This 7th visual novel release on Steam by VisualArt's and Key features a group of teenage students Riki Naoe, Kyousuke Natsume, Rin Natsume, Masato Inohara and Kengo Miyazawa who are very close childhood friends with Riki as the protagonist.
One day, Kyousuke decides to come up with a fun and interesting activity - to form an amateur baseball team Little Busters to replace the school's former baseball club which had disbanded and left behind an entire assortment of baseball equipment in the former club's activity room. Kyousuke entrusts Riki and Rin to recruit more members.
Riki will get to know several female schoolmates Komari Kamikita, Yuiko Kurugaya, Kudryavka Noumi(Kud), Mio Nishizono and Haruka Saigusa from a neighbouring class where they will take an interest in Riki's kind and helpful nature as well as the friendship and team spirit exhibited by the Little Busters' regular baseball practice and join the Little Busters on a different day each. Riki will also get to know additional characters Kanata Futaki as the school's head prefect, Sasami Sasasegawa as the captain of the girl's softball team, an unnamed female dorm head, Kud's pet friends and the school's guard dogs Strelka and Belka, Rin's multiple pet cats and a giant cat Dorj.
After a baseball match against the captain of 9 different clubs, Riki might start on a romance route with a female member of the Little Busters or pass out from his narcolepsia. Upon completing a route and starting a new game on a subsequent playthrough, all members of the Little Busters would mysteriously start with higher attributes which would make it easier for Riki to win at Battle Rankings, Rin to complete missions and for the Little Busters to win at the baseball match. Along the way, some things will also change which add mystery, supernatural and parody elements to this visual novel.
After reaching the required endings for each female member of the Little Busters, the New Game option at the title screen will be replaced by a Refrain option. In Refrain, Riki will have nightmares of a bus accident and be in an alternative world. As Riki tries to find out what happened, each childhood friend's past along with their motivations and actions in Refrain will be revealed gradually over 5 episodes.
The title screen will change after completing Refrain and some additional dialogue options and endings with a Little Busters member will be unlocked where Riki might have feelings of deja vu during certain scenes and events, more wisdom in his dialogue options with certain characters and also unexpected plot twists to bring out the supernatural and parody elements in the story.
In addition, Riki will start to see a different side of Kanata, Sasami might approach Riki for help with a cat problem she is facing and Riki might also encounter a secret agent posing as a schoolgirl Saya Tokido who is hunting the Darkness Executives and a treasure hidden somewhere in an underground maze complex beneath the school which add additional minigames, romance, supernatural and thriller to the story.
The common route will take approximately 10-20 hours while each character route and Refrain storyline will take approximately 4-6 hours (9 romance options altogether with Rin, Komari, Yuiko, Haruka, Kud, Mio, Kanata, Sasami and Saya). The game also has a Busterpedia which explains various Japanese terms adapted into English language, several arcade minigames which consist of 3 reaction-based/point and click action minigames and 2 minigames which have RPG mechanics and depend on luck, strategy and performance at an action minigame which award additional achievements. After spending more than 90 hours to read and listen through all routes in this visual novel, play through the arcade minigames and unlock all achievements, I decided to give a score of 10/10 and my highest recommendation on all of the following factors:
Plot and character backgrounds: The story and plot is written as a romance visual novel with parody, slapstick comedy, fan service, tragedy, drama, supernatural, mystery and thriller. The English text are well-written and translated with few errors. Each main character in this visual novel has their own unique background, behaviour and relationship to the protagonist. With the long length of each character's route and in Refrain, the scriptwriter has done an excellent masterpiece in creating a detailed background of each character with interesting plot hooks and at least a tragedy in each character route and in Refrain, where reading through each route was captivating and interesting throughout all 4 hours.
Some of the characters appear to be intended for comic effect and might seem unbelievable, yet considering this is a parody game with supernatural themes, those looking for a less serious romance visual novel with plenty of humour and nice happy endings which are usually not seen in other VisualArt's and Key's visual novel titles may like it more.
The only negative part I can think of regarding the plot of this visual novel is that completion of certain endings which lead to autosaving of the game data could potentially lead to permanent locking out of certain minor scenes and dialogue segments. Thankfully, this part does not affect the number of CGs or music unlocked at gallery or make any Steam achievement unobtainable.
Artwork, backgrounds and CGs: With the developer having a name as VisualArt's, it appears fitting given that all the character sprites, background art, CGs, opening and ending themes, Steam trading cards, badges, emoticons and profile backgrounds in this game are top-notch. There are plenty of CGs showing small movements and facial expressions. The background scenes have sufficient variety where different places will show the place during the morning, afternoon and night with weather effects. The school cafetaria and classroom will have a variable number of students standing around or seated at their desks and eating tables. These minor details in the background art show a lot of attention and hard work has been placed into making the visual novel dynamic, believable and interesting. The opening theme does exceptionally well in introducing the cast of characters featured in this visual novel with a wonderful slideshow of the most captivating CGs in this visual novel, while there are at least 5 different ending themes, each with a different song with vocals. My favourite ending theme is the ending of Refrain.
Voice acting and background music: The voice acting, background music and soundtracks are also top-notch. Although I have not learnt Japanese as a spoken language, the tone and pace of delivery from all the voice actors and actresses in this game match each different character personality and each line of spoken dialogue in the game. Whether to make fun of a character, to make light-hearted boisterous conversation and a more serious conversation during different moments, to express feelings of dissatisfaction, shyness, nervousness, anxiety, panic, friendship, love, sadness, anger, joy, excitement and happiness or to make a punch line grab the attention of the listener, the voice acting was excellent. Some of the voiced dialogue may sound cheesy or exaggerated as a parody visual novel with plenty of humour, yet this actually also helps to make the visual novel appealing for those looking for a great comedy.
The background music and theme songs with vocals are also excellent throughout. I first knew of Little Busters! from a DLC in a 3D concert simulation and benchmarking tool Time Leap Paradise SUPER LIVE! where the theme song with vocals Little Busters! remains as the main highlight of this visual novel and in Time Leap Paradise SUPER LIVE! The songs with vocals Little Busters! -ecstasy version-, Haruka Kanata, Alicemagic, Song for Friends and Saya's Song are also equally great. Among the background music, many of them are also great and appropriate to match the different moments in the game. My favourite BGM are Boys Don't Cry, Melancholy of a Noisy Girl/Sawagashi Otome No Yusyu, Up in the Morning/Mezameta Asani, Approaching the Light/Hikarini Yosete, Heroic Battle/Yusonaru Tatakai, Day Game, Lamplight/Tomoshibi, Will & Wish, The Cat, the Glass and the Round Moon/Neko to Garasu to Marui Tsuki and Run/Kakeru. The Kud Wafter DLC songs and BGM are not played in this visual novel, although they are nice and also recommended for those who like a fast lively song with vocals.
Overall, this visual novel is highly recommended with theme song DLC (or OST album and Ecstasy album from iTunes for those who prefer and can afford the full soundtrack albums or like certain songs/BGM in the visual novel) for anyone looking for an excellent masterpiece of a visual novel with many hours of playtime going through all the romance routes and playing through the fun and addictive arcade minigames. Having played through earlier titles by VisualArt's and Key planetarian ~the reverie of a little planet~ and Harmonia which have sad and tragic moments, VisualArt's and Key have created an excellent masterpiece with this visual novel by combining arcade action minigames, fan service, humour, slapstick comedy, parody, supernatural, mystery and thriller with tragedy that are present in this visual novel. I would nominate this game for the same I'm not crying, there is something in my eye award if there is another similar Steam nomination or awards event this year for 2018.