Katawa Shoujo is not so much a game as it is an experience. When removed from the expectations that calling something a game implies, Katawa Shoujo flourishes and fails due in part to an ability to ignore popular conventions in service of that experience. The experience, much like any product classified as a visual novel, is predominantly filled with a whole lot of dialogue, static images, and… not much else. Simply put, it is a power point presentation with a story.

With such a simplified presentation in addition to existing in an age where expertly directed CG cut scenes are the norm instead of the exception, the success of a visual novel hinges solely by the virtue of the narrative. With such a limited focus, the probability for catastrophic failure is high. Characters, setting, and scenarios have to be borderline perfect in order to have any hope of breaking out beyond the niche audience that most visual novels typically cater to.  By this merit, Katawa Shoujo could be considered a success – just not in the way in which it was intended to be.

Truth.

Literally translating as “Disabled Young Girls,” Katawa Shoujo is a game that takes place at a school for disabled high school students. Almost crudely offensive even in name, the game owes its existence to the Internet denizens occupying the black hole of morality that is /b on 4chan – a claim few games if any could echo. Instead of being held back by such a strange genesis, Katawa Shoujo manages to expertly incorporate the schizophrenic message board without feeling beholden to it, an achievement nothing short of miraculous.

Having to fight the expectations that where heaped upon it, Katawa Shoujo always faced an uphill battle throughout its development and release. The aforementioned link to 4chan, coupled with the entire premise which ensures that at some point within each of the game’s five narrative arcs you will have sex with a “disabled young girl,” sells Katawa Shoujo far too short, but is also a completely valid notion or consideration that needs to be addresses when analyzing the game. With these events taking up a scant five minutes over a five-hour playtime they are definitely not the intended focus of the game, yet are still a crucial part of it.

Clothing choice in this scene is all /b's fault

The oversexualization of high school students is nothing new to any American with a passing familiarity of television focused at an adolescent audience, but even still Katawa Shoujo seems to go out of its way, much as it probably had to, simply to avoid being labeled as cheap and tawdry.  The moments when the game slants to the more mature end reminds me of a time when I read Penthouse forum aloud with a group a friends. In bringing up this anecdote, it is clear that in all but one of the encounters, the emotional weight of these scenes was almost laughable when viewed through a lens of objectivity – but hey, I think most portrayals of sex in any form of media are usually laughable; it is just the kind of person I am.

There are wisps of brilliance in the writing of Katawa Shoujo. There one minute and gone another, settling on thematic consistency seems to be the game’s biggest shortcoming. In a game that only requires minimal player interaction, it is shocking at how different your character will become given the influence of one of the leading ladies. It isn’t simply a self-realization brought about under a different set of circumstances; instead they are all completely different realizations. By lacking a coherent narrative thread it becomes laborious with each play through to become invested in the kool-aid it is trying to get you to drink.

So what does that leave us with? Katawa Shoujo was successful in creating a game out of a ludicrous idea, but beyond that superficiality it unfortunately missed the mark. But I also played it for around 25-30 hours, so take that as you will – if it was unbearable I would have stopped. To save face i’ll call it morbid curiosity, yup…lets go with that.

Agile you say?

…And if you are just looking for 4chan humor, I think Christine Love did it better in don’t take it personally, babe, it just ain’t your story.

 

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