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Karifean's Blog of Visual Novels

Top 10 Visual Novels: #2 - Little Busters!

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(Original Post on the Forums)

Little Busters!

Developer: Key
Availability: Japan Only
Adult Content: None (normally), Yes ("Ecstasy" version)
Length: Long (~50 Hours)

The Little Busters are eternal...

Oh god... Little Busters. In my eyes the perfect execution of Key's signature formula. Everything CLANNAD started, Little Busters perfected.

Little Busters takes place in a highschool setting (how original). The protagonists are the titular Little Busters, a group of five friends who have been together for as long as they can (or rather, want to) remember. But as their leader, Kyousuke Natsume, is starting his final year of school, Riki Naoe, the main protagonist, reflects on the time they spent together and wonders... will it all come to an end? Will they part ways after so many years?

Kyousuke, the upbeat and charismatic leader, decides for all of them to do something they can only do now: start a baseball team.

Of course five people aren't enough to form a baseball team, so they start recruiting new members. In true galge fashion they all happen to be girls, naturally. And so as they spend their daily lives, the original group of five keeps expanding, all the while playing baseball and spending time together.

I dare you to find a more heartful tale of friendship in a video game.

I'll be upfront, Little Busters has the most lovable cast of characters I've ever seen. Never before or since have I cared so much for a group of fictional people. I love the characters of this visual novel so much that whenever drama struck I was mercilessly pulled in. Between the lively-as-hell Haruka, the endlessly optimistic Komari, the incredibly adorable Kud, the quiet but philosophical Mio and the eternally teasing Kurugaya, to me all of the add-ons to the original five Little Busters were great characters.

And what about the original five? All of them are some of my absolute favorite characters. Kengo and Masato are the broest of all bros and their interactions are the best. Riki and Rin are both overly dependent on the group at first, but both undergo some wonderful character growth. And Kyousuke... Kyousuke is my #1 favorite fictional character. He's every bit as awesome as Riki makes him out to be, always coming up with endlessly fun ideas, over-the-top yet respectable to no end, and I just love his voice *swoon*. Midorikawa for best voice actor.

So dreamy~

What about the story? Well if CLANNAD's main theme was "family", Little Busters' main theme is "friendship". Many of the arcs, or at least Riki's motivation in them, revolves around all he received and learned through being with the Little Busters, and hoping to pass that love of life onto others. Pretty much everyone in the group suffers from some sort of trauma, and it's all thanks to the Little Busters that Riki was able to conquer his.

The common route of Little Busters is heartwarming like no other and always manages to find new ways to be interesting even on multiple playthroughs. It even has several minigames which are, true to the Little Busters' attitude, pointless but simply fun.

There's the baseball practice, which is so beautifully calming and therapeutic - with Day Game playing in the background - and adds so much character to the game. You can try to hit the ball towards anyone currently on your team, which leads to some hilarious lines... and I simply love watching these guys interact.

There's also the battles which unlike the baseball practice have basically no interactivity, but are still fun as hell. Both fighters have completely random weapons that can range from a bag of balloons, sticky tape or soap all the way over to a freaking katana. The loser of a match is given a disgraceful title that is jotted down and tracked in the Status screen. There's even a ranking system and a hidden sidequest if you manage to get to the top. It's all pretty pointless, but just so delightfully pointless. Plus, Heroic Battle is totally awesome.

Now for the more serious part. At first there are six major story arcs, each corresponding to one female character - as per usual for galge - then you can move on to Rin2, an extension of Rin's arc, and then you unlock the final arc, "Refrain", which concludes the main plot. The individual story arcs are overall pretty damn good. While Komari's and Kud's arcs were good-but-not-great, Haruka's and Mio's arcs were just amazing. I also love the romance in Kurugaya's arc. The Rin1 arc is perfect for setting up the story, and Rin2 is when the emotional involvement starts hitting very hard, with some truly unforgettable scenes.


And then there's Refrain. It may not have made me outright cry as much as After Story did, but the writing is in a completely different league altogether. Never before or since have I felt my feelings being toyed with as much as with Refrain, and on the whole it's my absolute favorite single plot arc in anything ever. It's just that good.

The soundtrack is very good. Both the atmospheric tracks that just set up scenes as well as the character themes... they're wonderful and I listen to them on a regular basis. Special mention goes to the vocal songs; Little Busters has bar none the best. It has five in total, Little Busters! (the opening song), Alicemagic (Komari/Haruka ending song), Clear Weather After The Rain (Kud/Mio ending song), Song For Friends (Kurugaya ending song) and Faraway (Refrain insert song). Little Bsuters is easily my favorite visual novel opening song, Alicemagic and Clear Weather are so satisfying to listen to after just getting done with the respective routes, and Song For Friends and Faraway are both very emotional. Song For Friends in particular is my overall favorite vocal song from any VN OST (although there's not that much competition in that category).

I also REALLY have to give special mention to the storytelling of Little Busters. It utilizes the capabilities of the visual novel medium to its utmost potential, and simply could not work as well in another format. Firstly, the bad ends in all the routes are worthy of note; they are some of the most excruciating bad ends I've ever seen. Especially Kud's and Haruka's, just oh my god. And precisely BECAUSE you reach these bad ends on your own by making certain choices is why they hit so hard. Secondly, as already mentioned the minigames add tons of character and make the dynamic of the group feel that much more genuine. Thirdly, the common route expands and gets additional scenes with every character route you complete, which takes you right back to the fun even if you just skip right through the rest of the common route (like I usually did). And finally, there is some very subtle storytelling that comes through thanks to the very structure of Little Busters, which I'm not even gonna spoil.

And on that note I should probably mention the anime adaptation. I have mixed feelings about it. It was my introduction to Little Busters and it sure as hell managed to get me attached to the cast, but in terms of storytelling it simply doesn't come close to living up to the visual novel. A lot of charm and good writing is lost in the transition and Refrain ended up being pretty confusing and not making much sense. Plus it tried to connect all the routes together to one big route, which worked well for CLANNAD, but really didn't work for Little Busters. So yeah, this is an instance where I most definitely recommend the novel over the series.

But you know what the real kicker is? I haven't even read all of Little Busters yet! Yes, I'm serious, and here's why: When Little Busters was rereleased in the Ecstasy/Memorial/Perfect Editions, Key added three completely new story arcs that were not in the original. As of writing this, there is no translation patch available for these extra routes, as the current translation project is stuck at I think 98% completion and just won't finish. And I heard one arc in particular is supposedly as good as Refrain! THE FRUSTRATION IS REAL.

To me, Little Busters is an unforgettable story. The characters and their turmoils stuck with me more than anything I'd ever read up to that point, and not even CLANNAD can keep up. Going back and reading through the fun-fun common route again makes me genuinely happy from the bottom of my heart. That's more than enough for me to give it the number two spot. If you're looking for a story and characters you can really get emotionally invested in, look no further. Key's got you covered.

So in the end, Little Busters has my favorite plotline, my favorite character and my favorite song in visual novels, and is also unparalleled in emotional payoff. What could possibly top that?

Updated 04-09-2015 at 10:50 AM by Karifean

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