Little Busters! is a Visual Novel written by my eternal love interest Key, first released in Japan in 2007. It’s been released in numerous forms and on different platforms, but for this blog post I’ll only be focusing on the original, all-ages Little Busters. It hasn’t been until quite recently that firm initiative has been taken by the English-speaking community to translate the entirety of Little Busters!, and so we have the translators of Team Fluffy to thank for being the first to translate the game. As of posting this, the heavy majority of the game has been translated and released in patches, with only the final route remaining to be patched.
If memory serves me, it was little less than a year ago that I first took interest in Little Busters. I’d always been intent on reading it, and I’d heard that translation was picking up, so out of my undying love for Key, I went out-of-the-way to spend $120 to get the original Little Busters! imported and in my hands, ready to play with Fluffy’s patch. Since I started playing through the routes, I’ve been closely following the progress of the translation, going out of my way to acquaint myself with the group and show my support. And so I’ve been playing through the routes in time for the patches to be released. And here I am now, having completed all but the last route. I am on a mission! I want to get as many english-speaking people to become interested in and playing Little Busters! as I can in time for the release of the final patch, so as many people can experience this amazing game as possible. It’s for that purpose that I’m writing this blog, as the bastion of my Little Busters! recruitment drive.
Now then, please enjoy as I reflect upon my amazing experiences with this masterpiece. Spoilers should be low, as even I don’t know how the story ends in the final route yet. I’ll leave a spoiler-filled post for after I’ve finally completed the game.
Little Busters begins with the protagonist, the ‘ordinary boy’ Riki Naoe waking up to find his two childhood friends – thick-headed muscle man Masato Inohara and disciplined Kendo adept Kengo Miyazawa – having a duel in the school’s cafeteria. Quick to deal with the situation, the smooth and strangely omnipresent Kyousuke Natsume steps in, setting rules for their fight to keep it fair instead of stopping it. The battle continues between the two, replacing their weapons of choice with gag weapons, a pellet gun and a live cat. The battle is halted when the petite yet furious Rin Natsume storms into the cafeteria, protecting the cat from its torment at Masato’s hands.
Such a crazy scene is one that has become the norm for Riki; scenes like this are his daily life. These five characters are all childhood friends living together at a boarding school. Riki’s first encounter with the group was when we was feeling very depressed as a child, and he was invited to join the others in defeating a formidable enemy, a beehive. The encounter ended with Masato sacrificing himself and getting set on fire to take out the bees, surviving with barely a scratch thanks to his MUSCLE POWER. From that day forward Riki was stuck as a member of their little group, named the “Little Busters”. And they remained inseparable, to the present day when they are enjoying spending their high school life together doing silly things every other day. At this point in time, Riki suggested that they do something, something to (as Kyousuke would probably put it) make the most of their youth, and leave a memory for when they leave the school. Kyousuke’s answer?
Their Team Name? Why, Little Busters of course! And thus, the chronicles of the Little Busters truly begins.
The beginning of the story, the ‘common route’ as it’s most well-known, follows the daily life of Riki and the Little Busters, practicing Baseball as well as engaging in a comical fighting tournament. As time progresses, Riki finds new members to join the Little Busters to form a complete Baseball team. The first to join is the sweet Komari Kamikita, who wins over Kyousuke’s heart with her sincere words. In about 5 seconds flat. Second to join is the buxom lone wolf Yuiko Kurugaya, bringing her peerless athletic skills, genius intellect and sadistic perverted humour to the group. (laughing while typing this) Third is the hyperactive prankster Haruka Saigusa, further increasing the already rampant craziness within the daily activities of the group. Fourth is the small yet headstrong Kudryavka (Kud) Noumi, the foreigner with terrible english skills who wins people’s admiration through her earnest behaviour. Last to join the group is the introverted Mio Nishizono, bringing a bit of light philosophy whenever she makes an effort to talk, or the occasional hint of her inner fujoshi. With the complete group now assembled, the fun really begins.
During the game, the visual novel is separated by the Baseball Practice and Battle Rankings minigames, and these are just part of the fun that makes up the experience of Little Busters! The Battle Rankings are automated battles that take place whenever you wander around the campus, running into people and starting a fight with random items as weapons, my personal favourite being the pop-up pirate. The winner rises up in the rankings, and the loser is given a nickname by the winner, which becomes their title until it is changed again. There’s so many nicknames, it would take many playthroughs just to see them all. And so each of the characters continue to battle with the intent on reaching the top to become the Provisional Leader of the Battle Rankings! I always find myself cheering for the underdog, it’s a lot more interesting when a character like Komari ends up at number 1 instead of say Kengo or Kyousuke. It makes every playthrough unique!
