Katawa Shoujo is a bishoujo-style visual novel/dating simulator set in a high school for disabled children located in Japan. The game is developed by Four Leaf Studios and is available for download through this website. There are links which gives a brief overview of the different characters as well as some history about the game’s origin and overall context. Warning: This game contains adult material.
You play as Hisao Nakai, a high school student who suffers from a heart defect which eventually forces him to move to Yamaku High School, a school specially designed for students with disabilities. Instead of fighting against his fate, Hisao reluctantly accepts it for what it is and decides to stay positive and start his life anew. Despite a rocky start, Hisao is able to quickly make friends and find his stride.
Apart from Hisao, there are five main female characters whom you have the choice of pursuing and each having their own storyline, giving this game quite a bit of replayability. The character list and descriptions can be found at the website mentioned above, but a quick run down: you are first introduced to Shizune Hakamichi, your class representative and also president of the Student Council. She is always accompanied by Misha Mikado, who is her interpreter so they come as a pair. Whilst wandering around searching for the library, you discover Lilly Satou. Lilly leads you to the library after a brief introduction and you are met with Hanako Ikezawa, another girl from your class. The next day, you have a run in with Emi Ibarazaki. Lastly, while helping search for supplies, you come across Rin Tezuka.
Each girl has a distinct personality, so it’s not difficult to decide who you connect with the most. I have heard that the storylines for each girl are flushed out very well and tends to intermingle with others, especially early on. I have only completed one story, which took me roughly six and a half hours and am currently on my second time through because I was so intrigued with the other characters and how they developed, but many get dropped as your progress and focus on one girl.
In hindsight, it probably would have been a good idea to create multiple save points but I was quite engrossed with the story the first time through that I just went with natural responses and came to a very bittersweet ending with Lilly.
Music & Graphics/Art Style
The music is excellent and there’s even a jukebox in the main screen’s option menu along with a gallery so you can enjoy everything you’ve unlocked. You may also enjoy some of the songs from the samples section of the website. Great pieces on their own, and definitely enhances the settings in context. The graphics in this game are also excellent quality. Character models are drawn really cleanly and as a bonus, the girls aren’t overly sexualized, if at all. The girls I interacted with the most (Lilly and Hanako) were very proper and reserved.
Some of the environments looks like it was just a photo that was taken with a filter, and I mean that in the most positive way possible. I stopped reading the text just to appreciate the art in the background quite a few times. I really wish there was a option to hide the text box or unlock the background art in the gallery just so I can have it saved. The one thing that always kind of bothered me were the paintings/murals of faces in the hallway or courtyard. Not that it was bad, just not my taste.
Final Thoughts and Disclaimer
As I mentioned at the start, there is adult material that occurs at the end, which should be obvious from the start anyways. If you become romantically involved with a girl, you will end up having sex with them. However, the sex scenes are done in a tasteful manner (well, I can’t speak for more than one of the characters) and actually captures pretty well what could potentially occur afterwards in a real-world counterpart (i.e. realizing what just happened, the awkward day after trying to sort things out, etc.). These are high school students, after all. We’ve all been in (or currently are) their shoes.
Katawa Shoujo is the first visual novel that I have read and I must say, it has definitely left a really good impression. Definitely brought back a lot of my own memories and feelings of nostalgia, something that games rarely do these days. Then again, I’m mostly playing the wrong type of games for those feelings anyways. Truly, I enjoyed this game immensely. The character development was very engaging; it gave you the power of choice at the crucial moments, and the overall setting was very intriguing to begin with. I do occasionally ponder how the world looks through another person’s eyes, but never actually considered how the physically impaired coped. Even then, the only blanket answer is the same for everyone: we just do. The actual answer is going to be unique to each individual, and we all have our own reasons as well.
- Story Score: 8/10 (The score just applied to the overarching theme/setting. In this case, coping with a new lifestyle that was forced upon you. I found the setting of a high school tailored specifically for the disabled quite interesting despite it being fictional.)
- Character Development Score: 10/10 (I was very pleased with how all the characters had their own personalities, back story, and interacted with each other. They all seemed to have a better half that supports them and it is very touching to see and experience the changes in everyone’s daily routine.)
- Graphics Score: 10/10 (Everything looks absolutely stunning except for those paintings of the faces…*shudder* Just not my taste and it seemed a bit out of place. However, everything else captured the setting and mood very well.)
- Music: 10/10 (Absolutely loved the music. Very touching and definitely sets the tone effectively. I also appreciate how each character has their own theme.)
If you are new to visual novels or just looking for another one to read, I would highly suggest Katawa Shoujo. This has definitely set the bar very high for any others I will be reading in the future. Admittedly, the setting might be a bit strange or off-putting to some but personally I found it to be very interesting. Would love to hear your thoughts!
See you next game! -DecoyEC has logged off.