Clannad Review for VN Noobs
Posted by solidbatman
“Do you love this school? I have to say I love it very, very much. But soon, everything changes. At least, eventually. Fun things, happy things, they will all change some day, you know. But, can you still love this place?” -Nagisa Furukawa
If you are a fan of anime, there is little doubt that you have heard of a a couple of Kyoto Animation works called Clannad and Clannad ~After Story~. What you may not know is that those two shows are an adaptation of prolific visual novel maker Key.
For those new to the genre, a visual novel is less of a game, and more of a choose your own adventure book. They are not very popular in the west, but have a solid following in Japan. Despite the fact that they lack a large following in the west, many games you play contain elements of visual novel game play. If you have ever played Mass Effect, Fallout, Elder Scrolls, Dragon Age, Deus Ex, or the more recent Persona titles, you have played a game with elements of the visual novel genre. In those games I listed, you are often given dialogue choices that will shape the story. Now imagine a game where that is all you do. You watch the story unfold, and pick dialogue choices to guide it how you want to.
That is what a visual novel is. There is usually little, to no game play allowing the writers and developers to focus solely on story. For that reason, playing a visual novel is more like reading a book than playing a game. Because it resembles reading more than gaming, many western gamers are turned off by the genre. Another contributing factor to the lack of popularity is the prevalent use of sex scenes in the genre. Luckily, there are many visual novels that do not feature these sort of things, instead choosing to focus on creating a great, powerful story instead of using sex to sell the novel. Clannad is one such novel.
Clannad opens up in a dream like world where everything appears to be covered in snow. This world is called the Illusionary World. There is no life in this world, save for one young girl who creates a body out of junk for the player to inhabit. The story quickly shifts to the real world again.
You assume the role of Tomoya Okazaki, a student at Hikarizara Private High School. In junior high, he were a good basketball player, until a fight with your father ruined his shoulder. Unable to play basketball, and alienated from his father, Tomoya becomes a tardy student, showing up late to class and not trying in the classes he does show up to. He spends most of his time at Youhei Sunohara’s dormitory. Sunohara is also a delinquent as well after a falling out with the soccer team. Together, the two scrape by in school, never trying to better themselves or plan for the future.
One day, while late for school, Tomoya comes across a girl who wears the same uniform as him. She is standing at the bottom of the hill leading to the school trying to motivate herself to go. Together, Tomoya and the girl, who we find later is named Nagisa Furukawa, walk to school together. From here, the story branches out into many different directions, or routes.
For example, you can choose to hang out with Nagisa, or visit the library which will introduce you to another girl whose story you can follow. That being said, Nagisa is the main heroine in Clannad and she is a main character in more than just her route.
Clannad’s main theme, through nearly all of the routes, is the importance of family. Nearly all of the routes involve a family member of the main protagonist. For example, the twin sisters, Kyou and Ryou Fujibayishi’s routes are intertwined with each other. Nagisa’s route offers a stark contrast in families compared to Tomoya’s family. Fuko Ibuki’s route is centered around her older sister. Families shape our lives, and make us who we are, and Clannad does a great job of showing this to the reader.
A key to having a good VN, is having a good character for the player to play as. Tomoya fills that role very well. He is a smart ass, has a “filthy” mouth, and is “rude”, but is selfless and very loyal to his friends. Despite this, he does portray a few flaws since he is somewhat hot headed and a couple of his actions in After Story left me not liking him. He seems to find a way to redeem himself after his stumblings, thanks in large part to his family.
The rest of the cast is well written too. Kyou is brash, loud, and quick to anger often flinging a dictionary as a weapon. She mirrors Tomoya in many ways as she does show a softer side with how she treats her twin sister, Ryou, and her pet, Botan. Fuko is just hilarious with her love of star fish and her suspicion that Tomoya is, in fact, “a strange person”. Kotomi, the genius, is very innocent and harbors an almost obsessive fear of bullies. Those are but a few of the colorful personalities you will come across while reading Clannad.
