Clannad

Written by Solidbatman

A new, English release of a Visual Art’s/Key visual novel is upon us, thanks to Sekai Project. Clannad is now the center of attention in the VN world (at least until Euphoria comes out), and with good reason. Thanks to Kyoto Animation’s great job of adapting Clannad into an anime, the franchise has a huge following, with an old, poorly translated version of the game being one of the more downloaded VNs from the old Fuwanovel repository. As of writing, Clannad’s new, official release sits at number 4 on Steam’s bestseller list (at least on my end here), which is phenomenal for a VN. The release of Clannad has been hyped for the better part of a year now, so just how good is Clannad? Let’s dive into this and find out.

Right from the start, Clannad sets a somber, yet somewhat hopeful tone. Tomoya Okazaki is a high-school student with nothing going for him. He is wandering down the path of life, alone, and without purpose. His mother is dead, and his relationship with his father is miserable, after his father abused him. Tomoya doesn’t care about school, or much of anything, and simply avoids his family as much as possible. One day, while walking to school, he sees a girl at the bottom of the hill. She is encouraging herself, or at least trying to. “Find some more things that are fun, more things that make you happy,” he tells the girl, who we later learn is named Nagisa. Together, they then climb the “long, long hill” up to the school, and so we begin our long, long journey that is Clannad.

Key has a knack for creating an interesting hook to open up their VNs. Clannad is no different; it blends music, art, colors, and dialogue to create a fantastic mood setter to get the reader prepared for what is to come. In typical common route fashion, we begin to get acquainted with the cast early on. Youhei Sunohara is one of the first characters, aside from the girl at the bottom of the hill, that we meet. He is Tomoya’s only friend, and is the type of person who finds trouble, even when he is not looking for it. Sunohara is the comedic relief of the game, always falling for one of Tomoya’s tricks, or getting into misunderstandings with people. I found the humor revolving around Sunohara to be enjoyable more often than not, but comedy is a fickle beast, and some readers may find it completely unfunny. Ryou and Kyou, twin sisters, are the only other people who really talk to Tomoya, and their interactions also are typically enjoyable. Ryou’s timid nature, however sometimes made her dialogue and actions dull to read, but these moments are few and far between.

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Many other characters make appearances in the common route, but the choices one makes during the common route will dictate who you see, and how often you see them. This is one area where I feel Key did an incredible job of writing. Instead of shoving every character into the spotlight at once and trying to give everyone plenty of screen time in the common route, Clannad instead sticks to just a few characters based off your choices, as I just mentioned. It allows the writing to stay focused, and work on setting up the actual character routes by giving you the relevant background information and character building. For example, if one decides to go down Kotomi’s route, the common route is not going to spend a ton of time going on about how much Fuko loves starfish. Instead, we learn how quirky and weird Kotomi is.

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There is a drawback to having a a common route with lots of variety based on the choices though. Clannad has a large cast to choose from, meaning there are a lot of choices. It can be tough to get the right combination of choices to get onto a character’s route. While it is usually as simple as just hanging out with the character you want and ignoring everyone else, the game does have some choices that are not so obvious. A walkthrough is essentially required if you’re hoping to finish this game without tearing your hair out to find the one choice you got wrong. The actual character routes vary widely in quality, with some being fantastic (like Komura or Fuko), some being okay at best (Ryou/Kyou, Kotomi), and some being completely uninteresting and outright bad (Kappei, Yukine, Kappei, and Kappei). In most cases, the quality of the routes is high, even in the ones I found uninteresting. A few of them do rely on what I call forced drama, such as a character suddenly having a meltdown due to some seemingly insignificant event, or random memory loss, but surprisingly much of the drama in Clannad’s routes happens naturally, and with a solid foundation to work with. I give credit, again, to the common route being so focused for the most part on building the character for you and allowing the character route to focus on telling a story instead.

