I highly suspect “After Story” is a shoddy translation of “Epilogue.” I mentioned last time how bad the translation was, and I think this is one more symptom.
Anyway, this game. Ugh. I had a such a hard time writing this; this thing just completely crashed and burned.
You know, I think I can sum up this game in its entirety like this: When it tries to do something, it completely flounders, but as soon as it stops bending over backward to be Deep and Meaningful and just lets the characters speak for themselves, it becomes very engaging. Every time the writers sat down and said, “Okay, now we have to make a point about X,” it’s a disaster, but the second they just let go and focus on human interactions and emotions, the game is completely immersive. This is true in a vague sense for many stories, but I’ve never seen such an incredibly sharp contrast.
The After Story is actually worse in this respect than the main game, as the focus is on the pet character, Nagisa, and there are no end of Points to Be Made, while it seems as though the characters they knew wouldn’t show up in the epilogue didn’t get Metaphoric Stories and as such actually got better ones. The Life Lessons are in full swing here, and gods above is it fucking awful.
Part of the problem, actually, is a tell-don’t-show issue– we’re constantly told how much Tomoya loves Nagisa (for example), but nothing we’re shown actually backs this up, and the result is disastrous.
But I’m getting a little ahead of myself.
Let’s talk about the gameplay for a second. Once again, you have to complete the entire fucking After Story three times to see the actual ending. My first run took me five goddamn hours. I don’t know what the hell was going on here. Maybe the writers thought the game was so fucking amazing I’d want to dedicate days of my life to seeing the exact same scenes over and over, or maybe they just didn’t think about it in practical terms at all, but oh my god make it stop.
You know what game did this well? Hierofania. That game had a lot of different possible plots and a “true” ending, but it was short enough that I could play all of them in their entirety (multiple times if need be) without having to lock myself in a room for a week to do it. Additionally, all of the plots were different enough from start to finish that it didn’t feel like I was stuck in some kind of horrific visual novel mobius strip.
Clannad seems to have tried to have its cake and eaten too with the gameplay. It wanted a true-ending setup in which you need to see every facet of the game to get the full effect, but also wanted the length and large variety of choices offered by an open-ended story like, say, Cinders. Having so many tiny choices but such length and so many characters to follow meant that large, large sections of the game had to be in common in each storyline, and the divergent stuff only comes at the very tail end of a five-hour-long session. And that’s not even getting into the LOLJK of not actually getting to choose which girl Tomoya ends up with after all.
So as I had mentioned, Nagisa’s story was the worst of all the plotlines in the main game. It was bland and nonsensical. The thrust of it is that Nagisa is repeating her third year because a Mysterious Illness kept her from graduating. She wants to start a drama club even though she knows nothing about acting and has no real interest in it because [not found]. You can force Tomoya to help her even though she gets on his nerves and he thinks she’s a huge baby who is incredibly ignorant and immature. Somehow this means he loves her and they start dating at the end. Her parents, the father in particular, are the worst characters in the game. I will elaborate on this shortly.
We don’t really find out anything about her illness during the main story, which makes sense because it doesn’t really have any reason to come up. I assumed it would be elaborated on in the after story– at the very least, that’d we’d hear about her seeing doctors and her treatment. I mean, it’s a massive plot point from start to finish.
The most we ever learn about it is that it manifests as a “fever.” It doesn’t seem contagious as no one else ever gets it and no one acts like it is. The narration will tell us she’s come down with a fever and then go, “She was out of school for 3 months.” It really just felt like they didn’t want to bother with researching an actual illness. The only thing that made sense to me was an autoimmune disease, and it wouldn’t have been that hard to say “Lupus” and call it a day. Instead we’re never told any symptoms, any treatment, she never sees doctors… so why the hell should I care? It is so hard to take seriously because there’s nothing to it! You can’t just say, “Oh btw, she’s super sick I’m not kidding,” and expect the reader to have an emotional reaction!
It’s like the writers saw a lot of heartwrenching dramas, took note of the tropes involved, and then threw them into their own story without bothering to create a coherent setting for them.
So, at the end of the main story Tomoya and Nagisa are in love because the game says so. The epilogue picks up literally right where the main story ends. This was a bizarre decision to me, as you actually still have a lot to do via multiple playthroughs involving secondary characters before you get to see actual epilogue-y stuff. This was really annoying. The cutoff was completely arbitrary.
The story starts with Tomoya telling us he decided to move in the his girlfriend of two months and her family. The entire story from here on out will be on a bizarrely compressed timescale, but this is the worst offender. Tomoya barely knows this girl, is irritated by her parents, and just lives with them. This is a terrible idea. How am I supposed to take this seriously as a Relationship to End All Relationships when they’re acting like stupid kids who have no idea how to actually have a mature adult relationship? The whole thing reads like the puppy love fantasy of a 12-year-old.
