sweet pool

Content warnings: This is an 18+ game intended solely for an adult audience. It contains extreme, dark content, and is sometimes presented in a way that excuses or romanticizes abusive behaviors. sweet pool contains content including, but not limited to: body horror, gore, sexual abuse, rape, religious themes, forced/unwanted pregnancy, self-harm, disordered eating, suicide, cannibalism, and possibly more that I'm not aware of.


[Intro] [First Impressions] [Zenya's Ending] [Makoto's Ending] [Diving Deep]


"It's not romance. It's not even love. It's something much, much deeper..."
- official game tagline. notice the "not a romance" part?? keep that in mind.


"While sweet pool is definitely a tough sell, with a very dark storyline and a foot in several niche genres, it also deserves recognition for its terrifying depictions of consent, uterine anxieties, and puberty in horror games — even if it trips and falls at the finish line."
- Except from a review of the game by Vrai Kaiser

sweet pool is a Nitro+Chiral BL game first released in 2008. It was the company's second release overall, following 2005's Togainu no Chi. Whenever I think about that fact, I always find myself amazed that they would take such a huge risk so early in their company's existence; but I guess it paid off, since people are still talking about this game to this day. In fact, when JAST Blue first began translating Nitro+Chiral's games into English, they picked sweet pool as their first release, beating out the company's 2012 breakout hit Dramatical Murder.

sweet pool has a lot in common with Saya no Uta, a classic and somewhat infamous game released several years earlier by N+C's parent company, Nitroplus. Both games contain shocking, gory content, and are often touted simply for the level of shock or 'fucked-up-ness' they can induce in the viewer. While there's definitely an audience for media like that, sweet pool and Saya also leave the viewer with a lot to think about, which I think is why the games have continued to stay in the public conscience instead of fading away into schlocky obscurity.

I've wanted to play sweet pool for a long time. I actually attempted it once before, quite a few years ago, when I was wildly unprepared for the game in terms of both maturity and 'ability to deal with yucky stuff'. I'm honestly pretty glad I didn't play it when I was younger. I want to treat the game and its themes with a level of respect that I wouldn't have been able to dredge up as a kid.

I bought the game on sale from JAST Blue, and I hope to start playing it soon. Since I played Saya and found it really provoking, I hope that sweet pool will also be an interesting experience. I think it's been on my mind moreso than usual because of its themes of bodily autonomy - or, rather, lack thereof. The threat of unknown men controlling Youji's body and his reproductive system has always been a terrifying thought, but its timeliness with current events is what finally gave me the push to buy the game and see what I think about it. I plan to write an overall review of it here much like I did with Saya.


07/18/22: JAST Quality Control is My Enemy

This game has given me an absolutely unbelievable headache. I'm not talking about the content; I'm talking about the actual launcher and game. I have to get this out of the way before I start talking about the gameplay itself because it was the most frustrating thing on earth.

I bought the game around two weeks ago, and have been unable to truly play it until today. The game - specifically the version with the 18+ patch, I believe - has a deadly game-breaking glitch that made me madder than I have ever been at a video game before. Namely, it decided to crash at every single choice selection screen. Also, it crashed whenever I tried to load my save files to sneak around the choice selections.

I reached out to technical support, and they replied promptly and were courteous and helpful, but they weren't able to solve my problem. After a grand total of about 5-6 hours of fucking around with the first twenty minutes of gameplay, I was finally able to get the damn thing to work... by running it as an administrator in Windows 95 compatability mode with graphics quality lowered and a resolution of 800x600. This is the only way I can get through the choice screens without the game freezing. It was a hellish debacle, but I can finally play it, and I am so grateful to be done with that whole process. Okay, now, let's get started with my thoughts on the actual game.


07/18/22 Part 2: First Impressions and Backstory

Let's talk a little about the actual plot of this game, shall we?

sweet pool's story follows Youji Sakiyama, a pensive and quiet young man who attends a Catholic high school. Youji has recently returned to school after being held back a year due to his poor health, an issue he's had since childhood. Feeling isolated and alienated from his peers, Youji spends most of his time around others with his cheerful and energetic friend Makoto Mita. The other key players in this story are Zenya Okinaga, an unpredictable and disquieting student who skips class and does as he pleases, and Tetsuo Shironuma, whose stoic and cold demeanor fills Youji with a sense of dread he can't quite place.

(From left to right: Makoto, Tetsuo, and Zenya.)