The other side, the Baseball Practice, is a lot more interactive. It’s simple, but endlessly entertaining. You play as Riki, sidling around and aiming to hit baseballs pitched by Rin. You hit the ball, it goes flying, with any skill you’ll start hitting to the other characters standing on the field, and they’ll throw it back to you, and you can string combos of hits like this. There’s no winning or losing, it’s just friends having fun. It sounds ridiculously simple, but the amount of little detail that was put into this minigame is quite impressive. All of the characters appear as pixellated sprites, and they look cute enough to eat. Hitting the ball in certain places at certain times can trigger little events, and you’ll notice nobody’s really in the same place on the field twice, always moving around. On one day Kud will be catching your balls, the next she’ll be running around with her dogs, later she’ll be having a picnic under the tree with Komari and Mio. Hit the ball into their picnic for sadistically hilarious results. It’s the little things, man. I even found myself tweeting daily about the little bits of chaos I caused on the baseball field.
The dialogue in this game is peerless, I don’t think many other works have made me laugh so hard and so genuinely. It really feels like you’re part of the group, experiencing fun things every day; it’s a really warm and uplifting feeling. If you think Clannad was funny, it’s got nothing on Little Busters’ sense of humour. I love how Kyousuke seems to have the exact same sense of humour as me, but that’s just a personal note. Speaking of Kyousuke, another little quirk of the game that many people have noted is Kyousuke’s Q&A. At a certain point in the game, Riki happens upon a website run by Kyousuke, filled with people asking him questions and him providing hilarious answers. It’s pretty much the ancestor of Formspring, done right. I found myself spending several hours reading through all of the different Q&A, there was so many of them! Just to name one, “How do you eat Pocky?” “In a very erotic way.” Some other favourites here. It’s such a great time-waster hidden in the game. Kyousuke is a comic genius.
After you’ve trained up your team through fighting and batting practice, the final boss appears: playing a game of baseball against the team captains of all the sporting clubs. The odds are weighed heavily against you, but will you be able to overcome them? That depends on your luck, perseverance, and experience. But when you do, it feels damn amazing…
So at this point, I’ve shown you how much fun Little Busters! is to play. But what I’ve touched on is really only the tip of what makes Little Busters! an unforgettable experience. Throughout the entirety of the common route, you’ll be experiencing this overall carefree atmosphere, with little hints of drama but nothing too serious. It’s almost a slice of life anime up to this point. But there’s something I’ve neglected to mention. Throughout the time you spend playing the game, you almost feel caught up in a bubble. Having so much fun you forget about the little dramas of life, a bit of an escapism in playing the game. I’ve had a few people report this when playing Little Busters. But there’s something more to this bubble effect.
While you’re playing the game, the characters themselves are just like you, enjoying everyday life within the confines of a safe sanctuary, a place where nothing can possibly go wrong. But it is not seamless, every now and again there will be a small crack in that bubble, and you will gain a brief glimpse of the world outside, but only for a moment, before returning to your everyday carefree life. I first noticed it while playing the game when Riki was in the cafeteria overhearing some really tragic happenings on the news, I can’t remember exactly what, but it left an impression on me. As the player of the game, I’ve been having such a fun time, that I’ve forgotten the world outside the bubble. This is a key game, after all – where is the drama? It’s been many hours of playing and there hasn’t been anything too serious happen to any of the characters. That brief crack in the bubble reminded me that this small and precious happiness may not last forever. It’s what Riki and Kyousuke have been saying from the beginning. Life is so fun right now, it’s feeling more and more real that this could all disappear at any moment. “I wish such pleasant times could continue forever.” Unfortunately, the reality is that this amazingly fun experience won’t last forever. Rather, the story hasn’t even begun yet. It’s time to pack away your baseball bat and glove, you’re on your own now.
From here, the game splits off into six distinct routes, one for each of the six heroines. The route the player is most likely to travel down first would be Rin’s route. Allow me to detail what happens when you choose this route in the beginning.
