A Summer’s End - Hong Kong 1986 is a beautiful-looking visual novel set in Hong Kong a decade before its handover to China.
You play as Michelle (that’s Cheung Fong Ha’s “English name”), a prim and proper young lady with a good job who lives with her mother. She meets Sam (Wong Ka Yan) who seems to be her polar opposite.
It is a beautifully drawn story of friendship and love with fantastic music and that magical 80’s vibe shown through Hong Kong’s lens. It is also a tale of uncertainties — about the future of the protagonist as well as the entire country. With something ending and something else beginning, the atmosphere is absolutely palpable.
Unfortunately, the writing (and occasionally the pacing too) doesn’t quite reach the heights set by everything else.
I feel horrible mentioning this (especially as a non-native English speaker), but the word order sometimes feels off, the descriptions are too mechanical and the overall effect is bland — even when there’s something exciting happening. This may be a language barrier or even a completely intentional stylistic choice that I simply did not get.
Either way, combined with the first ten minutes where there’s virtually no dialogue or interactivity of any kind, I was ready to give up.
I’m incredibly glad that I didn’t, though. The pace picks up, the stuffy Michelle is put against the wild Sam and her father (whom I’ve got a massive crush on) and everything gets going. At its heart, A Summer’s End is a romantic movie with familiar twists and contrivances, but it is a wonderful one.
The Hong Kong 80’s setting gives it a fantastic vibe.
I love learning about other cultures and the contrast of the English-speaking world and China is amazing. You get to see the strict upbringing of Michelle’s mother as well as the carefree but sometimes tragically, painfully absent attitude of Sam’s dad and the other men around her. You’ll hear people worrying about the handover and wondering whether to emigrate to the US, move to the mainland or just stay where they are.
The whole "English name" thing was fascinating to learn about. I’ve seen Chinese people use a name like "Joe" for their English-speaking colleagues, but I hadn’t realised it ran more deeply than just an ad-hoc moniker. It is a name you choose for yourself with all that entails.
All this is of course put against the backdrop of the Hong Kong protests of the present.
In the end, I’ve really enjoyed the game. The atmosphere is absolutely amazing, it’s got wonderful characters and a great story. Bittersweet, but hopeful.
The game is definitely worth playing, although I wish the writing had an extra editing pass. But looking at the screenshots a few months later, I feel longing and nostalgia above everything else.