Clannad has a lot of text. Clannad doesn’t have impressive graphics. Clannad is from a decade ago. There are several reasons people could use for disliking Clannad, but each one is another reason I can find to love the game even more.
Clannad is a romantic visual novel that was first released on PC in 2004. Why am I writing a review for a game that is a decade old? Well, there is a very good reason for that: it is only last month that it was released in English for the first time. The fine folks over at Sekai Project are focused on localising games such as Clannad, and had a successful Kickstarted campaign for the game last year.
Related reading: Harvard’s review of another visual novel for PC, Amnesia: Memories.
Before I begin discussing Clannad further, I’d like to make note that I am reviewing the current build of the game. It is my understanding that the game is still in production, not only with bug fixes and the like but also with a good amount of content. There are 16 side stories currently not included in the game and each one plays for about 20 minutes; this content is expected in the first few months of next year.
The hero of Clannad is Tomoya Okazaki, a self-described delinquent at Hikarizaka Private High School. His description of himself is actually quite spot on, as he’s been dealt a rough hand: his mother died when he was young and his father spiralled into a deep, alcohol-induced, abusive depression. As a result, Tomoya avoids home when his father is there. He goes home right after school but leaves before his father arrives, staying out until the wee hours of morning when he knows his father will be asleep and it is safe to return. Due to these circumstances, he is habitually late for school (rarely arriving before lunch) and often quick to dismiss others.
It’s a very interesting choice of protagonist for what turns into a love story. Tomoya is not entirely likable, he makes bad decisions, and he is incredibly jaded. At the same time, it is these things that also make him somewhat likable: he is a flawed human, and I think all of us can relate to at least one aspect of his life or personality. We are all flawed. And don’t flawed humans deserve love? I like to think it was love at first sight when Tomoya meets Nagisa Furukawa for the first time; he had no idea what to think of her, but I know it was fate that brought them together on their concurrent (late) walks to school.
In a nutshell, Clannad is the story of Tomoya and Nagisa, from its early days to years later when they are married. The story starts off extremely slowly, and I had no idea where it was going. However, once Tomoya starts falling in love everything seems to move along more quickly. He’s either unaware or in denial of his feelings at first, and it is extremely touching to watch him work it out through a good amount of internal dialogue. Nagisa is absolutely adorable; she is a shy girl who left school for nine months due to a serious illness and as a result has no friends left. Her dream is to join the drama club, and when she learns it has been disbanded Tomoya encourages her to restart it.
Of course, Tomoya and Nagisa are not the only characters in the game. Their classmates all have such different personalities, and each one is an enjoyable part of the game for their own reason. Fraternal twins Ryou and Kyou are quite possibly my favourites. Ryou is the younger and more polite of the two. She tells fortunes, which either kind of come true or are completely off base. She is also very obviously crushing on Tomoya. Kyou is brash and aggressive. She is also class representative, but doesn’t take the role too seriously. Kyou is the rebellious twin, and she often rides her (prohibited) motorbike to school.
Ryou and Kyou are two of several “heroines" in the game (I use brackets because that is what they are called by the developer and publisher, but I do not necessarily agree with differentiating heroes based on their gender). Nagisa is another (she is the main one). The remaining female heroes are Kotomi, a genius Tomoya meets in the library; Tomoyo, a transfer student; and Fuko, a first-year student. That is not to say there Tomoya only interacts with females, but more that since it is a romance game these are his options.
Where the story leads is dependent on what choices Tomoya makes when he is presented with them. For example, does he accept Nagisa’s invitation to stay at her house or does he return to his own broken home? Each option has its own set of consequences tied to it, so chose carefully. The fate of Tomoya is in the player’s hand, and within two hours or so you’ll begin to truly care about his life choices.
Sekai Project’s localisation of Clannad includes a Dangopedia, or a dictionary of Japanese terms used in the game. I found it incredibly helpful, as there are some words (or names) that just don’t translate. When a term is first encountered, a pop-up will appear stating that the term has been added to the Dangopedia. The Dangopedia is perhaps the biggest change in the game past the language. Character voices continue to speak in Japanese, but quite honestly that didn’t bother me since the term “visual novel” implies that the primary job of the player is to read, so a voice dub would have been largely redundant work.
Related reading: Of course, if you're going to play visual novels, Steins;Gate is the finest of them all. Matt's full review.
Clannad’s interface is relatively straightforward, as was the controls: point and click on choices, or use enter to progress through text. The graphics are still quite nice to look at despite the game’s age. As for the sound, I believe I have a rather unpopular opinion as I found it to be repetitive and too fluffy for the story. I know “fluffy” isn’t a technical term to describe sound, but it’s legitimately the only word I can think of that mirror’s my sentiment.
I don’t remember the last time I was so interested in a story labelled as “romance,” but then came Clannad and everything changed. I never know a romance story could be so engaging, so multifaceted, and so emotional. The choice of a perceived bad boy as protagonist was an interesting one as opposed to showing the innocent girl fall in love with the rebel, a scenario played out far too often in Hollywood. Clannad shows us the softer side of a delinquent teenager, juxtaposed with the often harsh outcomes of his decisions.
- Lindsay M.