*A review code was provided by the publisher
If you know me you’ll know I’m a huge fan of CLANNAD. I credit it as getting me into both anime and visuals novels and throughout my reviews I’ve reviewed the visual novel, as well as not only the first and second seasons of the anime, but the movie as well. When I found out during the Kickstarter that there were side stories giving prequels and sequels to the different characters I was more than excited watching the stretch goal get crushed. Now that CLANNAD Side Stories is out and I’ve had a chance to read them all did I like the release as much as the rest of the franchise (aside from the movie.)?
I will naturally have to spoil CLANNAD as there is a story taking place after the true end.
So visual novel, right? Read text, click to advance, lines are maybe voiced, a choice once in a while to change which route you’re headed on? Nope. CLANNAD Side Stories features almost none of that. You do read text which is 100% voiced (even narration) but you are stuck on autoplay and there’s no choices. Instead you get a list at start-up with all the stories and just click on whichever you want. This set-up, in addition to the length of each episode being around 20-30 minutes, made me feel like I was sitting down to watch some anime, which might be the game’s biggest downfall, but I’ll get to that later.
So we have 16 stories split into prequels and sequels. The prequels are for Nagisa Furukawa, Koukou/Fuko Ibuki, Kyou Fujibayashi, Ryou Fujibayashi, Mei/Youhei Sunohara, Akio Furukawa, and Misae Sagara with sequels for Kotomi Ichinose, Yukine Miyazawa, Baseball (split in two) and Ushio Okazaki with prequels that take place after or during their route in CLANNAD for Tomoyo Sakagami, Botan (you read that right), Kappei Hiiragi and Toshio Koumura. Out of these my favourites were Akio’s, both baseball, Botan, and Ushio’s. Most of these stories are narrated by the character however Kotomi’s and Yukine’s had Tomoya narrating which was a bit weird. I also just have to mention at the end how great the new characters are. They fit right in with our already lovable cast.
If you’re here looking for more CLANNAD feels this isn’t the right place. Akio and Koumura were the only ones with any real chance of feels and neither even brought me close to tears. I’m fine with this as I just wanted to see more from this cast that I love but I think it should be pointed out as a lot of people seem to mention they’re ready to cry going in but that’s probably not going to happen.
Graphically the backgrounds are all from CLANNAD which is fine for this type of release. There are also new CG by and artist named GOTO-P who also illustrated the Angel Beats! novel “Track Zero”. They all look nice and I wouldn’t mind Key working with him more in the future but a lot of them aren’t full screen and sometimes they just leave the background awkwardly behind it. Probably my biggest issue with the art was there’s no sprites. A few stories introduce new characters so they might not have wanted to make new sprites but there’s spite-less characters in the original CLANNAD.
Soundtrack is mostly from CLANNAD again but with a couple new songs (like some Christmas tunes). The voice acting is where this release really shines. All the returning characters do great as do new members. One thing to keep in mind if you’ve seen the anime is Yuuichi Nakamura doesn’t provide Tomoya’s voice, instead Kenji Nojima fills the role. I didn’t have any issues with this but it did take a little getting used to.
Now for my main problem. CLANNAD Side Stories feels like a cross between anime and a visual novel but it doesn’t take advantage of either medium. Visually it isn’t very impressive aside from GOTO-P’s new art which is still somewhat sparse. You also can’t go back if there was a funny line you want to hear again or easily go forward if you want to show someone a specific part instead having to pick from chapters like a DVD. There’s also no way to adjust the speed of auto-play, no way to pause without blocking the text and no way to save (although with only 20-30 minutes its not that big a deal. It’s also hard to tell sometimes what’s spoken and what’s a thought or just part of narration as there’s no quotation marks and as you probably noticed in the screens, no box telling you who’s talking. I can understand some of this stuff due to being a PSP port but a lot of it just makes no sense to me.