Last time I reviewed a visual novel, it was Narcissu / Narcissus by Stage Nana. Having been done professionally, it had the benefit of a good team working behind it for custom art and contributions by talented musicians. It was very kind of the company to allow the English translation to be produced and released free to the public. To date, it’s the only professionally-done visual novel for English speakers (at least, it’s the only one I know of).
Those of us working solo don’t necessarily have the luxuries of a professional team or talented artists, but that doesn’t mean something can’t be cobbled together and still provide a quality experience.
This review focuses on a visual novel created by Scope Games, which is for the most part, a single individual. After scrounging the internet for images, image templates, and songs, they pieced together this entertaining this work free for you to enjoy. Download here.
Table of Contents
- Story – I briefly outline what we’re looking at.
- Gameplay – What kind of game experience to expect
- Non-spoiler Review – Basic idea of the content
- Guide to Gameplay – How to get what you want in the game (without really spoiling it for you)
- (Ambiguous) Spoiler Review – For if you really want to know what’s wrong with the content
- Remarks on Realism
- Rating – The overall quality rating, including content you might want to be aware of (ambiguous spoilers)
This visual novel is based on the visual novel Clannad, which has its only anime broken up into two titles: Clannad and its sequel, Clannad After Story. These particular anime are family oriented, but by that I mean they focus on struggling families, not that they are appropriate for young kids. The same is true with this fan novel.
The story is about the life of a man named Okazaki Naoyuki, the father of Tomoya, the main character in Clannad. This story is about the events of Naoyuki’s life, primarily in the town of Ushinawa, leading up to his marriage and birth of his son.
As in the Clannad visual novel, this novel allows the player to make decisions that effect the outcome of the story. Only one set of paths is designed to be the canonical one, and it’s up to the player to figure that out.
The game was created using RenPy (link to about page with features???), and thus has all of the benefits of that creator, including the ability to rewind steps (up to a certain amount) and replay them, undo and redo choices with the scroll of the mouse wheel, and provide a seamless appearance to the novel. If you want to make a visual novel and don’t mind learning a teeny bit of simple code (which they have in tutorials built in to the creator), then use RenPy.
One word describes best how this visual novel grabs at you: natsukashii. That’s Japanese for “nostalgia”. If you haven’t seen the anime or played the visual novel, that’s okay. But do so at some point. Watching the anime after playing the game will give you the nostalgia moment in the anime whereas watching before playing will give you the nostalgia moment in the novel. Personally, I think the latter is better since that appears to be how this novel kept my interest.
When you go looking at typical free visual novels, they are embarrassing. This work, however, looks and sounds excellent. The primary reason for this is because of internet browsing on the part of the creator looking for help, but ultimately the novel turned out to be a great success in my book.
Humorous at first, but as in most stories, it transitions into more of a drama once it has captured the audience. Overall, you’ll notice it isn’t by any means perfect writing, and in certain scenes it’s ridiculously redundant (sometimes so that you get to hear all of a beautiful song). Hence, the writing has its ups and downs.
You’re reading a story, or more like several stories with the same opening. Don’t think of this as a game. There are a couple other “love interests” as they call them, but neither of these side stories are as long as the main one.
Not original, sadly (at least from an artist’s perspective), but its a very gentle, pleasant selection. More importantly, each song fits almost every scene its played in (with a peculiar exception once or twice). The musical aspect in particular plays the biggest role in nostalgia.
Being done in RenPy, the creator had the benefit of transitions and fadeouts, which they used and enhanced the experience. Artistic appearance was very nice quality, although it is definitely obvious that all of the girls were made from templates.
Guide to “Gameplay”
Insert ambiguous spoilers warning here.
It’s very predictable who you will meet in the next scene when you make a choice, and gauging things by that, you should be able to guide yourself along the canonical path with ease. If you decide not to do that, you’ll have to make some choices moderately early in the game (hint: if a choice looks like its going to get you closer in a relationship, its a branch point). Otherwise, you’ll end up with the disaster or melancholy endings. If you do manage to find the paths that lead to the other love interests, you’ll find that the scenery changes and you get a couple of new songs in the music room (at least from the first path).
You’re not given enough control to make you feel like there is flexibility in any story. In other words, you can’t make a “bad” or “negative” decision and fix it later. There’s only one part that allows you to choose a different path and end up with the same result, but of course, having the exact same result isn’t really much control over the story. In other words, there’s nothing you can do to ensure the life of the main character has everything you want, but of course, this is supposed to be more of a canonical novel, not a game.
For this section, the spoilers are actually very tame. While I reference some scenes in the story, it isn’t enough to really give you an idea of what is happening, unless you are familiar with certain things in Clannad or common practice for visual novels, in which case most of these statements aren’t spoilers at all. As in the review, this section is broken up into sections about the writing, choices, music, and visuals.
