Visual Novel Review: Katawa Shoujo

Katawa Shoujo, a free Visual Novel game made by an independent group of people. Indie games are usually fun and innovative when compared to mainstream AAA titles, so this game promises to be interesting.

Where did it come from: Well, the game is based off a sketch of several girls with disabilities that was posted to…THAT website. No, I am not going to link it, but I think you know which one I mean.

Background: You play as Hisao, who is confessed to by a girl, then he has a heart attack (he happens to have Long QT Syndrome) and ends up going to a school just for kids with physical disabilities. There, he meets several girls, and can end up with a relationship with any of them. There are good endings which the game makes you really work for, and there are bad endings where you either die, or screw up the girl beyond belief.

Plot: I believe I gave it away above. Individual plotlines depend on the storyline you are playing through. I wouldn’t know, because I put this game down after getting partway through several paths.

Feel free to call it unprofessional. The game, I mean. That is why I put it down-it became unprofessional and flaws became evident. In addition, they were the sort of flaws where I simply objected to them, so I ended the game. I will not play it again. I did enjoy the story, and it was reasonably done. The story was emotional and gripping, but other issues greatly took away from the enjoyment of it.

Let’s start with the first, the title. While it essentially means ‘Imperfect Girl’ and is the intended title, katawa is a Japanese word that is considered offensive enough that it cannot be said on TV or radio. Actually, given what ‘katawa’ really means, a better name for the game in english would be somehting along the lines of ‘Gimp Girls.’

Why is that a problem? Well, first off, it insults an entire group of people. Secondly, it insults the group of people THAT THE GAME ITSELF IS TRYING TO SHOW RESPECT TO. You lose your message of ‘these people are people too’ when the very first thing someone notices in your game is highly offensive.

Secondly, it was made by several writers. Now, there is nothing wrong with that, big studios like Nitroplus use multiple writers. However, apparently the place that made this game couldn’t get the writers to agree on characterization, so EVEN THE MAIN CHARACTER changes how he is by simply playing a different story. Even the girls change-you can play through on story, meet some other girl that you may want to try for next time based on the little bit of her personality you glimpsed, and then when you go for her, your character is different in personality and she is different. It is not as in each girl you know more about her character, as pretty much every VN will do that, a storyline will reveal much more about the girl. However, there generally isn’t a radical personality change. In addition, the main character himself changes depending on the route-in some he’s a nice and somewhat romantic guy, in another, he is noticeable colder and indifferent to the girl.

That is some fairly poor design.

The game is also a bit of an idealist game, in the ‘no matter how bad it is, you can still find love, etc’ kind of way. However, it really makes you work for your good ending, and the bad endings are better suited to one of those crying games. Earn your happy ending is a pretty cynical trope, and best used in cynical games, not idealistic games. Nothing is wrong with really sad endings, but those are suited to crying games, NOT idealistic games. Did the developers even think about what kind of game they were making, because the end result is a thrown together mish-mash of ideas from all types of games and all stops along the scale of idealism vs cynicism. Nothing is wrong with it being Idealistic, but the inclusion of cynicism offsets the positive message. Conversely, if it had been primarily cynical and had included idealistic portions would only offset the message the cynicism is trying to give.

However, it could be expected. The use of cynicism in an idealistic setting, or idealism in a cynical setting, if done REALLY carefully, can serve to underline and enhance the intended message. Most likely they were trying for that, but they did kind of fall flat on that. Still, I have respect for them here, as failing due to over ambition is much better than failing due to not even trying.

Also, this game isn’t a translation of a fan game from Japanese, it was made in english by a group of people who wanted it to seem Japanese, so they made up foreign sounding words (Iwanako and Yamaku are two examples) and wrote the game to read like a translation.

Even better, it has an image gallery and a cutscene gallery. Last time I saw a gallery was in an H game, where the goal was to collect all the scenes. I didn’t play it past that point. For a game trying to treat it’s characters with respect, a gallery of collected images and clips is pretty much the opposite of treating with respect.

Even better, it has a more underage friendly option to turn off the adult scenes in the game. And you can do that, except important characterization and story developments are revealed during those times.

The story itself isn’t too bad, and I have gone on record as saying a well done story is one of the things I highly praise. But the game lacks consistency between storylines, and it lacks respect for the subject material it ostensibly respects.

The game is a bit like having a friend who is really nice to you, but then goes and joins the KKK. they may be really nice, but they did also join a hate group.

