Key/Visual Arts is a Visual Novel developer, usually in the Romance genre, whose works have become very popular in recent years. They are especially well-known for creating heartbreaking stories that appear perfectly normal at first but always contain some thread of the supernatural from the beginning, which becomes more obvious as time goes on.
The company began after a lot of workers broke off from Tactics after the creation of the game One Kagayaku Kisetsu E, which has been adapted into a 3-episode Hentai OVA as well as a 4-episode all-ages OVA. They then created Kanon, which was incredibly hyped before its release and even today is considered one of the best romance games, as well as the game that made the plot-heavy Eroge just as marketably viable as its Porn Without Plot counterparts. Most of Key's games are of the Utsuge variety, with a lot of emphasis on melodrama and sad storylines.
Later games got more popular, more tragic and more adventurous. planetarian: Reverie for a Little Planet and the last two segments of AIR venture into Kinetic Novel territory as well as... well, we won't spoil it. CLANNAD and Little Busters! are entirely clean rather than hentai (though Little Busters! has a planned new release as Little Busters! Ecstacy which will include 18+ content).
Key/Visual Arts seems to have a deal with both Toei Animation and Kyoto Animation in that both studios will adapt their works. At first, Toei made a 13-episode version of Kanon. Years later, Kyoani made a 12-episode plus OVA version of AIR; Toei followed up with its own version, a movie that cut out many of the characters and changed the dynamic to a more overtly romantic story. Then Kyoani made its own Kanon in return. The setup part of it synchronized in September of 2007, where their versions of CLANNAD aired at the exact same time. Kyoani cuts less out and stays faithful to the original, while Toei opts to change things for its own means and make the story shorter.
Key is also known for its seasonal imagery in its more famous works. Kanon makes full use of Snow Means Love and may have defined the modern Sad Girl in Snow; AIR does the same for summer, and CLANNAD for spring, though the snow plays a darker role. They're not limited to seasonal settings, though; planetarian was set in a Dystopia where robots had taken over the world and one good Robot Girl without a purpose hid in a planetarium with a refugee, and Angel Beats! is set in what appears to be a world where no one can die (affectionately dubbed as Purgatory).
Key/Visual Art's' works include:
- Kanon (adapted into two TV series, light novels and a manga)
- AIR (adapted into AIR and AIR in Summer, as well as a movie and a manga; the setting was used for the Kanon/AIR Crossover manga, Kanon & AIR Sky)
- Clannad (adapted into CLANNAD and CLANNAD ~after story~, as well as a movie, manga, and 2 Alternate Universe bonus episodes following the Tomoyo and Kyou routes)
- Tomoyo after: It's a Wonderful Life (adapted into the manga CLANNAD ~ Tomoyo After: Dear Shining Memories)
- Planetarian ~the reverie of a little planet~
- Little Busters! (adapted into manga)
- Kud Wafter (like Tomoyo after, it's a spinoff sequel based on a minor heroine)
- Rewrite (adapted into manga)
- Angel Beats (which is their first work that isn't a visual novel, or at least is not yet.)
Tactics' works with the original team include:
- ONE ~kagayaku kisetsu e~ (adapted into two OVAs, one general-audience and one hentai version. Ironically, the shorter hentai OVA has a more coherent plot.)
Their favoured tropes include:
- Bishounen: All the male protagonists
- Bittersweet Ending
- Bleached Underpants: To a minimal extent. All the visual novels come in clean versions, which in some cases are better for the lack of a shoehorned sex scene.
- Character Development: A lot of their works, but even moreso with Angel Beats and Clannad.
- Chick Magnet: Ya think?
- Colour-Coded for Your Convenience (Key seems to have a colouring scheme to determine what year a character is in. Green is freshman, red is sophomore and blue is senior. Appears in Kanon in the form of ties on the girls' uniform and in Clannad as a patch on the uniform.)
- Deadpan Snarker
- Deus Angst Machina
- Disney Death (usually reserved for minor heroines, although Ayu from Kanon and Nagisa from Clannad got one each too)
- Downer Ending
- Dulcinea Effect: Extremely visible in CLANNAD with antisocial Tomoya becoming obsessed with helping Kotomi, Nagisa, Tomoyo, Yukine, and Fukko. Also with Yuuichi's unhealthy interest in Mai.
- Dysfunction Junction: No Key character is without a Dark and Troubled Past, save for maybe the odd comic relief side character. Justified in Angel Beats!, where a tragic childhood ending in premature death is one of the requirements for living in the particular Purgatory that makes up the setting.
- Earn Your Happy Ending: It will be hard, you'll be put through Hell, but when you get there it WILL be worth it.
- Hot Mom: In Key's universe, it seems that motherhood only makes a girl even cuter than her younger counterparts.
- Ill Girl
- Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Most of the protagonists, with the main pairings tending to have the troll-and-derp dynamic. Strangely enough, in Angel Beats!, Yuzuru isn't the jerk, it's Yuri.
- Killed Off for Real: Usually reserved for major heroines, although again, this isn't a hard-and-fast rule
- Kinetic Novel: Key Visual Arts is notable for lending the name to the term for non-interactive novels, but has since then been used to describe novels of a similar nature.
- Laser-Guided Amnesia
- Mundane Fantastic
- Official Couple: Even though they are visual novels where you can end up with any of the heroines, there is always a girl the protagonist is "destined" to be with.
- Only Six Faces: Or less of the characters in the same game, especially girls. The arts change each game, but this trope does not.
- Pretty Freeloaders: Used straight in Kanon, inverted in AIR where the male protagonist is freeloading off of the heroine, and twisted in CLANNAD, where the male protagonist freeloads off his male friend when he can't stand to be at home and one of the minor heroines freeloads off the major heroine.
- Ridiculously Cute Critter: If the work has a mascot, it's one of these, usually belonging to (or a stray that attaches itself to) one of the minor heroines.
- Snow Means Death/Love: When ever snow is used, expect either a corpse or a kissing couple soon after. Mostly the former.
- Theme Twin Naming: Ryou and Kyou Fujibayashi, Shiori and Kaori Misaka although they're not twins), Haruka and Kanata.
- There Are No Psychologists
- Verbal Tic: Abused to no end in Kanon.
- Yamato Nadeshiko: If the roles aren't covered by any Hot Mom, any other will.