Impressions: Katawa Shoujo

By John Walker on January 10th, 2012 at 9:53 am.

Ewwwwwwww, gross!

Last year there were a couple of games that brought up the question of what actually counts as a game. One of them shouldn’t have, because it is – Modern Warfare 3 (the nuance of “un-game” is lost on the world, sadly). The other was To The Moon, which occasionally teetered on the edge of that which people were willing to tolerate. The debate is mostly unhelpful – it generally comes down to a person’s expectations of the game, and those not being met. I found MW3 to fall far short of what I would expect of an FPS, and not fill that absence with anything new, meaningful or worthwhile, thus my condemnation. To The Moon replaced a perception of choice with wonderfully vivid narrative, deep characters, and an exploration of subjects poorly explored by any medium, let alone gaming. So where does that leave Katawa Shoujo?

It’s a visual novel, a format with which I’m not overly familiar. But heck, I like a novel, and I like pictures, so let’s see where this takes me. This is not a review, it’s an account of my experience of playing the game/reading the novel.

Animated by some lovely hand-drawn Manga characters, super-imposed over cursorily photopshopped photographs, Katawa Shoujo wants to tell you a story. And it mostly wants you to sit and read it. It’s a story about topics gaming pretty fundamentally ignores: disability and social awkwardness. And it’s for that reason, and that the writing is seemingly of a decent standard, that I had the patience to keep on clicking for the first half hour or so. Then things slowed down. Here are my experiences.

After a good twenty minutes with the game, I’ve interacted twice. Once to choose whether to say something or not, that I imagine may have happened anyway. The second time given a three-part choice of what to ask a person, the game then refusing my choice and making that meaningless. I have, instead, read a great deal.

Even so, even though all I’ve done so far is click repeatedly on the screen to make the next line of written dialogue (or indeed the next ellipsis) appear, this isn’t comparable with reading text or viewing something. The closest would be reading a comic, where I in essence physically “interact” with the book by turning the pages, and emotionally interact with the experience of the story. Except, were this a comic, it would never get away with just having the same image repeated for panel after panel.

But then, I’m playing a guy with chronic arrhythmia and congenital heart muscle deficiency, who is forced to restart his life in a boarding school for the disabled, after a heart attack at a very young age. His friends at the new school have various conditions, one seemingly extremely hyperactive, another deaf. And with a constant internal monologue from Hisao about his circumstances, it’s a very introspective, underplayed narrative.

Underplayed, sadly, proves painfully true. The more I play, the less there appears to be to do, with this half-a-story being told at me while I click after every pause and sentence. And worse, those sentences quickly become far less worth reading. The interplay between the excitable Misha and the mute Shizune are pointlessly confusing, one invisibly signing to the other, both voices coming from Misha, but with the game seeming to make no effort to clarify any of it. Why I should care whether Hisao joins the student council or not is entirely beyond me, let alone the agonising length of the conversation about it. It spends more time making me read an argument about joining the council than it did introducing the heart attack, or the subsequent life-changing consequences.

And because of the meagre interaction I have – the need to constantly click to move the conversation forward – I can’t even sit back and watch it happening, the auto-mode being too slowly paced even at the fastest settings. Instead I’m beholden to my role of clickmaster general, as the inane banter stretches out endlessly before me.

Oh, I haven’t mentioned, have I? This is a dating sim.

After well over an hour of clicking, clicking, clicking this hasn’t been revealed. Other than that every girl I’ve encountered seems to be very beautiful and flirtatious. Not in a cheap way, I should stress. The game is at great pains to stress the independence and confidence of all the girls you meet. But clearly you’re standing in front of a line-up of girls to choose between, however it may be presented. That and the way their school uniforms are occasionally shown with their pants visible beneath their skirts.

My patience for the game really begins to run out when I’m party to an excruciatingly long conversation with an armless girl called Rin, with whom I’m mixing paints. And I don’t care at all about any of it, because there’s no reason to. Next I’m talking to a girl who stands on prosthetic running feet about our shared dislike of warming up before exercise. Or at least, I’m clicking. A conversation in the showers with the naked figure of the schoolboy in the dorm next to me, his modesty concealed by a fig leaf, about borrowing money is where I start clicking straight through the chat.

I would definitely have stopped by now. I’ve been clicking through conversations, taking in as much as flashes before my eyes and still entirely keeping up with the paper-thin plot. Good grief, the meticulous detail that goes into every tedious detail is agonising. Why would I ever care about Hisao’s morning running routine for more than a sentence, let alone literally half an hour of conversations, looping endlessly around the same topics, hurting my will to live? Clicking and clicking and clicking, nothing happening, nothing of any meaning occurring, and then I see the horrendous words, “ACT 2″. What? How many acts? Even if there are only two, this means I’m only halfway through this! Oh please no.

