05 February 2012

Katawa Shoujo

Gaming Genres: Visual Novel
Story Genres: Drama, Romance, Adult Content
Graphical Styles: 2D, Hand-Drawn, Cartoon, Adult Content
Platforms: Windows, Mac OS X, Linux
Pricing Model: Free
Developer(s): 4 Leaf Studios
Publisher(s): 4 Leaf Studios
Initial Release Date: January 4, 2012
Website(s): Homepage
Katawa Shoujo is a bishoujo-style visual novel set in the fictional Yamaku High School for disabled children, located somewhere in modern Japan. Hisao Nakai, a normal boy living a normal life, has his life turned upside down when a congenital heart defect forces him to move to a new school after a long hospitalization. Despite his difficulties, Hisao is able to find friends—and perhaps love, if he plays his cards right. There are five main paths corresponding to the 5 main female characters, each path following the storyline pertaining to that character.

The story is told through the perspective of the main character, using a first person narrative. The game uses a traditional text and sprite-based visual novel model with an ADV text box.

Katawa Shoujo (translated "Disability Girls") is an anime style visual novel and dating sim set in a high school for people with disabilities. The main goal throughout the entire game is to date one of the five main girls. Additionally, while they are far from the norm, it has adult content (aka H-scenes) with nudity. The game was first conceptualized back in 2007 on the infamous, internet community, 4chan. Many years of development latter and we finally have a freeware release.

Katawa Shoujo is renowned for its story, and for a good reason. It has great and beautiful writing, interesting characters, and a set of great plots; Also, I think that part of the reason it works out so well is the, high school for disabled students, setting. High schools and drama go together, you cannot have the first without the latter, but high school drama is also quite ridiculous and not really a suitable plot device for a mature and interesting story. That is where the disabilities come in, these people have both psychological and physical problems and therefore have reasons to make situations naturally complex.

It is not just the story that makes Katawa Shoujo so outstanding. It also has great hand-drawn characters and great photos, photoshopped to look slightly abstract and generic, for the backgrounds. A big fantastic and light soundtrack. Thirteen main alternative endings, with many different winding paths to get to all of them. And six, very unique, fantastic quality cutscenes; Cutscenes of such fantastic visual quality and artistic style that I cannot help but wish that they made an animated mini-series alongside the game. The game features at least one character that should stand out for any given person, but I believe that the correct canonical arc would have to be Lily's, both because of its quality and because it is the only arc with an epilogue.

There is one part I disliked though; And that is the entire Shizune arc. I would not call it a love story, even though it still seems to be trying to be one. It is by far the arc with the most filler, which is good and bad, because the filler was honestly a lot better then the actual story. Even the interactions between the main characters could of been taken out of the story in a lot of instances as well, the only person that seemed to develop at all was the third wheel Misha. And I am positive that the protagonist does not love or even really like his "love interest". On more then one occasion it was more very firmly demonstrated that "acquittance with randomly occurring benefits" seems to be the best description for their relationship. So whatever you do, don't play the Shizune arc first; In many ways it is the route of least resistance, with her being the first one you meet and her undeniable attractiveness and charisma, but if I had played it first I would have labelled Katawa Shoujo as a badly written game and given up on it long before finishing a single playthrough. Not that these facts stop quite a few people from absolutely loving this arc.

The adult content of Katawa Shoujo is quite explicit, but it can be turned off, mostly. With adult content turned on, you simply cannot get any of the good endings without seeing some nudity and reading some explicit sex scenes. And while disabling adult content does skip these sex scenes it does not skip all nudity nor does it skip all sexual content, it turns it into a game that cannot be considered at all pornographic but it is still not safe for public viewing or for audiences not comfortable with the idea of teenage sex. If not skipped, these scenes, while a tiny minority of the story as a whole are so explicit that you will only find their like in pornography, and not the participially soft core variety either (in some cases); But at the same time, they are obviously not designed to be arousing so much as legitimate parts of the story.

This nudity and explicit content in a high school setting also brings up the question of, "is this game legal to own and play?". The developers have stated that all characters in the game that are involved in the adult content are at least 18 years of age and this is confirmed for most characters in-game. This generally makes it perfectly legal, and that is the age looked for in North America. But, it is still worth considering that some laws are based on looks instead of some arbitrary number picked by the developer. So my opinion is that it is mostly legal, but you might not want to cross any borders or go through any airport securities with it just to be safe. For what age the characters look like, in general Anime has a young look, that is just its style, but for at least one of the characters I would say she is really only called 18 because otherwise it would make the game obviously illegal in some places (not that some people don't simply look younger then their age).

Katawa Shoujo is high school; It does a perfect job of recreating the atmosphere of high school. All of the people in the game are interesting and likable, but some of the most unique characters are actually the minor ones. Your dorm room neighbor for example, Kenji, is legally blind, almost completely anti-social (though he takes a liking to you immediately), and is convinced that there is a massive feminist conspiracy and rants about it almost constantly. There is not a thing he says that is not hilarious and quotable: "This is a manly picnic. No glasses. No napkins. Whiskey only. The beverage of true men." - Kenji. You also meet Jigoro, Shizune's father, on a number of circumstances, and his blind arrogance is hilarious, "Your sweater is terrible and I want you to feel bad about it." - Jigoro. These side characters, along with the more likable main characters, make a terrific game filled with interesting friends, acquaintances, mentors, and love interests.

Katawa Shoujo is a fantastic game filled with fun, sad, romantic, and heart wrenching scenes throughout. While it surly will not appeal to everyone, the anime/high school theme is not for everyone, a lot of people absolutely love the game and I count it as one of my all time favourites. While the game is of a respectable length to begin with (I would say at least 6 hours for a single playthrough, assuming everything goes correctly) there are ample reasons to playthrough the game at least five times making it more like a 30 hour game. What still astounds me is how different each arcs is; You really have five completely different stories that hardly even fit within the same genre, so unique in theme and substance that it is jarring.

Images (+):
Hints/Tips/Walkthrough (+):
Indieness: Indie
Play?: Must Play

1 comment:

  1. Reworded a few sentences, and added a few others, in the Opinion section.