May 26, 2009

Katawa Shoujo Act I: The Review

Hisao gets a note asking him to be in a field behind the school at 4pm.  Upon arriving there, he is joined by the girl of his dreams.  As she begins to confess her feelings, his heart begins to beat faster.  Finally, the words he's always hoped to hear!  Faster still his heart beats, as she prepares to confess her love. 

And then he has a heart attack.

Oh.  Hm.

When he awakens, he's in the hospital, where he stays for an unstated, but long, period of time.  He's diagnosed with arrythmia, a potentially fatal cardiac problem, and a lifetime of medication just to stay alive.

...and just like that, I was hooked.  4 Leaf Studios, the amateur producers of Katawa Shoujo, may as well have been looking into my medical history.  Superventricular Tachycardia, the problem I have, is one of many types of cardiac arrythmias.  Completely by accident, 4 Leaf made Hisao become real, and he immediately became the perfect "player insert" for me.

Over time, Hisao's friends and schoolmates stop coming to visit.  To her credit, his dream girl is the last to stop dropping by (turns out they really didn't have that much to talk about anyway... ces't la vie).  Eventually, however, the time comes when he is able to be released from the hospital... but there's a snag.  The doctors and his parents agree that he can't go back to his old school, and he is to be transferred to a special school: Yamaku High School for Disabled Children. 

And with that, Katawa Shoujo truly begins.

Katawa Shoujo Act I covers Hisao's first week at Yamaku High, and like just about every "dating sim" out there, you are introduced to your classmates as you go along.  Considering the school you're at, however, almost all your classmates are physically disabled in some way.

This is where the hue and cry goes up from the masses.  "That game makes me ill!"  "Disgusting!"  "What's wrong with those people?"  The game's producers appear to have anticipated this reaction and left their answer in the game, delivered by Hisao's homeroom teacher:

Here are the first classmates you meet:

The girl on the right, Shizune, is the president of the student council.  Intelligent, witty, clever, driven to be the best at everything she does.  The girl on the left, Misha, is her close friend, and in many ways Shizune's complete opposite.  She's something of a ditz, runs at full speed all the time, talks waaaaay too loud, and is almost constantly laughing at something.  Shizune is deaf.  Misha, an expert at sign language, is her translator. 

One of the next girls you meet is Lilly.  She's half-Japanese, half-Undetermined Country.  Cultured, polite, sensitive to others, she's also her class' representative.  She's also blind, but many times in the game, such as when you first meet her and she serves you tea, it's hard to tell.

Like Shizune and Misha, Lilly is also paired with another character.  Hanako is dreadfully quiet, painfully shy, disturbingly timid, reclusive, and actually panics at almost all human contact. As a result, she's also the most mysterious of the girls.

Sometime in the past, her home burned down, killing her father and scarring her terribly.  Perhaps it's no surprise that she only feels comfortable around Lilly, who can't see her physical scarring.

The final pairing is my favorite of the bunch.  The obligatory genki girl of the school is Emi.

Hisao calls her "ridiculously cute."  She's almost always running somewhere.  In fact, she's the captain of the track team (or, as she puts it, "I am the track team.").  Irrepressable, optimistic to a fault, she's also the one person at Yamaku High School who is the most dangerous to Hisao... in fact, twice in Act I she nearly causes him to have another heart attack.  She's just that energetic.  She's also quite normal... except her legs had to be amputated below the knees when she was young due to a car crash.

Our first introduction to Emi, after she runs Hisao over in the halls.  A classic "meet cute," except she hits him in the chest and nearly causes his heart to explode.
Emi is paired up with the star character of Katawa ShoujoRin is a talented painter, and has the stereotypical distracted air of the "artiste".  She's got a wickedly ascerbic wit, often speaks philosophically and abstractly about life, the universe, and everything, and usually confuses anybody within fifty yards of her.  She's been called KS's "Osaka" (from Azumanga Daioh), but that's not correct.  Osaka is spacy, and not entirely in touch with the worldm though she tries very hard to fit in.  Rin, on the other hand, doesn't care if she fits in, and as a result appears to be completely out of touch, while the opposite is (usually) true.  My favorite piece of Rin's dialogue goes like this:

Rin: I have problems with shirts.
Hisao: I kinda figured.
Rin: Really?  How?