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The girl at the bottom of the hill, Nagisa, is the main heroine of Clannad. Despite all of the other routes, her route is given the spotlight, and she is the subject of the true route, called After Story, that is unlocked upon the completing of all the other routes. Nagisa, due to her being the main heroine, is given the most character building, and grows the most as a character. We are shown this very often during her portions of the common route, her route, and on into After Story. The VN doesn’t need to tell us Nagisa is growing as a character, because we see it in the way she talks and acts. While she may not be everyone’s favorite character, there is little debate as to her growth as a person as the VN goes on. She is a wonderfully crafted character, and the perfect counterpart to Tomoya. Speaking of Tomoya, he may just be my favorite protagonist in a VN. He is sharp-tongued, witty, funny, a prankster, but also kind and caring when needed. Tomoya never passes up the chance to play a prank on Sunohara, or anyone else for that matter, but when push comes to shove and he needs to be strong, he rises to the challenge. His character growth in the routes is solid, but Nagisa’s route and After Story are where it really shines, when much of his past comes to light, and he is forced to face it head on. He is a highly interesting character to see the story of Clannad unfold as, and is just as much of a character as anyone else in this VN, as opposed to a blank-slate type character.

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I’ve mentioned After Story a couple of times, Clannad’s true route. Without getting into spoilers, After Story is a continuation of Tomoya and Nagisa’s relationship, and holds a couple more routes that require completing in order to get the true true ending. Yes, while After Story is the true ending, there is a true ending to After Story. Unfortunately, I found its true ending mildly unsatisfying due to something that Key constantly does to their true endings. However, what does end up happening at least has some foundation and has foreshadowing throughout the VN. This foreshadowing comes in the form of the Illusory World, a world we get glimpses of at various points in Clannad. I won’t go into too much detail for fear of spoilers, but the Illusory World gave a decent enough explanation for the true ending of Clannad and After Story, and kept it from feeling like the ending was something that happened just for the sake of happening. Despite that, it still didn’t hit me the way it was intended to and I felt a lot of the emotional buildup of the VN was pointless.

Another issue I had with Clannad was the way it handled the true route and true heroine. The majority of the VN is seemingly in the various side routes, which must be completed in order to unlock After Story and the true ending. This ends up relegating Nagisa to the role of side character, or non-existent for large portions of my time reading. While a thematic purpose exists for forcing the reader to take up the large time commitment of reading every route, some readers may grow impatient, especially in a route that they do not enjoy, like Kappei’s.

A common complaint I see regarding Clannad is its art. It is true that Itaru Hinoue’s art style is off-putting to many, but I consider Clannad her turning point. Yes there are some bad CGs, and sprite poses, along with odd facial expressions and angles, but all in all, the art is tolerable, and not overly distracting from the text. Some of the CG work is phenomenal however, along with some great character designs. The best way to describe the art is inconsistent. Sometimes, the art in Clannad is good, other times it is very bad. The music, however, is always good in Clannad. Good is actually an understatement. The music is great. It is memorable, catchy, and fitting throughout the entire VN. More often than not, the music adds so much power to emotional scenes, and is the perfect mood setter. I simply cannot speak highly enough of Clannad’s soundtrack.

Sekai Project’s release of Clannad is easily the definitive release of the VN. Aside from having higher-resolution art work, the music has been remastered and re-recorded, and Sekai Project has added something called a Dangopedia. The Dangopedia is basically an encyclopedia of various Japanese phrases and terms that would be lost in translation. These pop up as you read the VN if you turn the setting on in the menu. It is a valuable resource to old and new readers alike. Most importantly for this release, Sekai Project has completely redone the translation and squashed numerous bugs. Gone is the infamous character, “No valid string, make a ticket about it” or Tomoya saying, “Is that so…” every other line in After Story. The old fan translation is long gone, replaced by a smooth-flowing, well-polished translation. While I am no expert in Japanese, (I know how to say oppai and that’s about it) I can say the text reads very well, and is not awkward to read like the old translation. Sekai Project put a lot of work into this release, and it pays off wonderfully, setting what I hope is a new standard for localization of older titles.

