To be honest, I do not really play visual novels, basically before playing Little Busters, the last time I played one was Umineko no Naku Koro ni #6 when the Witch Hunt English Translation came out. However, playing through a game like this was really refreshing and enjoyable at the same time, with the unique systems you dont often, if ever see in a game like this. Be warned, that whilst the version of the game I am reviewing IS NOT A HENTAI GAME, there is another version known as Little Busters! Ecstasy which I believe is for 18+ only and despite the extra storyline components, you may land yourself into a scene undesirable to you, however I assume the basically fundamental storyline remains. Anyway, with that warning done and dusted, please read on for my review of Little Busters for the PC.
When Riki was a child, his parents died, leaving him hopeless and depressed. What saved him was a group of his friends who referred to themselves as the Little Busters; they took Riki out and played together with him during his time of need. He really enjoyed playing with them, and his grief gradually faded away. When the story begins, they are in their second year of the high school they attend. They still hang out together, and enjoy their school life.
The storyline follows the everyday lives of a group of students who call themselves the Little Busters, a name they have used since childhood. They are now in high school with four of them in second year and one of them in their third and final year. Generally, the storyline starts off implementing the battle and baseball systems and then the next majority of the game consists of finding members for the other places in the team, consisting of another five or so girls, most of who don’t really care much about the game when it is practice time and then interacting with all the characters in order to follow the characters individual path, so for example Rin’s path has you completing a bunch of quests from curing someones love sickness to catering for the entire cohort due to the cafeteria staff disappearing and so-forth to helping Kud find a room-mate et cetera. Generally, all the paths are unique and upon completion of them all, a final arc is unlocked which sums up the entire storyline and is generally much darker in nature, however is only touched on prior to reaching the arc.
Within the storyline there are a total of ten main characters, with five being present from the start and another five being unlocked as they become members of the Little Busters team. Each of them are unique in their personalities, however some of them do comprise of several cliche personalities, however since they are primarily likable characters, it was possible to ignore the cliches, especially when their paths branched off and ended up with some interesting storylines, both cheerful and depressing.
The main character is named Riki Naoe, a boy who was left without parents at a young age, therefore the Little Busters was a group of friends who helped him get on with his life. His personality is pretty much up to the reader where they can choose either to go along with his friends pranks or play a more cautious route and take the opposite personality. During the story, he is shown to be the only one the female characters really rely on (Duh, this is in part a dating game) and is often pushed into the pranks of the other characters (Such as being forced to cross dress after being tricked by all the girls). The other four Little Busters consists of Masato, Riki’s roommate and best friend who is into “muscles” and has a rivalry with other member Kengo, who is the leader of the schools kendo team. The other two members consist of Kyousuke, the leader of the group and responsible for the baseball idea and Rin, who has a very shy personality and only originally reveals her kindness to the hundreds of cats that flock to her.
The other five females who join the team are Komari, a child-like student who is addicted to sweet foods, Kud, a quarter Japanese three-quarters Russian girl who wears a white cape and hat who has extreme difficulty using english, Yuiko, who is the oldest looking one of the group who is addicted to both cute (Such as Komari and Kud) and dangerous things, Haruka who is an extreme trouble maker and Mio who takes up the post of the frail girl who does not talk much. Generally all these characters get the same amount of screentime, with the exception of Riki, and each of them had their own unique routes which requires you to essentially pick every option in the game. My only problem with the characters was that I tried to Kurugawa Yuiko’s route several times, however I ended up on different routes by accident, however that is just me, most of the routes should be easy to choose if you want to follow them.
The image above is generally the most risque type of image you will see in the game, with no frontal nudity or any indecent scenes present at least when I played it, however once again be warned, the ecstasy remake does have this content, so be wary. The artwork is generally the stuff you would expect to find in a dating game such as this, high quality CG art and lots of it. Each character has an ample number of CG art and it all works well into the storyline. There is a part of Kud’s arc where it does get a bit depressing however it is short-lived.
I personally really liked the character art in this game, living up to the quality I would expect from a developer like Key. All character designs are generally good and suit the characters personalities well. My only peeve with them is that some of the taller characters exceed the head boundary and therefore end up with a quarter of their head off the screen, however for the most part, it works well. The background designs are also good and have several variations of every room to take into account population of the room, time of day and the storyline itself. The only problem is that the character designs in the background don’t suit the actual main character portrait designs. During the game, the small factors such as the character sprites in the baseball game and the object designs in the battle system are all very creative and make the mini-game systems worth playing.
