(In advance, I apologise if this reflection on my time spent with Katawa Shoujo is a bit of a jumble... I have realised that i frequently switch between myself, Hisao, and myself as Hisao relatively frequently... but it's late, and I've lived this game for the last 2-3 days of my life... i'm slightly confused as to who I am right now - I also apologise for the length of this. I've never written a review of an experience with a game before, and may have gotten slightly out of hand with the amount I put in. I thought I'd only be able to write a small amount, but everything just had to come out of me).
So yeh, I only discovered this game even existed 4 days prior to this post after seeing it mentioned somewhere online. I'd never played a VN before, but since i'd been intrigued by the concept, I figured I would give it a shot. Hell, it was free anyway, so what did I have to lose? Apparently, quite a bit. I lost my appetite, some sleep and a good portion of my week - and I wouldn't trade it for the world.
Having never been through any previous VN's before, I really didn't know what to expect. Upon starting the game and sitting through the intro and why Hisao ended up at the school, I'll admit I wasn't immediately hooked and figured I wouldn't play through the whole thing. That said, once the cast of characters started getting introduced, I found myself getting more and more drawn in. Even in just the shot which pans across the classroom when Hisao first enters, a certain character caught my eye... Hanako. Now, I may actually be in love with her, but alas playthrough number one was not to be, and I ended up stumbling headlong down the Emi path. I found her to be a truly fun character to be with, and it didn't take long for the feelings to start building. However, I feel some of the scenes with her kind of ruined her story, such as the sports shed for example. It just didn't seem to really "fit", but once that bit had passed, suddenly I found the whole Emi experience took on a completely different air (though it had been building previously). The way her loss and hardship was dealt with really knocked me back, and this resulted in my first sleepless night, as at 5am I figured bed was calling me, so had to finish just as she kicked Hisao out of her house. It was here that I started to think this game was truly something special. Anyway, after being unable to sleep properly, I got up bright and early, rolled out of bed and straight to my PC, rooting for the story to turn out good. With some luck, I reached the desired result, and the ending left me with a warm feeling inside.
Following this, I decided to take a break, grab some breakfast etc... and figured I'd jump online for some games with a mate, however, this was not to be - as soon as I sat back at the computer, I automatically opened Katawa Shoujo again, and set about my next path - Hanako. Now, I'd already picked her out as a favourite previously, so was really looking forward to it. It was an interesting experience at first to say the least, trying to coax her out of her shell and becoming close friends with Lilly... not easy, but an altogether pleasant time. Even while she was immensely shy, the scene's where she would smile really made it worth the effort, and her personality just started to hook me in more and more. However, when things took a turn for the worse, leading up to her birthday, my stomach just went hollow. When she feinted/froze up in the classroom, I don't think I even blinked for the whole scene, i was actually terrified of what was going to happen to this girl... this imaginary girl I only knew through pictures and words. I was so relieved when she pulled through it, and we had the small party for her... the picture of her cradling those birthday presents is imprinted in my mind... seeing her at possibly her cutest. I was also extremely happy that Hisao didn't take advantage of her drunken state, which I fleetingly thought may happen. I was happy to be there for her when Lilly left for Scotland, but when she locked herself in her room, the hollow feeling in my stomach just increased. At this point, I had to go for dinner, and I literally didn't have the appetite to eat it... because of this game. Rushing back to the computer, I dived headlong back into the story, calling Lilly, hoping to god that I would be able to find some way of sorting this, and I took her advice. Time passed, I gave Hanako space and after a while things looked like they were on the mend. I don't like to dwell on the sex scene's in this game as I think they're such a small (though significant part) of it on the whole... but that whole bit with Hanako just felt so... wrong. I was interested/excited/worried - I can't even place my own state of mind - when she revealed her body to me, but whatever excitement was there just seemed to make the next few scene's that much more uncomfortable, and I went back to hollowness seeing the way things played out following this turn of events. The final meeting in the park however, is everything I could have dreamed for. Seeing her break and spill out all those feelings after barely being able to talk to me the whole time just floored me, and her explanation explained my feeling of uneasiness as mentioned previously. It was a perfect ending. I believe she has, by far, the best progression of any character in KS, and I can't find fault with her.
After dwelling on that ending for a while, I jumped straight into Lilly's path. I've seen this regarded as possibly the best out of all, and I can see where this comes from. An absolutely brilliant story, a beautiful character, and the personality of an angel. Lilly almost encapsulates the perfect woman and her path was nothing short of brilliant, though i actually felt slightly guilty spending so much time with her and Hanako, after falling for Hanako so hard not long before. I truly felt like I missed her during the trip to Scotland, and found myself curiously wondering how, when and where Hisao would reveal his feelings to her. I certainly didn't expect it to be the other way around. Lilly's confession, in the corn field was just beautiful, and the scene's following seemed so... right. None of the awkwardness i felt with Hanako. Hisao's final rush to get her back was excellently done, and I couldn't tear myself away from the computer one bit. The final, happy ending for this path was excellent, almost rivalling Hanako in my estimation. Lilly is truly a beautiful artistic and literary creation.
