Review of Katawa Shoujo
You know what they say, don't judge a book by it's cover.
Now before I get started, I would like to tell how I came across Katawa Shoujo. It may not be a secret, but for those who don't know I do graze by the /v/ board once in a while. Not to partake in their shenanigans, but rather see if there are any fighting game streams on, or some interesting game I never heard of before. (I was introduced to Dues Ex 1, Cave Story, Chrono Trigger, etc through there)
Anyway a few days ago, I see a lot of "Katawa Shoujo General" threads pop up like crazy. At first (like quite a few people did) I thought it was just some kind of sick fetish game, Japan happened to cook up for this month for the net to throw it's displeasure at (given the name directly translates to "Cripple Girls") But with more threads popping up, I noticed something... there is (almost) no trolling what so ever. 99% of the posts in the topic were formal discussion about the game, and their experience playing it. Even the most self-loathing emotionless people on /v/, admitted that after playing, they felt motivated to better themselves and some admitted to crying manly tears of joy and sorrow in the game.
If a game can do something like that...it had to be emotionally powerful, I had to give it a try.
Feels... Feels all around
Now to the Visual Novel itself. Katawa Shoujo a game where you would believe is made from Japan is in fact made in English by "Four Leaf" Studio, released just a few days ago on 1/4/12 and based off an art sketch by a person in Japan. (Sorry, that all the details I know) But you know what's the best part? It's completely free to download. So you don't need to worry about being a pirate and pissing off SOPA supporters.
Animation-The animation of the game is a mix of two styles. One, the general style you see for the dialog and animated sequences. Where the other is a watercolor theme for their CG stills. By today's anime standards, both styles are a bit dated, but I personally don't mind too much about it.
Characters/Story-Katawa Shoujo is where you play as Hisao Nakai, a student who suffers from arrhythmia (heart irregularity). Before you get into the game, he collapses after a heart attack, where after staying several months in the hospital, he gets transferred to a school for the disabled. In the game you control Hisao actions through multiple choice answers, that will lead to a route to go to, in which there are 5 character routes to chose from at the start.
The characters are...
-Lily Satou- A polite and ladylike young woman with long blond hair, who is blind.
-Hanako Ikezawa- An extremely shy girl with black hair, who suffered from burn scars.
-Rin Tezuka- A red headed girl with amputated arms, but is dexterous with her feat, which she can use them to paint.
-Shizune Hakamichi- A strong willed and competitive young woman who is deaf/mute, because of that she has her pink haired friend Misha translate for her.
-Emi Ibazaraki- An athletic girl that doesn't let her amputated legs stop her from being a star on the track.
That should be it unless I'm mis... oh wait, not part of the 5 routes, but part of the overall story, you have your buddy Kenji Setou (AKA. Harry Potter) along for the ride. He's a technically blind conspiricy theorist, but he's kinda like your friend who talks about random stuff all the time.
I wonder if it was intentional...
Each character have their own individual story, in which your actions will determine how it will turn out. With each characters, they have their own individual personalities, and thus a theme in one story and how it will be handled will not be the same in another. With it, you're not just saying something cliche as in "I love you" "I don't love you", it's not as simple as black and White, you have to handle the characters on individual bases, and you would handle the situations as such, otherwise you're bound for a depressing bad ending. In due time, you become immersed in the story, and over look their disability to see who the character actually is.
Now as engrossing as the story is, It's a VN, it's bound to have some sexual parts in it. In the main story parts, they don't sexualize the girls like a typical anime or J-game, they actually focus on the characters, which is a big thank you in my book. As for scenes, In my opinion... the parts are... Hit or Miss. And what I mean in Hit or Miss, I mean the scenes can depict how passionate the characters are for each other with a lot of precision of detail that you are still engrossed with the story. Those scenes are not typical animal lust you'll see anywhere, but rather tender love. But on the other hand... some scenes do the exact opposite, in fact they can completely take you out of the immersion and put you in a state of bewilderment. Luckily you can skip the scenes if you want too, but it still doesn't excuse the fact it puts a dent in few of the characters. (I personally haven't seen those scenes, since I only did one route, but others said they have)
Along with above, I have a small gripe with some of the options Hisao makes. Most options are fine, But a few options have Hisao do something different from what you think the option would do. It happens rarely in the game, but you will notice it once you select it.
Conclusion- even with those few faults, Katawa Shoujo despite the name and the fact it trudges into spaces people are not usually comfortable with, In fact I may still get some backlash just for even trying it out and putting a review here. But in all honesty It's an experience that gave myself and others a more open look into humanity, and I wouldn't put up this review if I didn't think so in the first place. Actually I think I should let this picture do the talking, I don't think I can convey anything better then this message.