Who ever thought 4chan could give birth to a game this wholesome? The concept of Katawa Shoujo started as a simple sketch of cute, disabled girls on the last bonus page of an erotic doujinshi nearly twenty years ago. It gained traction online on the imageboard several years later and the internet’s most infamous group of trolls decided to make a visual novel out of it – hence the name of the developer, Four Leaf Studios. So, you might be wondering, what is the finished product like?
Our main character, Hisao Nakai, ends up hospitalized because of a heart attack that was caused by a girl confessing her love to him. That might sound like a bit too on the nose, but in the hospital, it’s revealed that Hisao has chronic cardiac arrhythmia, which requires him to take medicine daily and have frequent checkups. As a result of this, he transfers to Yamaku High School, which specializes in providing education and healthcare for disabled students. There he meets five interesting girls, all with varying personalities, looks, and of course, disabilities.
The premise sounds alarming: a dating simulator made by 4chan in which you try to pick up disabled anime girls. But surprisingly there’s no need to worry, as rather than being gross and fetishistic, Katawa Shoujo handles its themes gently and respectfully. When playing it, you learn to see past the girls’ disabilities and appreciate them for all their adorable and annoying quirks. At the same time, you as the main character come to terms with the changes in your own life and maybe find love in the end.
As visual novels usually do, Katawa Shoujo requires some time to complete. A typical route, of which there are at least 17, with a good ending takes about seven hours to reach, while bad endings are a lot quicker to reach, which I unfortunately noticed. The pace is quite slow, as is in most visual novels, but it gives more time to get to know the characters. The art style is adequate, and the production value is ambitious for a game made by a loose international group. I was amused by the side character Kenji Setou, the main characters anti-social dorm neighbor who’s always ranting about feminist conspiracy theories – perhaps an homage to Katawa Shoujo’s roots in 4chan.
In the end, the game is a lot more than can be described in such few words. The writing and the fleshed-out characters make it a truly unique experience not falling into the stereotype of a typical eroge or a dating simulator. So, whether you’re looking to simply pass some time or go Ash Ketchum on the girls or have not yet decided, give it a shot: Katawa Shoujo is available to download online for free.
Developer: Four Leaf Studios
Publisher: Four Leaf Studios
Platforms: Windows, Mac OS X, Linux
Genres: Visual novel, Nakige, Eroge
PEGI: 18+ or none depending on which game mode you choose. The adult content in the game can be turned off.
Images are taken from the game’s home page.