Little Busters! Converted Edition Review – Love and Baseball

    Title: Little Busters! Converted Edition
    Developer: Key
    Release Date: April 23, 2020
    Reviewed On: Switch
    Publisher: VisualArts
    Genre: Visual Novel

If you foray into the visual novel medium, it won’t take you long at all to find someone recommending you a title by the company Key. However, outside of a select few, finding an official English release for many of their releases may prove just a touch more difficult.

Thankfully, one of their major titles, Little Busters! has now received a switch release that, surprisingly, came out in both Japanese and English simultaneously. Little Busters! Converted Edition is a Switch re-release of the updated re-release of Little Busters!, which had the subtitle of Ecstasy. The game includes extra heroines and revamped  UI for the Switch, which had me interested to see it held up thirteen years after its first release.

Little Busters! stars a group of high schoolers who make up the titular gang, led by the quick-witted Kyousuke. As kids typically do, the group embarks on all sorts of missions and shenanigans. The other members include the timid but energetic younger sister Rin, along with Masato and Kengo, a couple of goofy muscleheads, and Riki, a quiet boy who adores his friends.

Fast forward to high school, the gang has less time and room to really do things together, so the now job-hunting Kyousuke comes up with a plan. To get the most out of their remaining youth, he decides they will form a baseball team and train together. However, they’ll need more members and actual equipment, but most of all, they’ll need motivation because Kyosuke seems to be the only person who has it. Thus, beginning the quest to forge the little busters into a bonafide sports team.

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Story progression comes in the form of adding more members to the team, who are all romanceable heroines because, of course, they are. Assuming the role of Riki, which I probably should have mentioned early, players get to witness how he grows into a more outspoken member of the group, but what’s really cute is how he’ll fall for anyone at the drop of a character route.

This creates a fascinating dynamic for the story, as it’s clear from the opening lines that Kyosuke is the one pushing along the plot and is the inception for numerous fun shenanigans. Still, Riki slowly begins to take charge of his own actions. This is what leads into character routes, some of which have nothing to do with the other little busters. The common route to the game is absolutely fantastic, giving loads of agency to the little busters and adding in new characters to join the squad to the detriment of no one else. It’s filled with great comedy sequences and features some down to earth character exploration.

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Unfortunately, I didn’t enjoy the heroine routes to the same extent. They start off fantastic, exploring themes of school bullying, isolation, feeling as though you don’t belong, simple themes that anyone can relate to with the game doing an excellent job of having them hit hard. However, when things like cults and civil wars rear their ugly heads, all sense of feeling relatable gets thrown out the window, and they begin to really drag their heels into your sense of progression. After all, the first ending makes it relatively clear you’ll need to grab all these other endings to make it further.

The pacing is simply off, as some routes feel like they go on too long, and while a couple of them are great, others are just infuriating, and I was extremely close to just skipping through them to get to the ending so I could move on. Replaying the common route to get to them is much more fun than I would have anticipated, with new events added upon sequential replays, which stops me from just fast-forwarding through to get to the other ends. The baseball minigames and the battle ranking system, which has a swathe of outcomes for comedy gold mock battles you can encounter if you choose, is also lots of fun. The game is also single joy-con friendly if you just want to lounge on your couch or bed without holding a controller.

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It’s not a struggle to even get the extra routes, as the game outright locks you out of repeating heroine routes until you obtain the true end. This is where Little Busters! really excels and puts the pedal to the floor as the events of the game spiral towards a masterful conclusion, which was absolutely worth the fifty hours I took to actually get there. When the story beats really kick in, every element begins to snap together. Additionally, this is where the best CGs appear, and the quality of the music reaches fantastic crescendos that fit the more emotional scenes that occur, like a glove.

There’s postgame content too, which features extra minigames such as a dungeon crawler and an FPS area (with optional viable motion controls) and additional story epilogues. Because if you’ve put sixty plus hours in to finish a visual novel, why not set in another ten or twenty doing everything else.

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Little Busters! does right by its adventure and romance themes as it offers a bit of everything in the department. While some routes can lose focus, others are there to get things back on track until a genuinely memorable conclusion. The characters just have a way of growing on you through their charming interactions and desire to spend only a little more time together. In retrospect, there were a couple of bad innings, but that doesn’t take away from the home run of a finale the story offers.

Score:
8.5/10
A review copy of the title was provided by the publisher for review purposes

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Jacob Kavanagh

Staff Writer - Illusions to illusions. Will solve murder mysteries for money so he can buy more murder mysteries. @JacobPFZE on twitter