Posted on January 21st, 2012

Filed under: Reviews — Karl Olson @ 7:15 pm

So, like many other internet savvy otaku, I have long been aware of the Katawa Shoujo project. At least a few of my friends have cosplayed as characters from the title, and I had seen the little fan comics that have floated around the internet about it. However, I imagine that like most people, I figured nothing would really come of it.

After all, countless internet forums have had their goofy ideas for projects created by forum members, but usually you’re lucky if you get passed the idea and concept art stage. If that it doesn’t stop there, you’ll maybe see a very mediocre first level or some very rough animation at best. In fact, I can think of at least 2 or 3 I’ve been involved with myself in some small way. Usually, creative projects on the internet are most productive when one or two people do something with little-to-no external input.

Yet, here we are with a full visual novel game with good art and good music, all inspired by single page joke from a decade-old doujinshi. It’s a miracle that it exists at all. However, that won’t stop me from nitpicking.

While a lot of the aesthetic aspects of the game are remarkable for an independent, no-budget project, the writing starts off very, very slow. It’s vastly too wordy (perhaps like these blog posts?,) and the tone is a little too inwardly focused on the protagonist. To make matters worse, that inner focus is a bland self-loathing, the kind that you’d think an otaku-made project would avoid considering how commonplace that complaint is in regards to anime and manga. It’s also a bit inauthentic. One gets the feeling sometimes that the writers lack the life experience to communicate the right feeling in some of these scenarios. Maybe that’s to be expected a bit as well, but while it may make for an interesting meta-commentary, it’s a hassle to sit through walls of text that don’t really engage the player. To make matters worse, there are a lot of different dialogue options, especially early on, and that feels off for a game like this. Being able to take some ownership of the protagonist is critical in visual novels, and I wouldn’t have minded a bit more in Katawa Shoujo at all.

Troubles aside, I can’t seem to really let it go now that I’m into it. It’s clearly a little undercooked, but I still can’t help but marvel that it was served at all. There are also a few sharp bits of characterization and humorous dialogue that manage to string the player along in spite of themselves, and that’s quite impressive since those pieces have to override the drawbacks. I’m certainly glad that I did a little tribute track to the game which will turn up on my next record because, if nothing else, it’s a nod to the efforts of people who beat the odds for fan projects on web forums.

Good show.

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