Clannad is one of those visual novels I’ve wanted to play for a long, long time. Ever since I peeked at the anime something like 8 years ago. The urge reappeared when I tried again 2 years ago and it made me cry before work and I had to awkwardly explain that off. Well, life happened and kept happening so that I never actually finished the anime nor got my hands on the visual novel until very recently. I HAVE to thank my friends over in Sekai Project for giving me the opportunity to finally, FINALLY play this thing through and experience the story in all it’s glory. It’s more of an emotional roller coaster than I ever could’ve imagined, but I wouldn’t undo it for the world.
Gametype/Genre: Visual Novel
Developer: Visual Arts/ Key
Publisher: Sekai Project
Clannad starts with Tomoya Okazaki being utterly bored with life. Everything feels stagnant, the same thing day in and day out. He wonders what the point of it all is and what he can do to break out of this dull, depressing loop he seems to be stuck in. Then he runs across Nagisa Furukawa speaking to herself at the bottom of the hill that their school sits on, speaking to herself and gathering the courage to walk up that hill. With a few words, both his and her lives start in a new direction, kicking off the beginning of the game.
It’s so hard to talk about the story without wanting to go in depth and start spoiling stuff. I realize this game is 12 years old, but it’s still a story I feel should be experienced without any kind of outside influence or prior knowledge. That said, if you’ve seen the anime, forget it. Yes, some scenes are expanded on and changed slightly to accommodate for the fact that the animators can only tell one story out of the many presented in this Visual Novel, but the order and lead up can be completely different and jarring. If you ever find yourself going “This isn’t the way I remember it”, then you haven’t expunged the anime fully enough yet. Find your happy forgetting spot, try again, and come back to the game or find a way to separate them in your head because, like I said, this story really deserves to be experienced fresh and without those bias.
Characters and Visuals
There are quite a few characters in Clannad, some of them only really developed upon in their own routes, some of them appearing in dang near every route with their colorful character and force you to learn about them bit by bit. No two characters are developed the same way, but not one of them feels the same at the end of the game as they did in the beginning. No matter what they’re changed by what happens either in their route or on their friend/family’s route, overcoming flaws, finding things about themselves out, or even just taking up a protective urge over someone. This causes them to feel almost real rather than a 2D character in a game, static and unchanging or only changing in superficial ways. Basically what I’m getting at is character development is key here and very powerfully done.
- Tomoya Okazaki
- Nagisa Furukawa
- Ryou Fujibayashi
- Kyou Fujibayashi
- Tomoyo Sakagami
- Kotomi Ichinose
- Youhei Sunohara
- Fuko Ibuki
The male protagonist of Clannad and the POV we spend about 98% of our time behind. Utterly snarky, unfailingly sarcastic, and completely apathetic to most people, he might seem mean if taken out of context. Sometimes he’s mean IN context, but for the most part he’s too kind for his own good and willing to go great lengths for those he cares about. Since the side of him more often seen is the apathetic one skipping or sleeping through class, he has a bit of a reputation for being a delinquent.
The female lead usually seen plastered all of Clannad’s promotional items. Nagisa is almost painfully shy, struggling to make friends since she lost a year of school and trying her hardest to revive the Drama club. While the determination and unfailing friendliness she displays in that goal are a few of her strongest features, it can be overshadowed sometimes by her clumsiness with people and in general sometimes.
Ryou is the timid class representative of Class 3-D, gaining the role because no one wanted it and it was foisted onto her. Still, she takes the duty seriously enough that she’ll push through her nature to scold Tomoya about his bad habits. She has a huge interest in fortune telling, often doing it whenever an occasion calls for it. Often begins or ends with her dropping her cards since she’s fairly clumsy.
Kyou is Ryou’s twin sister and class representative of Class 3-E. Kyou is Ryou’s opposite in nearly every way. Her tendency towards violence is so infamous in school that it’s common knowledge not to mess with Ryou unless you want Kyou on you like a pantheon of angry gods. She’s also just as bitingly sarcastic as Tomoya so even if she doesn’t resort to hitting, she can make you wish that she had.
Tomoyo is a transfer student in her second year whose reputation precedes her. Known as a powerful delinquent who went around beating up other delinquents, she makes her splash at the school doing just that. Despite that reputation, she’s actually a rather serious girl with the goal of becoming student council president.
Kotomi is the genius student of Class 3-A who is actually allowed to skip classes so long as she keeps high test scores. She’s a rather odd character, almost unable to notice the world around her while she’s reading, carrying around scissors to cut out choice parts of books, and having her own key to the library. She also seems to be pretty fearful of bullies.
Youhei is one of the few people Tomoya could potentially call a friend in the beginning of the game and is a bigger delinquent than him. He frequently doesn’t show up to class and isn’t above using his station to cow underclassmen. He’s also pretty cowardly, loud, and fairly stupid. The perfect recipient for a lot of Tomoya’s jokes and pranks since he either gets it too late or doesn’t get the prank at all.
Fuko is a first year student who spends a lot of her time carving. Like to the point Tomoya’s fairly sure she’s skipping class with how often he sees her at it. She does it because her sister is getting married in the near future and Fuko wants to pass her carvings out to encourage students to attend said wedding. At the very least, she loves what she carves since just talking about them is enough to send her into a fugue state that leaves her oblivious to the world around her.
There are so, so many more characters, some minor enough to only really be seen a few times while a few have their own routes hidden within the main cast. But to write of all of them would probably involve spoilers and more time than I have readily available.
