Since Necroposting is apparently allowed and encouraged around here, I suppose this is the best place to start before I dig into any TA threads, since a lot of my lingering issues with TA stem from the original route and how their relationship is established up to that point.
At the time of writing, I have only completed 4 routes: Kyou, Ryou, Misae, and obviously Tomoyo’s. While I haven’t finished any others (started Kotomi’s atm), I do have a feeling my opinions aren’t going to radically change at this point, based on what I already know from the anime and now have a good idea for how the VN and anime differ in their interpretations.
Although I haven’t finished Kotomi’s or Nagisa’s, I get a constant underlying vibe from the game about needs and wants. To my perspective, Kyou/Ryou simply want Tomoya. These feelings of love seem to be their first, and they simply have trouble making those feelings known. Although Tomoya explicitly mentions multiple times that he thinks Ryou needs him, they still seem to carry on mostly fine whether or not you engage with them.
Nagisa and Kotomi, however, need Tomoya to grow, and almost appear to fall of the face of the earth if you don’t engage with them. Nagisa never starts up the Drama Club or becomes true friends with Tomoya, and Kotomi is likely still sitting alone in the library where you’d meet her. If Tomoya doesn’t help them, they make no progress, and he doesn’t ever actively think about them ever again.
The Tomoyo route gives us a something of an opposite in this case. There is a much more apparent mutual need and interest that is established almost immediately between the two. The beginning of their relationship is easy, natural, and they get along well because of their shared current loneliness and difficult pasts.
The wrench gets thrown in when finds out she looking to become Student Council Prez. It causes him to question his position, but instead resolves to simply enjoy the time they have left, and break apart when and if she becomes Prez. Despite that, he still actively helps her get elected and votes for her himself, because by that point he realizes this isn’t a passing phase; he wants to stay with Tomoyo because he cares about her. At this point, the want is established for both of them; they continue to try to make it work.
The most interesting part of the route comes from societal pressures that get put on them. Neither Tomoya nor Tomoyo care in the least what any one thinks about them as individuals or a couple. What they do care about is obvious: each other. The actual problem is that Tomoyo’s major flaw is her denseness: she simply isn’t aware of why Tomoya starts doubting their relationship, despite him hinting at it multiple times (ie: the phone conversation).
The breakup scene perfectly encapsulate a second transition: Tomoya’s want becomes a form of love. It’s not a beautiful, pure, endearing kind of love: it’s a sacrificial love, similar to the way a parent might give their life (literally or figuritively) for their child. Tomoya can’t handle the pressure and hurting someone he cares about: he’s spent that past three years thinking and hearing he’s worthless. He can’t tear down that mental wall and follow her up the hill, and it’s unrealistic to expect him to. Whether or not it’s morally correct, it is a rational conclusion, albeit born from irrational concepts created by him and those around him. I’ve done this kind of thing before; it’s about setting yourself aside and doing the cold mental calculus to figuring out what’s best for someone you care about more than yourself. It’s only during the eight month gap that he also realizes what he felt was real and that he genuinely needs Tomoyo once she gone.
It’s hard to say whether Tomoyo feels similarly at that moment since we aren’t able to see what’s going on in her head, but I’d say she makes both transitions during the gap as well. She too sacrifices something (a potentially bright future) for what she wants, needs, and loves. That being said, I imagine it was easier for her to come to this conclusion than Tomoyo since she never cared about the expectation society put on her in the first place, as well as her propensity to focus solely on going after what she wants. With the previous goal complete, there is nothing to hold her back anymore.
Overall, this is my favorite route yet. It’s believeable, excellently paced, and is solid from moment to moment.