Before I even started Tomoyo After, I knew about its reputation. Many of the critiques I saw about it before the Steam release was announced talked about how it was one of the saddest Key games, but it wasn't the kind of sorrow that led to a happy ending. It was a painful sorrow, as many reviews hinted that the ending was in no way happy. So I knew right off the bat that Tomoyo After wasn't going to be like every Key game I experienced beforehand, not even its predecessor.
Nevertheless, in trying to be different from its peers, it falls into new problems all its own. Like most final routes written by Maeda, there is repetition that is boring to read, but there's a spin to it in that it's all stuff I know about from CLANNAD. So it made me wonder, could this game stand on its own for someone who hasn't read CLANNAD? I made the observation earlier, but I couldn't be entirely sure until I read every line of this novel. Now, I feel more sure than ever that the possibility exists. This story, I feel, is far stronger than CLANNAD on the whole, although if you asked me, After Story is a far better final route than After Arc.
After Arc places focus on Tomoyo trying to reconcile with her feelings for Kotori, who has amnesia after the accident he had during Tomo Arc. Kotori has to relearn everything he knew from his middle school days onward, with Tomoyo placing great emphasis on describing her relationship with Kotori. I do admit, there is some value in learning how Tomoyo saw the events of her route in CLANNAD, but I find very little difference between that and what I read in CLANNAD. I'm actually pretty glad I didn't reread Tomoyo's route before I read this, because I would have been especially bored being fed information I wasn't expected to remember. >.>
Still, the best parts of the route come after that, when Kotori understands how much he loves Tomoyo, even if he doesn't remember any of the time they spent together. I felt a huge disconnect from Kotori before then, knowing practically everything that transpired except the three years Tomoyo wrestled with her feelings for him. From then on, some semblance of hope returns to Tomoyo and Kotori (and myself by extension) but things go downhill very quickly. I feel incredibly helpless watching everything transpire and being unable to do anything about it. All this talk of hope and union...and they make it out to be all hopeless in the end. Now I understand why people talk about how painful this game's ending is. Tomoyo is left with nothing at the end, even after all she did, save the last comforting words of Kotori just before his passing. I can't even begin to fathom the sorrow Tomoyo must be feeling after all that... T_T
I heard that the original release of the game had a different ending than the other editions (including this one). I feel that mainly applies to the epilogue which, speaking as someone who hasn't seen the original ending, feels like the most out-of-place usage of Key Magic since (Rewrite spoilers)Chihaya's route. I figure that's why Yuuto Tonokawa got credited for writing the script in this release; he's the biggest suspect for this kind of thing happening nowadays.
I still have Dungeons & Takafumis left. However, with the story ending like that, it only makes me want to see more of these characters. I gotta make it a priority to write a fanfic about this once I'm finished with my other projects...Excuse me.
walks away, holding back tears