Katawa Shoujo

Developer – Four Leaf Studios
Publisher – Four Leaf Studios
Platforms - Mac, PC

I’ve always felt that the dating sim genre was always a better “backdrop” to games. As its own stand-alone genre, it was often this exploitative mess of an RPG/interactive novel.

No resonating ideas, just achieve sex with a girl and be done with it.

Katawa Shoujo had that going against it. It was coated by a shallow genre. It’s much like the concept of a romantic comedy film: It’s just way too cliché and shallow. Every once in awhile though, someone comes up with something that breaks the mold of that genre. They bring about a new approach and tackle it with delicate ferocity.

Four Leaf Studios is that someone. Or should I say some group? Katawa Shoujo is a miracle spawn of the Internet. A group of people on the infamous website 4chan designed the game. Numerous people from different walks of life got together to make a game by utilizing the greatest artistic tool of our generation: the Internet. They knew they wanted a dating sim. They knew they wanted something different. They knew it had to be done well and they would tackle it together.

So what exactly separates Katawa Shoujo from the rest of the pack?

Speaking up front, it would have to be the handicapped aspect. Each of the girls available to date in this game live a hindered existence, whether it be blindness or a lack of arms. This has caused quite a stir, with some claiming it to be exploitative, a bold statement in an already exploitative genre of gaming. This unique approach will bring in interest, but there is no way I would call this exploitative. It’s more of an exploration of things seldom talked about. It was a chance to learn about something we, as “normal” people, seldom understand. Think of Chasing Amy and the gay/lesbian community.

So, how did this happen? Why is it that the main character, Hisao Nakai, is surrounded by multiple disabled beauties? The answer is a heart attack. The main character doesn’t suffer from anything noticeable from the outside. Everything he has to deal with is internal. It’s also very symbolic. His heart is broken and it will take someone who is also broken in a different way to heal it.

No, I don’t mean physically. Each of the girls carries their own emotional baggage. They are human, after all. With the interactions of these characters I learned a great deal about what it’s like to be human. I learned what it was like to make the best out of what was brought upon you.

Sounds like The Binding of Isaac, my top game of last year.

What else is there to this game? It certainly has high production values, as evidenced by the soundtrack I downloaded and the artwork of both the characters and the backdrops. It doesn’t follow the RPG-Dating Sim method that really only seems to work with Rune Factory and Persona. Instead, it’s strictly an interactive novel with a few key choices here and there. It has great, well executed mechanics, but that’s not the wonder of this game.

The brilliance lies in its ideas. This isn’t a sex and done dating sim. I pulled through to the end for that human connection with a video game character. How ridiculous is that? I almost died (in game) just for her. That’s when I realized, this is human. This is that human connection. It’s human to love. It’s human to be different. I’ve realized these things about life from (I can’t believe I’m saying this) a DATING SIM.

I think my friend Shane said it best.

“I came for the cripple sex, I ended up learning about myself.”

Download

Rating: 5/5