2010 Four Leaf Studios
Hisao Nakai is a normal high school student, currently in his final year of high school. One day Hisao receives a letter from parties unknown in his locker and waits at the written place for the sender. The person who wrote the letter turns out to be his crush; while speaking to her, he suddenly collapses. He awakes in a hospital bed, and is told by the doctors that the reason he collapsed is due to arrhythmia, a rare heart condition that causes his heartbeat to sometimes become irregular. Due to this, his parents have enrolled him in Yamaku, a school for disabled students of all kinds.
Katawa Shoujo is available for free at http://katawa-shoujo.com/
A game worth way more than the price of admition. >>> by Lensman (04.04.2012)
It’s a commonly known secret among internet reviewers that writing reviews about bad stuff is generally more fun. When you write about stuff you like, you actually have to struggle to find flaws and nitpick a product that you might actually care about. Furthermore, reading a “Good Rating” review can get pretty tiresome and boring to the reader as you tend to repeat yourself. Writing about something bad though is another matter entirely. The reviewer can rant, go on tangents, he/she no longer has to pull punches and the end result is, most of the time, something that is genuinely fun to read.
So, it’s no wonder that, as I was away a long time from reviewing anime and games, that I was looking for something awful to get me back into track. Katawa Shoujo seemed like the perfect candidate for the job. I remember that my thought process went something like this:
“OK, so we have a game with a guy who suffers of cardiac arrhythmia as the main hero, and you get to choose between a blind girl, a deaf girl, a girl with no arms, a girl with no legs and a girl with severe burn wounds. All we now need is a midget and a psycho lesbian and the politically correct choir can go on slut-walks, do performance art and read poetry at Starbucks. What? This was made by people who came together on the image boards at 4chan? This is going to be great! I am going to pick apart this baby for all it’s worth!”
So I downloaded the free game. And I played. And played. And laughed. And cried. And played some more. And I ended up getting angry knocks from my roommate inquiring what the hell I’ve been doing in the computer room for three straight days.
I tried to be cynical about this game. I really tried. But, goddammit, the story and the characters eventually won me over. The story and the writing was so good that I genuinely wanted to give Hanako a hug, hold Lilly’s hand, play Risk with Shizune, pat Emi on the head, fingerpaint with Rin and have Kenji’s love children. Wait. What?
What makes this story unique is that the disabilities of the girls are addressed in a subtle and careful manner. They are not shoved in your face and they are not the focus of the story. Instead the main focus is on their characters and what makes them tick. You won’t see them as “cripples” you will see them as them as “the shy girl”, “the mother figure”, “the dreamer”, “the athlete”, “the overachiever”. And even then, even when you recognize the character archetypes that they are based on, archetypes that have been (over)used in Visual Novels for years, they still manage to catch you by surprise.
In fact, and that’s one of the biggest merits of Katawa Shoujo, If you go in the game and follow conventional Visual Novel logic (i.e. be a Chivalrous White Knight, protect the women, and sleep with anything that moves) you are in for a few nasty surprises as there is more to the girls of the game than meets the eye. The onus is on a more realistic and equal approach to relationships rather than an ideal one. Choices that seem insignificant actually have an enormous impact, and you really have to think about what you do and say instead of blindly following a path.
The writing and the storytelling is indeed top notch. If I have to nitpick something though, it’s Kenji’s character. He is the main comic relief character, a half-blind conspiracy nut that believes there is a war coming between “real men” and “evil feminists”. My objection to him is more an ideological one. As is painfully obvious from my previous Rapelay review I am not a big fan of feminist organizations like “Equality Now” and I consider myself a “counter-feminist”. Kenji is a stereotype of a “Men’s Right Activist” or rather what most people think of the term “Men’s Right Activist”. To present such a character in a game, will inevitably lead people to get the wrong idea about the Men’s Rights Movement and “Counter-Feminist” theory.
Still, despite (or because of) all that Kenji is a likeable and otherwise intelligent character who is capable of incredible insights as well as a true friend to the protagonist when he needs him. The thing is that the game heavily implies that there is also more to the character than what meets the eye and I really would have liked the game to explore why he thinks the way he thinks and why he has such a bad view of feminism and feminists. Heck, I would have absolutely loved a separate Kenji path in the game.
Visually, the game looks great. The character designs are absolutely gorgeous, and fit their personalities really well. Some people on the web have complained about the fact that they were made by non-japanese people, hence they are sub-par, but ***** them, they know nothing. What really impressed me are the opening animations of each girl’s path, which summarize the girls conditions and the conflicts that you will face in their paths. Props go to Mike Inel on doing such a stellar job and I am now officially a big fan of his work.
The audio is for the most part also rather good. Classic mood music dominates the game, and it even plays a vital part in giving you a large emotional punch in some of the endings. While definitely not as good as other high-end productions, it certainly adds a lot to the atmosphere something extremely important, as there is no voice-work to accompany the character’s reactions and interactions with each other (more on that later).
OK, I’ve gushed over the story and the characters enough. Since this IS a hentai review, it’s time to answer the question that is in most people’s minds: Is the game fapable?
Well, after a long and arduous discussion between Otakufridge’s FARTs (Fap, Adulation and Review Team) which mainly consist of me and the other member which shall not be named, the conclusion was reached the game is indeed fapable with sex scenes that were very nice, tasteful, and well drawn. Furthermore, they serve to provide -gasp- some actual character development rather than just some more masturbation fodder for the masses. The game’s realistic approach to sex and relationships is also at play here and provides some pretty nice and accurate depictions of sexual contact that add to rather than subtract from the story. Though there is an option to turn the sex-scenes off, it’s highly recommended that you don’t do so.
If there is something that subtracts from the sex-scenes and the overall is the lack of voice-work. OK, I understand that this was done in order to put the game out faster and to keep it free, but I really would have liked to listen to what the girls sound like especially during their more intimate moments. The lack of voicework is especially jarring during a scene during Lilly’s path (note: Lilly is the blind girl), where the protagonist is asked to feel rather than watch during a sex scene in order to introduce him to how she faces the world. Somehow, I think the whole scene would have worked better with a voice and a few sound effects.
So, in overall, if you haven’t gotten the hint already, Katawa Shoujo is a great game in its own right, a visual novel in the truest sense of the word that really transcends the genre and takes it to places you really didn’t think it could go. Like Crescendo and Kana Little Sister, Katawa Shoujo is an intense emotional roller coaster ride that needs to be experienced in order to be fully appreciated.
Now, are there any talented professional voice-actors that are willing to voluntarily do voice work for this excellent game? Come on people! The Four Leaf Studios people gave you an excellent game for free after 5 long years of development, it’s the least you can do! Seriously, I would gladly pay for a voiceover DLC for some of the hentai scenes, if not all of the game’s dialogue.
Anybody out there? Hello?
Art/Animation: 9 Story/Plot: 10 Characters: 10 Sounds: 8 Ecchi Level: 7