What I also found was the developers seem to have no love for the game. They have stated they they will lie, mislead, and troll people about the game. That isn’t professional. Even though they are an independent, group, I would expect them to behave with some respect towards their game and their audience.

The lack of love for the game is visible: the game comes across as a game made just for your average anime or manga fan, who doesn’t really care about consistency. It has a bunch of annoying bits, like Mischa’s laugh, that are brought across often enough that they became a meme. The super deformed versions (chibi) of the girls that appear on menu screen have also been turned into memes.

And, in the end, that is what this game was meant to do. Not to bring respect to a subject, but to say they will and get attention for it. The developers don’t want people to remember the game as much as they want people to remember the developers. Despite their anonymity, these developer simply want attention, and made this game to get that lasting attention. Not only that, but stating that it is to be the antithesis to other Visual Novels and the standard female character is also part of that attention. They gained big publicity over that, as well as the fact that their game will be free, and will feature disabled characters as the characters in the story. And before you think by publicity I mean lots of fat drooling fanboys on whatever that one website is, I mean actual gaming journals picked up the story.

The characters were not treated with respect, they were merely token characters with the added thing of ‘they are gay’ or ‘they are disabled.’ (No gay characters were noticed.)

As in, this game will be the ONLY Visual Novel most people who play games will play.

Score: 0/5 very bad.

Pros: the story isn’t half bad

Cons: the most noticeable is the disparity: if you want an idealistic game, you don’t put a lot of cynical tropes into it. If you want a cynical game, you don’t make it idealistic. the combining of the two merely makes the game feel like it isn’t sure what it wants to be. The game is offensive towards the people it intends to portray inoffensively, poorly made, and a shout out for attention. It isn’t made to bring respect to the disabled, but attention and adoration to the developer by the kind of rabid fan that gives the rest of us a bad reputation.

Loser fanboy score (this measures how much loser fanboy appeal this has): 10/10 (designed to appeal right to them, as it comes direct from the website they congregate at.)

I suggest watching this video: http://www.penny-arcade.com/patv/episode/diversity

the game does have a little potential in the idea that wasn’t ruined by attention hungry developers, so the best you can hope is that a talented game studio will pick up the idea of disabled characters and treating them with respect, and make a well-done game with the idea.

[EDIT]: Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof, and my apologies for forgetting about the researched proof. Yes, I can say how a game was, but ideally, a claim of offensive words best requires pointing out some evidence of that.

I also can’t believe I forgot to mention it, but Emi’s legs are Cheetah’s, as seen here: http://www.ossur.com/?PageID=13462 Yes, they are designed just for running. Yes, they cost an insane amount of money. And yes, they are specfically banned from track and field competitions. And not just small scale competitions too-the Special Olympics had banned them. Why? Because they can make you run faster than if you had your normal legs.

The mention of the developers admitting to lieing, misleading and trolling was taken from the developer blog. The details on idealism vs cynicism, idealistic tropes, cynical tropes, and the knowledge that ‘Katawa’ is offensive was taken from TV Tropes. Thanks to them for the info.

Copied from TV Tropes page on Katawa Shoujo:

  • Teasing Creators: The devs, especially in regard to Word Of God.
    delta: We’ve also been known to troll, lie, change our mind, and make stuff up on the spot, so good luck with that.

The school featured in the game is actually a real school called Brown University. Pictures are here: http://bit.ly/A0tTUH

  • Plot With Porn: The full game has the option to skip the H-scenes. It is still recommended for +18 though.
    • Porn With Plot: You will miss important plot and character development if you skip the H-scenes.
  • Intentionally Awkward Title: If you speak Japanese, anyway. “Disability” isn’t really an accurate translation of “katawa”; “crippled” or even “deformed” is closer, and the term is just about as offensive as that would imply. The developers are well aware of this, but did not and will not change it for multiple reasons.
    • Katawa is a word prohibited from broadcast on Japanese TV and radio. It’s that bad.
    • To put it another way, another translation of Katawa Shoujo would be “Gimp Chicks”.
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8 thoughts on “Visual Novel Review: Katawa Shoujo

  1. There’s so many things wrong with this review that I don’t know where to start.

    1. The title wasn’t chosen at random, nor was it out of disrespect: it was the title of the original Japanese sketch from which the project formed. And by the time the dev team got wind of the term’s negative connotations, the game had been promoted under the name long enough that changing it would mean very little. Not a solid excuse by any measure, but it’s not out of disrespect.