While navigating his own anxieties and discomforts about his health and education, Youji is seemingly confronted by Tetsuo and Zenya everywhere he goes, no matter how much he tries to avoid them. At the same time, Youji has been struggling with confusing changes to his body. He fights through nausea, hallucinations, and periods of intense lust, without any rhyme or reason. These stressful symptoms culminate when he inexplicably begins producing lumps of living flesh from inside his body. This is the core of sweet pool's story, and it only grows more confusing and alarming from this point. Get your mpreg and omegaverse jokes out of the way now so you can carry on (if you even want to!) - those are indeed heavy themes in this game.

I am a little bit over 4 hours into the game in my first playthrough. There are six possible endings in sweet pool, with some of them unlocked only after finishing certain other endings. The recommended play order I found - and am sticking to - is as follows: Zenya, Makoto, 'Diving Deep', 'Red Road', and then two distinct versions of an ending called 'Miracles May'. Zenya and Makoto each only have one ending, while the other four are Tetsuo's. As you play, your choices are presented only as 'reason' (blue) or 'instinct' (red), with no explanation - these are your only tools to control Youji's behavior. I'm using spoiler-free walkthroughs that tell me which choices to make in order to guarantee each ending.

The first thing that really stood out to me in this game was the soundtrack. It's really exemplary. Even the calm songs that play in the slice of life scenes carry a sense of forboding, and it's only amplified when Youji is actually threatened or anxious. The tracks are really evocative, at least to me. I was super impressed.

Scene 02 - a 'peaceful' song with forboding beats underneath. it gives you a sense of melancholy and hints to something larger looming ahead.

Strain 01 - anxiety time! a low, synthetic riff with screeching sounds interspersed. it grows more frantic and metallic as it goes on.

Onto the characters - Youji is extremely sympathetic as a protagonist. The game is written in third person, and we get glimpses into other scenes with characters besides him, but this really is his story. He's a lonely, perpetually on-the-edge young man who wants to avoid burdening others with his problems, yet aches for connection simply to make his life easier. He always seems to do or say the wrong thing to make his classmates look at him the wrong way, and it continuously weighs on him. He has an older sister who occassionally checks in on him, but he is acutely aware of the fact that she's living her own life and doesn't want to get in her way.

His listlessness, stress, and pain - unfortunately - lay the groundwork for this story. This is the 'Youji has a terrible day' game from beginning to end. The writing grants weight to all of his feelings. It never feels like a 'oh, woe is me' moment - even when the circumstances become suspension-of-belief levels of unlucky for him, or he finds himself laying awake at night over something miniscule, it's presented without painting him as weak, even if Youji himself feels that way. Players who have experienced depression or anxiety, disordered eating, health issues, or even just normal menstruation will probably relate heavily to him, which is why I think he's a very effective vessel for this story.

Makoto, Youji's cheerful friend, serves a few purposes in the game simultaenously. He's a means of exposition in many cases, a friend and confidant for Youji, and also a source of comic relief for the narrative. He's extremely charming, in a really goofy way. His voice actor really knocked it out of the park - I chuckled out loud at quite a few of his deliveries. He seems almost one-note for quite a while, until we get some insight into how he sees things and how he acts when he isn't around Youji. I'm interested to see what else he has to offer as his own character.

Zenya is... a character, alright! Jokes aside, he's extremely interesting. He purposefully drives people away from him, and enjoys being as difficult and odd as possible. He can often be found holding onto the gates of the school and shaking them wildly, screaming just for the hell of it. There isn't a single person in school who wants to be near him. His circle of acquaintances consists of his bodyguard-slash-family servant, Kitani, who pledged his loyalty to the Okinaga family when Zenya's father was still a member of the yakuza, and Kristi, Zenya's pet iguana. Zenya's father is extremely religious, and also suffers from senility and loss of himself, which makes for a very tense household between the two of them.

(Kristi is here just to help break up the text. Don't worry, there's nothing unsettling going on in the uncropped image, I promise.)

Zenya has a hair-trigger temper, and he's also the only one who knows about Youji's condition. He's extremely interested in it, to be precise, and sets his sights on Youji much like an animal sets its sights on its prey. Zenya is operating on a higher narrative importance than any other character, it seems - the one doomed to know the truth, and to realize the stupidity of it all, accounting for his absurd and potentially nihilistic behavior. It's very hard to tell what his actual motivations are, but he believes that he is the only one worthy of Youji's attention and the strange things happening inside his body.