For a visual novel, there is a large variety of music that is played during the course of the game, I could say over 50 different tunes. Okay, it may not be as many as say, Umineko no Naku Koro ni, but it is still a very decent number of songs, and none of them are uninteresting. They all suit the mood of the part of the game they are played in, and I am particuliary fond of the battle theme “Heroic Battle” which reminds me of what I would expect in an arcade battle game. The voice acting suited the characters as well, however for a game like this, it would have been nice to see the main character, Riki, voiced more then just the half a dozen times in the baseball games. The video above links to the opening cinematic of the game, and I really enjoyed it as well, not to my normal tastes, but enjoyable.
The gameplay is the normal text based visual novel you would expect, with characters talking to each other and the text underneath, allowing you to change the course of the story by choosing actions and generally following the game in this path for whatever reason. To add to the variety of the game, they have added several systems such as baseball and battling which all add to the gameplay experience, and do also contribute to the storyline in some way.
The battle system relies on both you undertaking baseball practice which increases your stats, items which you can be given by trading or being given them and a random weapon assigned by you at the beginning of the battle. How the system works is that random items will be thrown at the fighters at the beginning of the game, and they have to randomly choose one at the start of the game which they have to then fight with. This can consist of anything from small knives, tennis rackets and cats to more silly ones such as business cards and glue sticks, each with a battle skill and strength. Whilst you have no direct control over the battle itself, it is definitely something fun to watch for the sheer stupidity of some of the battles.
During the game, you can wander around the area and run into group members to battle to increase or decrease your score on the ranking system to become overall Ruler of the Battle Rankings. The loser of the two will end up gaining a silly sounding nickname, often corresponding to the person who gave out the title to the loser. This is implemented for all characters to join, leading to a total of ten possible characters who you can battle with.
The other main system is the baseball system, which essentially has you doing batting practice while hitting balls thrown by RIn and forming combos by passing the ball around to all players on the team in the field. Unfortunately, I found this really difficult with my keyboard and was only able to get a maximum combo of 3. However, it is fun, even if you are there to try and hit the cats which are scattered around the field, which often leads to Rin throwing an extremely fast ball at you.
None of the bonus systems would be sufficient in most games, however for a visual novel, it added a freshness to the overall game and made it a better game to play overall then most I have played.
In terms of replayability, it is possible to get a few dozen hours out of it in order to complete each route plus the bonus route. The storyline would get boring in parts if you repeated them over and over, however the storyline branches constantly which allows for a unique playthrough each time.
Personally, I think it was worth the purchase and if anyone wants a non-hentai visual novel, then this could be just what you are looking for. Personally, since the company has released a lot of anime adaptations of their products, I would like to see an anime version of this game in the future.
+ A visual novel that has a storyline that spreads well over multiple playthroughs.
+ A dating game that takes the concept to a new level with baseball and battles being implemented.
+ The routes are all different and focus on a different concepts.
- Some routes can get confusing.
+ 10 main characters with a variety of personalities.
+ Each female character has their own route.
+ Characters each are given stats that take into account their own personalities and physique.
+ High quality character portraits.
+ Backgrounds are good quality.
+ Variety of CG art that is all good quality.
- Characters shown in the background art are subpar and do not reflect the main character portraits.
Music/Voice Acting: 9
+ Wide variety of music tracks.
+ Good voice acting.
+ Sound effects are good.
+ Basic visual novel system present.
+ Baseball System
+ Battle System with rankings
- Whilst the systems are there, they are only present for the common route and are cut off once you progress down a characters route.
- Quite often you will find yourself at the end of a common route with the game simply ending due to no criteria being matched.
+ Encourages multiple playthroughs.
+ Bonus chapter upon all routes being taken.
- For some, there might not be enough in the common route to warrant multiple playthroughs.
Personal Opinion: 9
Total Score: 9
For those looking at getting a copy of the game, there are several stores that should still stock this game in, otherwise, there is a PSP version being released at the end of the year and Play-Asia has it being listed at $US 69.90 in which more information can be found here. I have no idea if that version will be a clean or hentai version, however considering the system, I would assume it would be a non-hentai version. PLEASE NOTE, that the game is in full Japanese, there is currently a group doing an unofficial fan translation with releases per arc, which is still not fully completed. A fully legal copy of the game is advised.
Not in relation to this game, but if you do enjoy English Visual Novels, then there are groups such as MangaGamer which are slowly bringing out more games 100% officially to the english market if you do not already own the game. Their title range is currently small but seems to cater for a wide variety of novels so if you want to read a visual novel, even one such as Higurashi then you may find the title you are looking for at sites like these without the need to import.