This week, I wanted to write a little something about a game called Katawa Shoujo. It’s free to download and I happened upon it by chance while browsing a certain anonymous image board. I am so glad I chose to give it a try.
Katawa Shoujo (かたわ少女) literally means “Cripple Girls”, or it can also be translated to “Disability Girls”. While this isn’t a great start, please bear with me. The game is basically a dating simulation in which you play a guy who suffers a sudden heart attack and is diagnosed with arrythmia. He’s sent to a “special school” and you decide which girl he ends up bangin’.
It’s more of a visual novel than a game, I suppose. A lot of people would lose patience early on, eager for some sort of action (which only comes later in the form of sexy time). The only real control you have over the game is in the form of choices you can make, more specifically leading down the path of which girl you find the most attractive. Let’s take a look at the girls, shall we?
First off we have my favourite so far, Lilly. She’s blind and very soft-spoken, enjoys chess and drinking tea. She also turns out to be a complete nympho, which was a very nice surprise. I chose Lilly’s route first of all because her character seemed the most… I don’t know… alluring? She was really mysterious, and let’s be honest, she’s gorgeous… so I went with her first. I wasn’t disappointed. Lilly’s a fox!
Next up we have her best friend, Hanako. She is extremely timid, so much so it’s painful at times, most probably due to the extensive burns across one side of her body. It takes a hell of a lot to gain her trust, but she turns out to be an excellent path to follow, with a very rewarding conclusion. Patience is a virtue, after all.
Lilly’s arch enemy is her cousin, Shizune. She’s the School Council President, and loves nothing more than an old fashioned bitch-fight. She’s deaf and mute, which means for the early portions of the game Hisao can only communicate with her through the bubbly and loveable Misha.
However, Hisao’s determination to speak directly to Shizune inspires him to learn sign language. The dynamic between the three changes a number of times through the story, with Hiseo facing some difficult choices, and secrets being revealed about the two girls.
Emi is an adorable little thing, I swear I could fit her in my pocket. She hasn’t let the loss of her legs dampen her energetic personality, and she has even become the star of the track team. If I was a guy, I’d want to find a girl like her. She’s cute, but goddamn she has a high sex drive.
Finally we have the elusive and mysterious Rin, a young lady who was born without arms. She’s very artistic, loves to paint and is extremely dexterous with her feet (…foot fetish guys would LOVE her). She is such a difficult nut to crack, consistently putting Hisao in the friend zone. Her arc is definitely the most difficult to attain, but the conclusion is more satisfying for it.
I’m gonna level with you; I have never played a dating sim before. I knew of them, but I’d never actually given them a try. Particularly as the main ones sticking in my mind seem very dodgy (looking at you, RapeLay…), I suppose my perception of dating sims was slightly warped. Those two little words conjured thoughts of basement dwellers masturbating over images of scantily-clad big-breasted-anime-jailbait.
I tried Katawa Shoujo for two reasons: First, I was intrigued by how they were going to tackle the disability issues. Second, it’s free. As soon as it loaded up, I knew the game wasn’t going to be as seedy and perverted as I had imagined. It starts out with a really sweet scene depicting the confession of a young girl’s love to the main character, Hisao. It’s a shame he ends up having a heart attack, because I reckon he was well in there. Anyway, as it turns out, the entire game is very tastefully done, with beautiful artwork, a stunning soundtrack and fantastic writing.
One of my secret reasons for deciding to try Katawa Shoujo was my morbid curiosity as to…well…the sex. I mean, I hate to be blunt but… I had no idea how dating sims approached sex scenes in general, let alone when they involve disabled characters. People on the Internet were screaming for “CRIPPLE S3X LULZZZ”, but I’m sure that any who actually gave the game a chance realised how misguided they were in their childish assumptions.
I was so surprised at how tasteful the writers and artists approached the issue. For most of the girls you choose, your relationship with them progresses just as a normal one would; awkwardly, timidly and at times slightly clumsily. On the whole (pardon the pun), the sex scenes are very sweet and nicely done, occasionally being pretty damn hot to boot.
What I admire the most about Katawa Shoujo is that it is not remotely pornographic. Well… ok, that’s a lie. The sex scenes are certainly erotic and very well drawn, but what I mean is that it isn’t crude or vulgar. It isn’t intended as fap-material for Internet lurkers; it is a serious game, with deep and complex storylines to uncover for each love interest.
In a recent interview with Kotaku magazine, the game’s lead writer stated that the experience “was designed to make a genuine and honest story, rather than fuel for fetishes.” While it’s possible to turn off the sex scenes, I find them to be essential to the development of Hiseo’s relationships, demonstrating the growing intimacy between the young lovers. They also reveal a little something extra about each of the girls’ personalities… it surprised me that the oh-so-polite Lilly would end up jumping on me in the bathroom. Naughty girl.
Another aspect of the game I was incredibly surprised about was its actual playtime, especially considering there’s no price tag whatsoever. You can easily rack up around 4 hours of game time per girl, and additionally it’s possible to achieve either a good or bad ending for each of them. My first bad ending was absolutely devastating… but the good endings are even more tear-jerking. Who needs The Notebook when you choose Lilly’s arc?!
It’s not just me either. Many people across the Internet are discussing how they cried manly tears playing this game. Try it yourself, I dare you not to feel uplifted and devastated at the same time. While I found the bad endings to be kinda disappointing and empty, sort of finishing really abruptly and leaving me feeling like crap, some of the good endings were incredible. Shizune’s ending was poor, but to be honest I found her whole story to pale in comparison to the other girls. Lilly and Emi’s endings were nothing short of brilliant. I had something in my eye for both of them…
While it’s undeniable that some of the writing was a tad predictable, this doesn’t take away from the warm fuzzy feelings you get as each arc reaches its conclusion.
Katawa Shoujo does something that it so difficult to accomplish in media, be it films, novels or games; it creates people. The game excels in its humanity, its ability to force the player to question their own lives and their preconceived ideas about others. It teaches us to live, how to fall in love, and how to fuck it all up. I came away from Katawa Shoujo feeling uplifted, and yet devastated that these kind of relationships are so hard to find. Such idealistic bonds formed over a short year of Hisao’s life… surely isn’t that all we really want out of life? To find love in a hopeless situation, to see the silver lining, and to see the people behind the appearances? If this game taught me one thing, it is to never judge or try to imagine how a person goes about their daily lives. Everybody has their own issues to deal with, be it internal or more visible to others. Regardless, the students of Yamaku High are intelligent, wonderful people with something to give, to both Hiseo and yourself.
Wow, that was cheesy. This game’s really turned me into a girl…
To sum it up, please give it a try. Even if it’s just for the cripple sex, because honestly, it turns out to be pretty damn sexy. Four Leaf Studios, I thank you. They did a pretty sensational job considering they came together from the strange world of 4chan. I wasn’t expecting people from 4chan to create something so sensitively done, so meaningful and so beautiful. Good job guys, please don’t retire now.