by Hong Kong cinema and 80’s anime, A Summer’s End – Hong Kong 1986 is loving homage to one of the most memorable periods of time.
A Summer’s End – Hong Kong 1986 follows Michelle, a young professional living in Hong Kong. She has lived a relatively sheltered life, thanks in part to her conservative mother, and her life is little more than a routine of home, work, and back again. She is content with her life and one day knows she will marry a suitable man and settle into a perfectly acceptable life as a wife and mother—but fate has other plans. One day, while on her way into the office she breaks a heal and has to pay a visit to a cobbler in Mong Kok. There she meets Sam, a free-spirited woman who runs a video shop and despite their vastly different world views, there is a spark between the two women that can’t be ignored. As their relationship progresses, Michelle is forced to confront the notion that her feelings for Sam are not completely platonic and she struggles to come to reconcile her newfound feelings with her traditional upbringing.
Michelle and Sam have very little in common and yet it is this curiosity about one another that fuels their relationship—long late night chats and more than a few casual encounters. But, there is an unmistakable attraction between the two women that pulls them closer together until it is impossible to deny that there is something there. The freedom Sam offers is attractive to Michelle who up until this point has been going through the motions of life—never deviating from the plan her mother and tradition has set out for her. While A Summer’s End is a romance story, it’s more a coming of age story about seeking identity in a rapidly changing world where tradition and culture collide with more progressive social norms.
In fact, most of the conflict of the story comes not from an external force (though there are many obstacles Michelle and Sam must face as a same sex couple), but from Michelle herself, as she struggles to come to terms with her feelings and what that means for her life moving forward. Being with Sam throws a wrench in all of Michelle’s carefully laid plans for her life and emotional toll this causes for her throughout is painfully honest. I am used to games that create drama for the sake of drama, and while Michelle’s hesitance with pursuing a relationship with Sam can be frustrating—I kept wanting her to just choose Sam and be done with it—but, it isn’t a simple choice.
Choosing to be with Sam isn’t something that Michelle can just jump headfirst into she has her family, her tradition, her work, her life to consider and I think Oracle and Bone did a great job of showing just how much Michelle would be “giving up” by choosing to enter into a relationship with Sam. I say giving up, but what I really mean is coming into her own, because it is only after she meets Sam that Michelle begins to really grow as a character.
Even Sam, who is initially portrayed as this unconventional free spirit has experienced her fair share of hardships for living her truth. There is a brief POV section midway through the game that gives us a peek into Sam’s life—both before and after meeting Michelle—and my only complaint is that it isn’t longer! A Summer’s End – Hong Kong 1986 is very much Michelle’s story, but in having Sam’s perspective, you get more insight into her world—something straight laced Michelle isn’t privy to at this point in the story. It’s almost as if we’re pulling back the veil and getting a really good look at Sam, a character that has been a bit of a mystery for both the reader and Michelle—and I want MORE!
Speaking of more… A Summer’s End has an optional adult content patch that adds in two intimate scenes between Michelle and Sam. I highly recommend activating because one, these scenes are super spicy and two, they add a depth to the budding relationship between Sam and Michelle that I think players will miss out on without them. But, the story stands on its own without the sex scenes, so if you aren’t comfortable with that type of content you can opt out without sacrificing the story.
I am not well versed on Chinese culture or the Asian LGBTQIA community—so these are the observations of the uninformed. But I did notice that the characters seemed to dance around some topics, which adds a bit of tension to some scenes, there are moments when Sam and Michelle outright refuse to discuss their feelings for one another, even though it is painfully obvious that they’re becoming more than friends. A perfect example of this is after Sam and Michelle kiss, they spend an entire day together and while it is definitely on both of their minds, THEY NEVER TALK ABOUT WHAT HAPPENS! Michelle doesn’t confront Sam about it. Sam doesn’t press Michelle to talk about how it made her feel… nothing! It isn’t even addressed.
The same thing happens with Michelle and her mother, on one hand she loves and respects her mother, but she is clearly crumbling under the strain of her filial obligations. Her mother is strict, not malicious and her “tough love” approach can be a bit jarring for some folks, and there were moments when her mother’s words were eerily similar to things my own mother had said to me growing up…so, I could relate to Michelle. She has done everything expected of her and yet, she is unfulfilled, but she is willing to sacrifice her own happiness for the acceptance of her family. And it is this intersectionality of family, culture, changing social norms, and individuality that serves as the lifeblood of A Summer’s End. This is a snapshot of a transitional period of time following characters that are on the cusp of a new beginning.
Generally speaking I’m not a fan of yuri visual novels but, I am a fan of good, emotionally engaging stories—and A Summer’s End – Hong Kong 1986 has that in spades. I was originally drawn in by the gorgeous art work and 80’s aesthetic—and God is this game beautiful to look at—but, beneath the sleek style is a emotionally engaging story that will stay with you long after finishing it. A Summer’s End – Hong Kong 1986 is a strong debut title from Oracle and Bone and I can’t wait to see what else they have in store for us in the future.
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