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"The changeling looked at the foal much like a space explorer would look at an alien life form. He resisted the urge to prod it." - Flitter

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Random Game Review: Katawa Shoujo · 10:33pm Oct 10th, 2013

I stumbled upon this little gem while browsing TVTropes, and when I mentioned it in the irc channel of The Writer's Group later, someone there told me they'd actually recommended it there in the channel too. Anyway, apparently, the game was made by a bunch of enthusiasts on 4chan's Anime & Manga channel (/a/) who somewhat coincidentally ended up making a serious project out of a silly image from an artist who probably meant it as a rather crude joke.

The beautiful end result can be found here, and downloaded completely for free. It is a project from the Internet, for the Internet.

Content warning: since the game deals with high school romance, and since any healthy relationship generally has a physical aspect, this game has content of a sexual nature. It is not a real focus, though, but they don't shy away from it, either. It can, however, be disabled in the game options without any real impact on the story flow. (Oh, and don't expect it to be straightforward fapping material; in some branches the main character's heart condition has a tendency to brutally interrupt such scenes halfway through :p)

Anyway... first of all, I've never really played any of these "visual novel" type games before. From what this game showed me, the medium seems to be largely something in between a book and a movie, leaning very close towards the comic book genre.

And then, of course, there's the game aspect. Most of it is generally just storytelling, but at some critical moments, you get to make choices that will determine which "branch" of a story you go towards. Some actual events seem to hinge not just on a single choice, though, but on a combination of multiple choices, and sometimes later choices actually get more options if you chose a certain other branch before that. Sometimes, these branches converge again, with certain choices either giving alternate routes to the same result, or skipping over parts that could otherwise be interesting to get into the story, and sometimes they split away from the Good Ending, giving you, inevitably, a Bad Ending.

Because of all this, the game has a handy feature to fast-forward through everything you already played until you get to these choices. It also has a really handy "Library" feature in the Extras menu, where you can not only watch all the scenes you already played through, but, where you can also see if you've managed to unlock them all. Sadly, because past choices always affect future story development, the Library feature does not allow you to actually start playing somewhere halfway and go on from there. But that's what savegames and the fast-forward feature are for.

Anyway, enough about the mechanics. On to the actual game.

"Katawa Shoujo" literally means "disability girls", but, with connotation, is more accurately translated to "crippled girls". This name apparently caused some controversy, since it seems to treat the subject of a disability with very little respect.

The name, taken directly from the concept image it is originally based on, actually stands in really clever contrast to the actual game, which focuses beautifully on the people behind the disabilities. There isn't a single one amongst the "cripple" girls who hasn't managed to live with their physical burden, and, in contrast, the psychological burdens surrounding their disability seem to be a lot bigger.

It is also oddly contrasting that the main character, Hisao, who ends up in the school for disabled people because of a serious heart condition, is the only one of them in any immediate danger of dying because of his disability.

Everyone, disabled or not, has baggage, is what the game seems to say, and you can expect a girl who lost her legs in a car crash to have lost quite a lot more than just those legs. A lot of them are more scarred on the inside; if not by some accident that made them disabled, then certainly by the way their environment treats them as being different or helpless. Yuuko, the librarian in the story, summed it up quite aptly, responding to an unsure question on how to treat the elephant in the room by saying, "I think it's an elephant only if you feel that way."

On to the arcs. The story, following what I assume is a classic romance visual story route, is a choice to (try to) end up with one of five main characters in the game. The first part of the game, leading up to the school festival, is full of choices that will determine where you will finally end up. If you somehow manage to avoid all chances to spend time with any of them when the festival rolls around, you end up spending your time getting drunk on the rooftop with Kenji, the local paranoid idiot, and fall off a (previously foreshadowed) unprotected edge of the roof. Bummer :P

I'll go over the actual arcs in the order I played them.

Since Emi seems to be the first arc in the arcs listing you can find in the Library feature, I guess it's also one of the more logical paths. You understandably shy away from the aggressive recruiting tactics of the student council, and decide to honestly work on your health. Meet Emi, the fastest thing on no legs. Because of Emi's infectious enthusiasm and competitive nature, you end up overexerting yourself a bit on the track, collapse because of your heart condition, and, bam, the Emi arc. The fact the school nurse is a close friend of her certainly helps too.

