Katawa Shoujo is a free to own Visual Novel from Four Leaf Studios, and frankly it’s pretty fun.
Katawa Shoujo is a bishoujo-style visual novel set in the fictional Yamaku High School for disabled children, located somewhere in modern Japan. Hisao Nakai, a normal boy living a normal life, has his life turned upside down when a congenital heart defect forces him to move to a new school after a long hospitalization. Despite his difficulties, Hisao is able to find friends—and perhaps love, if he plays his cards right. There are five main paths corresponding to the 5 main female characters, each path following the storyline pertaining to that character.
The story is told through the perspective of the main character, using a first person narrative. The game uses a traditional text and sprite-based visual novel model with an ADV text box.
Katawa Shoujo contains adult material, and was created using the Ren’Py scripting system. It is the product of an international team of amateur developers, and is available free of charge under the Creative Commons BY-NC-ND License.
snipped from the Katawa Shoujo website
The game is your bog standard japanese visual novel, h-scenes an all. The story revolves around our main lead Hisao Nakai, an average guy, or so he thought. Unfortunately when a girl from his school confesses her love he has a heart attack and ends up in hospital. Things change, and his life is thrown into turmoil, more so when the doctor tells him that he’ll be going to a school specialised in looking after disabled people like him.
He’s got a potential of seducing six of the girls, five of them are the main story line girls, and the sixth; only opens up when your on the path of one of the girls. Each of the main love interests has three different states of completion, love, neutral and bad end. There is no option to have multiple girls on the go at the same time, which does force replay. The story is fairly bog standard for this type of game, with nothing really standing out to make it great. In fact the only thing of note is the fact all the girls have some sort of disability.
For the most part the art is again typical of a visual novel, with a few exceptions. In a bid to keep costs low we get a LOT of stock photograph backgrounds, which don’t always work well. Some of the backgrounds work really well and fit with the setting, others not so much. It’s also worth noting that the art quality is pretty hit and miss as well. the girls, as you would expect, are exceptionally well drawn. However the supporting characters no where near as much, some of them frankly look terrible.
As it’s a free game, there’s no VA at all in the game, and TBH I don’t really have an issue with that. the music is okay and does a good job of carrying the scenes. Though it would definitely be improved with VA’ing.
The story progression on the surface seems to be in-depth, however it really isn’t. A lot of the questions you get asked don’t really have an impact on the path your going and seem more to be about breaking the reading, and giving the semblance of choice. On your first play through it’s not an issue, but on others it does suffer a bit.
There’s not really a lot in the way of sex scenes in the game, each girl has one or two, but if you play through the game with the h-scenes disabled (an option) it still plays and reads well, arguably it feels better.
Play time isn’t that long, around two hours or so to complete the first play through, but only around ten minutes for the rest. For me this is where the biggest problem with the game is, the replay ability is forced and tedious. While you have the five girls to choose from and the first play through is fun, everything after that is tedious. You have to reread loads of the text you’ve already read though, which when you get to the third play through all your doing is hitting fast forward.
I had unlocked the game fully in two and half hours, which is a bit disappointing, especially given the repeat content. However this is a free game, so it’s not surprising that the playtime isn’t that long.
The translation of the story could use a bit of tweaking however. As i found the leads comments at times to be very word heavy, at times he comes across as a snob whose deliberately trying to confuse people by using long complicated words. However i noticed this in a few other characters as well. Who ever translated the script should have asked ‘would a person of this age and personality really say XYZ’. This does at times add to the tedious feel of the game, and lead me to just clicking through rather than reading what was said.
Overall i have to admit that it’s a rather impressive game, with a lot of work put into it. There’s a slew of extras, including art books, posters and the OST available on the site, however the site does seem to be frequently down for varying reasons.
If you like VN’s then give it a go, it wont cost you anything I’m looking forward to seeing what this company has to come in the future.
Here’s a vid of the first 40mins or so of gameplay that’s on YouTube