I don’t want to stuff this post with return greetings. They don’t work on me anyway.
Katawa Shoujo is an eroge by Four Leaf Studios, an English doujin circle composed mostly of people from 4chan’s /a/ board. The story, based on concept art by RAITA, is centered around Hisao Nakai, a high school student who was just discharged from the hospital after suffering from his first episode of arrhythmia. Under his doctor’s and parents’ urges, he was forced to transfer to Yamaku High School. The school is known for being designed to mostly cater to the development of physically handicapped students, a setting which puts off Hisao. Nonetheless, he learns to cope with his new environment, his condition, and eventually the relationships he forms.
I’ll be honest here; I never actively followed KS. I did know of its development around 3 years ago, but I generally just dismissed it as /a/ screwing around because, well, that’s how their image is. Especially since back then the very idea of cripple sex was appalling at best. I only caught wind of the project again just before New Year. One of the dev artists, gebyy-terar (who I prefer calling Salt), is an acquaintance of mine. Being part of our Skype group and a contact of mine in MSN, she counted down the days to Katawa Shoujo’s release. By then, there was a great deal of hype. So much hype in fact that five days ago I decided to give it a shot.
This has been said by a lot of people already, but I’ll put it here anyway: it’s not what you may think. This isn’t some sort of fetish eroge, nor is it an overly focused take on the issue of handicaps. It’s people being people. Their disabilities are not totally ignored, yet they are a plot theme rather than a central problem in their stories. The natural interactions are what make this story not only unique, but very sensible. Other elements are pretty okay, such as comedy and pacing. My only major qualm would be Shizune’s route, but let’s leave that for later.
Pricky (?) comments aside, while he seems to be the generic eroge protagonist (then again, I’m ever only used to cynics), he’ academically smart, which isn’t something you usually see in most protags. He’s not much of a blank slate, but he’s not that defined either (he confesses it himself). It’s how his character develops during the routes that’s interesting.
Emi Ibarazaki – Hyper-highspeed genki girl. Twintails + zettai ryouiki. Lost her legs in an accident. Wears prosthetic legs and is the star runner of the track and field team. As she claims it, she’s the fastest thing on no legs.
Keeping up with her active state is like chasing after a car that goes on different gears every 5 seconds or so. Well at least that’s how I see it. Her route is already pretty solid on its own. Not too good, not too bad. I can’t quite nitpick anything else really, other than while standalone, her story doesn’t stand out much. She’s genki in more ways than one though…
Hanako Ikezawa – Silent, shy girl. Likes reading books a lot. Her right side got horribly burnt in a fire that killed her parents. Hobbies include games, computers, and running away from people who get too close to her, with the exception of Lilly and eventually Hisao (in some routes).
Hanako is probably the most fleshed-out character in the entire story. Maybe even more so than Hisao himself. Her own route is really nice and heartwarming, bringing out some twists that, if you got her bad ends (I can’t relate since I never got them), you’ll probably reconsider your choices heavily. Read some of the other routes though, and you’ll appreciate her character even more (this is evident in Lilly’s route). It’s no wonder she a fan favorite.
Lilly Satou – Composed, collected, and gives off a delicate oujo aura. Half-Japanese, half-Scottish. Blind since birth. Can be said as Hanako’s guardian and only friend. She knows both English and Japanese, but since she was born and raised in Japan, her accent is apparent. A book and tea person.
There was considerable amount of positive reactions concerning her route, with people tweeting that you should save her for last. Taking that into account, I have no regrets. Lilly is already a very nice character. The strength of her route triply enforces that and I can say provides excellent closure to the entire game. Her route is not centered around her. Everyone is involved, everyone is developed. Best route in the game no doubt.
Rin Tezuka – Strange. Very. Strange. No arms due to a birth defect and had to have them amputated. Despite this, she’s a really good painter. Mainly uses her feet to paint and as such wears the boys’ uniform for conveniences’ sake.
Most people had trouble connecting with her character. I wouldn’t blame them; this disconnect is necessary in order to appreciate the route. Unfortunately for me, I had no trouble whatsoever (I’m just as weird as her, trust me), managing to understand the route halfway and just letting everything else play out. You could say that I inadvertently spoiled myself, but on the contrary, I liked how everything else developed and was quite surprised by the ending. The theme layering, while confusing, gives the entire atmosphere of her route. I can’t digress further though. Just go read it. If anything I warn you that her route is full of landmines. Which I dodged.
Shizune Hakamachi – Cool outer, naughty inner. Meganekko. Which fittingly places her in the Student Council President position. Deaf-mute since birth. A really aggressive person despite this condition (although her interpreter Misha usually manages to tone down most of her thoughts).
