Review by Milleykins
"Katawa Shoujo: A Game with Heart Problems"
Disclaimer: I've played a lot of visual novels. Therefore, I'm rating Katawa Shoujo on the basis of how good other visual novels/the genre can be. Sorry if you don't think bad art should be judged based on other, good art of the same category. Also, yes, I've played the entire thing through, with every route and ending.
Katawa Shoujo is an eroge with an interesting history. It started on 4chan, an English ripoff of 2ch, kept there for only a few weeks with minimal hype, before the development team split off and started working on their own. They announced the game years ago, and it got a LOT of hype, even among those who didn't play a lot of games like it. Mostly non-Japanese development team, so opinions were divided on whether it would be any good, because otaku are weird that way. Hype eventually died out, most people forgetting about it because the development cycle was so long.
Then, a miracle occurred! The game was finally released, and there was much rejoicing in the English-speaking NEET community. The overall opinion is that the game is pretty good; however, I think this is both a product of slight racism (wanting an English-made visual novel to be as critically acclaimed as Japanese ones) and ignorance of other visual novels since they haven't been translated for the most part, other than horrible purely-pornographic games from Peach Princess or companies like that. Personally, I think Katawa Shoujo is horrible, and here's why.
Boring. Generic. Badly-implemented.
Those are three terms right off the top of my head that I could use to describe the art in Katawa Shoujo. Though technically sound, there's really nothing to set them apart from normal generic anime art. Even with the disability gimmick, the artists didn't really bother that much; the characters are all generic girls with details added almost as an afterthought. Certain character sprites have artifacts around the edges of their outlines, and some styles don't match up with others. For example, look at the runner-girl's eyes, and compare their style to pretty much any other character's.
The backgrounds are bad. There's not much else to say about them.
CGs do not mesh well with the portrait sprites, and there are not enough of them to be any sort of worthwhile. They're often badly drawn, with character designs not really matching the portraits at all. As with everything else, nothing really sets them apart. They're also not done at a very high resolution, which is even more of a shame.
For an example of how an eroge's art can work to set atmosphere and bring everything together, try Sekien no Inganock.
Where is the unifying plot? Why should I care? Did the writers of this game even bother thinking that much about anything other than the individual character stories?
Simply put, this game's story is a mess. This is inexcusable in a game like this, which is basically just supposed to be a big choose-your-own-adventure with pretty pictures. There is no overarching plot beyond the protagonist being put into a school for the disabled for heart problems. There is no big villain or problem to struggle against. There is no plot after the intro until you get into a girl's route. Most of the routes have extremely generic endings, with no denouement that makes any sort of sense or anything that tells you about what happens in the future. But above all...
There is no true ending with an actual plot or resolution for the protagonist himself. There's no reason to care whether the protagonist ends up with anyone, because he might as well have been anyone else.
There is no motivation given for the protagonist to do anything besides hanging out with the heroines and earning their love/friendship.
There are many plot threads left hanging from the introduction if you don't play certain routes. This is shoddy writing. For example, there should have been at least a passing mention of the Shizune/Lilly relationship even if you weren't on their routes.
Kenji is set up for a story, yet almost nothing is ever explained. The writers should not have started sewing that plot without being willing to follow it all the way to the finish.
For an example of how an eroge can use its story well, tying everything together without sacrificing individual character plots, try Sharin no Kuni, Himawari no Shoujo.
Katawa Shoujo has ridiculous characters. They are over the top. This wouldn't be bad if it wasn't extremely obvious that the writers wrote them based around their disabilities, instead of writing characters and deciding how they would deal with a disability afterward. Granted, this isn't entirely the writers' faults since they based the entire game around some doujin concept art, but it's still a glaring fault.
Now, they are over the top, like I said, yes, but they somehow still manage to be very generic! The writers have watched too much bad high school anime without realizing that they have to put their fandoms aside to write anything other than ridiculous cliches. The shy girl, and the pushy student council president both come to mind as I write this.
For an example of how an eroge can have excellent characterization, both using cliche well and pushing it aside once a character can have development, try Cross Channel. It even has a cast full of disabled characters, if that helps!
This is one of the worst offenders to me, though I understand that a lot of people aren't as mindful of it as I am. Let's get one thing out of the way first:
Almost all modern eroge are fully voiced. Got that? Let me repeat it. Almost all modern eroge are fully voiced. And voiced well. What's your excuse, 4-Leaf? You were obviously able to get at least a somewhat professional team of artists together. We aren't in the past anymore, and we've come a long way past the likes of True Love.
Putting that aside, the music in this game is not memorable. It's not necessarily bad, but there is not one track that I could whistle or hum now, and it's only been about a week since I last loaded up the game. This is especially bad, because...
There is NOT ENOUGH MUSIC in the game. Really now. The game could definitely have benefited from a wider selection of tracks, so you wouldn't have to hear the same thing more often.
For an example of a visual novel that does sound well, perfectly using music for atmosphere and tension, even without voice acting, try Umineko no Naku Koro Ni.
Katawa Shoujo has average gameplay for an eroge. You just pick different choices, and flags and markers are set for different routes and endings. Nothing really sets it apart, but nothing really needs to be set apart in this category. One thing I could complain about is that some of the choices shouldn't really set the flags they do. I understand that telling Kenji that you think Hanako is hot is supposed to be molding his own opinions, but it shouldn't. It's written as a choice on what you say, not a choice on what you think.
For an example of an eroge with gameplay that sets it apart, try the Rance series.
Not good at all. I understand that people have the right to their own opinions, but I still honestly feel ashamed that so many people like Katawa Shoujo so much. There are so many other eroge/visual novels that deserve praise over it, and they're not getting it.
Reviewer's Score: 2/10 | Originally Posted: 02/14/12
Game Release: Katawa Shoujo (US, 01/04/12)
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