Alright, so uh… I just read this route. and uh, where to begin?
This route left me feeling… really conflicted. I mean, on one hand I do like Aya - she’s a fun character, and all of the moments of her struggling to maintain the Saya persona as her real self slips through are legitimately great. And yet… at the same time, I feel like she’s also kind of intrinsically poorly conceived and handled? Like… Aya’s great, and a lot of her greatness wouldn’t really be there without the Saya persona, and the whole deal with her being an irregularity and the dungeon is neat and fun and makes a good story, and yet… I can’t help but feel like for all that this gimmick is what makes her unique, it’s also the biggest thing that breaks her and keeps her from really being great. I love the way we see her fraying over the course of the replay section, and yet nonetheless I feel like it ultimately wasn’t worth her never getting a chance to find solid footing in more traditional everyday scenarios. It’s like we have a character who could have fit into Little Busters and a story role that would be amazing in a Science Adventure novel, and unfortunately the two just kind of chain each other down.
Saya basically just eats common route and wears its skin. “No, of course this isn’t a character route, look at the baseball practices! Look at the date!” It’s like… Either go all the way with having common route, or just admit that you’re going right into a character route, you know? We get setup after setup for her to interact with the common route one way or another, only for each to get knocked down in turn. She gets a unique cut-in where she deflects an attack for Riki in the battle rankings? Better shut those down before you get a chance to really do anything there! She hides in the batting practice and makes an occasional comment? Yeah, her hitting the ball does nothing apart from build a combo, and those stats you gain are 100% irrelevant to this playthrough since you’re locked onto her route by now and it goes all in before the baseball game would have happened. (And seriously, I still have no idea why they did all that work for someone who will never even exist outside of a route that outright cannibalizes common!) Riki going all manic over his relief whenever he has a moment with these peaceful days? Him wishing Saya could experience them together with the Little Busters? Her regret explicitly being that she never got to experience a normal adolescence? Hell, the idea from the goddamn opening cinematic that this story is about adolescence? Literally no payoff at all (unless it’s in idiot riki or school revolution, I guess, but somehow I doubt that), and following Saya to the point where she gets involved in things is literally mutually exclusive with any trace of the normal life remaining. (Well, I mean, I guess I don’t actually know what happens if you don’t spend time with Saya on sunday. I can’t imagine any way that you could get any ending but Riki falling asleep in his room after being locked out of pretty much every route-starting choice, though…)
I feel like the pretense of having a common route raises expectations it never meets, detracting both from the experience of that common playthrough and from the character route itself. (Although admittedly, I may just be salty over the fact that the post-Refrain content is apparently all completely split up instead of one cohesive flip-side common route where we could see more interactions and events with a post-refrain perspective while building up all of the EX girls together before you start their routes… ;>_>) Also, I really feel like it’s just kind of a waste that we had this big, flagship bonus route and instead of taking advantage of happening at a stage where it could be certain no characters were locked to bring them together for events on a level that the original story just couldn’t deliver, it doubled down on the “nobody else exists in a character route” issue even harder.
(And also, I mean… Well, I haven’t read it yet so maybe this’ll turn out to be an unfair judgement and it’s actually the most important possible thing, but… idiot riki route? Really? Is this what we needed instead of a cohesive postgame flipside-common route or just like… post-refrain content in general for people not named “Yui-chan” or “Kud”? [Because I refuse to acknowledge Komari’s picture book as post-refrain content. I mean, it’s cute and all, but like… where does this require that you know the secret of the world already? Where does it address or recontextualize anything about Refrain, Komari’s thoughts on it, or even just the theme that made “it’s not enough” possible? I know Komari’s the penguin and Riki’s the star, but that would make the Little Busters both the villagers who made Komari feel inadequate and the star country Riki takes her to-sorry, sorry, I digress.])
The dungeon was fun, although it definitely could drag on during replay, and Riki’s version of the shooting gallery is frigging impossible. @_@
Oh, and of course, Kyousuke acting as an antagonist will never not be a gem. I loved it in Rin2, and I love it here.
Honestly, my best guess for the whole mindscrewy stuff, with all the time travel talk, was that Saya died around the same time as the bus crash, possibly nearby, and between that and her childhood bond with Riki she got pulled into the world where nothing happens. Presumably this happened at some point during the game (since it’s post-“Let’s play baseball”, which I’m assuming to be the first playthrough since what other starting point really is there?) and just can’t be accessed before Refrain because reading it at that point would spoil the whole darn jig. So she shows up, fucks everything sideways because she’s an unaccounted for variable, Kyousuke does his whole shebang, and then the impression I got was that when she chose to vanish from the dream world her consciousness somehow pulled off some sorta slingshot maneuver with whatever Key Magic powered Kyousuke resetting and Riki and Rin getting their final try, waking up as a child back when she knew Riki with the events of her route as nothing more than a fading dream, and then going back out to live her life - basically a bittersweet ending where she exists in a neverending loop from the moment where she wakes up to her death and time in the dream world, allowing her to keep living those happy days with Riki even if she’ll never be able to wake up and meet him again in the future? Then again, we see her dream-ripple thingie after the credits so maybe she just creates her own dream world or something, I dunno. Nice as it would be for her to miraculously live and be able to have an adolescence with the Busters for real, she’s not exactly in the bus crash for the preexisting story-rewrite to save her, and I trust her experience enough to not just say she’s wrong when she calculates that her blood-loss is going to be lethal. The loop idea is just my best way of reconciling Kyousuke’s line about her time traveling as something thematic and not just a comforting lie.
(Also, is it just me who’s disappointed that Kengo and Masato never showed up in a more antagonistic role? I mean, they literally call themselves guardians of the peaceful daily life in Refrain; them trying to make the disruption who twisted the dream around herself like a gravitational singularity and tore these peaceful days apart disappear before Kyousuke had to step in could have made for some amazing boss fight-y moments and confrontations.)
So yeah. Saya route was fun, but at the same time… well… what in the world even is this mess.