By Chris Melchin / September 21st, 2016
The soundtrack is somewhat limited when compared to Key’s main titles, consisting of 16 tracks including both vocal themes. The opening theme is called “Light Colors”, with vocals by Lia, the same singer as Air opening theme “Tori no Uta”, as well as “My Soul, Your Beats!” and “Heartily Song”, the openings for the Angel Beats! anime series and visual novel, respectively. Lia also sings the ending theme “Life is Like a Melody”, which – although a beautiful song in its own right – I can’t see it having the same kind of staying power as something like “Tiny Palms” from CLANNAD, partly because the last part of Tomoyo After is so underwhelming. Seriously, I feel like the story could’ve ended right before the After section and it would lose nothing.
Really, the After part is my biggest issue with Tomoyo After, abruptly cutting off the main part of the story and leaving it mostly unresolved, in favor of a seemingly completely unrelated story. The regular part of Tomoyo After tells a heartwarming story about what it means to be a family and what personal strength is, which gets suddenly derailed on its way to a conclusion so the game can tell a mostly entirely new story about Tomoya and Tomoyo, but I can’t say much more about it without spoiling a big part of the story. All I’ll say is this: even if your writing is otherwise solid, using a really clichéd plot device will always at least make you seem lazy, like you couldn’t come up with any other way to introduce new drama and move the story along in a new direction; especially if said story was already heading towards a clean conclusion in the first place.
Aside from the After section, the rest of the story is well-written and tight, even if it does lack the impact and lasting appeal of the bigger games. It’s also worth noting that the Steam version is the all-ages version of what initially was an eroge. I’ve never played the eroge version, so I have no idea if removing the sex scenes had any negative impact on the story, or if anything was added in their place for this version. One thing I do know is that the h-scenes in Key games are somewhat notoriously horrible, so I’m fine with not needing to see them, and the story still felt relatively complete without them.
In addition to the main story, there’s also a side game called Dungeons & Takafumis. It’s a top-down strategy-RPG, with the plot based on an off-hand comment that Tomoya makes to Tomo at one point in the main story. At first glance it seems like a pretty standard turn-based tactics, but the game is actually fully automated, with the player only setting up character actions and initial positioning before letting the level play out on its own. It most likely does it this way because having a full-blown tactical strategy RPG as a side-story to a visual novel would be a bit much. In any case, I never finished D&T, mostly because I was more focused on finishing the main plot. It’s a weird mode, in any case, and maybe someday I’ll go back and play through it all.
To be fair, to say that Tomoyo After ~It’s a Wonderful Life~ doesn’t hold up to Jun Maeda’s standard of writing isn’t a particularly harsh criticism. It’s not a bad visual novel by any extent of the imagination, but at the same time I wouldn’t consider it to be particularly great either. It sits squarely as above-average, with a generally well-written and well-performed story, some great art and music, but with a disappointing, disjointed final story arc and overall seeming to be missing something intangible that the truly great games have. If you’re a fan of Tomoyo, or just of CLANNAD in general, you’ll likely at least enjoy your time with Tomoyo After, even if it’s not a classic. It’s available on Steam for $19.99 if you want to support VisualArt’s’ western endeavours, and the playtime is roughly 10 hours to finish the main story, without any bad endings or delving deep into D&T. In general, I’d recommend giving it a read if it seems like it might interest you; it may not be great, but it’s definitely not bad either.
Review copy purchased by author
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