The depiction of time is really, really bad. One day will take a half hour of gameplay, and then a year will pass in a sentence. The result is that the entire game feels like it happens in the course of a few months, when really I think it’s over a year or two. When the time transition is done so badly, the relationship becomes even harder to take seriously. It doesn’t help that over the supposed time passing, their relationship never evolves. They never evolve. The way they act, the way they relate to each other… it never changes. The whole thing is just so static.
Anyway, Nagisa gets ~sick~ again and can’t complete school, so she’ll have to repeat her last year for a second time. I honestly don’t remember if this happens immediately or not, but it felt like immediately– Tomoya decides he doesn’t want to rely on Nagisa’s parents for the rest of his life, so he decides to move out. He asks Nagisa to move in with him, which seems like a terrible idea, because I still feel like they barely know each other. I *think* at this point she starts up her school year, which means it’s been a few months, but it feels like a few weeks because we move from seeing every single day in detail to skipping months. I can’t communicate how jarring this is.
The move into a tiny, dirty studio apartment, and then they decide to get married. It happens that fast. I honestly have no idea how long they’ve been together at this point, but it has to be less than a year because Nagisa is still in school. So over the course of a year, an 18- and 19-year-old start dating, move in together, and get married. Am I supposed to take this seriously? Am I supposed to relate to it? It’s nonsense. The game just won’t quit telling me what a Perfect Couple they are, but it refuses to actually show it and instead fast-tracks them through major relationship milestones as if to say, “See? See? They must be meant for each other!!”
Meanwhile, Tomoya gets a job as an electrician. I don’t know if Japan has trade schools, but the game treats this as unskilled labor when it’s really, really not. They also treat it as a job that pays dirt, when electricians make really good money because, again, highly skilled and necessary job. So while the relationship itself is set on fast forward, large swatches of my gameplaying time are dedicated to the minutiae of Tomoya’s job. Days and days worth of in-game time are spent describing in vague-yet-hideously-wordy detail exactly what Tomoya does on his job. Why??? Why did anyone think I, the audience, give a shit about him screwing in a bolt on a streetlight? Is this supposed to create actual suspense?? OH NOES WILL THE BOLT BE TIGHT ENOUGH?!?!?!
Meanwhile, our supercouple who are married and living together have never taken their physical relationship past kissing. Because, as I said, they are about 13 years old mentally. It’s actually kind of unsettling, and I have no idea how I’m supposed to take this seriously. What I do know is that Nagisa’s father is obsessed with his daughter getting porked. He constantly give Tomoya porn, asks if they’ve banged yet, asks if Tomoya’s dick is too small, asks if he can’t get it up, I don’t even know. He honestly comes across as wanting to have sex with her himself. He then takes upskirt pictures of her at work and gives them to Tomoya.
Guys, I don’t even know.
There’s also some really weird and creepy sexual overtones between Tomoya and Nagisa’s mother, to the point that his boss sees them together and thinks the mother is his wife because they’re being really physically affectionate.
I don’t. Even. Know.
The other thing that happens is that after they move in together, Nagisa gets really… 50s housewife. At first I was like, okay, some girls just want to stay and home, etc. But it got… weird. And bad. For example, even though they’re ostensibly really poor, when Nagisa wants to get a job, she first asks Tomoya’s permission, and then the two of them call her father to get his permission. She’s not allowed to just… get a job. She’s constantly asking the Men for permission to do really basic things, and it slowly built up so that by the end it was actually pretty unnerving.
So, even though he’s basically sexually harassing his own daughter, Pappy Nagisa doesn’t actually bother to tell the young couple about birth control, because right after we’re told they have sex for the first time Nagisa is pregnant. The two of them are supposedly adults, but I guess maybe they don’t know where babies come from and as such didn’t think to buy condoms or something. I don’t know.
I actually think that the reason the relationship is so rushed and compressed and bizarrelly childish is that the writers wanted to do the pregnancy plotline but felt like having her pregnant and unmarried at 19 wouldn’t be kosher, especially considering how weird Japan is about sex, so instead they had them be married, living together, and pregnant by age 20. Which is just nonsense and completely unbelievable (although, now that I think about it, maybe it wouldn’t come across as so weird to a Japanese audience as it did me).
So we find out she’s pregnant. But Nagisa has her Mysterious Illness, so it’s a hugely high-risk pregnancy and she’s put on bedrest. The game doesn’t bother to tell us how far along Nagisa is at any point during the pregnancy and her sprite doesn’t change, so I honestly have no idea when any of this happens. I was going to say the most I could be sure of is that she’s 9 months along when she goes into labor, but I actually don’t even have any idea if she carried to term or not.