Most people reading this review already have an opinion of Clannad, and are here to justify, or reaffirm their opinion of it. For those of you who aren’t, Clannad is a good read, if you are willing to stick it out. Not every route will hit the spot for you, with some forcing the drama, or being too heavy with the drama. If you don’t care much for Nagisa you will be in for a bad time should you stick with reading Clannad in its entirety. The humor, while usually on point, may fall flat at times, or just be annoying to some readers. Clannad’s biggest flaw is that it is extremely long, and has a ton of branches which may lead to bad or completely unintended endings. For a newcomer, it can be off-putting to sink time into a VN like this, only to end up at a bad ending. Despite all of that, Clannad is still a good, but not great, VN.

Our Score:
  • Batman's Score

Summary

Pros:

+ Great character development

+ Solid routes

+ Fantastic use of music

Cons:

- Complicated route branching 

- Your opinion of Nagisa will dictate your opinion of the VN

- Large time commitment

- Did not change my life/10

4

About the author

Solidbatman

Sugar. Spice. And everything nice. These were the ingredients chosen to create the perfect VN reviewer. But Tay accidentally added an EXTRA INGREDIENT to the concoction.... SALT.

Thus, solidbatman was born!

30 Comments

  • “Clannad’s biggest flaw is that it is extremely long…”

    Well, no shit. What did you expect? So Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Dune, etc, and every long series biggest flaw is that… they are long? What?

    If you don’t have the actual patience and/or love to read, don’t bother ‘reviewing’ actual books.

  • While we are open to different viewpoints, we will kindly ask that you discuss them civilly. If you feel you are unable to do so, please take them elsewhere.

    Bats is claiming that the VN is on the longer side, which, for newcomers to the genre (which a lot of the Steam people are going to be – how likely is it that every single person that took the game to Top 5 purchases on Steam has read the fantranslation that requires a little know-how to get?), could be very daunting, especially without a walkthrough.

    I see nothing wrong with calling that an issue.

  • Finally! Oh god, I’ve been waiting for an honest and without hype review of this game. All I ever heard was that this VN is the greatest ever and, personally, I disagree.
    I, however, like and agree with the statement “Clannad is still a good, but not great, VN”.
    Thank you for taking the risk of going against the wave of fanboys. I was afraid that I was the only one (crazy?) rational enough to see it as it really is.

    • You say sou see it as it really is, but it is still your personal opinion don’t go assuming it is bad just because it’s popular.

  • I got really excited to read your review as soon as I saw it! Thanks for reviewing my favorite game! I disagreed with some points of the review, but that’s what made me like it more! My feelings are full of only love for the novel, so it’s nice to see a real opinion that’s not super biased like my own. With reviews like this, people will really understand what they’re gonna read! So, thanks for being honest.

  • It is quite a well written Review that goes into Detail without spoiling anything. I didn’t play the VN yet (both Fan as well as Sekai Translation), but I did hear quite a lot about it as well as watched the Anime.
    Thought I do disagree with some of your points counting as “negative”. Despite the “Large time commitment” Point some people already mentioned, I personally do not feel that “Complicated route branching” is only a negative thing. I think that it gives the game/story much more value due to being more immersive (generally speaking) rather than just having 1 or 2 choices to pick that whill directly lead to a specific heroine/ending. It gives the player more reason to get into the VN and explore new options. For anyone else that do not wish to commit so much time into exploring and “try and error”ing (like me), they can just pick up a walkthrough.

    On the other hand, althought you did write about the inconsistent of the art quality, you did not put it into the cons list (even thought it is a much “clearer” con to me than the game length or the route branching).

    Personally I would add the inconsistent to the list of cons while either putting the lenght and route branching as both, pros AND cons, or rather as a “neutral” point.

    • Art to me is not a “make or break” factor in my opinion of a VN, so unless it is horrific, or incredible, I tend to leave it out of the Pros and Cons. In the future though, I’ll make sure to list it.

  • The translation is technically improved, but – somehow it feels forced or over-explained. Might just be bias, but I found the initial TL had more subtlety to its writing stkle.