It’s a visual novel. That’s the justification. But it’s also half-pretending to almost be a game, and I can judge it for that. AND I can judge it as a visual novel – I cannot imagine the comic version of this. It would be 900,000 pages of the same six drawings over and over. No one would surely want to read it that way, would they? So why this way? And why is it so many people have recommended this to us, apologising that yes, it’s a 4Chan meme, but really, it’s so much more than that.

Created by 4Chan, after they became obsessed by a sketch, it’s been developed by a collection of internet communities under the name of Four Left Studios. And whether it’s disability porn or an affectionate teen romance is up for grabs.

It’s certainly ticking boxes marked “inspirational”. For someone with the patience to tolerate its agonising detail and pace, this is a story about young people achieving beyond their disabilities, and heck, featuring disabled characters at all is a woefully rare occurance in gaming. And you know what else? Imperceptibly, and I really don’t have any idea what it was that caused it to happen, something I did at some point caused this story to head in a particular direction. Because the guy just kissed one of the girls – one of five it’s apparently possible to get into a relationship with.

And after speed-clicking through approximately 870 more scenes they’re on a date, which is pretty cute. What’s not so cute, it occurs to me, is the option in the menu to switch off adult content. Emi, the girl I have unwittingly picked, looks about 14. (She is in fact 18 according to the story.) This isn’t going anywhere healthy. Clicking on any more of this sophomoric teen romance is going to make me slit my throat with the sharp end of my keyboard. Lines like,

“She pulls me back, nips at my lower lip, and reinitiates the embrace. Her tongue darts inside my mouth, exploring. I can feel a warmth spreading through my body as my heart begins to beat faster.”

aren’t doing my temperament any favours. And then it becomes just the worst sort of soft porn nonsense, with accompanying pictures. Including, in my game, a scene of meticulously described anal that neither enjoys.

In fairness, it then deviates back to exploring the relationship, the underlying issues, Emi’s past, and so on. But it’s mostly just using the dangled carrots of not telling you information it tells you it’s not telling you, and I can think of no other motivation to persist. In fact, no, I’m done.

I refuse to say “it’s not a game”, because it is. It’s just one where you don’t get to do anything meaningful, as you’re told a massively long story about not very much. And one I haven’t the energy to persist with to its ending, let alone explore the other four stories it has to offer. That scale is unquestionably impressive, and it’s obviously been a great deal of work. But I’m not sure I’ve gained anything from playing.

If you’re after the thrill of teenage boobies, skip this. They’re there, and they feel wildly inappropriate to be viewing (unless you’re a teenager, I guess), but the sex is a minuscule element of the game, which is far more interested in telling you about the organisation of every character’s sock drawer. And since I wrote that sentence, I finished the game. Which is telling. I just wanted to know how it ended, as frustratingly obvious as all of Emi’s so-called secrets were. I guess I’d committed so much time to it all that I may as well. Of course, that’s only one fifth of the game, which is both terrifying and impressive.

The game is free, and can be downloaded from here.

__________________

« | »

, , , , .

344 Comments »

  1. lurkalisk says:

    Some things simply shouldn’t be simulated, no matter how well (or poorly). Such is my infallible logic.

    • bglamb says:

      That’s a mean thing to say about disabled people.

    • lurkalisk says:

      Correction, it’s a mean thing to say about implausible disabled-person dating simulation in general.

      To be fair, it’s mostly the dating part.

    • FhnuZoag says:

      I feel like people get hung up too much on the ‘simulation’ part. These are generally simulations in the loosest sense – think of them more as romance stories with some level of interaction. Stuff like Mills and Boon novels, but in a different medium and with a CYOA element. Certainly not everyone’s cup of tea, but not I think inherently illegitimate.

    • gekitsu says:

      and then, theres “dating sim” as a genre, and “visual novel/dating sim”. the latter is usually along the lines of a visual novel with dating/romance/possibly-adult elements, whereas the former indeed allows more interaction. usually things like what to do with one’s day, determining whos paths you cross more often, have more to talk with, etc.

    • MasterDex says:

      I disagree. I think there’s a world of potential for dating sims – especially in teaching introverted teenagers how to interact in social settings and among the opposite sex………….I just haven’t come across a dating sim that even tried to do so, let alone managed to do so successfully. But yeah, dating sims are a genre of game that could be a great step away from the ‘kill this, push this’ type of games that make up the majority of the market, they just need to step away from the lechery and clichés before that ever happens.

