KEY has churned out some amazing visual novels over the years. Titles such as Air, Kanon, and Clannad have become staples in the visual novel and anime community. Little Busters! is KEY’s fourth visual novel and it, obviously, has very big shoes to fill. Until now, the visual novel was only available in Japan. Although you could find some fan-made English translations, there wasn’t an official release before this. VisualArts have answered the challenge, once again, and brought Little Busters! to the West! How does this entry stack up against some of KEY’s powerhouses?
Title: Little Busters!
Platform: PC (Steam)
Developer: KEY, VisualArts
Release Date: November 1, 2017
High school is a time to be filled with memories. For a group of childhood friends, those memories are of the utmost importance. Before they graduate, they decide to make one final memory that is sure to last a lifetime. They decide to play a game of baseball, but they are short a few members. They ask around the school and form the team known as the Little Busters, a name they chose after the group referred to themselves as when they were just little kids.
Without going into heavy spoiler territory, that is the gist of this visual novel. Of course, just like with any of KEY’s visual novels, there are much deeper facets to this story, some of which have brought people to tears. In fact, in true visual novel fashion, there are many routes you can take through this story and reach a varying degree of endings with one being the true ending.
The entire story is told through the eyes of Riki Naoe… who is in his second year at the high school. Riki has narcolepsy and is prone to falling asleep at any given moment. When he was younger, he was a bit of a loner, but all of that changed when Kyousuke approached him and asked him to join their group and go on adventures with them. They have been friends ever since.
Each of the main characters has a great backstory to tell as well.
Kudryavka (or Kud for short) was a very popular character for the series. In fact, there was a recent Kickstarter for her to get her own spin off story, entitled Kud Wafter. Needless to say, that Kickstarter met its goal. You could probably tell (or maybe you can’t) from her name that she is Russian and a transfer student. Her mother is part of Russia’s expanding space exploration program. You get to dive deep into the character and even experience a few heart-pounding moments. It’s no wonder Kud became one of the series’ most iconic characters. When a backstory and personality like hers, it’s no wonder that she’s as popular as she is.
Komari is one of the first characters that you are introduced to. She is quite the airhead, but that brings a certain charm about her. She has this Circle of Happiness that she loves to promote because she believes that if you make someone happy, they will make you happy in return. While that’s a bit naïve, it gives you a sense of the kind of character that she is. She also introduces Riki to a children’s book about a chicken born from an egg. The chicken forgets that it used to be an egg, but the chicken ends up laying an egg which forgets that it was inside of the chicken. While it seems like a simple children’s story, it actually serves a plot point with a deeper meaning later on in the story.
Haruka is a bit of a handful. She’s always causing trouble and she’s pretty talkative. Due to the pranks that she plays, she’s constantly garnishing the attention of the student council’s disciplinary committee, who are your typical tsundere-type characters. Haruka ends up joining the Little Busters all because of Riki’s involvement with her. He kind of becomes her shadow, or to better describe it, gets dragged along in whatever she’s doing. Whether it’s diffusing a situation near the vending machines or helping her fix a garden fence, Riki is always popping up. It eventually leads to when Haruka is missing from class. Riki ends up finding her alone in a classroom listening to music. He would later find her alone at a blackboard as she tries to cover up a message left behind for her. This starts to dig into the character that Haruka is and you begin to realize why she lashes out the way she does.
Mio is the direct opposite of Haruka. She’s very soft-spoken and is always seen carrying an umbrella with her whenever she goes. She’s also a bit of a bookworm as she’s always seen reading under a tree by herself. Riki befriends her and learns that she is also into poetry. The two of them have discussions about that, but there is a bit of a deeper secret behind Mio… much like the other characters. While I do like to avoid spoilers as much as possible, Mio’s route does raise a few questions about how or why she became what she did in the end. It doesn’t seem like that it shouldn’t be possible for it to happen and that should be taken as a clue to the overall ending to the visual novel.
