Note: For those of you in the know... yes... and I bet you never thought you would see this here
I would like preface my review by stating that I a long time lover of 4chan. From $cientology, to Battletoads, to Jessie Slaughter... What has been seen can not be unseen, Mr. Hands and his pony friend, those two young ladies and their shared cup, a bond between a man and his jar. These are the things I attribute to the beloved Mother Chan. I have been disgusted, I have been horrified, I have lost faith in humanity... and I have loved every minute of it.
I would also like to state that I am a realist... the kind of individual who accepts the fact that should Adolf Hitler have survived WWII he probably wasn't going to open an orphanage for bullied black gay Jewish children who also happened to have cancer... these things just don't happen.... Or do they? I will be the first to admit that in my life I have been incorrect about things... I have been proven incorrect countless times. But in my gaming experiences, never have I been proven quite SO wrong.
So, without further ado, I present to you my review of a dating-sim / hentai game / visual novel, birthed from the heart of 4chan, and developed by 4Leaf Studios. The name of this game translates roughly into disability girl, and despite any and all preconceptions, this is one of the most compassionate, and heartfelt games I have ever played... and believe it or not... it all started with this image...
" The Lets Go Ahead and Get It Out of the Way 'Stuff' "[Insert Your Name Here]: Wait just a minute here, you are telling me there is a game, which came from 4chan that is is about scoring with disabled chicks? This HAS to be offensive to somebody, what kind of horrific monstrous pervert are you?
Actually, the 'hentai' aspect is only a VERY small part of it, and what is there is done very respectfully. In fact it is done in a fashion that can be considered tasteful, respectful and in a far more realistic fashion than pornography. The “Sex Stuff” comprises less than 2-3% of the game, it is minor.
[Insert Your Name Here]: So you run around wearing a Guy Fawkes mask taking advantage of poor crippled girls who can't back while singing Rick Astley and how everything is OVER 9000!!!1111oneoneoneleven.
Actually no Battletoads, Mudkips, or EFGs found their way into this game, although there are some very subtle references to the games roots. Once again it is done tastefully and approaches virtually anything you may be worried about with more compassion than I thought possible. There is a lot of humor but it is never making fun of the disabilities.
[Insert Your Name Here]: You HAVE to be lying, there is just no way that a game about crippled girls which came from 4chan could be anything other than incredibly offensive garbage or is only partially redeemed through shock value.
I know I know, it is hard to wrap your mind around but, by god, they did it. Saying they treated these issues with a degree of compassion seldom seen by any game developer would be an understatement, they were remarkably sensitive and it shows.
[Insert Your Name Here]: So this is a game for men who have fetishes about disabled women? Isn't that kind of sick to you? Come on, why would you want to sexualize them because of a disability.
The game does not sexualize disabilities, it sexualizes well developed and unique characters who happen to have disabilities. The disabilities aren't cashed in for fetishism... and in fact the game makes a point of arguing against that a various points.
HentaiCalling this game a Hentai game because there are naked anime girls, is like calling the 1968 film of Romeo and Juliet child porn because it has underage naked people. Although it could possibly be labeled hentai, and the label be accurate, the negative connotations which accompany it are unfair in this instance. There is sex in the game yes, but it isn't gross, or overly glorified. In this game the narrative carries the story, not the 'adult material'.
Although the 'Adult Elements' of Katawa Shoujo are handled very tastefully I will warn you that YES there are graphic images that do depict acts of a sexual nature. Those of you whom might be disuaded because of such things however, worry not. Although the display of these images is default, you can turn them off from the options menu. A hentai game with optional hentai, how many games can claim that?
The developers are to be praised for the work on the 'Adult Elements' of this undertaking as they don't cheapen the 'hentai' segments by turning it into cartoon porn or making it ludicrous. Sexuality is handled in a very real and a very respectful fashion, which is something that I would NEVER expect especially in a game dreamed up on 4chan.
Katawa Shoujo does have dating sim elements however not in the fashion many people will come to expect. It isn't about getting laid as quickly as possible. The story itself follows a narrative and along the way you will have to make choices about what you do and/or do not do. Depending upon those choices your character becomes involved with one of the female character... or going on a manly picnic.
Once your actions have lead to your character becoming involved with on of the girls you will be required to make further choices. These choices determine the success or failure of the relationship which you are attempting to persue. Each of the girls has a good and a bad ending however some have varying degrees between these two..