I managed to finish this path before sleeping, but it didn't help me one bit lol. I just lay in bed, staring at the ceiling, letting the whole thing just wash over me, feeling like i'd been a witness to something really magnificent... as if I had actually lived this myself and i'm reliving a fond memory. Eventually, i fall asleep but, again, I wake up exceptionally early, and jump straight back to the game. I forgo any previous thoughts of playing anything else. I close any form of communication on my PC, not wanting to be disturbed, and decide my next course of action will be to follow the Shizune path. I've seen a lot of hate for this path, but I don't get it. It's a fantastic story, and the frustration early on with the barrier between Hisao and Shizune seemed so real. I could imagine her being annoyed at having to communicate via writing on a notepad and passing it back and forth, but this scene is what really drew me in to the character. In all other paths, Shizune always comes across as a rather cold person, very calculating. Sure, she has these elements to her, but underneath it all, she's a really sweet person. The revelation that she just wanted to cheer Hisao up gives her such an interesting boost as a character, making you doubt everything you've seen of her in previous paths. This path also has some of the best scene's of the game... the rooftop being a definite standout, but also the fun time spent with Lilly, Akira etc... on the fishing trip. The revelation that Misha was in love with Shizune also really threw me... I was convinced it was Hisao she had feelings for, so this really came as quite a surprise. Seeing such a happy, carefree character so down and depressed started to bring back that hollow feeling in me, and I couldn't stand to see her like this. The night with Shizune and Hisao in the Council room was also really well done I think, seeing Shizune give up her control for just a short time was truly a wonder to behold. I was satisfied with the ending aswell... though not quite as spectacular as Hanako or Lilly, it was fitting seeing the 3 of them together again, and reminded me that KS was just as much about friendship as it was relationships. This story was let down slightly though in two places... It was abnormally fast seeing how Hisao picked up sign language to a point where he could almost freely converse with Shizune, it just seemed a bit too convenient that he was a fast learner. Secondly, Shizune's father was just a bit... out of place. I don't this his character really fit well with everything.
Another dinner came, another half successful attempt to eat. Sure, I'd gotten over the horrible feeling in my stomach, but my mind was racing. How could this game have such an effect on me? I read books often, I watch movies/TV/anime across a wide range of genre's from Love, to action, to heartbreaking stuff, yet I can't remember ever being effected in this way. I spent the evening filling in some of the scene's I had missed, making sure to avoid Hanako's bad ending having read it was pretty bad. Still, Emi's wasn't exactly the happiest either, but I didn't feel wholly effected by Shizune's... I was expecting something a bit more... climactic. This however, still kept me up until 2am, which is not good considering I had an appointment the next morning and would have to be up at 8am.
Still, at least I slept a bit better. I finished what I had to do in the morning and raced home, figuring I'd get Hanako's bad ending out of the way first, and it was a horrible experience - I'm never going near it on future play throughs... seeing her scream that she hates me and even Lilly almost made me lose it. Anyway, i took a few minutes to collect myself after that and decided to embark on my final path... Rin. Having had previous encounters with her, I thought I could maybe be forgiven for expecting something a bit more kooky and fun for this path.
OH. MY. GOD. How wrong could I be. I never thought I would get attached to Rin in quite the same way as some of the others, but my god, it was like a black hole pulling me in. After getting the usual opening stuff cleared and up to settling things on Rin, everything was great. I loved spending a day just sat with her at the festival, and encouraging her with her art. I loved the constant vague looks on her face... and the smile she wore when she had that cold was priceless. I felt I was on to the more fun route i was expecting, but then it all changed. It just seemed like such a peaceful realisation of how Hisao felt about her slowly over time. Seeing her sleep at the desk in the classroom, the trips to the forest and the hill... it seemed natural and really nice, but what followed when she moved into the atelier just destroyed me. At first it didn't seem too bad, the odd bit of frustration but I figured the game had set me up well enough to cope with that. However, things became deep. The cigarette's and her declaration that she needed to destroy herself set alarm bells ringing, but i figured it wouldn't be that bad... I wasn't prepared. When Hisao walks in on her, knelt on the floor in just her shirt... basically broken... i had to stop. I literally managed to drag myself out of my chair and put the kettle on, feeling this was going to be a tea job. A few minutes late, with a cup of tea in a shaking hand I returned to continue this new and much darker side to things. I knew by now that nothing would be fine in the morning, but Hisao's frustration and anger building up, and eventually exploding really shocked me. After the exhibition and Rin walking away, I was happy, she'd finally started to find a piece of who she was, but we were still on terrible terms. When she cried against Hisao, i had to fight to hold back some tears myself... having not cried in about 13 years this was really something. The art teacher screaming at her really got me angry aswell... I almost wanted to punch my screen. I was happy when Hisao and Rin got back together, though worried because I truly didn't know which way things were going to go. I think these were some of the best adult scene's in the entire game... you could almost feel the need they had for eachother. Rin just wanted someone to understand her, or at least... to just not be alone. A lot of people can relate to that feeling, and this really elevates the path. As emotionally exhausting as it was... Rin's path should be experienced by everyone.
So there we have it. I spent some time skipping through and picking up the Kenji stuff for 100% completion, though I'll admit this was pretty non committal on my part. I didn't hugely value Kenji as a character following my first playthrough... his wild tangents started to grate on me after a while, but still, he did had some amusing writing in places. I'm also amazed at how well the whole disability angle was handled. I wasn't sure what to expect, but it was so tastefully dealt with, and only ever raised as a point when required and not made the main focus. The characters are not defined by their disabilities.
Anyway, I'm writing this now, at 4am - today being the day I played through Rin. I don't have the terrible feeling inside me anymore, but I am left brooding heavily on what I have experienced. Katawa Shoujo has been an amazing experience for me, and possibly even something that I believe I will keep with me for many years to come. The art, the writing, the music... everything came together in such a perfect way. I'm left wanting more, much much more, of this quality or work... I just don't know how well I could handle it. As much as I have loved every minute spent with this game, (I think I've sunk around 30-35 hours into it, within a 2-3 day period), it's been quite a draining experience, and one that's left me with a lot to mull over in my mind. Will i sleep properly tonight? I doubt it.
But I wouldn't have it any other way.
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