By Chris Melchin / January 12th, 2016
|Release Date||November 23, 2015|
|Genre||Visual Novel, Nakige, Romance|
Every now and then a game comes along that, even years after its release, is regarded as an enduring classic. A game that, even when it’s over a decade old, can justify selling for the full price of a new game while still reaching the upper echelons of the sales charts upon release. A game that, while it may only appeal to a certain niche audience, is virtually universally loved within that niche. Something that can even make a game as great as Little Busters! seem like a step down in quality.
CLANNAD is one of those games. But before we really get into that, let’s take a look at its background.
CLANNAD is a visual novel developed by Japanese developer Key, and written by Jun Maeda, also known for his earlier works Air and Kanon, as well as his later works Little Busters!, Angel Beats!, and Charlotte (although we don’t talk so much about that last one). CLANNAD was Maeda’s third game with Key, and his fifth game overall, and interestingly it also has the distinction of being Key’s first non-eroge. It was first released in Japan for PC on April 28, 2004, and has since seen releases on PlayStation 2, PSP, Xbox 360, mobile phones, PS3 and PS Vita, with the PS Vita version released on August 14, 2014. This English translation is the product of a Kickstarter project by Sekai Project that ended on January 9, 2015 after raising $541,162 of its $140,000 (both USD) goal. The HD, English-translated version of CLANNAD ultimately released on Steam on November 23, 2015, for a price of around $50 USD.
Going through all of the routes in CLANNAD after having played Little Busters really shows that both of these games appear to follow a very similar story structure. A quick search on the internet confirmed this: both games are of the “nakige” or “crying game” genre, which implies a specific story layout designed to make the player cry. According to VNDB, which got the information from Key’s Wikipedia page, a nakige consists of four main parts: the first half of the game is lighthearted and comedic, which is followed by a romantic middle part, then a “tragic separation” and ending off with an “emotional reunion” to top it all off. Every main route in CLANNAD, as well as every route in Little Busters, has this structure, and the crazy part is that it works. I say without shame that multiple parts in CLANNAD brought tears to my eyes, even at times when I knew what to expect because I watched both the original CLANNAD anime as well as CLANNAD: After Story before reading the visual novel. The After Story route, however, eschews this format in favor of a somewhat more traditional romance plot.
The art is naturally the first thing that the player would notice, and while it’s better than many games it definitely shows its age compared to Key’s newer works. The proportions are a little strange, with eyes sometimes appearing not to be on the same level as each other and other facial features being strangely small, but ultimately whether it appeals to you is a matter of taste. I prefer the more refined style in Little Busters, Rewrite and Angel Beats, and while this is similar it definitely seems older. The backgrounds are great though, often surprisingly intricate and expressive. However, the parts where the art stands out the most are the Illusionary World segments between some days, where the backgrounds have a painterly style to set them apart from the normal world. It’s a similar tactic to what was done in the anime, where these parts were given an otherworldly feel with much smoother animation than the normal world.
I think I kind of gave away how I feel about this game in the first paragraph, but let me say it plainly: CLANNAD tells an incredible story, one that is definitely worth the somewhat steep asking price for this almost 12-year-old game. None of the routes stand out as being particularly weak, a particularly monumental achievement considering the fact that there are 11 different normal routes in total, including the six main heroines and five minor characters. It’s true that Ryou Fujibayashi’s route is little more than an alternate ending to her sister Kyou’s, while Toshio Koumura’s route is an alternate ending to the route for female lead Nagisa Furukawa. There are also routes for other main characters Tomoyo Sakagami, the childish and starfish-obsessed Fuko Ibuki, and the reclusive genius Kotomi Ichinose. The other minor characters include mature dorm mother Misae Sagara, the eccentric Kappei Hiiragi, the refined and kind Yukine Miyazawa, and protagonist Tomoya Okazaki’s best friend Youhei Sunohara and his younger sister Mei. This stands in contrast to the six normal routes in Little Busters (seven if you count the need to play Rin’s route twice, plus an extra three in later versions of the game), in which I can point out two in particular that I found weaker than the others.
I didn’t notice any particularly strange translations while reading, although I did encounter a number or proofreading errors, mostly either missing or incorrect punctuation at the ends of sentences, one strange name translation and one spelling error that I remember seeing. It’s not good that they are there, for sure, but it somewhat understandable considering the sheer volume of text that needed to be proofread before release. Sekai Project has been fixing them over the course of a few major updates post-release, the last of which has yet to come out, but it seems like the whole thing could have done with one last once-over before release. I also noticed a few recurring sequences when the text skip function never seemed to work, although they seemed to have been fixed by the time I finished. The game also froze on me at one point, forcing me to go back and restart from the beginning. More of an annoyance than anything in this type of game, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s a problem that should not be ignored. None of them really took away from my experience with the game, but Sekai Project should still be called out for it because it seems like a somewhat glaring series of oversights in a $50 game.
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