Katawa Shoujo, or roughly put-‘Disability Girls’, has been on my mind and my daily to-do list for some time now. I’ve clocked in 16 hours on a single route in this wonderful (and free) visual novel. Before I give my comments on the game itself, here’s a rough description of Katawa Shoujo.
What is it? : A visual novel about high-schooler Hisao Nakai, who ends up in a school for students with handicaps-Yamaku High School. There, depending on your choices, he may or may not find romance with one of 5 girls.
Who created it?: Four Leaf Studios, an independent developer group.
When was it released?: January the 4th 2012, 5-years after Four Leaf Studios formed.
Where to find it?: Download it here (along with some extras like wallpapers and soundtracks).
How did it begin? : A sketch by a doujinshi artist by the name of Raita. It was discussed on 4chan and the original development team soon formed.
How much…legally?: As I said, it’s free, and meant to be as well.
Now, my thoughts on the game (so far).
It’s been quite nice and interesting in general actually. First of all, the dialogue is well-written with only a few slip-ups. Some of the events that happen in-game are also quite hilarious, thanks in part to Hisao’s witty inner monologue. TvTropers even comment that some of the games’s dialogue looks like it was translated from Japanese, even though the whole (I assume) development team consists of non-Japanese.
Art, as always, is a factor I take into consideration in most media I consume. And I can say for sure, that for the most part, Katawa Shoujo’s artists fail to disappoint. The character designs are simple, but pleasing to look at. Consistency suffers though, as sometimes one particular characters looks as if he/she were drawn by another artist. One point I’d like to bring up as well is the amazing and almost professional-looking animation shorts that are inserted before you enter into a girl’s route.
Music? Some tracks could have been made better or even placed at more appropriate scenes, but to be fair, Four Leaf Studios have done a good job considering the free nature of this game. The sounds are clear and are mostly give the intended effect. I definitely enjoyed the piano opening that plays each time you’re at the start menu.
One word of caution though, there are some adult scenes in this game (I mean, it’s called an eroge for a reason…). However, there’s an option to disable them if you wish so. Based on TvTropes and Metanorn’s reviewers though, the scenes are done tastefully and are even integral to the plot. As TvTropes put it, it’s porn with plot. Anyway, for one of the routes so far, at least, I can vouch for the fact that the scenes and their accompanying text do in fact give more to the story instead of cheapening it into a vehicle for porn. Of course, whether or not you’d like to take the claims of a still hormone-charged youth seriously is up to you.
At a glance though, I admit, eroge+handicapped girls sounds like a sexual fetish. But, not once have I seen the potential love interests being degraded to appeal to people with that fetish. The girls (and guys, if I may add) in the game are characters with their own personalities, hopes, fears and desires. No mindless adult content here, if that’s what you’re looking for. If you’re still not convinced, I suggest you give it a try and come to your own conclusions as I have. Oh, by the way, did I mention it was free?
Moving on, I’ve so far missed the elephant in the room, and that is the main theme of the game-disability.
Katawa Shoujo addresses it through the eyes of Hisao Nakai, a teen who develops a heart condition which could shorten his life and gets depressed because of it. Through him, I can see how he slowly comes to terms with his disease and the handicapped people who suddenly become a huge part of his life quite clearly. At first, the disabilities were glaringly obvious, but as time wore on, Hisao (and I myself) started to forget that the girl Hisao was with was even handicapped in any way at all.
I also think the potential love interests in the game, the five girls themselves are significant in tackling the issue of disability. They are not any less of a person due to their disability and it doesn’t make them dependent on Hisao. Instead, one of the girls-Shizune-even drags Hisao out of the dumps with her ‘words’ (she’s deaf and mute, so she uses sign language). Both sides complement, not depend on, each other. It sounds preachy but don’t be mistaken, Katawa Shoujo doesn’t shove this in your face, instead-it gradually sends the message through the delightful dialogue, the emotional expressions of each character and it’s somewhat stellar soundtrack.
I’d like to wholly recommend the entire game to you all, but truthfully, I haven’t finished it completely yet so I can’t pass a fair judgement and recommendation on it. Still, from what I’ve seen, heard, read and felt so far, this is definitely one of the best independently made (and free) game I’ve had the pleasure to enjoy this year.
If you’re looking for an amazing game with a somewhat unique storyline, please, give it a try if you have the chance.
so we can talk about how awesome Shizune is.
Reference: Katawa Shoujo Wikipedia Entry