Looking back, Emi's arc was the most logical and straightforward of them all. Choices were given at logical times, the choices in them were clear cut "do one thing"/"do the opposite" branches, and with some logical thinking, you could make your way through it just fine. It was not immediately visible from the choices which would be bad branches, which kept the game interesting, but even if you ended up on a bad end, the actual events in the bad branch made it quite clear why it was bad, and how you could've actually seen it coming. Of course, hindsight is always 10/10. Good thing you got savegames, and the fast play feature ;)

After playing all of them, this is still my favourite arc in the game. And Emi is so goddamn cute when she wants to be (especially when she pouts).

The second time I played, I wanted to go with the Hanako arc, but surprisingly missed my chance because I didn't realize how closely tied her arc and Lilly's were, which is why an argument between Shizune and Lilly in which I attempted to stay neutral got me thrown off that path. I ended up with the very last possible chance to still end up with someone before going Off The Deep End With Kenji Setou. This person was Rin.

Rin's arc started just like the girl herself; slow, strange, relaxing. It was rather nice while that lasted. However, when I got the first choices in the Rin arc, that all changed. The arc turns strange and frustrating in no time, with some branch choices seemingly having no effect at all, while other times, the given choices are far too similar to really see what value one could possibly have over another. To make it worse, Rin, the Artist, gets sucked down into a self-destructive spiral that leaves you wondering over and over again whether your choices could've avoided that. Alas, a quick check in the Library shows they couldn't; it's meant to go that way, and this is exactly what made it frustrating. Even the end seems to be nothing more than a silent resignation to the fact you ended up together, fully aware that you'll never really understand each other.

In conclusion, I didn't really like this arc. Despite Emi and Rin's friendship, their arcs were complete opposites, both in enjoyability and comprehensibility. Do keep in mind each of the main arcs was apparently made by a different writer. I suspect the writer of Rin's arc to be a very odd person.

On the third try, thanks to the lesson learned the last time about Hanako and Lilly's closeness, I finally managed to find my way into the arc of Hanako. The Hanako arc is less straightforward than the Emi arc, but it is less straightforward in a very interesting way. All choices you make in the Hanako arc are based on the only real assumption you can make of Hanako, her being a shy introverted creature who seems so afraid of people seeing her grotesque burn scars.

However, all of those assumptions end up surprisingly wrong. Her self-esteem turns out to be a far bigger issue than her physical scars, and this leads to unavoidable misunderstandings, which, in the story, are completely justified. Unlike in Rin's arc, the choices you are given still seem like completely opposite paths. In fact, when you get to the inevitable bad parts, you never get the feeling it could've been avoided by the choices you had made, and that's one of the things I really like about this arc. Some choices you make IN that bad part, however, can obviously make all the difference in the world. The actual ending with Hanako, and the way to get there, ended up surprising me a lot.

The next one, logically, was the Lilly arc. Considering how close the two are, and how close you get to Lilly and even Lilly's sister in the Hanako arc, I was very curious how this would go, since I couldn't imagine it not mirroring these same events from a slightly different perspective.

I was not disappointed. It was indeed the same, but this time you spent your free time with the other girl, while the main events, even up to the big unavoidable bad part from the Hanako arc, were exactly the same. It was only at the point where the Hanako arc would've ended that things start to become odd, and, sadly, slightly like the Rin arc. You are given some choices with seemingly no effect, then some bad things happens which are totally out of your control, and you don't know whether you could've avoided them. Looking back, I doubt it, because not only would that skip half of the last arc, but it would surely need some new scenes to glue the story together again, and I unlocked it all without that. Heck, I don't even know whether the Lilly arc even HAS bad endings.

[Edit: it seems she does, and it's an intriguing one. Unlike the other Bad Endings where you generally do something wrong that distances the girl from you, this one seems to be focused on how you distance yourself from Lilly. In the end, it's Hisao's own choice that makes all the difference, and that choice is made based on how invested he is in his relationship with Lilly, as determined by all these seemingly unimportant questions. Looking back, it's easy to see how practically all of them seem to be about how much you open up to her.]

Interestingly, in the Lilly arc, Hisao's heart condition has much more attention. All the other arcs have some interesting way of keeping him in decent physical condition, but in this one, the only physical exercise he gets is walking along in the calm pace of the blind Lilly with her walking cane. It turns out to be vastly insufficient, and that ends up having serious consequences.