Should you fail to become involved with one of the characters you enter the 'You Failed' portion of the game in which you go on a 'Manly Picnic'... which generally involve you getting trashed and 'losing' the game... or perhaps winning depending upon your outlook of such things. Because it has some of the most amazing dialogue in the game, I firmly suggest you lose the game at least once, it is well worth it.
Narrative / Characters
The Narrative and Characters are the driving point of Katawa Shoujo. The story as a whole is marvelously written and concentrates more upon playing out as a romance than the typical poon-tang chaser you might have predicted initially. The game also shows a great deal of insight into each of the disabilities the ladies in the game possess which you can see depending upon whom your decisions wind up with you getting involved with. Worth mentioning is that the game in no way relies upon sexual tension or sexual frivolity to advance the storyline which took me completely by surprise.
The characters within the story are also captivating as each brings their own unique disability and their own unique way of dealing with it (or in the case of some, possibly not dealing with it). For those curious I will list the disabilities presented...
From Left to Right: Blind; Burn Victim with Emotional Trauma; Double Amputee (arms), Deaf-Mute, Double Amputee (legs)
What is amazing is that each one of these characters is fully developed, has an extensive back-story, unique (and believable) personality, and the narratives depending upon whom you wind up pursuing are drastically different. Although some of these narratives are better than others, all of them are quite strong.
Music and AnimationWhen you consider that Katawa Shoujo was not developed by a professional team and was instead developed by a group that just managed team up somehow amidst the chaos of 4chan... the fact that the project came together at all is nothing short of a miracle. Having said that, you probably have some idea of what you are going to get in graphics and animation... however once again, they prove low expectation wrong
Despite everything that was working against them the folks at Four Leaf Studios managed to put together a very strong soundtrack and very high quality animations. The music is very fitting and diverse and consists largely of high quality sound loops. The animations really blew me out of the water, I have seen professional releases that had lower quality animation.
I suppose you don't have to discuss this in a lot of games but just this once I think it needs to be addressed especially given the rather 'bizarre' content of the game itself. I am sure some of you who are reading this at present are probably thinking that this is a moral travesty which should be sent back to the hell from whence it came. I would argue however, that you should give it a chance.
As you can imagine, when people learn about a 'hentai/dating sim' game featuring disabled girls people obviously have differing moral views on the matter. To those who say that a game like this sexualizes people with disabilities, I would like to inform you, that at least in this instance, you are dead wrong. The entire experience is about watching how people overcome their disabilities and how the can still lead normal lives in spite of said disabilities.
If nothing else this game does a fantastic job of presenting a group of people who many people want to feel bad for, and expressing them as individuals who don't want sympathy and really just try to live normal lives anyway. The game fully displays quite well how capable these characters are and some of them may even get mad if you try to be protective.
Katawa Shoujo, despite any criticisms which people may throw against it, is possibly one of the most forward thinking works on physical disabilities ever created. The intent is unmistakable and even the most dubious issues are handled with a great deal of understanding and respect.
I can not provide a score for a game like this as I really and truly have no references to compare it to. It is part game and part graphic novel cut with a loving spoonful of heart.
Although it certainly isn't a masterpiece which will go down in history as a must play, it is definitely an experience you will remember for a long time to come as a story like this will inevitably stick with you. What's more, Katawa Shoujo was completed against all possible odds and from the beginning the likelihood of it reaching completion was minimal. Even if you hate it, this project is worthy of some degree of respect simply because of what they overcame to complete it.
Be warned, if you don't want to look at guides for choices you may want to have a box of tissues handy, as some decisions can be disastrous and you may need to put the plugs on the water works if you are easily upset by such things. Additionally be prepared for a long read, as it can take several hours to complete just a single storyline.
All in all, I would encourage anybody whom is opened minded enough and over 18 (because of...you know... adult stuff) to give Katawa Shoujo a try. You can download it for free here. Who knows... you might just be pleasantly surprised... and find yourself believing that maybe... just maybe... Hitler would have repented and built that orphanage after all.
PC - Katawa Shoujo (2012)
Blog entry posted by meatsammich, Aug 5, 2012.
About the Author
I am a retired Marine Engineer who has played my way through numerous consoles and has collected thousands of games for my library. I am also the self titled International Grand Ghampion of capture the flag and consider myself the true reason the cold war came an end. I have no use for political correctness and never really cared whether I pissed people off... some people claim it is because I am a crazy old man, I like to think it is just because I don't give a damn.