I don’t want to be blunt. Well actually I do. Shizune, and by extension her route, COULD have been more interesting. She’s not a bad character. It’s just that her route felt… all over the place. Its scatter gave way to it juat lacking impact compared to the rest of the routes.
I won’t probe into further detail concerning other characters, such as Misha or Kenji. None of them are inconsequential though; every character is used in developing one another. More so in some routes than others.
Before I move on I’d just share some minor stuff here concerning my play. Just some of my opinion, that’s all.
- Route Path: Hanako -> Emi -> Shizune -> Rin -> Lilly
- Route Ranking: Lilly > Rin > Hanako > Emi > Shizune
- Character Ranking: Hanako > Lilly > Emi > Rin > Shizune
There are five main artists, along with three additional ones. As such, there huge shifts in art such as this:
I expected little consistency, but the change is a bit drastic sometimes. Like how much younger Shizune and Rin look in their sprites compared to their event CGs. Nonetheless the base character designs are good. I’d probably give my most appreciation to whoever drew Lilly and Hanako though. Their designs are nice and clean.
Their background art isn’t really hand-drawn. Rather, they took pictures of various places and added a few edits. Not bad of a choice in my opinion.
The music composition and selection is nothing short of great. Leitmotifs fit their respective characters perfectly, dramatic scenes are punctuated well by the music, what is happy is happy, etc. The tracks do a really great job at dressing the atmosphere in an appropriate manner.
If you ask me what is/are my favorite tracks, they would have to be Parity, Lullaby of Open Eyes, and Innocence. Parity has this smooth jazz quality that I can’t help but tapping around its rhythm. Lullaby of Open Eyes is exactly what it feels to me; calming, soothing, yet having enough momentum to keep me there in the scene. Innocence just destroys me though, at least internally. (I never shed a tear during the course of the entire game.) Every time I am reminded of the scenes they bring, I feel a bit warmer inside. Special mentions would include Aria de l’Etoile, Caged Heart, Red Velvet, and of course, GENERIC HAPPY MUSIC! (No, really.)
The game uses the Ren’Py engine, a platform utilizing Python syntax and coding foundations in order to develop visual novels. Having played around with Ren’Py a year back myself, I can see why they used it. With a bit of patience and programming experience (with Python), it’s pretty easy to play around with the overall interface of the finished product. (Okay I’ll stop rambling how useful Python is now)
Title screen is simple. No distracting designs to speak of, and there are the pictures which detail your progress in the routes.
The game switches between ADV and NVL mode. Details are covered in NVL mode, while basic narration stays in ADV.
Omake are neatly arranged too.
It’s a clean system. Nothing more to say there.
Whenever I see the animated movies, I have to nudge myself a little to be reminded that this is a doujin. Mike Inel’s animation, simplistic yet stunning, is something that I just watch and see. Of course, it isn’t perfect. But not being laden with so many details while still retaining its charm is something else.
I’d get this out of the way now so I won’t have to say it again later: this isn’t a fetish game. The h-scenes are devoid of any weird fetishist remarks or initiatives. (No that one scene with Lilly doesn’t count.)
That said, a number of the scenes actually have plot relevance or at least information. Disabling the adult content might make the reader leave out some details, but I don’t think it’s too bad. You have MELONS and SHRIMPS and some other stuff to view instead. Actually, they’re pretty cute (some of them at least).
… If you’re after something tantalizing though, Emi and Lilly’s scenes are the best. Just saying. Especially Lilly’s. Goddamn Lilly.
That’s all I have to say, or rather should say, about this game. Any further digression would only lead to outright spoiling. And I don’t wanna do that. I won’t bother trying to use my old rating system anymore. If anything, I can say that I highly recommend this game. A starter course for one who’s just beginning to read visual novels. I’m sure people will have a smoother road if they start from here.
I’d like to extend my congratulations to the 4LS team on a job well-done. To think five years of development by a group of amateur anons could yield this great of a story, I’m impressed. I set my bar pretty low on this one because of its origins. I guess I’ll have to find a new bar. I’ll have Salt pass the message for me I guess.
And on a more personal note, I initially wanted some sort of portable version for this. I played Himawari Portable, and I know fully well its impact on me as I read it while on the road. Looking back though, I guess pressing for a portable isn’t really necessary. For one thing, I can’t keep my attention span like I used to. But more importantly, KS isn’t a game that could be realized with a bleak journey. It has definition; a goal in mind. And probably that’s why I appreciate it a lot. Its solid and down-to-earth approach is something I, if not we, can relate to.