Despite all of them, the main story belongs to Nagisa, who luckily for us, manages to border the cute, but not too cute line. She loves Dango (pictured below), but has very little self-confidence. Her interactions with Tomoya vary from sweet and cute, to serious, all without making the reader think she is bi-polar. In that sense, she feels real. She may act childish, but she is in fact really mature, and simply insecure, and lacking confidence in herself.
Nearly all of the routes in the main part of the game are balanced very well with heavy doses of humor matched with strong drama. Sunohara is our comic relief, and his banter with Tomoya, and the girls from other routes usually had me laughing. For example, when a girl named Tomoyo beats up some biker gang punks, Sunohara refuses to believe a girl can be stronger than a guy, so he challenges Tomoyo to fights, or tries to get Tomoyo to admit she is a man. All of these end in amazing fashion, with Tomoyo setting new records for her kick combos.
While the comedy in Clannad is hilarious, the drama is what makes it a memorable experience. Many characters have experienced death and suffered emotional trauma in the past, or might be struggling to carve out a new identity. Kotomi’s route, and Fuko’s route stand out in the first part of Clannad as two of the strongest stories. Both deal with heavily with the family theme, and coping mechanisms to tragic events. I don’t want to go into too much detail, since it would spoil a lot, but the ending of most of the routes are very well done and bittersweet in many cases.
All of what I’m mentioning now takes place in the first part of the game or what I like to call, the School Arc. Clannad is divided into two separate parts. The School Arc , and After Story. The School Arc certainly has some sad moments, as well as bittersweet moments. After Story tops all of it. Taking place after Tomoya graduates, it follows the next 7 years of his life with Nagisa and her family. Family plays an even more important role in After Story as we learn more about Tomoya’s family, and we see how he would act in a family unit, something we don’t see in the School Arc.
We also learn more about the Illusionary World and the two inhabitants of it. Throughout the School Arc, the story of the Illusionary World is advanced slowly, and in After Story, it finally plays a very important part of the story.
Without After Story, Clannad is a cute, bittersweet visual novel with some very good moments and a great story. With After Story, Clannad becomes something different. It becomes an experience. While I’ve played many games, Clannad might just be the most memorable experience.
While I have been praising Clannad this entire time, it does have a couple of flaws. One of them is something all visual novels share. Wrong Ends. If you pick incorrect choices in the dialogue, you may get bad endings, and miss out on the story. This can be remedied by having many saves (99 pages worth are allowed I think). The choices are not always clear cut. You may think you are doing the right thing, but you in fact did the wrong thing. I played for 3 hours at one point, only to end with a Wrong End. While Clannad gives you the option to skip text you have already seen (allowing you to reach the point you were at in no time at all), it can be frustrating for gamers used to the “Good Choice, Neutral Choice, Bad Choice” options of most dialogue, story driven video games.
Another minor complaint involves the translation. Baka- Tsuki is to be praised with the amount of effort they put into translating Clannad, but there are some major typos, errors, bugs, and just parts that are not translated. It does not break the game, nor does it hinder the story, but it does get annoying at times to be called “No valid string attached please make a ticket about it,” by Nagisa when all she is saying is “Tomoya- kun”. Other times, the translation is awkward, or too literal. Translating from Japanese to English is hard, I know. That being said, this release (the only English release that I know of) could use some heavy editing and quality checks. Again, Baka- Tsuki deserves a lot of praise for tackling something as large as Clannad, and it is a minor complaint.
The final complaint I have is the art style. It grows on you, but can be a bit jarring at first, especially if you are new to anime style art. There is nothing wrong with it except that is it moe (ultra cute style, big, innocent eyes). This moe style turns off many gamers from trying out eastern games. Please, do not let that sway your decision to play games, or read this visual novel.
Clannad is the first long visual novel I have ever completed. I truly regret not playing it sooner because the story and characters far surpass anything I have seen in gaming in terms of growth, complexity, and how I am able to connect to them. I dare say Clannad is a masterpiece in both story telling and character development. You are doing yourself a disservice by not reading this visual novel.
You can download the game here. You will need a bittorrent client, such as utorrent, to download.