A Year of Springs is a collection of three visual novels for the Nintendo Switch. It may look cute and cartoony (and it is), but this series of short stories is full of character, emotion, and heart.
I didn’t read the synopsis before beginning my journey into A Year of Springs and was genuinely surprised by the depth offered by this simple-looking title. The game touches on some powerful issues, particularly when focussed in a country like Japan. Topics like transgenderism and same-sex marriage are discussed sincerely, and it’s eye-opening to see how the related laws differ from those in my own country, and the impact they have on people’s lives.
The game features three short stories, each centered around one of three female characters, Haro, Erika and Manami. Most of your time is spent simply reading, with static characters and backgrounds, which change depending on the current scene. Occasionally, you’re asked to make a decision, a little like a choose-your-own adventure book. These can strongly impact the ending, so there’s plenty of room for replay.
In terms of gameplay, A Year of Springs is an excellent example of how to create a great visual novel, with simple controls and many options to allow players to enjoy the experience in their own way. For example, you can adjust the text speed, use a button or a touchscreen, and easily skip back if you missed something. You can even set the text to automatically change for you, so you can sit back and relax while the drama unfolds.
The stories continue on from each other, so the entire set feels like three episodes of a good Netflix series. And we know how addictive those can be! When I finished each tale, there was a strong desire to continue the story with “one more episode”, and I finished all three – and the bonus epilogue – in one sitting, which took about two hours.
A Year of Springs features a super-cute aesthetic that I really enjoyed. The art style is colorful in a soft, pastel way, with cartoon characters whose 2D depictions betray their deep personas. The music matches this sentiment, with twinkly pianos in the background that suit the game extremely well. The overall theme presents a polished yet simple style to create a relaxing atmosphere, so you can delve into these characters’ lives without distraction.
The stories are well written, both emotionally and grammatically. Visual novels rely heavily on text as a main feature, meaning attention to detail is key. A Year of Springs doesn’t miss a beat, with the perfect amount of on-screen text – you won’t suffer from tired eyes here. I didn’t spot any typos, either.
But it’s the story that makes you think and feel, and this is where the game shines extra brightly. The characters are well developed and there’s a nice mix of settings and styles, including phone calls and text messages. At times, I found myself laughing, while at other times there were tears. Even though I can relate to some of the issues discussed in these stories, the topics are presented in a non-threatening way that makes them accessible to almost anyone – it’s about experiencing the journey of these three young women from their perspectives. It’s obvious the developer – npckc, who also translated the game into English – has put a lot of time and care into this title.
Overall, A Year of Springs is the heartfelt story of three young women in Japan, facing issues with love, friendship, and gender. It’s cute yet compelling and highly recommended.