The pregnancy is basically killing her, and [not found] months into it, her doctor advises her to get an abortion. The game actually handles this really well. It’s clear everyone is worried about her and they think terminating the pregnancy is the best thing to do for her health, but no one pressures her, and when she decides she wants to see it through, no one argues. It’s her body, her baby, and her decision and everyone accepts that.
I also thought her reason for wanting to go through with it was really well done. The scene where she explains to Tomoya why she wants to keep the baby is perhaps the most dynamic and believable her character ever gets, in fact. She says that her whole life, she’s had to make sacrifices to this disease and she’s been too weak to fight it, but she just can’t accept that she has to lose her child to it as well, and she refuses to be that weak. This would have been more powerful if we knew wtf the illness was and had any idea what the actual risks were, but research? What’s that?
So she decided to keep the baby. She gets worse and worse and is one bedrest. For some reason she still gives birth at home, despite the fact that if anything went seriously wrong she and/or the baby would be screwed. It’s one thing with a ridiculously healthy mother and baby, but this just seems selfish: “But I want to give birth in the woods surrounded by the nymphs of the Mother Goddess even if it kills my kid!”
And, obviously, she dies in childbrith. The baby, a girl named Ushio, is fine, which is incredibly fortunate, but Nagisa passes out and doesn’t wake up. There were a whole bunch of things that made it rather obvious this would be the point of divergence in the plotline; in the real ending, it seemed, Nagisa would survive the birth and we’d see their adult lives.
This time, though, we suddenly skip five years because pacing? What’s that? After Nagisa’s death, Tomoya abandons Ushio to be raised by her grandparents. It’s supposedly because he can’t face her and is overwhelmed by grief, but he’s just an asshole. Yes, sometimes shitty things happen. You don’t get to abandon your infant child. I know this is something that actually happens, but a) I still don’t actually believe Tomoya liked Nagisa enough to justify this b) he’d been with her for a year and was 19 and c) he doesn’t just have trouble being around Ushio because she’s like Nagisa or anything, he actively treats her like shit. He’s just a terrible person who needs to grow the fuck up.
Nagisa’s mother, the only likable character in the epilogue, tricks Tomoya into taking Ushio on a vacation alone. The whole thing is so cliche, but now the characters aren’t likable or realistic enough to make up for it, so it’s just annoying. Upon reaching the vacation destination, Tomoya finds his grandmother waiting for him. She basically tells him he’s just doing to Ushio what he resented his father for doing to him, and he’s like, “Shit, yeah, maybe I shouldn’t do that,” because for some unfathomable reason it takes five years and someone spelling it out for him for this connection to be made despite the fact that it’s literally the exact same situation and he should have realized this immediately.
So he decides maybe he should act like a parent and the game treats him like some kind of hero for choosing to take his daughter from the only family she’s ever known after abandoning her five years earlier. He doesn’t think, “Well, maybe I should get to know her and become part of her life,” he just whisks the insecure child away from the people who adopted her. And the game thinks this is a hallmark of his amazingness.
Then, because this isn’t hammy and over-the-top enough, Ushio comes down with the same illness as Nagisa which is apparently genetic. Despite that fact that Nagisa lived to age 20 and only died because she went through with an incredibly high-risk pregnancy and gave birth with no doctors around, somehow it kills Ushio at age five within like two months of her coming to live with Tomoya and showing the first symptoms. She dramatically passes out in the snow and woe is us, bad end.
It’s really, really stupid.
Then, because fuck me, we head back into that nonsense dream world I mentioned in the last post. I honestly would have had no idea what was happening in these scenes if I didn’t look it up. The internet tells me that what happens is as follows:
Remembering a distant world where he came from, Tomoya [the doll made out of “junk”] convinces the girl [in the dream world] to build a ship so that the two can escape the approaching winter and continue a happy life. Eventually, winter sets in, and the girl becomes cold to the point where she cannot move any more. Upon meeting this tragedy, the girl tells Tomoya that he has another chance to go back and make things right. To do so, he must collect certain “lights” (symbols of happiness) similar to those floating around in the Illusionary World. If all the “lights” are collected throughout both story parts, a chance to save Nagisa from dying will become available.
…Yeah. So ostensibly, the reason you had to play every single storyline is because doing this somehow makes Nagisa survive childbirth. I just don’t even. I have no idea how in the hell this is supposed to fit in with the idea of a realistic drama. I don’t know when this turned into a weird supernatural thing. It’s completely incongruous and doesn’t make any sense. It doesn’t even make sense internally! Why will a ship allow them to somehow avoid winter? Why does winter kill people? Will she thaw? How did Tomoya get to this dream place? What is it? Is it the afterlife? Purgatory? Who is the girl? How does she know how to save Nagisa? WHAT IS GOING ON IN THIS GAME.