She was born without arms.  She paints (and eats) with her feet.  According to Emi, the two of them were paired up so that, combined, they have the normal assortment of limbs.   

There's one other more-or-less major character Hisao interacts with, named Kenji.

He lives in the dorm room across from yours and is practically a hikkikomori.  Practically blind and reeking of garlic, he's also completely paranoid and extended interaction with him will lead to Hisao's death.  Literally.

Going into Katawa Shoujo, I was fully aware that I was playing "the game with the crippled girls," as someone at the KS Dev Blog puts it.  Within fifteen minutes, however, I was hooked on the characters.  The missing arms, or the blindness, or the weird springy things, were just a part of them, just like their hair or eye color.  It stopped mattering, except when THEY brought it up (Emi makes a joke that's quite funny in context: "I don't warm up before a run.  I don't even stretch my legs!").  It's a sign of good writing when something like that happens, and it impressed me when I realized it had occurred. 

From all appearances, the character that's the worst at dealing with his or her disability is Hisao himself.  From experience, I completely understand the way he's constantly worrying about his heart troubles, but he's very also uncomfortable at Yamaku High.  He's not sure what he should (or shouldn't) say, or do, or whatever, around his classmates.  It's an interesting character trait, considering the circumstances.

So far, I've played through Act I twice.  I haven't yet seen all the scenes available, though there are only a few I've missed.  There's about two hours of gameplay per runthrough, more or less, and it goes by very quickly. 

The game is of the "visual novel" style, with a lot of reading in between various choices.  Each choice opens one path and closes another, so repeated playing is the only way you'll see all the scenes.  There's no "action" at all, and precious little movement on-screen, though what there is is quite effective.

For an amateur production, KS feels quite polished.  The artwork and character designs range from good enough to outstanding.  There's practically no fanservice, surprisingly.  In fact, the most risque moment in Act I is this picture:

There on the right... that's it.
4 Leaf says that there will be adult scenes in the full version of the game, which is actually a little disappointing.  Much like Key's Clannad, the story seems to be good enough to not require pr0n as a drawing point.  At least the player will have the option to turn off the H-scenes in the full game. 

Some people will have problems with the concept of the game as a whole, and I suppose I can understand that.  Having worked retail for nearly 20 years, and at Duck U. for the past five, I've come in contact with people in wheelchairs, or deaf, or blind students fairly regularly.  As Muto says, "they're just normal kids."  I, for one, can't wait to learn more about them.

Katawa Shoujo Act I can be downloaded from the game's website for free.  If you've played visual novel/dating sim games in the past, you need to check it out.  If you've never played one before, there's a lot of worse games out there, and the price is right.

Posted by: Wonderduck at 10:29 PM | Comments (6) | Add Comment
Post contains 1398 words, total size 11 kb.

1 I can't get over the fact that you died.
(Points.....laughs hysterically)
Of course the fact that the fatal error was interaction with the creepy misogynist with 2-D complex and similar examples of shallowness would seem to speak well of the creators.

I'm really surprised at how well the characters are realized. This really is genuinely impressive, even more so when one is reminded that this is a fan production.

Also: Danny Choo has noticed.

..and it's on You Tube

Posted by: The Brickmuppet at May 30, 2009 08:57 AM (V5zw/)

2 Well, truth in advertising at least. "Katawa shoujo" means "Crippled girls".

Posted by: Steven Den Beste at May 30, 2009 11:34 AM (+rSRq)

3 Urp...I got my tabs crossed that's not Danny Choo I linked to.

Posted by: The Brickmuppet at May 30, 2009 03:00 PM (V5zw/)

4 I can't get over the fact that you died.

For what it's worth, I found the bad end on my second play-through, when I made the opposite choices from my first play-through.

So I got it right the first time.

Posted by: Wonderduck at May 30, 2009 03:06 PM (hlGBx)


I'm just wondering why the inclusion of adult scenes was so disappointing to you.

If the scenes aren't forced and actually develop the characters further, I see no issue in them. 

Posted by: Someone dumb at August 12, 2010 06:12 AM (/mi77)

6 Which is something we won't find out until the full version comes out

Still, having followed KS for months (I got linked to here through their forums), I have every bit of faith that the end result will be more than fine.

Posted by: Leotrak at August 15, 2010 06:30 AM (4N7p8)

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