Visually, the Steam version is an upgrade, bringing everything up to HD standards without compromising the original art. That art style may take a bit for some to get used to, but not because of any flaws or deformations. The style just seems different than what some are used to. Still, the characters are expressive (sometimes overly so) and their expressions fit the mood of what’s going on at the time and really, that’s all I need.
As a visual novel with no real sudden movements, Clannad doesn’t need to perform well, it just needs to perform. And perform it does. The word movement is smooth and there are no choppy moments in it, the characters slide in and out of frame as needed with no problems, and I never heard a single hiccup in the soundtrack. About the only thing I could say against it is occasionally, there will be spelling/grammar mistakes or things that just seem… off.
Such instances are few and far between, but they’re usually weird enough or jarring enough that when they do pop up you notice them quickly. They’re not bad enough that you can’t understand what was meant though, so there’s that.
The thing about it that stands apart from other Visual Novels to me, performance-wise, is the infinitely helpful Dangopedia. As should be obvious, the United States and Japan have a quite a few cultural differences so some of the concepts talked about in game would be familiar and hilarious to a Japanese person but utterly alien to an American. Most times out of not, that is either ignored or translated so that it fits in more with the translator’s culture rather than the Japanese one. The Dangopedia, instead of leaving you to hit up google or Wikipedia, explains those foreign concepts right there in the game so that you can understand and laugh along with the culture of origin. This thing saved me from so many instances of breaking immersion to go hunt down an unfamiliar term or feeling something fly over my head it isn’t even funny. And then you can peruse it at your leisure so that the next time you see a term, you already know it and don’t even have to relay on the Dangopedia for it. I really can’t overstate it’s usefulness here.
The Soundtrack is one of the most beautiful, hilarious, haunting, tear-jerking things I’ve ever had the pleasure of listening to. Which is really great because you’re going to be hearing a few songs for great periods of time so it’d really be a drag if it was annoying to listen to. And then it has a few songs that will jump out at you for a surprise punch to your feelings ever once in a while. I swear there’s one in particular I’m in a Pavlovian relationship with where when it plays, tears automatically spring to my eyes because I know what’s about to happen. The songs, combined with the scene in progress, are that powerful. I could go on and on with this, but I think this makes the point.
The voice acting, for the most part, is crisp and flawless. There are a few characters where I heard this weird sort of feedback or background noise as they spoke, but other than tickling the edge of my perception it wasn’t too noticeable. Either that or it happened enough with that character that I shunted it to the back of my mind, which is another possibility. There’s also voice acting for dang near everyone, even characters that don’t actually warrant a name besides “Student A” and even those sound like someone put forward some effort into making it natural.
Besides those are the little sounds. The frantic taps running of someone in an empty house, the meaty thunk of someone getting kicked in the head, the opening and slamming of doors, all of them are done well. I never noticed a sound that seemed delayed or out of place and they didn’t appear often enough to become annoying.
Gameplay and Mechanics
Clannad plays like most visual novels in that you click your way through the story or hit the auto button and the story will move with you without cramping your mouse finger. Most times out of not there’s voice acting so you listen through that before moving on, though there is the option to turn them off if they don’t appeal to you or you need quiet for one reason or another. Every now and then there’s a choice to be made before the story advances. Think carefully over those since almost none of those choices are inconsequential to a route or to a girl. There was one time I ended up unable to advance a route because of a choice I made in the beginning of the flipping playthrough for Pete’s sake! I thought it was so minor since I wasn’t pursuing another girl’s route, but it ended up mattering in a way I never thought of and everything crashed and burned and I had to start it over. It can be like that sometimes, so be careful with those choices.
Fortunately, if something like that does happen you have the option to skip over previously read dialogue or you can hold the skip button so you don’t have to chew through the parts that were the same as your last playthrough unless you want to. You can also save and load whenever you please and with over 100 save slots there really isn’t a reason not to save with each choice. Or to save before a scene you find absolutely hilarious so you can watch it over and over again.
Or if you like to watch train wrecks. Because there are quite a few of those in here too.
Miscellaneous: Multiplayer and Replayability
It’s a visual novel, so Multiplayer is a moot point, but it’s got replayability in spades. There are paths for most of the girls you meet in the game and it’s impossible to do more than one of them per route, so you’ll be playing again and again to see how Tomoya interacts with each of them in depth and where they end up. It also doesn’t help that in a few cases, you have to dip through another girl’s path in order to get the orb of light for a previous girl or that you’ll realize a scene makes more sense when you play one girl’s route before another so you go and do that. Basically what I’m saying it be careful or else you’ll wake up one day drooling on your keyboard, unaware when you fell asleep and wondering why your boss is calling your phone because you forgot to come in.
Clannad is a one of a kind ride for your emotions, capable of giving you whiplash with how quickly it can change in tone. But it makes you love that crink in your neck because it wasn’t ham-fisted and flowed naturally with either what you know about a character or are about to find out. And the music gives you no warning, but shifts just as dramatically to fit the tone of the story, drawing emotion out of you as it does. The characters react like you might instead of feeling one-dimensional, making you identify with them more strongly and feel their pain and triumphs more acutely. It all comes together in such a beautiful way that I can’t help but gush about it. Really, that’s what this review feels like: a long-gushing critique of what it does well and those few spots where I found it wanting. If you haven’t played it, get a hold of it at first opportunity. If it’s been a while, play it again just for old times sake. It’s really a story that deserves to be experienced and remembered for as long as possible.
Even if just for the moment of fear you felt when you saw this. May your path through life include as few people glaring like this as humanly possible.
Genre: Visual Novel
Released: November 15, 2015 (HD Edition) April 28, 2004 (Original)
Size: 5.3 GB
CLANNAD was reviewed with a review copy of the game provided by Sekai Project.
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