Rin and Riki eventually start dating, and they go on making each other happy. To them, it’s not even weird going out, it’s as if they should’ve done it a long time ago, a very natural kind of relationship. They both make each other stronger, and it’s very beautiful to watch. And then, just when things are seeming as though they couldn’t get any better, you black out. They never really made a big deal of it in the common route, but it’s been known that Riki has a minor case of narcolepsy, and is prone to falling unconscious without warning. It would seem that it hits him just now, as he’s with Rin. Accompanied in the game by a very eerie BGM, he falls unconscious, and hears a voice on “the border between reality and dream”.
“At the end there was fear.” are the last words Riki speaks in his mind before the screen fads to complete black, and you’re returned to the title screen.
When I first saw this, it gave me chills unlike anything. I wasn’t prepared. I’d hit a wall of complete darkness. I had no idea what had just happened, but it scared me deeply. It had been such a fun and carefree story up to this point, and then it just hit me with this, completely out of nowhere. This wasn’t just a crack in the bubble: the bubble was completely shattered. That kind of feeling leaves a lasting impact on you. So, what are you supposed to do now? Start again, but hopefully this time you’ll be a little more prepared for what awaits you on the other side.
From this point, it’s up to you to navigate your way toward and through the five other routes before you can return to finish what you started on Rin’s route (the only part which remains to be translated, I haven’t read it myself yet). This leaves Komari, Kud, Kurugaya, Nishizono, and Haruka. I don’t have any intention on spoiling these routes yet, I’ll be leaving the discussion of those routes to my final Little Busters blog, after I’ve completed the story and have the full picture. But I can tell you that every one of them is breathtakingly amazing. I think the quality of these routes rivals even that of Clannad. On an average, I can say that the routes of Little Busters! are superior to that of Clannad, which is saying a lot since I love that game & series to death. It’s something I can’t spoil for you, you’ll just have to experience it for yourself. But I guess I can hint at some of what to expect, if you’d like.
Komari’s is a story of the fragility of the mind, and of family.
Kud’s is a story of incredible courage and strength, despite great suffering.
Nishizono’s is a story of identity, and of memories.
Haruka’s is a story of people’s expectations and being manipulated by others.
Kurugaya’s is a story full of enigma.
With the completion of each route, small changes in the common route will start taking place. New events will unfold, characters will behave slightly differently, and new paths will be unlocked. It’s a real experience playing the game over and over again, and still experiencing new things every time. One of the most notable is a complete change for Kengo, such a drastic change that you’ll almost start forgetting what it used to be like for him. It’s really something that’s difficult to explain in words. Little Busters! is a game crafted out of the most masterful of talent. It’s full of polish, and the experience will leave real lasting impressions on you, something many ordinary video games only dream of doing. When I play, I feel so immersed in the world, and I really feel what the characters are going through, as if I was there among them. The design and CGs look godfully pretty, and the music is easily on par with the best that Key has to offer. The characters are beyond amazing, and I know I haven’t talked much about them in detail yet, but I’ll be going right into that in the final blog. This is a story that’s going to stay with me forever, and I’d go out and spend $100+ on it again without hesitation.
This is something that everyone needs to experience. So, what are you waiting for? Feel free to contact me (firstname.lastname@example.org) and I’ll provide you with options on how to acquire this game and play it for yourself. This is a game that is extremely underappreciated, especially in the west. I still don’t understand why it doesn’t have an Anime adaptation. We as theatregoers of the fragments need to show our support for this fantastic game! When you play it, I hope you’ll see why it deserves all the support it gets. Don’t deprive yourself any longer. The game is almost entirely translated into English now, now is the time to experience Little Busters!
A sincere thank you to Key, who will probably never read this, but I can only hope my sincere gratitude will reach them in some form. Otakuism wouldn’t be the same without you around, and I can comfortably assert that you have had a huge impact on many people’s lives. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.
Another huge thank you to the translators at Team Fluffy for your hard work translating Little Busters! for people like me to enjoy for themselves. In the short time I’ve gotten to know a few of you, I’ve concluded that you’re an awesome bunch of people, and I wouldn’t be able to experience this amazing game if it wasn’t for you guys. Keep up the hard work for one last hurrah in completing the project, fighto!
And if you too, like me, love this game, then please help me in spreading the word to everyone that this is a story that must be experienced! Let’s spread the love!
And to those who are willing to give it a shot, a million times thank you. You’ve done yourself a huge service.
Little Busters Saikou!
See you on the other side.