  • Pretty good review,as someone who has never finished the game before ( played for about 2 hours using the old translation ) i´m considering picking up the Steam version now,i´m not really a fan of being forced to play other routes to unlock a true route/true ending but i guess i could always use the skip button or download a savegame if one of the routes becomes too unbearable to me.

  • > Great character development
    > Large time commitment

    I can see that you has no skill nor vocabulary in reviewing a piece literature.
    Why don’t you spend some more effort than we talk?

    • “I can see that you have no skill, or vocabulary in writing a review for a VN. Why don’t you spend some more time expanding your vocabulary, then we can talk.”

      Went ahead and tidied that up a bit for you buddy. But you’re right. I’m shit.

  • “Your opinion of Nagisa will dictate your opinion of the VN”
    Heavily disagree — I’d say Tomoya would as he’s the viewpoint character, and the one you feel for the most. During the high points it was Tomoya I felt for, and not Nagisa.

    My biggest gripe with Clannad is the aftertaste, I suppose. The humor and the characters feel so one-note (Except for the main duo, the parents, and the twins) making the drama feel ‘life is sad, go cry’, and little more.

    And well, to those complaining about the reviewer’s remark on length, it isn’t simply a long work like those fat books on your shelves, it’s also a game — and is set up so complicated at that it’s easy to get lost and end up nowhere. To quote Palas on the forums, “Even if new Clannad reads better, it still plays like shit. Its main problem is structural. As a game, it doesn’t know whether it’s teleological or open. So it ends up being neither.” You could play with a walkthrough, but even then it can be rather tedious, and there are several who dislike using it. From a reading perspective, it can just be badly paced, or bloated. I know several who couldn’t get into it because of that.

    Well, I personally feel “eh” about Clannad, but good review.

    • I tend to hear more complaints about Nagisa than Tomoya, but you make a valid point. Not liking Tomoya ould be a huge killer to anyone reading the VN.

  • You’re reaching with those cons especially the part on time commitment. VN’s range time wise from short to very long. As the person at the top said no duh! The complaint about Nagisa by others you’ve “heard” from, why is it suppose to be a factor in the “review”? That last con is a joke. Gives it away that you been influenced by what others say. All the more reason why I take none of these reviews seriously no matter how positive the score are. This includes video games. I can’t take them serious for not taking a neutral position. My fault for placing trust in fuwa reviews. Won’t happen again.

    • I could explain myself but you said it yourself. “All the more reason why I take none of these reviews seriously no matter how positive the score are.” What I say to you to clarify will make no difference since you will disregard me anyway. If I am wrong and you would like me to clarify for you, I’d be more than happy to.

      • There’s no need for clarification as you are correct. I will disregard whatever you come up with as I made my point somewhat clear with my comment. Perhaps I am not your intended audience. As Maefdomn wrote, I also did not feel compelled to dialogue on this review if it were not for those ridiculous cons something I seen lots of times on here and elsewhere.

        Perhaps I could share something about fixing the format of these hubs to include length of time at the top or a link to it’s vnDB and other details (if available to purchase in English for example) especially for newbies who might want to venture into VNs. So if a person has interest they can proceed to read the review. Seems to me at least not a lot know about vnDB. That and to avoid future reviews using ridiculous cons and not legitimate ones from the game also not influenced by others.

  • Interesting review.

    However I find myself disagreeing with you more often than not. Reviews are subjective, of course they are, but I can’t say I found much things to discuss giving it’s almost entirely your opinion. It doesn’t give me any ground to start a conversation. There is not real analysis, no thoughts about beleivability, credibility, about the game’s objective, about what issues it takles, about the game as a whole and not as distinct pieces we evaluate seperately.

    And it’s a shame really because I think that it’s what made Clannad great for me.

    And maybe that’s not the goal of the review, but I feel like people who read it will disagree or agree with your points with not much else to say and people who haven’t read would only get an impression that is yours with nothing to build their own judgement. What would the target audience be ?

