Don’t worry – I’m not going to spoil anything here. When do I ever?
I’m not the type who would normally buy commercial visual novels. But, if I were the type, and I had bought Katawa Shoujo in a world where it wasn’t free, would I have been happy with my purchase? Yes. Definitely yes.
Having been on a number of gamemaking teams that crashed and burned because they were too ambitious, I have to give a hand to Four Leaf Studios for successfully finishing KS. Over twenty hands were involved in the five year making of Katawa Shoujo, and it shows.
Let me clarify that this is NOT a Katawa Shoujo review, at least not one written in my usual style. These are my first impressions. I wouldn’t feel right reviewing something this good without finishing the whole game. And, to be honest, I’m not sure if I’m ever going to completely review KS. This is a game that I’m playing without my reviewer hat on.
So far, I’ve gotten one bad ending, and just started Shizune’s fourth act. I’ve been impressed with this game right from the opener. You play as Hisao, a boy who has a heart attack after a girl he likes confesses her feelings to him. After spending months recovering in the hospital and finding out that he has a serious heart problem (arrhythmia), he has to go to a school for people with disabilities.
There, he can find friendship and maybe even love on five story arcs, each arc corresponding with a specific girl. There’s (okay, brace yourself for my bluntness) burnt Hanako, deaf Shizune, legless Emi, armless Rin, and blind Lilly. It’s reminiscent of Japanese visual novels in that you spend the first arc “playing the field” and figuring out which girl or girls to spend time with. The second act and beyond are focused on a girl’s storyline.
Katawa Shoujo is surprisingly sensitive in its treatment of its characters. As you play through the game, you, like Hisao, learn to see the girls as women beyond their disabilities. They’re not the tactless descriptions I gave them in the paragraph above. For example, Shizune’s not “deaf Shizune.” She’s witty with a competitive flair. As someone with my own physical, although mostly invisible, disability, I was thankful that the girls are developed characters and not simply fetish vehicles.
The game has an option for censored and uncensored, so if you’ve got options if you’re trying to avoid the porn aspects. The censored version makes the sex scenes fade away into pictures of fruit or cute gerbils. It’s kind of funny. The game has a great amount of extra features, like a jukebox, gallery, a library where you can check your progress & replay scenes, and a cinema where you can rewatch videos you’ve unlocked.
I love the music. One of the tracks, “The Student Council” theme, got stuck in my head when I was trying to sleep last night, which only happens when I like the music. The music is entirely appropriate for a visual novel, meaning that it enhances the reading rather than distracting from it. “Parity,” “Hokabi,” and “Generic Happy Music” are others that I really like.
Did I already mention that the art is awesome? Okay, if I haven’t said it already, it is. It’s the reason why I raged when I forgot to run the game in Admin mode. I must have taken around thirty screenshots during Act Two alone. Whenever I saw something I liked, I hit the “s” key. Sadly, none of those pictures saved because I forgot to play KS in Admin mode (it’s a Windows 7 thang). Boohoo, whatever. I found them again later. The art’s awesome, end of story. There’s also a ton of lovely visual tricks in the game.
The writing for Shizune’s path doesn’t blow me away, but it is pretty good. It actually does make me care about Hisao’s relationship with her. I still feel bad over a choice I made at the end of the third act – that’s how much this game gets to me. I can’t wait to keep playing. There were a couple of outlandish scenes, but I appreciated them for their comedic relief.
It’s been a while since I’ve played a visual novel that’s made me this absorbed in it. When I was playing KS around 1 this morning, I told myself that I’d only play for a half hour, then go to bed. Before I knew it, it was 3:30 AM, and I still didn’t want to pull myself away from it. That’s how good KS is.
Wow, it turns out that I wrote a lot more than I thought that I would. To sum it up – my first impressions are that this is a game that you shouldn’t miss. This isn’t just another generic high school story. It’s a lot deeper than just a “cripple school” story. Katawa Shoujo stands out, and for good reasons. That opinion might change the further I get in the game, but as of now, I’m doubtful of that.
This might be the last of the daily posts for a while. College starts up again for me on Monday, which means busy busy, and I’m going to need a few days to prepare for that. Have fun, and happy playing!