Katawa Shoujo, literally meaning “disability girls” in Japanese, is a dating sim where you have a choice of five girls, each with different disabilities.
For some people, this is a review in and of itself. They didn’t even read past the words “dating sim,” because for them that translates to wacky Japanese sex/rape simulator. Clearly this must be some sick fantasy stand-in with the only discernible goal being to have sex with some chick who represents a weird disability fetish of the player’s choice. Well, while there are sex scenes in the game, it’s not about those at all.
It’s about the feel.
Now, let me get one thing across immediately. You can turn the “adult scenes” in the game OFF in the Options menu. Some may want to, because the sex depicted in this game is some of the most awkward adolescent action ever.
With that out of the way, let me set the scene for the game. You play the character Hisao Nakai, who finds out that he’s not a typical High School senior when his long-time crush confesses her love to him, only to have him immediately seize and have a heart attack and nearly die right in front of her. He is diagnosed with arrhythmia, a rare and dangerous heart disease which could potentially be fatal. In order to make sure he stays well as he finishes school, his parents send him to Yamaku, a special boarding school for people with disabilities, with such features as an around the clock nursing staff as well as special building accomodations.
Of course, no one gives a shit about the main protagonist in these games. We want to see the cute girls, right?!
QUICK NOTE: In order to give an in-depth and funny review, I will share some of my personal experience with the game. There will be no major spoilers, but I do hint at some stuff. To be fair though, since you’re coming here to T3 I’m assuming you probably don’t give two shits about Katawa Shoujo spoilers.
Also, I’ll be including the Feel Scale. Obviously, due to the premise of the game, each path registers on the Love/OH GOD I’M CRYING part of the scale at some point to varying degrees.
The girls of Katawa Shoujo
Emi Ibarazaki- A track runner with no legs beneath the knee. STARTING OFF WITH A BANG HERE. She’s very bubbly and energetic and emotionally charged. She is also clumsy and almost kills you the first time you meet her because she nearly makes your heart explode after running directly into your chest. The feels from her path don’t register too high on the Feel Scale, but there is some Anger during some scenes.
Hanako Ikezawa– A terribly shy and terribly burnt girl with long purple hair. She spends most of her time hiding out in the library, reading book after book. That is, if she is not having tea and playing chess with one of the other ladies on this list. Obviously, half of the focus of her story arc is to get her to open up to you. The Feel Scale goes off the charts on this one, but it is something to be experienced yourself.
Lilly Satou- A tall, pretty, and proper blind girl. Always calm and reserved, she serves as the class representative for the class full of nothing but blind students. She prefers to take things at a relaxed pace, even at the busiest of times. As for the Feel, I can’t go into it too much without treading into spoiler territory. I’d have to assume that you were blind as I write this. And for a website based mostly on the written word, that’s terrible.*
Rin Tezuka– A red-haired painter girl who has no arms. She cannot properly hug you because she has no arms. Other than that, she is very spacey, often in her own imaginary world which no one else truly understands, not even those who are close to her. To be quite honest, her arc just pissed me off from beginning to end. That and she can’t hug you. Because no arms.
Shizune Hakamichi– A very driven girl, despite being completely deaf. She uses sign language to have her words heard, and is usually followed around by the pink-haired Misha, who acts as Shizune’s translator and rather loud vocalizer. Shizune is president of student council, and as such takes on many responsibilities concerning the school, such as prep work for the festivals. Your challenge is to find a way to communicate with Shizune, for both menial matters and monumental ones. It’s hard to describe the Feel of her arc, because it really all depends on your personality type. But at least she has arms.
Now that that shit is out of the way, time to go back to some more general stuff. The graphics of the game are quite nice. It’s obvious that a lot of time and effort went into the art, as it is all high quality. The music is top notch as well, though if you plan to play through each storyline, be prepared to hear the same music tracks again and again and again. They are all pleasant and low key, suitable as background for a visual novel setting.
As for the writing…well, it’s not bad. It does well at simulating life at the end point of adolescence. Maybe a little too well. This is especially evident during the sex scenes, most of which show just how clunky and awkward such acts can be for newbies. With disabilities. Of course, much of it is rather tame and tasteful, with a few exceptions.
The characters all feel genuine, and prove that they are not just vessels for each of their disabilities. They are normal teenagers, just like you with your fucked up, normally-functioning heart. They all have their own normal worries and problems, and live their high school lives like any other high schoolers. A lot of care was taken with the everyday scenes to establish these concepts, and I think the effect is great.
Oh man, I nearly forgot to talk about the best part of the game. Kenji. This dude is basically completely blind and lives next door to you. He does nothing but bum money off of you and spout off about feminist conspiracies. It’s awesome. He’s basically the stand in for 4chan since their type of content is devoid from the rest of the game. It’s well placed humor in a rather serious game. Kenji spends all game just trolling for the lulz, building forts, and drinking whiskey.
So, I think I’ve dragged this on long enough. Should you try Katawa Shoujo? Well, if just to sate your morbid curiosity, I say go for it. If you’re already a fan of visual novels, then it is definitely worth checking out. If you absolutely hate the genre, then nothing here for you.
In other words, it gets Serge’s rating of “IF YOU’RE INTO THIS KINDA STUFF.”
You can learn more about the game and download Katawa Shoujo here.
P.S. There were so many more images I wanted to use.
* Unless you are reading this by voice transcript, in which case I will expect Serge’s immediate resignation. See? Done! ~WiNG