    2. I don’t see how their characters are different when you go through their routes. What happens is that you see more of their characters and their nuances, which rightfully changes their initial impression. It happens in real life too. And Hisao is written as a different character due to his experiences with the girls – who he interacts with the most changes his personality in a feedback loop. Which also happens IRL as well. It’s not poor design, and daresay KS does it in an organic manner that few VN’s achieve.

    3. Why is “working for your good end” a bad thing? From all impressions, KS isn’t an “idealist game”, it’s brutally honest about its subject matter. Rin’s route for instance doesn’t sugarcoat the frustration, anger and mental issues that dealing with someone of her wandering mindset would bring. The fact that it even has bad endings should show that this isn’t a game built on idealism.

    4. How is having an image and cutscene gallery bad? Sometimes people want to see the pics and videos used in the game. ALOT of games, VN’s or not, have such things like ingame-3-D trophies, concept images, cutscene galleries and others, a majority of which are not H-games (the last game I played with such a feature was Batman Arkham City). It’s an extra feature, like achievements, nothing more or less.

    5. Turning off adult content only replaces the sexual images with more mundane ones, you can still read the text surrounding the event. There is the skip key if so inclined.

    6. The devs stating that they will “lie, cheat and troll” was in regard to the development process itself, and not the marketing. The only time they actively did so was for an obvious April Fool’s joke about Katawa Shoujo paid DLC and merchandise. In all other aspects, they do have love and respect for the game: how else do you think a team of 21 people that are not paid to work on this game nor forced to do so managed to complete it? They even bothered to make full-motion animated cutscenes for the game, something that a handful of expensive professional VN’s don’t have.

    7. And how exactly does the game not have respect for its subject material? The title is one thing, but the handling of the disabilities in the story is not disrespectful in any way. They are treated only as an aspect of the characters, much like verbal tics or hair and skin color: it is there, and they have to deal with it, but it is not what their life revolves around. No undue attention is given to said disabilities, and the story gives light on both the positive and negative perception of said disabilities. That the stories actually have resonated with hundreds of people (including myself) who can see themselves in the characters and relate to the experiences outlined and actually make them think speaks more about the respect afforded to the storytelling. There have even been actual people with disabilities who liked the game, which says a lot in and of itself.

    8. It is the reviews and gaming sites that claimed this game to be the antithesis of traditional VN’s, and not the devs themselves.

    It’s like this review was made for the attention of the sake of being “cool and different” by nitpicking on points that aren’t bad by themselves and somehow twisting logic to make it so.

  2. Actually, I think “Katawa” fits the game well.

    Gotta give some background on my reasoning, though. It’s not unusual to use an inappropriate term to generate interest, but it’s important, as well, to understand the history behind the terminology.
    When I was young (a long time ago, namely, the 1960’s), it was not improper or slanderous to refer to someone born with a disability (a word which had not found common usage) as a “cripple”.

    That doesn’t mean the word had no negative connotations, but they were no more severe in their intent than “she’s color blind”, or “he’s tone deaf”. Yes, really. It’s much like the terminology used to describe people of other races. (Please bear with me) As a southerner, I was exposed to much of it, including the bewildering-to-me separation of public facilities, which were labeled “White Only” and “Black” or “Colored”, or “Negro” “Only”. Yes, it was disgusting.

    The point is, the black people of America (let’s just call them Americans) took both of those seemingly ignominious titles, and made them badges of honor. They took (and still take) pride in being associated with these former terms of derision, because they, through their actions, beliefs, and pride as a group, have turned the meaning of these words upside down.

    I honestly believe that the people who worked on “Katawa Shoujo” would like do the same, although they are merely a voice in the wilderness at this time.

    Let’s not forget that there are people close to the staff of “Katawa Shoujo” who have disabilities.

    All in all, this is not a game title that the developers chose without a great deal of thought. (C’mon, you already knew that, didn’t you?)

    Having played through the game (well, to 94%-where IS that other Hanako ending??), I can say, for my part, from a decidedly old-fashioned standpoint, that this game does nothing to insult its subject matter, and is written with conviction, honesty, and love.

    Let it be.

  3. 7 comments on this post. That’s 7 comments more than usual.

    Congratulations man, you nailed the art of getting more viewers to JanaiBlog.

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