Welcome to The Indie Fix, your weekly run down of the low down on what Indie Games are around and ready to be played. Today we are looking at one of my favorite games of all time, prepare for the feels because we’re looking at Katawa Shoujo.
Katawa Shoujo is a bit of an odd title, depending on how you play the game you will likely get a different idea of the game’s production quality, and to tell you why this is I’m going to take you on a little journey through a brief history of the game’s development.
The game began with a doodle at the back page of a doujin by the creator ‘Raita’. In 2007 there was discussion of this drawing on 4chan, and a group got together under the name of four leaf studios for the sole purpose of making a game based on this drawing. Now that the game has been released the group has disbanded, although there are rumours that more collaborations may occur in the future.
The game was made completely free to download, in English and French, from the game’s website. The soundtrack is also available to download for free. The game begins with a single act in which we are introduced to the protagonist, Hisao Nakai, along with all the major female character plus some of the minor characters. The player’s choices in this act decide which story line you will follow, one for each of the female leads.When you move on to act 2 you will be on one of four stories, each of which has three possible endings but is largely the same for most of the way.
Each of these story lines was written by a different person, so it can feel like a completely different game if you have a second playthrough. In my opinion, this is a good thing, because it means you have four vastly different stories all taking place in the same world, with totally different tones, themes, and emotions. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves, first let’s talk about the game as a whole.
The game is a visual novel, which is essentially a (usually) text based story featuring player choices that will branch to plot to different points, often with an anime or manga style of character art and backgrounds, in this case in the first person. It is, to me, the point directly between games and manga.
One playthrough of this game will probably take you about 8 hours. Subsequent playthroughs will probably only take about 6 as most of act 1 will remain the same through all paths. You play Hisao Nakai, a student who has just been diagnosed with chronic cardiac dysrhythmia, and is subsequently transferred to a school for people with disabilities. Broadly speaking, most of the paths will lead you in the direction of romance with one of the girls Hisao meets, this is a fairly standard plot structure for visual novels (not to be confused with dating sims, which have a similar structure).
The game does contain sex scenes, which are graphic although in my opinion tasteful, and these can be turned off in the options menu (although with this, there is minor nudity at certain points for a few frames of a scene). Each of the stories has a different theme and style, so there is most likely one path that you will love, and one you will either find dull, annoying or just not be very into.
One of the main themes the game as a whole deals with is the perception of people. The one point that the game really drives home, most notable in act 1, is that the character’s disabilities are almost completely irrelevant. When you have played the game for a while and you try to describe a character to someone else you don’t think ‘the one with no arms’, instead the first thing you think of ‘the artistic one’ or ‘the one with red hair’. They are a footnote. an afterthought. and that is really as it should be, as this story shows.
But in my opinion the game is at it’s strongest when you play different paths, or the same path twice. Almost all the paths allow you a different perspective on the story when looking at it knowing what is going on outside the perspective of the protagonist. Some of these plots can tear you up, some can make you angry, some can make you feel really awesome. Some of this is because of the production quality of the product. The production quality is immense for a free game. The graphical quality, the soundtrack, they are both far above many commercial titles I have seen, and they really bring the game to life. I have had moments where I’ve spent 30 seconds looking at an image, just listening to the music as I absorb what just happened in the plot, and that is such a cool thing for a game to do.
Now these kinds of games may seem dull or annoying for people who haven’t played any before, because of their lack of voice acting, movement, and their being entirely text based with relatively few choices compared to some other games with heavily branching story lines. This is something that I have found to be the case with many people used to the action titles of today, but if you play for a while you will not regret it. Sure, some people may just not enjoy this kind of game, and to those people I say, fine. But I would ask you all the play through act one and one of the second acts, then stop if you are still not enjoying it. To me, this is one of the best games, it is inspiring not just within the game, but also how it came about, and that it was actually able to exist in the first place, and that makes me very happy indeed.
I shall be writing a short series of articles in the near future to explore this game in depth, as I think there is much to learn from it, but I would hope you all would have played it before then. It’s free at Katawa-Shoujo so there is no excuse not to give it a try, I promise you will not be disappointed. If I had scores on this feature this game would be a 95 at least, so go, away with you! Go to your story driven adventure and don’t forget; Keep an open mind, awesome games you’ll find!