(Put in the spoilers section because you aren’t supposed to know everyone before the story begins)
- Okazaki Naoyuki – The protagonist, son of Shino and Kohta? Also called “Nao”.
- Okazaki Shino – Mother of Naoyuki and wife of Kohta.
- Okazaki Kohta – Almost always absent father of Naoyuki.
- Okazaki Yui – The baby sister of Naoyuki.
- Sakamoto Miu – The daughter of the neighbor of Naoyuki’s family. She is a jogger Naoyuki occasionally meets.
- Nakamura Atsuko – The girl Naoyuki rescues on the hill up to school and who becomes the primary love interest.
- Shige Katsuro – A class representative at Naoyuki’s school.
- Inoue Haruka – A 21-yr-old city girl Naoyuki meets. She defends him and takes him into town on a date.
- Fukuda Miwa – Former girl-friend of Naoyuki and current friend of Atsuko.
When you start the story, you get an immediate feel for the writing. Get used to it because that’s about the quality of the rest of the story. It doesn’t get any better. The scene on the hill at the start of the story is a example of the writing at its poorest. Fortunately, it quickly improves with some humor in the classroom scene “shortly” after (depending on how fast you read). The writing is particularly geared towards emphasizing the emotional parts of the story. As such, sometimes the writer drags out the scene so that you can immerse yourself in the emotional aura of the scene. That’s fine, but not when the grammatical structure of sentences makes no sense. Biggest peeve: Too many periods! Okay, so I’m being picky, but just stating a couple words for a phrase doesn’t necessarily capture the feel you are intending when you write.
Despite the actual ending being tragic, I’m actually quite pleased the creator kept things canonical and made you feel like that was the correct path. It ties this story in nicely with the official Clannad visual novel and anime. The car accident, however canonical, was a bit too forced in this story. It didn’t make a whole lot of sense, and could have been done better, but by the time we reach this point in the story, the writer is racing towards the finish of this novel and you haven’t been given any choices that might have saved your lover’s life (although I can think of a spot where one should be). The quality of the writing has already started a slow decent with the discussion of Tomoya’s name and is evident at the accident scene.
I do like how each character is developed. By the time you’re finished with the story, you have a good feel for what everyone is like (or at least you can assumptions about their character based on what they say). The mother of the main character, Naoyuki, for example, is a homebody who loves and cares for her children, always making sure that Naoyuki knows he is welcome and loved at home, whether he understands that or not. She seems to like the simple, quiet life. The main character, Naoyuki, appears to be self-centered individual (as he debates with himself) who is perpetually thinking about his own loneliness and misery. His perspective is a very realistic result of mistreatment and abuse. He comes to realize how foolish he is when he meets Atsuko, but this personality trait never leaves him until he returns to his mother and is magically visited by Atsuko who has to tell him to take care of their son. Lesson: Don’t get your identity from others. This isn’t a culture study article or I’d start complaining about how self-centered many people are and how they falsely think that love is the answer to their problems. Maybe it is, but I highly doubt it. Moving on…
Why is it death always seems to be the cop-out for writing? I’m talking about the non-canonical, non-other-love-interest choices you make. There was work put into the depressing bad endings, but it always seems like the tragic ending is the norm (similar to the Choose-Your-Own-Adventure books). It’s not dramatic, people, it’s cliché, even if it does make sense. This author tries to surprise us with the extent to which they take the endings, keeping it consistent with the other paths you could have taken, but ultimately, some one is going to die … -_-
On the other hand, if you follow down a path of the girl named Haruka, nothing can go wrong other than returning to laziness.
Let’s not drag the writer down too much. The fact is, it takes alot of work to write one of these things, especially multiple paths, and I’d rather have the main story be excellent than worry about the silly side paths. (But after awhile, you’ll probably get sick of seeing the “Illusionary World” continuously being visited with the almost the same monologue over and over again.)
Remixes the lot of them! What else were you expecting? Not all of these songs were in used in the Clannad anime or sequel (I’m not sure about the visual novel). Most of these songs are piano music.
Best songs in my opinion:
- “Timeless Town” – A piano remix of “Town, Flow of Time, People” used in a similar manner as the original in the anime. The quality is about the same as the original.
- “Grace” – Simply beautiful, almost like a fall, winter and Christmas season song.
- “Torch” – The first time you hear this song, it’s all nostalgia and you’ll probably enjoy every second of it as I did even if you didn’t like the original.
- “Sun Beams Through the Leaves” – More than just piano for this remix: it has vocals and a soft orchestral sound. A humorous point: Some of you may recognize the opening as being used for the commercial moment in the anime.
- “Country Train Rearrange” – Only on this list because it is happy sounding. It’s a mixture of elevator music and what I would call “rural optimism”. For you Lego nerds out there, think “Lego Island”.
Songs with usage of interest:
- “A Talk About Dreams” – While it starts off beautiful and happy, it gets sad. That doesn’t diminish the quality, since it’s a well-produced song, but its depressing notes are foreboding – a spoiler in itself of the story if you don’t know anything about Clannad.
