Review by Carnival Nights
"Katawa Shoujo: or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and....Love The Girl...."
Katawa Shoujo, a game worth five years of labor and love from a makeshift developer composed of only over 20 international staff members calling themselves Four Leaf Studios, was a game I thought I would never play. This game originally came into fruition from a certain image board, with a literal English translation of Crippled Girls and the reputation of the premises of visual novels it's easy to see why I had such a negative preconceived notion of this game. I honestly couldn't tell you what made me have a change of heart to try this game, only that it captured my heart in such a way that no other game has ever done.
In case you aren't completely aware of what kind of game Katawa Shoujo is, it's labelled as a visual novel, meaning that although it's still a game, it's more closer akin to a virtual graphic novel or manga. There's no character you control and navigate around a virtual world to interact with objects or people, there's no HUD on your screen, there's no action and jump button. The most gameplay you're going to get out of this game is advancing the text and choosing the few and far in-between dialogue choices. Because of the nature of the story branching, there are multiple playthroughs with multiple endings.
Katawa Shoujo is a different kind of beast and one your fairweather gamer wouldn't expect. It's heavily story-driven with story branches that are determined by your few seemingly minuscule choices in dialogue. Your backdrop is not a battlefield but instead a high school for disabled people, your protagonist isn't a specially trained operative trying to save the world but rather a young man who had just gone through a heart attack and has been transferred to said school. How about your supporting cast? Nope, they aren't NPCs offering quests involving hunting dragons, slaying bandits and saving kingdoms. They're a motley bunch of your main protagonist's peers who he interacts with as he tries to assimilate as best as he can in the most foreign of environments.That can't be it right? Well, of course not. What makes this bunch of characters special is that they're all disabled in some form or another whether they be blind, deaf or otherwise, each character comes with their own adversities and their own pieces of baggage that you, the main character, will explore. With them by your side you will laugh, cry, love but the most important thing is together....you will live life, adversity be damned.
You aren't going to be reading the second coming of Anna Karenina or Gone With The Wind, but as amateur as the writing is, you can easily never notice it because of the sole fact that you are so drawn in by everyone's trials and tribulations. Never have I played a game that instilled such heavy emotions and feelings because of the gut-wrenching roller coaster of emotion each female reels me into. By the end of every story branch, I found myself gripping my heart because of how intense love can be.
Artistically, I'm reminded of a lot of anime fan art that I would typically see on image forums. Don't confuse that as bad, they're still well-drawn for non-professional artists and they fit the charm of the overall game. The game's graphics are composed of drawn characters and backgrounds with no animation. They only slightly change their appearances and attitudes when dialogue demands it.
On the audio end of this game, there are no voice actors so you are left to fill in the blanks, but the game does a great job with its original soundtrack immersing you with its tunes of jubilation in times of laughter and happiness while at the same time sends you into serious bouts of depression with its intense melancholy sadness that it coordinates so perfectly with the dialogue.
At first sight, you're living as a flawed young man who is trying to live his life with flawed people who he loves, hates and admires, but at the end of it all, you're experiencing a story filled with humanity and you forget all about these things wrong with them and instead you see it as why they're so unique and why they're so special to you. All you're left with pure, raw emotion. They're so flawed...it makes them beautiful.
Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 02/06/12, Updated 02/07/12
Game Release: Katawa Shoujo (US, 01/04/12)
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