That just leaves Tetsuo. Tetsuo is a strange character, in the fact that I... actively dislike him. I truly do think that this is purposeful; I think Tetsuo really needs all of those four seperate endings for the player to crack open his cold shell and see what kind of person he really is. Tetsuo, on his own, is nothing special; he's quiet, scary, is often left on his own, and yet people are sort of amazed by him. The part that makes me dislike him is how much Youji dislikes him. Youji is constantly terrified and upset around him, and it's very hard for me to ignore those sentiments.

Tetsuo, at this point in the game, really has no personality. He clearly has a connection with Youji, yet no other character knows what it is. It's possible that even he doesn't know what it is. I don't think that he's malicious, but so far his actions haven't made any sort of impression on me like the other characters have. Tetsuo really only exists - so far -  to be an object of fear and lust to Youji, because we don't know anything about him besides how Youji and the other characters view him. There's only rumor and hearsay; the real Tetsuo is still waiting to be found, somewhere at the end of this game.

Also, I'd just like to add one thing here while I'm discussing the main characters: All three of the other main characters assault or attempt to assault Youji at least once throughout the game. I do not excuse this behavior in any way, but due to the type of game this is, I kind of have to 'gloss over' it if I want to talk about the characters in terms of personality and writing. Just because I talk about liking a character or I seem to minimize this part of the plot, it's not my intention. I just want to make sure that it doesn't sound like I'm ignoring this huge red flag that every character shares.

07/25/22: Zenya and Makoto's Endings
(This is probably a good time to mention that this game doesn't have any 'good' endings, just 'not as bad' endings.)

As mentioned above, Zenya and Makoto only have one ending each, and it's recommended to play them first. This makes sense, as these are the first two 'chronological' endings you can reach in the game. That is to say, Zenya's ending cuts the game extremely short, and Makoto's cuts it short as well. It would be really annoying to play a longer route and then come back and do an ending with less substance and payoff afterwards.

Zenya: VLG
Verdict: Unsatisfying and also extremely yucky, it sort of made sense while still pissing me off, but at least the ending song fucking rocks for some reason (seriously why does this go so hard??) so that was a nice surprise.

Zenya's ending is the first possible ending you can get in your normal playthrough. As I played, I followed a guide that gave me specific choice instructions, but it turns out that I could have ignored all of that juggling and just picked instinct throughout the entire game. I would recommend doing all red for Zenya's route; that way, when you do Makoto's right after, you can get all of the different dialogue in any given scene. I had a lot of repeats when I did Makoto's, so I don't know how much the dialogue actually changes, but full completion right?

Anyway, Zenya's ending branches off when he approaches Youji with the promise to answer any questions he has about the strange things happening to his body. Youji makes the decision to go with him, and Zenya immediately welches on his promise, kidnapping Youji for the second time in the game. Zenya explains to Youji that there are lots of dangerous people around, and he's sick of seeing other people trying to get their hands on him; so he decided to simplify things and just take Youji for himself. This was completely in character for him and I was honestly not surprised at all by this turn of events.

Things get ugly once they arrive back at Zenya's house. [Grotesque NSFW warning and spoilers ahead. Highlight to read with caution.]

> [Zenya takes Youji back to the same room where he kidnapped him before. He hooks up his video camera to the television in the room and sets it to record him and Youji, broadcasting it to the TV screen and forcing Youji to watch. He graphically assaults Youji and tells him that he's going to use him for the purpose of breeding, because Zenya is a 'Male' and Youji is a 'Female'.

After the scene, there's a time skip of a few months. Youji has been kept inside this room without sunlight and hardly any food, and is simply used for Zenya's whims whenever he wants. It's revealed that every single time Zenya assaults him, Youji 'gives birth' to groups of the same chunks of meat that have been plaguing him throughout the game. Zenya intends to continue doing this to Youji until his body eventually gives out and he dies.

While the game has already hinted at (and a savvy player already knows about) the > [pregnancy] theme, this is the first time they explicitly say it, and it's really disgusting. Zenya's dialogue had me physically recoiling during this whole scene, and I just wanted it to be over as soon as possible. However, ignoring the grotesque content, this ending was actually really disappointing to me. > [Zenya had already shown so much contempt for whatever 'force' had disrupted his and Youji's bodies, as well as the implication that his father was worshipping the very same entity, so it was kind of anti-climactic for Zenya to just... follow the imperative to breed like he was 'intended' to? It seemed a little bit strange for that to be his actual, personal desire.]

