(Little Busters has an all-ages and a non-h version for PC. Differences explained at the end of review)
I remember when I first started playing galge and Key was all I knew. I think these days in the English community, Key and Type-Moon are probably the first comapnies to come to mind. I guess Key is widely liked due to having moe moe characters and being a utsuge. Maeda isn’t afraid to make men cry XD Key is a pretty old company and all, dating back to Kanon in 1999 and even before that, the staff of Key were in Tactics, creating utsuge. I guess back when utsuge was new and rare, Key stood out and the popularity stuck. I don’t deny that Key does make good visual novels, but I guess they’re not the best to me (looseboy from Akabeisoft2 takes the cake). Still, Little Busters is a good VN. Certainly left an impression on me.
Back when Riki was little, his parents died and he became despressed. One day, Natsume Kyousuke reached out to him and invited him to join the “Little Busters,” a group of four kids who claimed to fight evil. Since then, the five of them have always been together, having fun. In Riki’s second year of high school, Kyousuke decides that he wants the Little Busters to play baseball (because it is the ultimate sport of burning passion and refreshing youth friendship!!!!). They’ve only got 5 people though, so they go out to seek members. Riki convinces 5 other girls to join, and thus beings our tale of beautiful friendship…
Fail summary aside, the theme of LB is friendship. I like friendship, so I ended up liking LB better than Clannad and Kanon. Beautiful friendship is indeed beautiful.
Little Busters! is also part mock fighting game, although that can be turned off. Basically a fight between two characters carry out based on their stats which are raised during the daily baseball training. Each character can also equip battle items that increase certain stats or recover HP. Furthermore, the weapon to be used in battle is randomly selected, so you can get things from paper airplanes to nailclippers. The battle outcome is dependent on the characters’ stats as you don’t actually control them. You can decide whether to practice baseball longer (to increase stats) or not.
It takes place in the usual high school setting. The entire damn VN takes place at school because it is a boarding school. You go out into town once or twice, go to the beach, and some specific buildings in certain routes, but 90% of game takes place in school. If you’re tired of school settings, stay far, far away. The plots starts out light-hearted and comedic, and the first part for any route is practically the same. You gather members, become friends with everyone, and play baseball for the first half. After the baseball match, you go into a girl’s route depending on choices you made previously. The choices aren’t exactly obvious either, as one of the important choices that determine what route is available comes in the form of “what donut flavor would you like?” I just followed a nice guide, which tells you all the choices and gives you a good idea of where to make a save to branch off. Saves much more time. After the light-hearted, comedic baseball practices, you go into a girls’ route. AKA where the depressing things starts, some more depressing than others. The heroine’s routes themselves range from mediocre to bawl-worthy, but you’ll have to go through all of them to unlock Refrain, which is the meat of the story that answers the secrets of the world in LB.
The heroines’ routes vary in quality and level of sadness. Rin’s route (not the mandatory bad end) is very different from the rest due to being the “true” route that unlocks Refrain. Haruka’s route is what I found most bawl-worthy, although saying why would be a spoiler. The level of romance is also very varying, with Kud getting lots of kiss scenes and Komari basically gets just a hug. LB is a friendship game, so there are no routes with intense action and mystery. Chances are, you’ll like LB if you like previous Key works. If you can’t stand simple school life and drama (and don’t care for FRIENDSHIP), LB probably isn’t for you at all.
The cast is colorful, and you’ll get attatched to them quite easily. They’re a group of good friends, after all.
Naoe Riki – The protagonist who has the voice of a shota during the parts where he is voiced. It doesn’t help that he is physically frail, has narcolepsy, and isn’t much of a badass. He’s probably the exact opposite of Tomoya from Key’s famed Clannad. Riki is physically weak, but he is a good student and uses his intelligence well later on. He is also kind from the start and makes friends easily.
Natsume Rin – The heroine. She is quite the tsun around the original members of Little Busters! (all male aside from her), but immediately ducks behind Riki when facing someone she doesn’t know. She has no female friends at the beginning, doesn’t care much about school at all, and constantly skips duty to play with cats. Rin is extremely shy. I don’t know whether to classify her as a dandere or a tsundere…She’s tsun around her male friends, but drops the tsun immediately in her route. Rin is adorable.
