Katawa Shojou probably came to most people’s attention with the statement that it was a dating sim, about disabled high schoolgirls, made by a bunch of people on 4chan. This raised about every red flag in the book and it is likely that people only picked it up at first with the intention of seeing a complete train wreck play out before their eyes. Now who came out of this happy, the people wanting this to succeed or fail is what I hope to find out.
Now before we get too far into the review I should probably cover the basics of the genre for those mysterious people who go outside and talk to each other. Visual novels are not a big thing in the western world but quite big in Japan and neighbouring territories. In them the game plays as you would guess very much like a comic or novel with often fixed screens and scrolling text along the bottom that the player is required to read. Often during the course of the game the player will at serveal moments be required to make a choice often concerning what should be said or where the characters should go next. The biggest of these outside of Japan would easily be the Ace Attorney series and so if you’re still not grasping the idea of a game with a static screen and reading required then perhaps you should go check one of them out.
Anyway the term dating sim is likewise a term that you may not be familiar with but is fairly easy to guess at. You, as the central protagonist, must select one of the boys, girls, pigeons or world leaders on offer and woo them basically by siding with them in everything and anything and hoping that the creators haven’t put in any text boxes vaguer than bioware’s options of who the heck knows.
Okay now that we’ve got that covered lets carry on with the review, Katawa Shojou is a visual novel dating sim where the player takes the role of Hisaso who is transferred to another school after suffering a heart attack. His new school contains the facilities and staff to deal with such a condition along with many others as evidenced by the eclectic student body. The game follow Hisaso as he prepares for his exams and mingles with the fellow students as he tries to come to terms with what has happened to him. At several points you will be given a choice of how to proceed with a situation such as agreeing with one person or another or heading to say the town or the library. These choices will affect the story line you follow and perhaps more importantly the girl you will get close to over the course of said story.
There are six of said girls for you to get to know although to make it a bit easier to follow each of them come in pairs with you only picking one over the other towards the end of the first act. This means that the first act remains mostly the same on each playthrough and the majority of new material only really coming into play in the second act where the girls break apart and go home, or prepare for certain events. Meaning that should you wish to play the game a second time I highly recommend keeping the game and the save file on your computer. Doing so gives the option of a fast forward mode which will skip through anything you’ve seen before and drop out and any choice or new bit of material. With this being the first dating sim I had played I couldn’t tell you if this is standard practice or not but for me this was a definite plus, though it might have been a bit better if it had actually skipped the scenes in question instead of just playing them on high speed meaning that the start of your second run through can be accomplished while you go and make a brew. Now each of the storylines will of course contain some kind of hardship or heartbreak with the options of a good or bad ending for each girl. For people new to the genre this is an easy way in though it was a little light on the options for my taste, however this could be because I was expecting something a bit closer to the old choose your own adventure books.
With this game being made by a collective online it at times feels a bit uneven, especially in the writing and pacing of the story and some of the endings feel like a hairs breadth between the good and bad but this perhaps adds to the immersion of the whole thing, after all not every story has to end in roses and sunshine right?
Despite the game being free the animation quality is quite high and the art style clean and consistent though the use of both photo surroundings and anime characters was a bit off putting at the start. In short though the game is good it does not break the mould and while I would call this an excellent way for someone to wet their feet in the genre and a decent little title for long-time fans anyone who has not fancied the genre before will find little to enjoy. If the notion of a game based around dating anime characters gives you a snicker then there is nothing in here to recommend it in spite of that fact.
Katawa Shoujo is by four leaf studios and available from their website