    I’ve been waiting for this review and ended up being a bit disappointed. Change the “didn’t like”‘s into “liked” and you’ve got my review, basiclly. The why is missing.

    This comment is nothing personnal against the writer. Take what you want from my opinion of the review (hey an opinion again), or dismiss it as another complain, but I’m 100% convinced you guys can do better.

    • Did you know reviews actually are opinion pieces?Plenty of conversation has been started. Besides, you’re absolutely not who this review is for. You are just one of the readers that I mentioned that simply came here to reaffirm/justify their opinion.

      • If they are opinion piece then what’s to learn from it ? Blogs are opinion pieces.

        Reviews aren’t just opinion pieces, if you have judgements you explain them, you don’t just present them. You offer the possibility to the reader to conflict with your point of view by telling why you think something.
        “I don’t like A” is not a review, “I don’t like A because …”, now that sounds more like it.

        And who would that review be for ? It’s not for people who’ve read it and it certainly doesn’t look like it’s for people who haven’t read it.

        And what conversation was started ? Ya read the same comments that I did ?

        I’m trying to point out things I think you can improve, you’re free to not take it into account.

  • I do feel that this review hits on a lot of solid points–perhaps my opinion mirrors a lot of that the reviewer’s. Let me say that I’m no stranger to VNs, and am aware on Key’s history and influence on the genre and enjoyed their games.

    I enjoyed Clannad quite a lot. The art, while quirky, I easily adapted to (I agree with the “turning point” sentiment). However, I thought Nagisa was one of the lesser interesting heroines and that in turn actually had me less inclined in trying to finish the afterstory route knowing it would be centered around the girl. Of course, some will argue that not playing through the VN in all its entirety would be pointless–that would be the “true” Clannad experience after all.
    Still, I much liked the other routes and developments therein. And there’s a lot of it to enjoy because really, Clannad is on the longside. I think Clannad is a pretty good VN, regardless whether or not played to its true route entirely. And that is an opinion.

  • I think it’s not so much CLANNAD’s length that is the problem.

    It’s KEY’s general knack for being great at *opening* VNs while *also* being miserable at *closing* them.

    So for example, you have this hypothetical short VN Dra+Koi style where, if you have a great opening, the closing won’t matter so much because you’re still overwhelmed by the opening itself, and as we-the-readers didn’t spend that much time investing in it anyway life is great at the end and we’ll *still* have enjoyed the VN.

    VNs CLANNAD-style on the other hand require a longer-time commitment, and I’m fairly certain I’m not the only one to enjoy literary works for the sheer *length* of them (soap operas don’t count).

    But, and here’s the really big ‘but’: Works of a certain size and a certain impact, like say YU-NO, that all but grab the reader and more or less literally pull them in…
    … *need* a closing point that *isn’t* “miserable” or even “halfway decent”. This is because, after investing all that time, after having been “part of the story” so to speak for so long, you don’t *want* it to end and so at the inevitable closing, the VN needs to *shine*. It can’t simply peter out, nor can a reader be left hanging Kotori-style (which may or may not be a direct reference to a certain other KEY VN).

    It’s at this point that CLANNAD – and pretty much any other KEY VN — is lacking. And that’s a real shame, because after all the ups and downs the reader gets dragged through one would have thought there’s “something” to be gained at the end of it all… no matter what that might be.

    But there… isn’t.

    And so:
    – Reading value: Must read.
    – Re-reading value: Depending on one’s point of view, it’s either “stop at 90-or-so percent and don’t even think of going further” or if one can’t do that, a more or less plain “don’t bother”.

  • The biggest problem i had with Clannad was the choices. I have no problems with branching routes and huge choice trees (after all i played through FSN …), but the problem with Clannad is that some choices make no sense in influencing anything. If a choice like
    ‘Do you want to drink
    > Tea
    > Water
    > Coffee’
    can give you a new direction in the choice branches something is off. This combined with the fact that you have to end route x to get to route y is by far the weakest part of the VN.

    I think you could have pointed that out a little more than ‘you will need a walkthrough to get everything right’ (even if that is true >.<).

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