On a more positive note, I like this ending more than the Hanako arc, if only for the fact Hanako's situation is, surprisingly, a lot better at the end of this one. That's right. Better than when she gets the guy. Apparently, doting too much on someone with self-esteem problems is about the worst thing you can do. This branch, in which Lilly and Hisao remain her friends but also get slightly more distant from her to be together, turned out to really allow the girl to bloom. I absolutely loved that part of the Lilly arc, and I applaud the writers for how logical they managed to let these two arcs fit together.

Also, Akira is so damn cool.

And finally, Shizune, the class rep. The girl who remains completely silent while bossing everyone around, and who seems to be quite literally deaf to all criticism. I wondered about this one a lot, since the Lilly arc revealed some interesting tidbits of information about her. Apparently, they're cousins. This obviously made me wonder how much of this would be about the struggle between Lilly and Shizune, and how much of Lilly's arc would bleed into this one. Another thing that made me wonder about this arc is that from the other arcs, I had the impression Shizune actually had a crush on Hisao. Unlike the boundlessly enthusiastic Misha, her sign language interpreter, she often reacted to Hisao's relationships with the cutest pout in the game, even surpassing Emi's (and believe me, that's saying quite something).

After playing the other arcs, the path to Shizune seemed obvious. Don't blow off the student council, and, when the time comes to make an impression on Shizune, be competitive. She's pretty similar to Emi that way; they both respect people who take risks and don't give up. The difference is mainly that Emi is much less pushy, since she also greatly values freedom. Hm. In hindsight, that's probably why Emi hangs out with Rin all the time.

The story didn't go at all like I imagined. You do get a lot of insight into the whole student council drama, and it seems that sadly, Akira was right about it with her comments on it in the Lilly arc; it does kinda boil down to a bunch of overreacting that really wasn't worth the whole mess, and Shizune and Lilly are both too stubborn to make up. You actually get to meet Akira, but in terms of family, alas, Shizune's asshole dad probably steals the show.

In terms of gameplay, the Shizune arc is quite odd. There is literally only a single choice in the entire arc, and it splits the arc into two branches that, despite seeming practically identical for a long time, irredeemibly float apart at the end. The odd part is that this choice happens quite early, and the "bad" branch is nearly as long as the "good" one. The actual choice is pretty obvious when you get there, though. I mean, you get the bad branch by quite literally cheating on Shizune after you're already technically a couple. If you expected this game to just allow that, well, I think you picked the wrong game.

That's another oddity in this arc, though. It doesn't really focus on the relationship. The Lilly and Emi arcs are definitely the most focused on the actual relationship. This one seems to be the least focused on that. It's not really a love story at all. It's a story of young people finding their flaws, and working hard to improve themselves, and the end was pretty much devoid of romance, but heartwarming in its display of friendship instead.

Well, I guess that's it. Overall, this was a unique experience, and I had a lot of fun playing through. Oh, if you like the music, here's a fun little easter egg: pause the game during the transition between days where it shows the game logo. The "Passage of Time" tune is a nice bit longer than the fragment you normally hear ;)

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Comments ( 7 )

Lily has the most sex with you.


Katawa Shoujo is a fantastic game.

Never before have I felt this feeling, but Hanako is my waifu.

lol. Is it weird of me to feel the same way, but prefer the Lilly ending exactly because of that?:rainbowderp:

That was horrible and hilarious :rainbowlaugh:

Then again, "Lilly Goes To The Convenience Store" puts Hanako in a microwave as a gag, so, not much better :facehoof:

Lily has the most sex with you.

Well, she better, dammit, considering it's the only decent exercise Hisao gets with her. Maybe that'll finally get his physical condition up then :rainbowwild:
(well, either that, or he'll just drop dead during sex. It's a toss-up.)

1410758 The whole time I just wanted to break through the screen and give Hanako a hug. She was Fluttershy levels of adorable.

Hehe, yeah. You didn't answer the question, though :rainbowwild:
Am I the only one who felt her ending was better in the Lilly arc than in her own?

By the way, did you know that Cpl Crud, Hanako's main writer and game producer of KS, actually wrote a bunch of stuff continuing the Hanako branch?

1410935 Nah, that's totally cool.

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