- Title - Little Busters!
- Author - Key
- Style - Multi-path Visual Novel (interactive)
- Rating - All-Ages
- Trial - Yes
- Engine - RealLive (requires JP environment)
- Price - 8800 yen (before tax)
- Website - Official Website
- Get - Himeya Shop, J-List
Its been a long time since I started Little Busters, I remember receiving the box, starting it up and realizing I needed to get the script out of that little text window and into something a bit more dictionary friendly. A bit of hacking (by other people) and a lot of command line typing (by me) later and I had a folder of text files I could put in a HTML wrapper and use rikaichan to read. That was three years ago. Not wanting to fall behind on other (English) titles I read Little Busters off and on completing a route every once in a while. It would have been easy to give up and say "I've gotten the endings for my favorite girls, I'm done with this" but I heard good things about some unlockable path and I kept pushing. It was worth it.
For summary and character information please see this post on Wakeless Days.
Graphics - Key's art is always a love it or hate it topic, I obviously do like it. Tachi-e character portraits had a lot of variation and detail for emotions, lighting, and posture. Even the protagonist, Riki, had quite a wide variety even though they weren't used except in the rare perspective shift. The retro-sprites for the batting game are quite adorable. Background were carefully crafted and built up the story successfully. Event CGs were lush and well framed but were not exclusively focused on showing off the girls but rather on pushing the story forward. That being said, the CG distribution is a bit uneven. Some scenes were crying for event CGs and just didn't get them while, other scenes could have probably done fine without (not that I mind those). 9.5/10
Music/SFX - The music is fantastic. I use some BGM clips for ringtones and have the CD set on order. There are over forty tracks, including multiple ending vocal songs. Music is of course used to set the mood of the scene but each heroine has her own theme as well. The only track I disliked was Nishizono's theme as it seemed a bit too somber, but that's a minor quibble. The range on the BGM is quite impressive from tracks that are barely music to vocal insert songs and transitions aren't too heavy. I don't know if there is such a thing as a perfect soundtrack but I have yet to see better. 10/10
Voice Acting - The characters that were voiced were portrayed deftly and even though there was some role doubling each character was clearly distinguishable and cast well. However, not all characters were voiced. Key is small but certainly one of the top in its field, one would think they could hire (or double up on roles) to voice a few lines here and there for side characters. Voicing is expensive but since this was a sure-fire hit they ought to have spent the money (but as a sure-fire hit, they felt no need to bother?). That being said, in minigames and scenes with perspective shifts the protagonist was voiced. This was a nice touch, and helps us get a feel for Riki as his character development does impact the story. 9/10
Story - The story can be evaluated in three parts: the trunk/common route, the individual routes, and the Rin/Refrain routes. The trunk is enjoyable enough, lots of humorous scenes and side plots are peppered thoughout as well as minigames. A lot of effort went into writing this section and it shows. The (non-Rin) character routes are some times a bit messy but engaging. The weakest, Kudo's route, was a bit of a trainwreck but certainly not boring.
While these two aspects of the game (the only aspects promised by the box) together make a quite acceptable galge, it is the third part that pushes the boundaries. After clearing the individual routes Rin's character route can be played. After clearing this rather unusual story, a new option is added to the title menu: Refrain. At this point, LB sheds its galge skin and Key tells the story they meant to and with near-flawless execution. This is the strongest part of the game and more than makes up for any flaws in the earlier sections. 9.5/10
System/Extras - Little Busters! uses Visual Arts RealLive engine and runs only on Windows 2000 or newer. Unfortunately it seems to use some sort of DRM that requires the disc to start the game, this is extremely annoying (my only system complaint). Otherwise the game has all the standard features, wrapped in an extra shiny GUI. There are also various minigames (see screenshots above), which I enjoyed greatly but can be disabled if one wishes (they do not affect the plot significantly). In terms of extras there are the standard music and CG modes. 4/5
Overall - Little Busters! is not perfect, especially in the earlier parts. If you just want a dating game there are better choices. However if you let your self become immersed and clear all the normal routes, the world will reveal its secrets. As odd as it sounds, the strongest feeling I have towards LB is that of gratitude. I am grateful to Key for letting me read this story, letting me know these characters. It is a rare work that brings this feeling out of me and I hope you over look its flaws and enjoy it.
Score - 42/45 - 93% - Exceptional
Note - Ecstasy
There is also an 18+ version of Little Busters! titled: Little Busters! Ecstasy. Besides the obvious addition of erotic content (warning: Key is not known for their ero-writing). This version has 3 new routes (for two side characters and one entirely new character) as well as some script revisions (possibly a new ending for Kudo). I am playing through LBEX now but haven't played any of the new routes yet (instead I am enjoying rereading the original parts). As I said above, the refrain is the strongest part of the game (and surely the same in both parts) so owners of the original surely aren't going to miss too much.