Natsume Kyousuke – Rin’s older brother, and the leader of Little Busters. Always thinks of fun things to do, and is the one who decided to play baseball despite being in his final year in high school and in the middle of job hunting. He is a major character despite not being a heroine. Upon finishing the game, Kyousuke is my favorite character. Fabulous friendship is fabulous.
Inohara Masato – Riki’s muscle freak roomate who does nothing but muscle training. The only one who can match him in a fight is Kengo. He is a member of the Little Busters, and is also quite important in the big picture. More important than that though, Masato is comic relief to the max.
Miyazawa Kengo – The most serious of the Little Busters, he doesn’t participate in baseball training because he is busy with kendo practice. He is the only one strong enough to match Masato.
Kamikita Komari – A clumsy girl who likes to hang out at the rooftop that you’re not supposed to go to. She’s the slow speech character who is always clueless and speaks in a high-pitched voice. She has the ultimate cheerfulness and is everyone’s favorite teasing target.
Noumi Kudryavka – Just called Kud for short, she is a quarter Japanese. Her Japanese is perfectly fine–it’s her English that’s not. She constantly tries to speak English because it gives her a more foreign feel, but her Engrish is probably worse than my French. That’s saying a lot. She has a tendency to cry out “WAFU~!” and is ultra moe.
Kurugaya Yuiko – Mischevious big sis who likes to tease people and has ultra manry strength. In her route, Riki actually falls in love with her because she is manly. Kyousuke, Masato, and Kengo are all scared of her manly strength. Big sis is also very good at math and speaks more languages than I know how to say “hello” in (…I can’t say hello in a lot of languages, actually). Big sis is some kind of superwoman with the ability to shatter doors.
Nishizono Mio – A quiet, frail girl who is always reading books under the tree, carries a parasol, and is too weak to participate in sports. Thus, she becomes the manager instead. Also a deadpan snarker to the max, and likes to pair up Kyousuke and Riki (…I wouldn’t hesitate about doing that either…).
Saigusa Haruka – A noisy girl from another class who goes around causing trouble in the school and is constantly chased by the school disciplinary committee. She does things like scattering marbles across the hallways. Has a bad relationship with the leader of the disciplinary committee.
This being Key, a lot the the BGM is wonderful. There’s the heartwarming music played during the climax (all quality galge should have this!!!!), and the nice piece that plays during sad moments. Most of the other music is very atmospheric and the character themes suit each character nicely. There’s also quite a few vocal songs, the best of which is the vocal version of Song for Friends played during the climax of Refrain. Key has quality music indeed.
If you couldn’t tell, there were two artists for the characters. Hinoue Itaru (artist of previous Key games) designed Komari, Haruka and Kurugaya, whereas Na-Ga (usually a background artist) designed Rin, Kud, and Mio. Hinoue is the usual artist, but I like Na-Ga’s style better because the eyes are rounder. Plus, Kud is moe and Mio is pretty. I’m not fond of Hinoue’s more square-ish eyes.
The CGs are of varying quality. Sometimes the proportions look off and deformed, but certain CGs look really nice with great lighting (there’s 2 really great-looking Kyousuke CGs lol). Overall, the art isn’t outstanding, but not bad either. Hinoue improved a huge amount since Kanon and Air (oh god, look at the art then. The eyes are even more huge and square-ish, and the mouths are even smaller and higher up), but I still find her pretty mediocre. I thought the art in Clannad was nice back then because it was like my first visual novel and I obviously haven’t seen much else (not even fanart). Nowadays I’ve certainly seen much better.
I’d recommend Little Busters! if you’re a fan of previous Key works, or if you like friendship. Those who like school settings, comedy, and a generally light-hearted atmosphere with drama should play Little Busters. It’s more friendship-heavy than romance-heavy, be prepared to play through some routes where the confession happens at the end. The continuation of the main heroine’s route, Refrain, doesn’t have much romance at all (unless you save at a certain point, beat the game, reload, and a new choice pops up). I played the first edition of Little Busters which has no 18+ content. Ecstacy has added 18+ content with 3 extra routes. Fortunately, the PS2 and PSP versions are non-H versions of Ecstacy, which means it has the added 3 extra routes but no H-scenes. If your level of Japanese is high, go for Ecstacy or one of its all-ages ports. Otherwise, wait for the complete patch which only works on the original Little Busters or play the partial patch and AGTH/Translation Aggregator the rest of the way.
Refrain > Haruka > Rin > Kurugaya > Mio > Kud > Komari