Gaming After Dark: Katawa Shoujo

*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.

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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.

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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).

Emi_running

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.

lilly

Lilly.

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

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20 thoughts on “Gaming After Dark: Katawa Shoujo

  1. YES!

    I LOVE THIS GAME!

    But confession time, and I am a bit ashamed to admit this, but I’ve only played through it once. I went for Shizune the first time because I was so drawn to her character. She’s the least popular of the KS girls among the fandom, but she’s always been my favorite. So much so I didn’t play through the other routes on principle. I just watched others play it without their voices. It’s stupid, but in video games, I try to be “loyal” to a romantic interest within that game.

    I was so drawn to Shizune’s personality because of how much it contrasted with mine. I know all the other girls have a more satisfying ending, or are friendlier, but something about Shizune was just so likeable as a character.

    That PROBABLY puts us at odds considering her relationship with Lilly, lol.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. You mind if we continue this discussion? Either way, I’mma drop my defense.

        I don’t think they dropped the ball at all. Narratively, I think it’s perfectly in character for her route to go the way it did. She’s a person with lots of walls around her, and she was always impersonal. That’s not to say she doesn’t care about her friends, but being deaf and reliant on your best friend to communicate kinda stunted her communication abilities. For somebody as ambitious as her, and a family as weird as hers, she’s had to be strong for her own sake.

        Do I think they could have a made a more satisfying ending? Yes. I also think that a conflict besides the one with Misha would have been a bit better, but I saw why the devs went for it. I see it more as how Shizune’s problems are directly connected to how she is as a person as opposed to other external problems.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I still think her route was great! Please don’t misunderstand. She’s a very interesting character, given flaws just like the rest of the girls. I think her story could have just been “better” given how driven and interesting her character is. The only option the player is really presented with has to do with Misha which sucks considering how cool Shizune is. The good ending fell a bit flat for me as well. I wouldn’t mind replaying her route though!

        Overall, I don’t see why anyone would say she’s unlikable. I personally can see why any of the girls would be anyone’s favorite, but I tend to be able to see those kind of things. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      3. I agree that the good ending could have felt a bit more satisfying. More than any other route, Shizune seems to be the most independent and prone to isolation from the girls. I wish we could have gotten more closure on the relationship too, but I understood that Shizune is just the way she is. That’s exactly why I liked her anyways.

        Thanks for getting me to talk about this game again, it’s rare to find new people who played a REALLY old VN at this point.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. I totally agree. ❤️

        Anytime! I know KS is pretty old at this point, but it resonated so much with me that I knew I needed to write a review for it one day. I’m glad there are people around that still care enough to chat about it! Hopefully anyone that missed it when it was really popular will pick it up now so they can get their own experience with it, too.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Somehow I’ve never played Katawa Shoujo, even though I was frequenting the same 4chan boards the creators came from when the game was being developed. I definitely saw a lot of threads about it. It’s always been somewhere on my to-buy list, so maybe one day soon I’ll pick it up.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. This is such a magical, magical game, and I’m always glad to see it getting more love.

    Katawa Shoujo was one of two games that made me decide that mainstream gaming simply wasn’t “for” me any more, and made me turn my attention almost exclusively to the more overlooked, underappreciated (and often Japanese in origin or at least feel) titles that I favour today. It had such a profound emotional impact on me that I knew I needed to seek out more things like it.

    Fun fact: you’re statistically most likely to get Emi on your first playthrough because more options specifically lead to her route; you have to make a real effort to go for any of the others. This is sort of thematically appropriate for Emi, though; she’s in your face right from the beginning, so it makes sense that she’s the one it’s “easiest” to find yourself falling in with.

    If you enjoyed Katawa Shoujo, check out the Grisaia series: The Fruit of Grisaia, The Labyrinth of Grisaia and The Eden of Grisaia. (There are several spinoffs, too, but those three are the main story.)

    Grisaia has a similar idea of “damaged” characters coming together in a school setting and learning to understand one another, though things move in a very different direction as the series moves on. While I usually recommend 18+ versions in favour to all-ages editions, I would particularly underline that when it comes to Grisaia; the sexual content is integral to character development in all of the routes (as well as being a lot of fun!) so I feel it’s especially important to get the complete experience there.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Pete, that is really amazing. What a cool “origin story!” I’m sincerely hoping to use KS as a first stepping stone to bring a spotlight to sex positivity to gamers. I played it so many years ago and this review was sitting for a really long time while I tried to find a way to bring it to my blog.

      Yes! I had to work really hard to get the other girls’ routes outside of Emi. Totally worth it, but I did end up using a guide to get to a couple of the last endings, which I try hard not to do. I’d rather get there organically. But I still had the best time playing through all of the endings regardless. 😊

      Thank you so much for the recommendations! I need them! I’m aiming to do these reviews once a month and need all the recommendations I can get. I’ll be sure to give you a shoutout for recommending those. They sound like they are right up my alley! ❤️

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I have plenty of recommendations, don’t you worry! I’ve covered a fair few VNs over the last few years as you might expect, so if you ever need any more suggestions, feel free to hit me up.

        There needs to be more sex positivity in gaming; there’s a lot of misconceptions thrown around quite casually, and it really doesn’t help anyone. It’s an important subject for people to feel like they are able to engage with and talk about. It’s not just about looking at pornography , it’s about exploring an important part of human nature — and that deeper exploration of sex and relationships is what many of these VNs offer.

        Liked by 1 person

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