Ten years after its initial Japanese release, Little Busters! finally makes its way to English audiences. It is a game that I have been wanting to play for years now, as I am a big fan of Key’s previous works, having seen all of their respective anime adaptations. Clannad is my all-time favorite work of fiction across any medium, so I had very high expectations going into this game.
Great characterization. As with Key’s previous works, the game is built around its characters. The whole goal is to build up these characters so much so that the player becomes attached to them and really gets to know them. This is an aspect that Key has always been good at and Little Busters! is no exception. The character routes expand on each character in-depth, usually by exploring said character’s past, giving the player insight into why each character acts the way they do. During that process, these characters are really brought to life.
Fantastic soundtrack. The Clannad Original Soundtrack is my all-time favorite soundtrack, so knowing that the Little Busters! soundtrack shares some of the same composers, I had similar expectations. These expectations were met for the most part. There are several standout tracks in the soundtrack, with only a few on the weaker side. “BOYS DON’T CRY” is a great example of one of the better tracks from the game and might be my favorite, although it is hard to choose.
It is not just the excellent background music that makes this soundtrack so good. The opening theme is just as good, with the English localization even including karaoke on-screen when it plays, just as one would find on a lot of today’s fansubbed anime. The different ending themes were of varying quality, but none of them were bad. The main insert song, titled “Faraway”, is easily the best vocal track in the game though. I would be lying if I said I did not shed a tear or two when that one started playing during the Refrain route. Overall though, the Little Busters! Original Soundtrack is just another great work to come out of Key Sounds Label.
The Refrain Route. I had a great time going through most of the character routes, but all of them pale in comparison to the game’s true ending, the Refrain route. Sure, the character routes are supposed to invoke some sort of emotional response, but I did not shed a single tear until I got to the Refrain route. This is coming from someone who rarely feels any emotion for fictional characters, let alone shed a tear for one. I can count the number of times this has happened on one hand, Little Busters! now included. It is just that good. The emotional payoff in the Refrain route is easily worth the 60 or so hours it took to get to that point. This all just further cements my opinion that Jun Maeda is the best writer in the industry.
Busterpedia. The Busterpedia is a great addition for the English version, especially for those that may not know a lot about Japanese culture. It is basically an in-game dictionary, highlighting certain words, phrases, or names that the player may not know. Clicking on the highlighted word, phrase, or name brings up its definition. It can also can be accessed at anytime from the main menu or the in-game menu. I consider myself at least somewhat knowledgeable about Japanese culture, but there was still several terms and names that I was not familiar with, so the Busterpedia was rather helpful in that regard. The definitions range from simple words that are rather well-known, like Tatami, up to terms like Ogura Hyakunin Isshu, the name of a Japanese poetry anthology published in the 12th century.
The variety of mini-games. Despite Little Busters! being a visual novel, there are plenty of mini-games included that span a variety of genres. First, there is the battle system. This aspect of the game basically has the player collecting items to increase his/her stats and up his/her position on the battle rankings leaderboard throughout the course of the game. There is also the batting practice mini-game, which is a bit more involved compared to the battle system. This one has the player moving left and right then pressing space when the perfect pitch is lined up. Playing this mini-game builds stats for each character participating in the practice, which helps in both the battle system and the actual baseball game played during the common route.
Even more involved than the baseball mini-game is the dungeon crawler present in Saya’s route, which can be accessed after clearing Refrain. It is a full-blown dungeon crawler implemented right into a visual novel, with trap rooms and a shooting gallery mini-game when enemies appear. There are a few others as well, but these three are the standout ones. These mini-games do not hinder the experience at all and can be disabled by the player if he/she does not want to bother with them. They just serve as some additional fun to have while playing through the main game. I personally had a lot of fun tracking down the different achievements that can be earned by participating in these mini-games.
Wealth of content. Steam says I have logged over 150 hours in this game and, while some of that time may have been spent idling, I would not be surprised if my actual playtime came in at around 80 hours. It took over a month of on-and-off playing to finish the game. There is simply that much content present in Little Busters!. The common route is very long, with each character route taking a reasonable amount of time to clear as well. The true ending, the Refrain route, is also of decent length. Adding in all of the extra content, such as the bonus routes and mini-games, and you are left with quite the package.
Some rushed character routes. I did mention previously that each character route takes considerable time to clear, but that does not mean each is well-paced. There were a few character routes that felt rushed towards the end. It was as if the one writing the route was suddenly out of time and had to crank out an ending as quickly as possible. This was very noticeable with Kud’s route, my least favorite in the game because of just how jarring the sudden shift in pacing was towards the end of the route. Without spoiling, I will just say that the last 15% or so of that route became quit the mess, a very different feeling compared to the rest of the route. This was not the case with all the routes though, just a few. It is quite the shame actually, as a couple of these rushed routes started off great, only to lose their appeal as the pacing increased.
Typos and grammar issues. The game is made up of over one million words, so I expected the occasional typo or two. They were not all that common, not enough to really bother me, but it should be noted regardless. I noticed that the majority of these typos appeared during the Ecstasy routes, the three routes unlocked after completing Refrain. Perhaps it is because the Ecstasy content was never translated prior to this release, whereas the translation of the base game has been out for years and served as the foundation for this English Edition, allowing for any typos to be ironed out.
With each release, Key continues to set the standard for what a good visual novel should strive to be. The game met my high expectations and it is the first visual novel to have impacted me on such an emotional level, enough so that I had to fight back tears. From its great characterization to its fun mini-games, Little Busters! does just about everything right, with only a few rushed character routes bringing down the experience. Highly recommended for visual novel fans and those that enjoy impactful stories.
You can buy Little Busters! English Edition on Steam here.
I was provided a free review copy of the game in order to write this review. Read more about how I do my game reviews here.