Katawa Shoujo is a visual novel made by Four Leaf Studios. Released in 2012 for Linux, IOS, and Windows, it’s about a high school senior boy named Hisao Nakai. He gets an anonymous letter in his locker one day instructing him wait at a secluded place; it turns out the mystery person is a girl he knows, but unfortunately, while she starts confessing feelings for Hisao, he has a heart attack. While in the hospital, he’s diagnosed with an arrhythmia ( a condition in which the heart beats at an irregular rate). Over the next four months, after his collapse, his friends visit him sporadically, but as time goes on, they all drift apart. Hisao’s friends stop keeping in contact- even the girl that admitted feelings for him eventually moves on. When we catch up with him again, he is starting at a new school, Yamaku Acaedmy.
At first glance one might assume that the interior of the school would be sterile, even hospital-like if you will. In reality it’s a fairly pleasant school, through in Hisao’s eyes it feels more like a park, what with all the greenery on the premises. After a little bit of taking in the scenery, we follow Hisao to his homeroom class. Now, to be honest, I was expecting to see more students with handicaps or visible conditions once we got to the classroom, but even with medical equipment stored in the classroom- just in case anything went wrong- my assumption was incorrect. It was just a classroom like any other. The students look just like the average student would. Perhaps on a few you could tell by sight that they had some condition, but for the most part, nothing looked out of the oridnary – like our main character. After a short introduction, optional, introduction to the class, you get to sit next to the class rep, who will be played by one of the five heroines you might get to know throughout the game. Within this moment of Hisao’s life, a new chapter will be written.
As for the five main heroines in this game, each has their own disability. All the characters are very unique with very memorable personalities, that clash and mesh well with each other. At times, it’s very interesting how they interact with each other, each knowing full well their own limitations. There was one particular scene, when Lilly Satou, a blind girl, and Shizune Hakamichi, a deaf girl, have a verbal feud, that was interesting. Another main heroine is Rin Tezuka, whose personality is very… unique, to say the least. Her remarks are quite sharp at times, for example when one character, Emi, says “Helps me keep my girlish figure”, Rin replies “What would happen if you’d lose it? Would you become a man?” with a smirk on her face. The other main characters, as well as the supporting cast, are all quite memorable.
The game play of this game is simple multiple choice option “A”, “B” or “C” depending on the route you wish to take. The characters respond accordingly, or act differently depending on what option you pick. If you’re replaying the game over (lots of replay value here), it dims the selected choice from first game play, to mark it out for you if you decide to follow the same choices to try new ones. It makes things so much faster. The art is quite pleasant to look at, and the reactions and expressions of each of the characters is very well done. You can tell the artist(s) tried to make each one special; their facial expressions are all really something to look forward to.
The music in the game is very simple. It fits the school, park, café, and other settings (protip: play the game, and avoid the manly picnic). All the songs are well placed, depending on the moment they play on, and the music even goes with the backgrounds. In the moments when a scene becomes dramatic, the song pulls you in, making you feel for the characters in the scene. Some are very sorrowful, melancholy, upbeat, or just odd (Kenji’s theme is called, quite fittingly “Out of the loop”- it’ll make sense once you play). The entire soundtrack is simple, nothing too grandiose, but gets the point across.
I’ve played many VN and this is one of my favorites; so much of it plays realistically. I loved the game so much, that I went out and bought the book “Tomorrow Today – a Katawa Shoujo Illustration Book” at Anime Expo in 2012. I originally stayed away from this game whent it was released, because I wasn’t too sure on the quality of the script’s writing (I thought it was going to be poorly written). Then to my surprise, I found it was well produced, with all the characters’ problems stemming from legitimate sources. Their actions are justifiable, match their backstories, and they are not the simple archetype characters you see in anime a lot of times. This game has many good light hearted moments, and some very difficult moments that could happen at any point in real life. Katawa Shoujo is a free game to download, and so is the soundtrack. Both are worth picking up.