Selfishly staking his claim on Youji didn't surprise me, but I wanted Zenya to at least give Youji a hint of what he was dealing with, to commiserate with him a little bit as two people that were being biologically tortured by an unknown force. I guess I just expected a little bit more of him/of the writers in this one regard, but then again, this is an 'early game over' ending, so I guess they didn't want to start breaking apart the mystery this early on. However, while I still personally feel that he should have given Youji some information because it fits his chaotic personality better, the longer main route does better explain why he might be so obsessed with doing this to Youji, so this ending seems better written in hindsight once you get to that dialogue in another ending.

Makoto: The Hunger
Verdict: This ending made me way more upset than it had any right to. While at first it seemed quite brisk and sudden, the more I reflect on it, the more I think it was a great idea to present it the way they did.

Makoto's ending follows Zenya's chronologically, and is the first ending that allows you to experience the longer main route. I was honestly shocked at how much longer this game is than I originally thought. I kept going and going and going expecting every choice to be the last, but no, there's a lot of content here that Zenya's ending doesn't even hint at. In order to get Makoto's ending, you must stick to your reason and pick blue for all of the choices.

Makoto's ending branches off after he delivers Youji a message that he needs to meet Kamiya, their science teacher, down in the old chemistry lab in the basement. Youji makes the trip down there, but Kamiya is nowhere to be found; instead, Makoto enters and locks the door behind them, confronting Youji about all of the time he's been spending with Tetsuo instead of with him. [Grotesque NSFW warning and spoilers ahead. Highlight to read with caution.]

> [Makoto pins Youji down on a desk with a box cutter against his throat, admitting that he's been obsessing over Youji and stalking Tetsuo to make sure he doesn't get too close to him. Makoto tells Youji that Tetsuo isn't safe and he needs to stay with Makoto, because he's his only friend and the only one that he can trust. Makoto demands that Youji tell him who he loves - him, or Tetsuo. When Youji picks Makoto, attempting to placate him, Makoto grows furious that Youji would lie to him and violently assaults him, since love doesn't matter if he can get 'what he wants' from Youji.

During the assault, Makoto stabs Youji in the hand with the boxcutter, and proceeds to lick up his blood. Spurred on by the taste, he proceeds to stab and cut Youji all over his body, making him bleed out until the scene fades to black. Two weeks after the incident, Youji has disappeared from school entirely, with the students postulating that he must be in the hospital again. Makoto was absent for a week as well, but is back to his old self, happily chatting to all of his classmates as if nothing has happened.

Makoto takes the train home - to Youji's home. He enters the apartment, which reeks of filth and rot, and enters Youji's bedroom. Over the course of a week, Makoto had systematically eaten every piece of Youji's body, leaving only bloodstains in his bed and fragments of his bones on the floor. With Youji gone, Makoto began to have withdrawls, unable to find anything else that could satisfy his hunger. He unwraps a bandage on his arm, revealing chunks of flesh missing. He's so hungry that he would eat anything.

This ending really affected me in ways I wasn't expecting. Hunger and consumption have already been a big theme in this game; this ending is kind of a parallel to Youji's disordered eating. Themes like this are always sort of fascinating and feel very intimate to me, and this is no exception. Makoto was also a character I really, really liked throughout the entire game; like, I really liked him. I cared about him so much that it really surprised me. He makes me feel very melancholy. Seeing him treat Youji so violently is a huge betrayal, and the event is more traumatic for Youji than when Zenya or Tetsuo acted similarly, because Makoto really was the only person he trusted in his life. In a weird way, though, this ending actually isn't about Youji at all.

Throughout the game, Makoto was the only one of the main characters whose feelings were uninformed by an biological imperative. Makoto really loved Youji, or at the very least he was struggling with his feelings for a friend, and another man at that (lest we forget that this whole plot is framed by religious guilt). > [Right at the very end of Makoto's route - just a minute or two before it's over - there are a few sentences that completely turn this assumption on its head. Although Makoto was human, he could smell Youji, and it was this scent that drove him over time to grow more and more possessive of Youji until he couldn't handle it anymore.] I can't tell if this is worse than my other assumption or not. It's highly upsetting, but I feel like I might be biased because of my love for Makoto as a character; > [having such a genuinely kind and caring person be corrupted by a force he doesn't even understand or know exists just makes me so sad. It's also pretty horrifying; this game really hammers in the fact that you can know your desires and actions borne from the fleshseeds are harmful, but you cannot stop yourself from acting on them. Makoto admits his guilt and remorse several times throughout the main route, and at the very end of his own route, where he cries over how much he misses Youji. The confusion between how much of Makoto's feelings were real and how much of it was forced upon him is just a very upsetting theme in my opinion; at least Zenya and Tetsuo are aware of such a presence in their life, but Makoto had no idea what was happening to him. Also, I just can't get this one lonely, haunting line out of my head, where Makoto mentions that he just keeps eating and eating as much as he can, but he keeps getting thinner and can never get rid of his hunger.]

