Visual Arts and Key are well known in the visual novel community for being the developers of some of the greatest stories ever told, which are usually ones that make your heart ache and eyes water. Recently, we’ve seen the company have a larger presence in the west and it has led to them looking to get their older titles a proper localization and release.
This open idea to a bigger market has prompted the publisher to release 2007’s Little Busters! on Steam for western fans to officially enjoy. For those thinking that it’s strange for a company to go back 10 years to release a visual novel have probably not heard of Little Busters. Suffice to say, the wait for me was worth it and I’m amazed as to how I’m constantly finding great visual novels that eluded me for all of these years.
Little Busters stars Riki Naoe who would otherwise be a depressed loner had it not been for a group three boys, Kyousuke Natsume, Masato Inohara, and Kengo Miyazawa, and one girl, Rin Natsume. Riki had fallen into a deep depression after the loss of his parents, but was saved by this group and he knows it.
Interestingly, this is such a strange group of friends who each play their role in the group perfectly. Kyousuke is the leader who isn’t particularly smart or anything, but he knows how bring the group together, usually from ideas he gets in the light novels that he reads. Masato and Kengo are rivals till the bitter end and will constantly butt heads, but will also work together when they have a common goal. They argue so much that you start to appreciate the moments when they agree on something.
Rin is more or less an outcast to other female students, which she prefers. Her love for cats transcends the love she has for humans and she will often be found hanging around her feline companies and avoiding and responsibility. The friendship between these characters is told in such a genuine and pure way that you can’t help but fall in love with each of them within the first few hours of the game.
The story of Little Busters begins with Kyousuke proposing that the group start a baseball team. The only problem is that they don’t have enough players, so Riki and Rin are sent on special mission to seek out possible teammates. This would be easier had the Little Busters had more friends, but they take a swing at the task and it ends up working out.
Throughout the game Riki will meet a handful of female teammates. Evidently, each girl that joins the team is a possible date for Riki, which is decided during various choices offered during conversations. Being that this is the all-ages version of Little Busters! Ecstasy, Little Busters! EX Perfect Edition, there are more potential girls to meet along with new dialog options.
Little Busters knows how to expertly convince readers of not only the relationships between old friends, but also building new ones. Riki starts off as character who seems to avoid the spotlight, but ends up finding himself as the director of any given conversation. The amount of character growth that Riki goes through is crucial to not only him, but to the overall plot of the entire story. Portraying this growth the way that Key did should be looked at by any creative mind entering the space of visual novel or story writing.
Sure, the player is in control of some of Riki’s responses, but this only makes him more relatable to the player. I felt a certain connection to Riki that could only be done with this type of story telling and my choices were often well represented by what I would personally respond with.
During Little Busters there are a few interesting mini-games that players are able to take part in. My least favorite is the fighting scenes that get annoying after the first few fights, but these can be skipped as they don’t have any real affect on the story. However, there are other more enjoyable mini-games, including baseball and various missions.
These offer a nice break from just reading through the text and are pretty fun. Furthermore, during missions it’s possible to fail if you give the wrong responses or don’t complete the objective. This means that the player will need to pay attention to the story and have a good understanding of the characters and plot.
In Little Busters! English Edition, Key added some much needed improvements to make the game’s systems easier to pick up for modern gamers. This includes the option to play the game in 720p resolution. However, at any point during gameplay, the game can be switched to 4:3 aspect ratio, an option that purest will appreciate.
I felt that the game looked and played great on modern computers, but sadly the UI wasn’t up to modern standards. This mostly had to do with the touch controls that aren’t very intuitive or easy to understand. The keyboard shortcuts can be figured out with a bit of thought, but on screen touch icons are much need for games released (or re-released) in this generation.
Let me add that the music in Little Busters is brilliant. I found myself leaving some scenes on just to listen to the score while I digested just how emotionally powerful this game can be. Visual novels relay heavily on these features due to the the player interaction that they lack and Key does not skimp out on the production value of this soundtrack, which I greatly appreciated.
Lastly, I want to address just how impressed I was at the end of Little Busters. There are multiple paths that the player can encounter depending on which girl they end up with, but the overarching story is one of heart break and joy that consumes the player over the 40+ hour story.
Little Busters! English Edition needs to be played by any fan of visual novels, but would also fit in with fans of sci fi, drama, or slice of life stories. There is so much to unpack when discussing the story of Little Busters, that the only thing that will give it justice is to experience it with your friends and discuss its many plot points and branching narratives.
Little Busters! English Edition is the best way to experience one of the most well told visual novels ever. Even though fans had to wait this long to get an official release of the game in the west, I felt that it was well worth it. I’m glad to see that Key is taking a chance on the visual novel community in the west and I’ll happily spend my time plaything through more routes of Little Busters! as I await their next game.