Most of my lingering thoughts and issues are with the final arc, so this is probably a good place to put them. I think I setup my thought process well enough in original route’s Clannad thread, but this still might be run a tad long once again, so sorry in advance.
I would like to say first that it isn’t lost on me how awesome it is that this game even exists. Although I would have been perfectly fine with how the original route ended, the fact that I got to spend even more time is this world with a character I thoroughly enjoy was incredible. I never imagined that a somewhat minor character from the anime would end up having such a strong impact on me in the VNs, or get this much time and attention with a spin-off. I would have predicted an After-After Story before this ever even entered my mind. It was an incredible ride, and for that, I’m thankful.
I’m going to draw a few comparisons to Mass Effect 3, mainly to show examples for a few choices (and lack of a choice) that I take issue with, and just as a general mention for one of my praises of the game, as both of their endings have left lasting impacts on me. Those spoiler tags will be explicitly mentioned, but most of them should be quick comparisons and not really essential to my overall thoughts if you haven’t played it/are planning to.
I guess I’ll start out with my one small issues with the Tomo Arc, as I loved everything up this point and really don’t have any glaring issues with them, which is: It’s super odd to me that the “Pursue Her” option is even an option at this point in the game.
It immediately reminded me of ME3: (ME3 spoiler incoming >>) You have this “verbal boss battle” with The Illusive Man, and in it you can straight up tell him “Nah, Reapers are bad, can’t trust them, gotta go kill em’” but then turn around and pick the Control ending? I suppose in that context it still makes sense because obviously the Reapers don’t want to be destroyed and leave the option there to simply survive or trick you later, but I just have to imagine that even if I tried to do that, my Shepherd, and all his/her experiences up to that point, would be saying: “No, I can’t trust them. In fact, I can’t even trust the Destroy option really, but I have to try that anyway, otherwise this was all for nothing.”
I found it odd that this isn’t one of those choices where Tomoya speaks up and says “No, actually I shouldn’t do that.” In fact, I feel like I remember that happening early on in Clannad at the beginning of (what I assume is) Nagisa’s arc where she waits at the basketball court in the rain, and even if you pick the uninterested/not going to check on her option, you still end up going anyway. (Correct me if I’m wrong.)
The idea that Tomoya can completely abandon all his principals up to that point is a little shocking and really out of place. Especially since there isn’t a “Do the Surgery, Don’t Do the Surgery” Option. Yes, not doing the surgery would be really awful to Tomoyo, but at least it would make some bit of sense comparatively and contextually, and considering the progress made during that week, the possibility of recovery at least seems plausible at that point (even if nothing came of it). I assume the reason there isn’t one is that now that he has rediscovered his love for Tomoyo, he can’t put her through that again, which again, makes total logical sense given his thought process up that point, and why having a little tryst in the woods clearly doesn’t.
My only other major complaint is the fact that this arc almost completely leaves the realm of believeability that the entirety of this tale was told through up to this point. As I mentioned in the Tomoyo Route Bookclub Thread for Clannad, I was able to connect on a deep level with the Tomoyo route because I had very similar personal experiences and emotional struggles (IE: Tomoya’s self doubt, and both of their lonliness, the act of the breakup scene, etc.), which hit me particularly hard in the break up scene. Generally, I do tend to enjoy fiction or such more when I can directly connect as opposed to partially. I couldn’t connect with Tomoya’s amnesia, especially because it immediately came off as forced plot device (and why by comparison I’m particularly interested in LB!, since Riki’s narcolepsy in the anime seemed more of a thematic device to show why his friends and their patience and understanding is so important to him.)
Finally, the last “afterlife” scene (which is how I interpreted it) is probably what pissed me off the most. I really can’t think anything much more terse and unsatisfying than the “It’ll all be ok in the afterlife” kind of ending. It didn’t bother me that it was sad; it bothered me because it initially felt boring and cheap.
Also, I felt like it would have been to nice actually have seen and been apart of their final conversation (I tend to prefer “show, don’t tell”). I think it might have given some better closure, but maybe that’s just me. That being said, with some awesome interpretations by other people in this thread, my issue with the afterlife thing has been mostly forgiven, and I can say with certainty that despite my personal feelings, I cannot legitimately call this a “bad ending”.
I’m going to swing back to Mass Effect one more time, because the way I got over the ME3 ending was actually the same as how it happened here. I remember hearing someone talking about it on a podcast and say “It’s about the journey, not the destination”. The idea that although it was a short time, it was still a wonderful time (the quality of time > amount of time interpretation) is honestly the one that has given me the most closure. The fact that it was an amazing journey: the memories, the bumps in the road, the pain from the scrapes on your hands and knees, and the eventual view from the obstacles you climb: That’s that was ultimately important, not the destination or the final moment. Special thanks to @VNSalesman! That was exactly what I needed to hear. One awful moment shouldn’t ruin a lifetime of great ones, and I’m determined to remember that going forward.
EDIT: I did just want to clarify (because I think I took on a little too much here at once and didn’t clearly explain myself as well I hoped) that the amnesia plot point shattered my exception (or my bias) up to that point of how grounded and real everything that had happened to that point felt. I’m not saying I wanted to be able to personally understand or emphasize with Tomoya’s amnesia, which is how it comes off based on how I described my thoughts on the previous conflicts. The point I wanted to make but didn’t say properly was that it immediately pulled me out of the experience in a negative way, and I was never able to really properly reconnect with the rest of the game at that point, which colored my thoughts going forward and caused my issues with the ending as a whole. I also improperly used “forgive” here. I should have said something to the effect of: “Because I wasn’t able to suspend my disbelief of the amnesia, I couldn’t appreciate anything else that happened, and therefore didn’t even really give it a chance and instead got really bummed out because my expectations weren’t met.” Hence how I got here, read some other interpretations, and viewed it in a new perspective, changing my opinions of the ending. I initially thought if they showed the final conversation between them that would have provided the closure I didn’t feel initially with the ending. I did want to keep those parts in because they were reflective of my experience with that game and relevant to how I reached my final thoughts, but I think it made my post more unclear and contradictory. I’m not going to edit it anything out or add any further, but it will remind me to chill out and be a bit more clear and concise. I almost deleted the post shortly after putting it up, but now I’m glad I didn’t.