CLANNAD is the kind of visual novel that has me coming back to it and thinking about it time and time again.
First off, it does things I don’t regularly see in other visual novels. The sheer variety in its routes is one. Non-romantic routes, routes where the romance actually gets going early on, a route about a romance unrelated to the main character… rereading CLANNAD only made me realize how much I miss these sorts of stories in other VNs. Hell even the other Key novels are guilty of this. In direct comparison to CLANNAD, I dare say they seem formulaic.
But CLANNAD feels like it was written with passion. Like the creators didn’t give a damn about whether or not it’s getting too big, or too hard to find your way around in. They just kept writing, kept telling the stories they wanted to tell, kept adding more because there was still more to write about. Be they romance or friendship stories or even a small story about a comparatively insignificant side character we barely see around most of the time. And they wrote it the way they wanted to. This is why, as much as I may complain about how incomprehensible the structure of CLANNAD is, I can’t hate or even dislike it. It’s filled with so much love, and that’s what makes the entire visual novel such a joy to read.
From my current perspective, CLANNAD feels like the golden standard of what a galge should strive to be like. The routes are varied, the characters aren’t confined to their own routes and even if you don’t get into their route you still have an idea of where they’re headed, and even though it was written by multiple different writers the level of consistency in characterization is astounding. It’s long, but it manages to keep your attention all the way. It’s not perfect by any means, but it does so many things right.
As for the stories themselves? Well I won’t lie and say the individual stories CLANNAD had a big effect on me because of the particular themes they explore, because they didn’t. They may end up having a bigger effect in the near future as the subject matters grow more and more relevant to me, but at this point in time I was far more affected by other visual novels of a similar nature. However, I’d be amiss not to mention the fact that CLANNAD was, in fact, my gateway into this medium to begin with.
While I did read Ace Attorney prior to it, it was CLANNAD that sold me on the visual novel medium. Put bluntly, the way it tore down my emotional walls was quite the experience for me. And I didn’t feel unfairly manipulated to cry either, I felt a genuine attachment to the characters and story, the fact that it made me cry was just the icing on the cake. This kind of attachment is one I would only go on to feel time and time again exploring visual novels, and it all started with CLANNAD. It led me to Umineko, it led me to Little Busters, it even led me here.
So how do I look at its story now, two years and three months after my first exposure to it? Well while I may have said that it didn’t have a big effect on me with its thematic focus, that doesn’t mean it was just an enjoyable story and nothing more. In fact, it did still affect me personally in quite a few ways. More than anything because of the very way it’s constructed. I went into this a bit back in my reflections in the Nagisa route topic, but in a nutshell I love CLANNAD’s theme of “possibilities”. You observe Tomoya as different choices lead him to completely different results, but not one of them feels contrived or way too convenient. It made me think back on my own life, and how unlikely it really was that I ended up right here, right now, the way I am. And over a long time spent reflecting, it taught me to be satisfied with that. To embrace the fact that there are infinite different possibilities, and that there’s no need to look back with regret and wish for another one to have taken place, even if it may be a possibility that from a meta perspective could be considered “better”. When it comes down to it, we’re on the route we’re on and we don’t have saving or loading in real life so there’s no way to go but forward. All the while making the most of the path we’ve chosen.
In the end, what does CLANNAD mean to me? On the surface level, it’s simply a damn good visual novel and it has wonderfully written characters, an absolute blast to read from beginning to end. On a medium level, it’s a rather unique galge that stands out from the rest by how it’s written and constructed, and I feel many a visual novel writer could stand to take lessons from it. And on a personal level, it brought me into a world that made me grow as a person in many ways, and CLANNAD itself very much helped with that, conveying a message I still hold dear today.