Review by Super Slash
"A surprisingly deep and engrossing visual novel, Katawa Shoujo does not disappoint."
As of the time of me writing this review, this game seems to be all the rage at the moment. Keep in mind that this is my first visual novel, so I will not be comparing it to other ones. That wouldn't be very unbiased anyway, would it? =)
The game originated from 4chan. From what I understand, there was a joke image that was posted on one of their many forums (/a/, if I'm not mistaken). Somehow that image inspired a group of people from /a/ to turn it into a visual novel, and thus we have Katawa Shoujo. At first, a "demo" of sorts was released, only containing the first act, which is about enough to get a feel for it. It was only released in Japan, however. In early January 2012, the full game was released, and so far only to English-speaking audiences (the Japanese version will no doubt follow sooner or later, however). The novel is about a boy named Hisao Nakai, living a normal life. When his crush, Iwanako, confesses her feelings for him, the shock of it all causes his heart to beat at an abnormal rate, nearly causing him to die. He is rushed to the hospital and is told he has arrhythmia, a potentially fatal heart disease. He is prescribed with many medications which he must take every day in order to calm his heart down and survive. He is hospitalized for a few months before being transferred to the Yamaku High School, a school of similarly disabled students. The object of the game is to get into a relationship with one of the five girls: Lilly, a tall blonde-headed girl who is blind, Hanako, an introverted and extremely shy girl who has burn scars on half of her body, and is Lilly's closest friend. Shizune, a deaf girl with blue-ish hair who wears glasses and holds conversations through her friend Misha, a girl with pink hair (however, Misha is not a potential mate in the game). Misha and her are one of the only members of the Student Council, in which they consistently pester Hisao to join. Emi, a bright and cheerful girl with pigtails who is missing her legs and uses prosthetics as a substitute. She is a member of the track and field team, and is very athletic. And lastly, there is Rin, who was born with no arms and thus has to use her legs for her daily activities. Her hobby is art; specifically, painting murals. She wears boy's clothes instead of a skirt to avoid awkward situations with her raising her legs. She also speaks very mysteriously, and practically no one except Emi understands what she's talking about most of the time.
In order to woo one of these girls, you have to be careful with your choices in Act 1. Picking certain choices will award "points" to certain girls, and if you're successful, you'll move onto Act 2 with a CG scene showing which girl you'll end up with for that playthrough. However, if you make bad choices all throughout Act 1, you'll end up getting the "bad ending" where your crazy friend Kenji takes you up to the school's rooftop, you both get drunk, and things happen. There are also different endings for each girl: bad, neutral, and good. Not all of them have all three, and as long as you're nice to your girl, you shouldn't have much trouble getting the good endings. It is a great idea to save your game before selecting a choice, since you can reload and make different choices if you screw up. You can skip through text you've already read by going to the options menu, by toggling it on/off with Tab, or by holding Ctrl to activate it, so doing multiple playthroughs is pretty easy. There is also nudity and sex, and although it isn't much, the sex can be disabled since they're CG scenes. The nudity outside of the sex scenes, however, remains (you will not see genitalia except on one occasion, but you will see breasts and a butt in some cases, the latter at least in the CG scenes). However, believe it or not, the sex scenes actually add to the experience, so unless you absolutely must, I don't recommend disabling them; for the most part, they feel natural and sometimes even touching.
This game isn't just about romance, however; it also deals with other real life issues, and the characters feel pretty real and interesting. It handles disabilities extremely well, as well as other issues. The game will probably tug on your emotions more than once (such as in Hanako's path, or Emi's depending on how it plays out). While I never cried while reading, I did get slightly teary-eyed during a few moments; the novel does its job well in absorbing the reader into it and making you feel for the characters. Each girl's path takes roughly 4 hours from Act 1 to Act 4, but after finishing one path, subsequent playthroughs will be much shorter since you can skip a majority of the first act and not miss anything you haven't already read. Some paths are longer/shorter than others, but overall it's not that much different. The game has no voice acting, but it does have music, and it will probably grow on you before long. I suggest not muting the volume since the music really gives certain scenes a powerful, emotional feel. While it's not the best soundtrack in the world, it does its job quite well.
You can also review scenes you've already seen through the Extras menu, as well as view character art and such. This gives the game some flavor since even after you finish all of the girl's paths, you'll have to do them more than once to unlock everything. For something that can hardly be considered a game, it's surprisingly addictive and is very well done. If you're bored or just want a good visual novel, check out Katawa Shoujo. The game can be downloaded at katawa-shoujo.com, but the direct downloads don't work very well, so I suggest using a torrent program like uTorrent and finding a torrent of the installation client and downloading it that way. The novel is completely free, so you don't need to worry about that. I won't bother listing pros and cons since, well, it's a visual novel, and I really can't think of any cons.
Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 01/25/12
Game Release: Katawa Shoujo (US, 01/04/12)
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