[Review] Katawa Shoujo
So a visual novel where I can form a lasting relationship with either a girl with no arms, a girl with no legs, a girl with scars, a deaf girl, or a blind girl? Completely unpredictable so how could I possibly set out with any defined feelings? Hit the jump for the most interesting game I have played in recent memory.
The game is a visual novel and if you’ve ever played one then you’ll know the drill. Basically an interactive novel that caters to your decisions and progresses the story based on the choices in dialogues and actions you choose. Fairly simple and relatively common for anyone who’s played a visual novel or dating-sim (for common examples think Phoenix Wright). Now, I’m explaining because there are a good number of people unfamiliar with visual novels (shocking I know) so it should be helpful to understand what you’re getting into if you are interested but have no prior experience with the visual novel format.
|[A cavalcade of adorable]|
Now the progression of the story depends mostly upon your insight in which girl you wish to pursue a relationship with. I’ve played many dating sims where indecision or lacking a goal will lead you to the “bad end” which this game has (and quite a humorous one at that). Navigating through your choices and knowing which response will woo specific characters isn’t that hard to figure out but at the same time novices and new comers will fall into the same pitfall all beginners have in that indecision or over politeness to the heroines will ultimately lead you to failure.
By no means is having a fairly decipherable path a negative and in fact should be listed as a positive for the player to be able to pursue his dream heroine with relative comfort and that progressions all feel natural rather than forced are all good things. The occasional “Both of them sound like the right answer…” will appear but it is, as with all things, fixed through trial-and-error.
Other staples such as fast forwarding past already read text and options to view entire images, inclusion of a gallery, and various other play options make this a very complete package.
[+Well Designed Visual Novel][+Neither incomprehensible nor falls into logic fallacies][+A very complete game in terms of design and play options]
You play protagonist Hisao Nakai who during a confession suffers a heart attack and discovers that he has Arrhythmia. Because of this he is sent to a school for those with various disabilities and life threatening illnesses and it is here that he is is introduced to our five heroines. Emi Ibarazaki, Hanako Ikezawa, Lilly Satou, Rin Tezuka, and Shizune Hakamichi, each with their own problems you as the player will come to discover, understand, and fall in love with.
It is important to understand that this is a doujin game, meaning fan made. This means no big company money and the game was written, drawn, and developed by fans without any corporate resources. It is also important to know that “fan made” should not be confused with “amateur”. This game is as polished and finely crafted as anything I have ever played. I suppose I’ll tackle each individual element one at a time.
First and foremost in any visual novel is the writing. How is it? First class. Fiction writing involves wielding the powers of omnipotence and creating a world and its inhabitants and the difficulties that may arise from such a task. A cast of characters, a setting, personality, believability, reality, and likeability. All elements that could make or break a story and I’m happy to report that it’s all there. Not since my favorite ensemble games have I met a group of characters I’ve become absolutely enamored with and that’s not just the heroines. From paranoid hall-mates, androgynous siblings, eccentric teachers I can’t say I met a more memorable cast of characters since my last Phoenix Wright game. The dialogue is witty and touching, the stories heart touching ranging from uplifting to tragic, and the journey to each conclusion absolutely satisfying.
I can’t say with a hundred percent certainty that all of you will have the same reaction I’ve had though. The eccentricities and quirks may be a bit much for those who are not as deep into the anime rabbit hole as some of us are and it’s important to understand that some characters that I’ve absolutely loved felt a bit underdeveloped or perhaps didn’t payoff as much as I hoped. In the end the game is an amazingly well written game but definitely a game with deep roots in anime archetypes that have been played with and revitalized but familiar nonetheless.
Next is the art. I can shout from the heavens until my lungs collapse how amazing everything is. Well animated, expressive, and a seemingly perfect blend between the hand drawn characters and the photo-realistic background. The cut-scenes are perfectly illustrated and the videos well animated. the art department is certainly not lacking in any talent. When the characters are sad they look sad but more importantly they express their emotions so that you can feel it. The important thing in a visual novel is to express the wide spectrum of emotions in a story with limited range and that means every little detail counts to which I can say matches the level of subtlety to be able to rise up to such a challenge. Some rough edges in character sprites do distract and are throughout but are quickly forgotten and easily forgivable. (Yes, it’s an 18+ game with H-scenes…They are drawn well too.)
The music department should be commended for capturing the moods of the scenes that are playing out from the cheery tunes that denote day-to-day life to the soft piano sounds for those moments that need that extra emotional heft. A certain bespectacled paranoid’s theme comes to mind as both a thing to love and a thing to fear but never fails to bring a smile to my face when I hear it come from afar. All in all memorable and appropriate.
All the elements come together to deliver a truly unforgettable experience in the visual novel field.
[+Well Written brimming with personality and life][+Well drawn and able to express that personality][+Sounds great][*Not for those uninitiated with anime][*H-scenes with disabled girls will bother those who aren't prepared for it?][-The bad ends...they're really sad.]
Okay well if that’s not enough for some of you then the replay value is actually fairly high. 5 heroines means 5 new games and the chance to 100% the game is there for those completionists who wish to see, read, and hear everything the game has to offer. The ability to skip already read text makes each subsequent playthrough easier and the chance to return and see the story from a whole different perspective is already tantalizing enough. It’s hard to argue for you not to get it when this game is better than a lot of visual novels that you pay for.
It’s also free.
Yes there are disabled girls in it that you can date. Let’s move beyond that and look at what’s left. An emotional, human experience that captures the best of the warm, heart touching powers of anime and its outrageously eccentric ability to make us smile.
In the end this is an engrossing, captivating narrative that accomplishes many of its high reaching goals to deliver a fully fleshed out and emotive story, moving straight past its premise of dating crippled girls and never looking back.
[+Well Designed Visual Novel][+Neither incomprehensible nor falls into logic fallacies][+A very complete game in terms of design and play options][+Well Written brimming with personality and life][+Well drawn and able to express that personality][+Sounds great][+It's free][*Not for those uninitiated with anime][*H-scenes with disabled girls will bother those who aren't prepared for it?][-The bad ends...they're really sad.]