Talk about complexity. This has to be the most mind-boggling visual novel from Key I’ve played so far (haven’t yet looked at their newest entry, Rewrite, just yet). For this particular lengthy novel, I will not go through each and every of the 12 characters in detail – it’ll take me a year. Read on for more~
The overarching mystery that ties the routes together is that of the secret of the world, so prior to your knowledge of it, it is perfectly normal if several of the routes make no sense to you towards the end. This information is also necessary for you to understand the 3 additional routes introduced in Little Busters Ecstasy, as you’d be completely lost otherwise.
Riki’s childhood friend who never managed to mature. Always shy around strangers and particularly reliant on Riki, she’ll have to learn the ropes soon for the cruel truth that lies ahead of her…
The only female character acutely aware of what’s really going on, but doesn’t have a clue how to deal with her changing emotions, which have never been felt before. That is, until a certain event made her want to kick a door down…
Komari is mature with child-like mannerisms, with a sorrowful past that she has forgotten. When those memories come rushing back to her, mentally breaking her down, it falls to Riki to paint her a new future…
A quiet classmate whose world is that of books and poetry. “Please ask me about this again someday.” was her response to Riki each time he wanted to know more about Mio, but as he starts getting the answers he seeks, will he be able to provide a solution for the secret behind Mio?
Noumi Kudryavka / Kudryavka Anatolyevna Strugatskaya
The only character from Little Busters! that got herself a spin-off game, Kud Wafter. She’s part-Japanese of Russian descent, and does badly at English (you can’t fault her for trying though – to hilarious effect). What Kud’s story entails is the difficulties of a foreign student trying to fit into a society in which she is laughed at… and how Riki helps her find people to laugh with. Yet once that hurdle is overcome, something darker approaches…
Family customs are such a bi**h. Such is the story of ill-fated twins Saigusa Haruka and elder sister Futaki Kanata. “There can only be one rightful heir” is the crux of this route, with Haruka playing the part of the one who isn’t chosen.
Haruka’s family circumstances are complex. Imagine having a single mother who birthed twins from two different fathers. One dad went to jail, the other married the mother. Yet, whose child is whose? On that basis, since young the twins have been compared – who spoke first, who performed better, who is more likely the right child… So what happens if you’re cast aside by your family?
Routes only available in Little Busters! Ecstasy/(Memorial Edition):
The perfect student, Kanata – and not of her own choosing. Telling the other half of the story from the eyes of Kanata, how would it feel to be constantly made to belittle your sister? Does being the rightful heir really mean happiness?
My thoughts: Both Kanata’s and Haruka’s routes combined have come from behind and given me quite a shock. By far my favorite story of Little Busters, which I thought little of when I first started on her twin’s arc. Suitably dark and emotionally moving, and seeing how the scenes play out from both parties gives you the adequate setting to connect with the characters. They may not be the main pair, but their route alone more than makes up for the shortcomings of the entire visual novel.
Rin’s self-proclaimed rival – even though Rin does not feel the same way – and the captain of the girls’ softball team. She speaks in a typical aristocratic ojou-sama style, and despite being well-to-do, she does harbor one regret that she’s carried with her all this time…
My thoughts: While this is supposedly Sasami’s route, the focus seems to fall on a cat instead – and her reason for disliking them. Not to mention she gets turned into one herself. Out of all the routes, hers is the most light-hearted (and random), and the most supernatural of the lot. You could almost say it’s a mini “filler” of sorts in the game.
Born to a doctor who frequently travels to help civilians in war-torn areas, Saya could never stay in a single place for too long, and therefore never got the chance to make any true friends. During a brief stay in Japan, she made a friend, and finally experienced peace. Yet soon she had to move. Years later, when they could finally stay in Japan for good, an accident happened…
My thoughts: Saya’s (not her real name) route is very different. She’s an original character not mentioned in the original Little Busters, and is the only route whereby the secret of the world really comes into play. Not to mention it’s the only route that you’ll be forced to navigate a labyrinth and play a shooting mini-game in order to finish. Still, the strength here is in her back-story, which plays a vital part to her arrival. Yet another story you could purchase the game alone for.
The bane of this visual novel is in its length. You tend to wonder while playing just when a particular route would end, or why it had to take the game so my hours just to reveal even the simplest of things.
This is particularly true with a mandatory “epilogue-of-sorts” called Refrain, which is LONG. Not to mention it isn’t entirely interesting all the way, seeing you’re actually repeating the story from the very beginning – albeit with tiny differences which explains why each character did what he or she did. This, after you are required to complete all 6 character routes (to unlock Refrain) – which in turn unlocks the 3 additional characters after you’ve learnt the secret of the world (revealed here).
The other bit that bugs is that while for the most part you can play without a guide, certain character routes will leave you stumped. This is especially true with Saya, in which the game designers thought it would be funny to allow you to turn the shooting mini-game off, only to lock the good end and give you only the bad if you decide to do so.
The mini-games! For a visual novel, there’s quite a bit of it, and a few are surprisingly addictive. You are also not required to play most of them. But you will want to try the baseball game at least once – the Little Busters lose by default if you turn the game off.
You’ve got mini-games from the very simple (timing Kengo and Masato’s strengths by watching the bar), to the very complex (baseball), and also the in-betweens (character battles and rankings). This game has all its bases covered, so to speak.
Even the shooting mini-game (pictured above) evolves with time – it gets faster and with more targets. Then once you change over to Saya, it’ll no longer be a clock but real targets. The final iteration of the game will also be guaranteed to leave you VERY satisfied.
The other strength lies in the characters of Little Busters, and even the male characters Kyousuke, Masato and Kengo aren’t throwaways or simply there for pure comic relief – they are each given their own important parts (especially in Refrain) to show you just how much they care about Riki and Rin.
To sum it up, the overall plot that binds the story together may not have been all that jaw-dropping or fresh (especially if you’ve watched another of key’s offerings – Angel Beats!), but it’s the sum of its parts – the individual character routes – that really allows this visual novel to shine. It’s yet another great story in the list of Key’s accomplishments, and something I definitely hope to see transition to an anime series. EDIT: Which it did (Yay!), albeit not by the studio (JCStaff) that most wanted (Kyoani).