What “Adolescence” do you have?
Little Busters! is an all ages 2007 game by Key. It got a 18+ version with new routes, Little Busters! Ecstasy, in 2008, which got an all ages version in 2009, Little Busters! Memorial Edition. After that it got all ages console ports, Little Busters! Converted Edition, in 2009 (PS2), 2010 (PSP), and 2012 (PSV); and in a few days there’s coming a PC backport of Converted, Little Busters! Perfect Edition. It also got in 2010 a fandisc focusing in one of the heroines, Kud Wafter.
Riki was a child when his parents died, leaving him hopeless and depressed. What saved him was a group of four kids calling themselves the Little Busters. They took Riki out and played with him during his time of need. He really enjoyed being together with them, and his grief gradually faded away. Now in his second year of high school they still hang out, fight and live together, and enjoy their school life.
In many ways Little Busters! is standard Key stuff, differing in its particular strengths.
In this case, it starts with a long, very strong common trunk. Unless in other Key works (and in many other VNs), the trunk is not merely a framing mark from where the routes starts but with little more relevance. Here, there’s an objective to where things are headed, and it also does a good job presenting and, more importantly, uniting the different characters; again unlike other things, all the heroines end up having strong relationships with (or at the very least knowing) every other one, something that’s rarer than I’d like.
This doesn’t mean the trunk doesn’t have “filler”; but it never really feels like that, adding to the characterization, or at least being consistently funny. Which is actually the greatest strength of the trunk: its hilarious comedy. Even taking away everything else, this would have been a great comedy piece. And also here is clear the differential strength of the characters: the heroines are cute and all (though it seems there are some monsters who don’t like Maki Izumi voice), but the ones who really shine are Riki’s male friends (of which there are three, for a high density of male characters -again something I’d wish was more frequent); the interactions between the members of the initial group end up being funnier than those of Riki with the heroines (though the heroines between them have do some memorable scenes). Still, if Riki’s friends are fun, the heroines are certainly cute; again, somewhat of standard Key stuff: heroines with their quirks and personal traumas but being moe above everything else. A strong voice acting helps to make, as a whole, a likeable bunch. Good characters with amusing interactions make for one of this game’s strengths.
And there’s also fun to be had with the minigames. There are several, but the two main ones are the Battle Ranking one, in which all the characters face in a battle royale with random weapons, and a baseball practice one. The first one got old fast, but I didn’t tire of the baseball one until the 6th or 7th playthrough (even if I never really got very good at it). But even if one doesn’t like them, they can be safely skipped; some scenes would be missed, but the general progression wouldn’t be affected.
And they’re not minigames per se, but there are also quite a bit of hidden and fun scenes and bits to be found, which gives even more depth to an already big game.
After the common trunk, there come the routes. They’re a mixed bunch; some nice, some not so much, but overall not as good as the trunk. The comedy persists for a while (there’s still some notable scenes to be had), and then the drama hits in full force. Mio and Komari have a very Key-ish supernatural drama and resolution, which may seem cliched but that I found decently executed; Haruka and Kud have a more personal drama, but at points dragged, and they have particular problems. In general, it shows that different writers wrote different routes.
However, a thing that all the routes do is hinting at somewhat bigger, and they do seem to add to the whole (even if it ends not being quite so); together with a group of characters where everybody knows and is in contact with everybody else, it makes for a lot more of integrity as a whole than previous Key works. Also, a complex flag use makes walkthrough use recommended.
And after all the routes are finished it comes Refrain, probably the main reason for playing this in the first place. Here everything is made clear, and everything comes together for the emotional ending; and the overall theme of friendship is deployed in full force. It’s ideal to play it with no previous spoilers; let’s only say that it’s really worthwhile to go through all the game to reach Refrain’s ending. On the other hand, even if very good and a fitting ending for the whole game, the emotional punch, though not absent (far from it), doesn’t quite reach the levels of After Story, or Air. From a purely emotional point of view, Little Busters! doesn’t manage to surpass Clannad or Air; if what you want is to cry your life out, these two are probably better.
Once Refrain is finished, in EX and later versions three new routes are unlocked: for the until then side characters Sasami and Kanata, and for the completely new Saya.
Sasami is a decent, nice route. Sasami herself turns out to be a cute and likeable character, in a type I’m not very fond of, so that’s a win there. On the other hand, even if the story isn’t half bad, it takes off a bit of impact of the main game.
Kanata is in a way an alternate version of Haruka; and shares some of it’s problems. Though for me the main problem was having to go again through a route like that (maybe it’s fortunate you can’t play them back to back).
And then there’s Saya; as a new character that has no interaction at all with anyone besides Riki, it could seem a little (or very) out of place. However, it manages to not feel like that, with the particular character background for the character; and even though it starts slow (though with it’s moments), once it gets going it doesn’t stop, and in the end it becomes the single best heroine route. And unlike Sasami, it doesn’t feel like an unnatural addition to the worldview; it even seems like it expands it.
It also adds a new minigame, which is not as fun as it could be (though your mileage may vary), and which can get tiresome fast, having to go through it a lot in a short time. It can be skipped, though there’s a particular end you wouldn’t be able to get if so. It can also get somewhat hard (unless you don’t suck as much as me), though it becomes easier later; on the other hand, there’s no penalty for losing, so if you don’t mind wasting some time you could as well play it (at least in easy instead of normal).
Other aspects: the music I didn’t found as memorable as in other Key VNs, though it isn’t bad by any means. The system is adequate enough, though the options are limited; in particular, an option to keep voices playing with a click would have been nice. The PSP version at least also has a rewind function, which is very handy (and which makes cheating in the battle ranking game a breeze); on the other hand, the save slots are very limited. As a whole, the system is not particularly noteworthy. Though more games should have the rewind function.
So, overall verdict: definitely a great piece. Great comedy and a really great last stretch; the final focus shifts from romance to friendship, which works as the over-arching theme (like family would have been for Clannad), so keep it in mind if you really prefer romance. The routes on the other hand are not so good, though they’re for the most part decent enough. If you prefer more focused works, however, they may seem somewhat of a waste of time; and the novel as a whole may seem unnecessarily extended.Though it rarely gets really boring, so it shouldn’t be so much of a problem.
If you have liked other Key works, you will most probably like this one too. If you disliked other Key works, however, chances are you will also dislike this one. If you haven’t played other Key works, well, you may as well start, I guess.