Review by Ravenlord4
"A young man comes of age and to terms with himself with the help of five mysterious girls"
I played this game out of sheer curiosity, because all of the stunning reviews seemed too good to be true. I thought it was perhaps an inside joke, like setting up for a Rick Roll. What I found is that it was all real, and it gave me the emotional ride of my life. This is a masterpiece that history will judge as unique and as an inflection point in VN gaming.
This review is from the perspective of an avid gamer: both Japanese and Western games; computer and non-computer games; online, mp and sp; rpg, rts and fps. I am also an active reader of all genres, and I watch my share of movies and television. I work full time during the day and continue postgrad schooling part time at night. So I keep busy and I have a lot of external stimulus thrown at me. The review is done in context to my life and gaming experiences and not in a vacuum. Also I have done all of the routes and I have 100% completion.
Gameplay: 9/10. The controls are simple and intuitive, and it is easy to navigate up, down, and across storylines. The decision points test you and tell you a lot about yourself. There is a library that archives each scene that you play (so that you can review at your leisure) and rewards you with the pictures of key points of the story, and accessibility to the songs that you have heard. It also tracks percent complete for the game total, and for each girl. There is a mystery picture that you get at 100%. You can autoskip through previously read text, and autostop at new text. One slight downside is that each girl's path has a different timeline, so if you do additional paths then some of the external events do not always mesh, and there could be some confusion.
Story: 10/10. Five main story lines with several branches. Everyone will most likely leave you in tears of happiness or sorrow. This is the strongpoint of the game.
The elephant in the room is the disabilities. The game is interesting in that it takes the bull by the horns and addresses it directly, and yet it does not focus on it. It is a process of deconstruction that veers into when does abnormal become the new norm? It is not a rhetorical question, and the game's protagonist must find a way to answer it, and from a different perspective depending upon which girl he is with. He has to deal with his own disability as well, and this is a major theme of the game.
Once the disability issue is worked out, then we see that this setting is no different than any other high school with students who are just like everyone else. Their disabilities shape them, but do not necessarily define them. As on teacher states, the school was not designed to cater to and pamper students with disabilities, but it was created to equip them with the ability and means to obtain a productive life in the world.
At the end of the day this is a romance story, and a gripping one at that. It is extremely poignant with highs and lows, hopes and fears, doubts and decisions, joy and sorrow. There are also some really fun light scenes to keep realism and perspective, and to give the protagonist a chance to play straight man.
An interesting aside is that this was a western produced story with a setting in Japan. If you are Eastern, then this gives you an idea as to how the West views Japan. If you are a westerner, then this can perhaps give you a little deeper understanding about Japanese culture. While not an exact match, I was impressed on how much the developers got right.
Graphics/Sound: 8/10. The graphics were simple, but done very well with a few animated scenes tossed in. They created a rather intimate setting. They also served as reliable queues (coupled with the music) as to the mood and direction of your current interaction. One slight downside was that the graphics were a collaboration effort, so there is sometimes some lack of continuity in character design.
The sound was amazing, utilizing a soundtrack that reached right through the chest and grabbed the heart.
The songs weave the story together until the two are inseparable. Even now, when I play any of the songs away from the game, the songs still play tinged with the emotions and imagery of the game. I have to be careful to not listen to the sadder songs on my iPod when I am in public. On the other hand, several of the upbeat songs are now staples during my workout and homework times. Each girl has a main theme, and each theme is perfect for her. Even some of the side characters have themes Kenji's theme in particular always made me smile.
Playtime, replayability: 10/10. Each of the five girl's routes takes about 4-6 hours. This is perfect, as you can take your time and really get to know a girl well. If you decide to play multiple routes, then you get the bittersweet experience of learning more about a previous girl's life, but are unable to do anything about it (until you go back and play her route a second or third time! :) ) The game is very deep, and not only do I recommend doing each girl's story, but I recommend doing so more than once. Each time you will pick up something new and profound.
There are several walkthroughs available, but I highly recommend playing each girl once through without notes. If you do that, then you really feel the pressure at each decision point, and your emotions are in a turmoil until the very end as you see how it all turned out. When it turns out right, then it totally enhances the payoff. When it turns out wrong, then it adds to the incentive to go back and try a different way. It also gives you a chance to reflect upon what decisions you did make, and why, and how maybe doing something different may change things for the better irl too.
Final recommendation: 10/10. This was a life changer for me. It stopped me dead in my tracks and made me re-evaluate my life and my priorities and where I was going. I have never had a form of fiction or entertainment do anything close to this as what happen to me with KS, and I doubt I ever will again. I spent about a month thoroughly immersed in the vn during every spare minute that I had. Already I see the effect spreading out as well. Several other independent Western groups have decide to pursue games with similar concepts, and I am keeping an eye on those and tracking their progress. I hope Japanese gaming companies take note of the success of KS, and offer more opportunities for translated games to become available to the West.
Overall I feel privileged and honored that I found Katawa Shoujo, and that I was able to experience it. It has expanded my horizons both emotionally, and in things like new authors to read and new experiences to enjoy. I hope you decide to try KS too and fall into something that you never could have imagined! :)
Reviewer's Rating: 5.0 - Flawless
Originally Posted: 05/25/12
Game Release: Katawa Shoujo (US, 01/04/12)
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