- “String Figures” – It’s not a favorite, but it is a modest piece in itself and is used quite effectively in this story.
- “Pursuer” – Same with “String Figures”
Songs to laugh at:
- “Where Wishes Come True” – This should be obvious.
- “Spring One Day” – Kinda uplifting yet simultaneously being drab.
- “Golden Fields” – Also in the Korean soap opera “Full House”.
I could say things about the other songs, but none of the others are as interesting or as effective. “Wounded”, for example, is supposed to be dark disturbing, but the song takes the life of its own and doesn’t always seem to mesh with the story well (depending on the scene and arc you play), almost as if it’s trying to tell a different story.
Notably, a couple of the songs were done by the creator: “Illusive Fantasy” and “TFT”.
Characters aside, it didn’t seem like the other artwork in the story was overused, despite how often you see it. The creator has a good mixture of pictures mixed with black and white scenes to get you to contemplate on what is being said. I though the visual layout of Narcissu kept you in contemplation better, allowing you to visualize things for yourself to a great extent even while looking at the images, so I was quite pleasantly surprised to enjoy a story with the full screen filled with imagery. It did make it harder to just contemplate on what was being said, but the visuals were far more active in this novel than in Narcissu, so having the visuals at full screen was perfect for this story.
The writer has CG moments you are expected to look for in the game. The intention is that they appear to be special since they are used for special moments. They work about half the time.
Remarks on Realism
The writing is realistic… in that it’s whatever comes to the mind of the writer / creator. That’s fine considering most people think this way. Sometimes it’s not realistic – it’s just there for emotional emphasis and dragging on a touching or dramatic scene.
The choice results are thankfully consistent. i.e. you make a choice and things happen around you in a manner similar to how they would have if you picked the other option, or things you could have prevented if you had made a certain decision happen if you don’t choose that option.
The characters Naoyuki and his mother Shino are realistic and not just because they have the most character development. The girls are all too willing to intentionally go with the main character. They aren’t stalking him, per se, but they seem all too willing to make the guy their friend almost overnight. For example, inviting someone for a private lunch isn’t something you normally do to someone you met yesterday – I’d expect at least there be other friends present. Maybe it’s me who’s not normal, just cautious.
One last thing: death. While I understand that it is realistic someone who isn’t paying attention to the world around them can get hit by a car pretty easily (as in one ending), the likelihood of this happening to someone fully awake, paying attention to the world, and who had no legitimate reason to go out that day in the first place (as in one arc) is very small. Possible? – Yes, but it’s a slim chance.
Okay, so I’m picky. In all reality, I wouldn’t change a thing about this story (unless I was the one writing it in the first place).
Don’t let this score deceive you. If you’re looking for a game with choices, this would be rated 4/10. This score simply says that for this particular story, the number of choices was relatively appropriate. I would have changed a thing or two here and there with consequences, but that’s just me.
Not quite the perfect selection (and maybe a tad too small), but for a free, one-person job, this is really good.
I was stunned when I found this game and played it. I was disappointed at some of the simplicity of some things, but when you don’t have the option for custom art, this is pretty good.
Overall: 31/40 (77.5%)
If you’re looking for something relatively happy and touching or just want to fill in the blank for what came before the official Clannad story, this is definitely something to check out.
Possibly Problematic Content
As in Clannad (both the visual novel and the anime), this visual novel presents us with a world between worlds, called the “Illusionary World”. The connection of this world with the normal world is somewhat ambiguous but it has to do with the happiness, feelings, memories, and wishes of others being encapsulated in balls of light. Some of these memories aren’t very pleasant and include a murder story. Nothing is shown, however, and story is said to be a myth. No one really knows the connection of this world to the normal world other than that it is a plot device that may or may not have been influenced by eastern religions.
There is talk of murder in some cases, even a scene that would appear scary to some children (though teenagers will probably laugh unless they think of it like Higurashi No Naka Kore Ni). And of course, there are car accidents, one described and one where blood is shown, though the scene is almost comical because of the simple effort in creating the dramatic scene. Depending on one of the choices you make, one path leads to the main character hanging himself!
One particular path follows the character Haruku. As with the car accident scene in the canonical arc, one of the girl’s dresses is begging to show cleavage, but fortunately, the creator keeps that at a minimum (since this novel is meant to be more family appropriate).
Oh yeah, and there’s some name calling.
Overall, there isn’t much to be worried about. Just make sure you go downstairs instead of packing your bags.
Produced by: Scape Games
Creator: “clannadman”, who is a blogger called “Clannad – The Past Path”, also called “Scape-chan”.
Character Design: “clannadman”
Sprite template: “arisu – ren”, renmazuo-.deviantart.com
Kaikei Sozai Mise (shass.sakura.ne.jp)
Mei Miyamura (winddorf.oops.jp/1top.htm)