Ah, Rin. She is a bit of a fireball when she needs to be… otherwise, she seems like a kid sister to Riki. She has an obsession with cats and is always seen spending her free time feeding and playing with them. In fact, whenever you get her angry, she’ll even hiss like a cat. Also, she’ll hiss at you if you use a cat as a weapon… much like Masato did when he had a fight with Kengo in the school cafeteria (which is how Little Busters opens, by the way.) There is also a bit of a clue with one of her cats that gets tied into the main story later on. She is also Kyousuke’s sister. I would go and detail Kyousuke, but he is the biggest key to unraveling the mystery in Little Busters and that’s all I will say about that.
Masato is your typical hot-headed guy who means well in everything he does, but just goes over the top whenever he does anything. He always believes in his muscles and is at odds with Kengo. Kengo is part of the kendo club (Yeah.. I know.. Kengo.. Kendo… yep) and is much more level-headed than Masato. Despite being at odds and getting into fights with each other, they are the best of friends and have been since the days of the Little Busters group that the formed when they were kids.
This was a fantastic story with a shocking ending. Just like with any of KEY’s visual novels, it takes you on a roller coaster of emotions. There are moments that will make you laugh, some moments that will make you pay attention and some moments that will make you shed some tears. Not every character’s story is a happy one and the overall story had a shocking twist that will have you quickly getting your parent’s permission to go on a feels trip. If I had to pick a favorite route, I would have to go with Kud’s. I know that seems like the cop-out answer among Little Busters fans, but Kud’s route was just so well done and you really got to feel and intangible connection with that character. I mentioned before that she was the most popular character in the series and playing her route clearly shows why.
As for the art and the soundtrack, it was a bit on a weird side for me because I’ve seen the anime and the characters there looked so much better than they did in the visual novel. Some of the proportions (especially on Kengo) seemed a bit out of whack and Masato just didn’t look right. I understand that these are the original designs and that I’m comparing them to the anime, which refined the characters, but since I saw the anime first, I can’t help but make the comparison. It’s like imprinting… whatever you see first is the thing you’re going to relate to the most. Of course, the texturing of the characters from highlights, shading, background art, etc was very well done and is something that I have come to expect from KEY.
The soundtrack is amazing. I got to hear it for the first time in the anime and when I learned that the anime’s OST was just the game’s OST, I knew that I would instantly enjoy it once I played the visual novel and I was not wrong in that assumption. Happy moments were accompanied by music that made you smile and sad moments had a great OST atmosphere that really drove home the emotion. I think it’s probably one of KEY’s best OSTs that they have ever produced, but that is just my personal opinion.
Of course, the Steam version gives you some nice extras. It adds more characters through the Little Busters EX expansion and offers English text to go along with its Japanese audio. The game looked absolutely great in HD without any issues. It made all of the artwork pop and it was a job to look at.
If you haven’t experienced a KEY visual novel before, this would be a great start for you. While the thought of playing a baseball game seems like a paltry storyline, I urge you to stick with it. The character storylines themselves are FANTASTIC and then when the plot twist hits, you will fully understand why playing a simple game of baseball and creating memories are so important. KEY and Jun Maeda will always find a way to make you cry and Little Busters is no exception. While the impactful moment wasn’t as large as it was in Clannad: After Story, it will still hit you right in the feels.
I can’t recommend this game enough. Of course, if you’re not a fan of reading, there is the anime which has covered the main story here as well as Refrain, but I think you would owe it to yourself to play through the source material and experience everything that you can because the anime doesn’t flesh out everyone’s story routes fully. Of course, if you’re a KEY fan, then you’ve probably already played Little Busters, but it wouldn’t hurt to play through it again. I have 4 copies of Final Fantasy VII between Playstation, PS3, PS4, and PC and I have played through them all so there’s really no excuse to replay it once again!
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Little Busters offers a great story with well-fleshed out characters. Their backstories make you feel an intangible connection to them which makes the big reveal of the story carry that much more weight to it. Whether you're new to visual novels or KEY in general or if you're a fan of KEY, it is highly worth your time picking this one up on Steam!