*Disclaimer: Welcome to Gaming After Dark, a series just for games best enjoyed after dark. Games featured in this series are NSFW (Not Safe For Work), contain adult content and explicit themes, and are not meant for those under the age of eighteen. The reviews for the games will also feature content that is NSFW and is intended for mature readers only.
Katawa Shoujo (translated to “Disability Girls”) is a free-to-download, bishoujo-style, dating sim visual novel by Four Leaf Studios. It is set in a fictional specialized high school that provides healthcare and education for disabled teens in modern Japan.
Brief intro: You are Hisao Nakai. Hisao suffers a heart attack caused by long dormant cardiac arrhythmia. After a lengthy hospital stay, he transfers to a new school, Yamaku, with specialized education and care. There he meets five different girls with their own disabilities and personalities. Hisao has the choice to come to terms with his own disability during his time at Yamaku. Through a series of choices by the player, you’ll end up with one of the five girls (or another, different ending). You are able to play through her story, and all of your choices have an effect throughout her story line.
If you thought you would be able to play this visual novel like you have any other… think again. What makes Katawa Shoujo so special is its unique take on the traditional adult dating sim formula. Despite it’s adult themes and appearance, this game will destroy you emotionally. Grab the tissues; you’ll need them for more than what you think.
Review: This game came highly recommended by my husband Alec quite a few years ago. It wasn’t my first dating sim or choice game by any means but it was most certainly the best experience I have ever had with a visual novel like this. I have never played anything like it, and I have no idea if any other visual novel will ever come close to what Four Leaf Studios was able to do with Katawa Shoujo.
I played Katawa Shoujo like I play any other choice game: the first play through is how I want to play it. Then, I go back and try to get things “right” or get a different outcome from what I have before. Finally, I try to go for the other characters’ stories and endings until I reach 100% completion. What can I say? I’m usually a completionist (we just won’t talk about my PlayStation trophies… Shhh).
During my first play through, I got Emi. Emi has two prosthetic legs and is a track runner. She’s extremely extroverted, funny, stubborn, and just really upbeat. She is my polar opposite if I’m being honest, so I was a bit hesitant about this potential love interest. Hisao ends up being her running partner as a way for her to instill some exercise into his routine and keep tabs on him for the school nurse. Through my interactions with Emi, I learned that she also finds it hard to get close to people which I identify with completely. Slowly, Emi started to consume my heart. Needless to say, I fell hard for Emi’s character.
Throughout Emi’s story, I tried to make sure I was staying true to myself and not aiming for the saucy cut scenes. Those choices always had rewards or consequences. Eventually I made a choice that had a heartbreaking consequence. Never have a I cried so much over making the “wrong” choice in a game. It felt like my heart had broken in two.
I knew I couldn’t go back yet to make a different choice; I needed to finish Emi’s story my way. So I finished her story and the game with tears streaming down my face. Once I was done sobbing (and after texting Alec to tell him what happened and how distraught I was), I tried again, shooting for Emi’s good ending. I knew had to, because I was so very emotionally invested in this fictional girl.
The emotional investment I felt didn’t end with Emi though. Just about every girl in the game had me in tears at one point or another. I can’t recall the last game that made me cry like that. Each girl was so unique and so easy for me to fall for. Emi will always have a special place in my heart. I mean, they didn’t make a meme about her for nothing! She has been the most selected love interest statistically of all time in Katawa Shoujo; however, I did finish the game with a favorite girl in mind.
In an effort to get all of the girls, I was shooting for Hanako during one of my play throughs and got the beautiful blond-haired Lilly. Lilly is blind, but her disability does not define her, just like all of the other girls as you’ll find out if you decide to pick up Katawa Shoujo. Unlike the other girls though, my connection to Lilly was the strongest. In my experience and opinion, her story was filled with the most romance that really touched my heart. Her saucy cut scenes were some of my favorites as well.
Others might disagree with my assessment, because Lilly’s story seems the least interesting of all. The developers may have stuck with some well-known cliches when it comes to those who are blind, but they more than made up for it with Lilly’s likable personality, the fluffy romance, and her rewarding cut scenes. That’s just my opinion, of course.
If you enjoy adult dating sims that do more than tug at your heart strings, Katawa Shoujo might be for you. Expect to have a favorite (best) girl. Expect to cry more than once. Expect some raunchy scenes with your love interest. And… expect to never find a visual novel quite like this again.
Bottom Line: You came for the girls, but you’ll stay for the feels. (Pun probably intended.)
Official Rating: 18+
Genre(s): Single Player, Visual Novel, Dating Sim, Eroge