09/05/22: Diving Deep
Verdict: I got what they were going for emotionally with this ending, even if it didn't completely land for me. I think it would have been more effective if the last 5 to 10 minutes were cut out.

After more than a month, I finally sat down to play sweet pool again. Makoto's ending had taken a lot out of me emotionally, and the idea of playing four of Tetsuo's endings in a row wasn't super engaging to me, so it took me a while to get into the headspace to play again. But I decided it was time, so I loaded up the game and breezed through the early choices one more time so that I could get to the real last section of the main route.

After the incident between Makoto and Youji in the chemistry lab, the rest of the main route is mostly about letting Youji finally get some much-needed emotional closure. He visits his sister, Erika, in the hospital, and has a really touching moment with her that's paired with some revelations about his past. He has a discussion with Makoto about each party's failures in their friendship, and they vow to be better to one another. There are also a few more moments between Youji and Tetsuo that allow the two to connect on a slightly deeper level. Once all of this emotional growth is over, however, the plot comes back to rear its ugly head.

More information comes to light about the truth of what's happening inside Youji's body, as well as the group of people who know about his condition. Zenya's father, Kunihito, takes matters into his own hands as the day of an important occult ritual fast approaches. Kunihito, Zenya, Youji, Tetsuo, and even Kitani are all wrapped up heavily in the last confrontation in the main route, with Youji's fate teetering between multiple tragic endings. [Spoilers for the 'Diving Deep' ending ahead. Highlight to read with caution.]

> [During the final confrontation, Tetsuo stabs Zenya in the stomach and flees the scene with Youji. Kitani, searching for the Okinaga's ritual site, arrives too late to save Zenya's life. He cradles Zenya in his arms as he dies, swearing revenge on Youji and Tetsuo for ending his life.

Youji and Tetsuo escape the flesh encapsulating the school, ending up on the rooftop together. They hold hands and have their first open conversation in the entire game. Tetsuo admits that he was never really interested in Youji as a person, only as a Female Host, and had staked his claim on him for biological reasons - though over time he did start to find Youji pleasant to be around. Youji, meanwhile, has been struggling with the biological imperative to be near Tetsuo, but his personal distaste for him. After learning more about Tetsuo's life, however, Youji feels like he at least understands him a bit more. While neither of the two actually love each other, they come to the conclusion that being together is better than being alone in a world where they don't fit in - and in a best case scenario, they might eventually learn to have a real relationship.

Kitani tracks them to the rooftop, where he shoots Tetsuo. He intends to kill both of them, but they manage to escape, fleeing to Youji's apartment. Still surrounded by flesh coating the walls, the two lie in bed together and contemplate what their relationship would have been like if they were both human. Before they can get too far into the melancholy thought, Kitani arrives once more, and finishes the job by shooting and killing both of them.

A year later, Kitani - now alone after losing his family - reflects on the events of that day while meeting with Kamiya. Kamiya collects the remaining cult documents from Kitani and answers a few of his questions regarding the cult, but refuses to tell him what the Inner Beings really are. Kamiya takes his leave, and Kitani is left alone with his thoughts at the bar.

I think this route would have benefitted from ending right after the rooftop scene. The second escape felt unnecessary, and didn't add much to the emotional payoff anyway; they simply could have moved the 'what if' question to the roof scene, and have >[Kitani's attempt to kill both of them] work the first time. Especially since I found the scene between Kitani and Zenya to be the most impactful part of this ending, the rest of it seemed to drag on just slightly too long.

While I still think Tetsuo is the least engaging of the main characters, the decision that he and Youji come to in this ending felt correct and thematically appropriate. The thing that I was most worried about regarding Tetsuo was the idea that his and Youji's relationship would be framed as 'true love', which I think would have been really disrespectful, but I was glad to find that this ending avoided that. It's not exactly that I disagree with the game pairing them together, but I didn't want it to completely disregard all of the bad things that happened along the way just for the sake of having them be together.

This is the first of several Tetsuo endings, which I will probably get through pretty soon. I saved a file at the end of the main route which will make getting through the last few choices much faster.

back to home