  2. Brosepholis says:

    Might be interesting to note: ‘Katawa’ is a very non-PC term in Japanese. A good translation of the title might be ‘Cripple Girls’.

    Anyway, it seems like your problems with the game are indictments of the visual novel medium itself rather than this particular instance. I don’t blame you; I think it’s a lousy way to tell a story. They’re endemic in Japan because of how cheap they are to make, and the possibility of making millions off the merchandise if your title gets popular with the otaku crowd.

    • kraken says:

      Indeed. All the issues are more about the genre than that particular game.
      Also, those are called Visual Novel for a reason. They are NOVELS with some visuals added. The electronic equivalent of an illustrated book.

    • Memphis-Ahn says:

      Visual novels may be inexpensive in comparison to other games, but that doesn’t mean they’re “cheap”.
      Here’s an article from 2008 http://zepy.momotato.com/2008/09/09/eroge-production/ about VN production costs. Heck, I bet a lot of SHMUPs are cheaper and those are huge in Japan too (that may be because the indie scene is huge over there though).

    • Brosepholis says:

      I love how the process of developing a VN is so utterly formulaic that the costs can be set out like that.

    • kimadactyl says:

      Erm, some of those figures have a 10x variance, many are per hour or “might need”. This looks no more formulaic than any other game. I’ve done website budgets more detailed than that.

    • Wampbit says:

      I agree that the complaints seem to be aimed at the VN genre on the whole, and on that note I’d be quite curious to know whether John has played/read any other VNs. Compared to many other VNs I’d say Katawa Shoujo is rather lacking in interaction, which is a bit of a shame really, as I think the success of a VN is very fundamentally based on the user-story interactions. Furthermore upon closer inspections the interactions have remarkably little impact, it’s rare to be able to change a scene in a large way, all you can do is progressively win favour with the heroine of your choice. For a genre based upon dynamic and frequent choices (with a full range of consequences) one would’ve expected a few more ‘game’ aspects – I suppose this is the telltale sign of production cost minimisation for a free-ware project. Regardless I find myself quite interested in Katawa Shoujo, more as I would be towards a book than a game, or any other VN for that matter, but regardless interested.

    • inawarminister says:

      I’ve been too late, and it’s likely that all of you have moved on from this, but what the hell, I’ve got duty to be made, so I’ll just quote this:

      The developers are aware of the implications, and have addressed this. It may not be satisfactory, but I hope it shows that they aren’t as insensitive as you make them out to be.

      And because I’m a bloody idiot, here’s the link: http://katawashoujo.blogspot.com/2008/11/name-of-game.html

    • Mehbah says:

      @Brosepholis

      Calling it Cripple Girls makes it sound like an entirely different kind of game, though.

      • fozzy83 says:

        I took the name as a reflection on how the main character saw himself and his fellow classmates before he learned about everyone else. Having a heart attach at his age I could see him being angry enough to refer to himself and everyone in the school he’s been forced into as “katawa”

  3. HexagonalBolts says:

    Wait, so… it’s… an anime disabled-girl-dating sim… ?

    • HexagonalBolts says:

      By the way, interesting fact for you all – Apparently on average the least sex in the world happens in Japan. Might be where all these angsty geeky anime dating things spring up from, eh?

    • The Divine says:

      It’s not a dating sim, but more a story about developing to deal with disabilities. I find dating sims and sex games to be creepy, but this is a hentai game as much as Titanic is a porno for having a scene with a nude Kate Winslet in it. Also it was made primarily by a Westernteam (basing it on Japanese art), so the Japanese comment isn’t totally relevant.

    • Jeroen D Stout says:

      Eh? Nudge, nudge? Eh? Phoar, eh? Say no more!

    • Burning Man says:

      What’s it like?

  4. ericks says:

    Yes, everyone should play this.

  5. Gemberkoekje says:

    And all this time, you could’ve been playing Ever 17: The Out of Infinity (And it doesn’t even have inappropriate scenes!)

    • inawarminister says:

      To be fair, it still have sex scenes, *implied* though. If you played through it, you’ll know what I mean.

      Maan, I wonder if that LP on SA (finally, first completed LP of Ever 17! Huzzah!) has been archived yet…

      fakeedit: of course, it hasn’t. Bah. Oh well. Guys, if you want to experience Ever 17 without the hassle of installing it, I’ll direct you guys to this thread: http://forums.somethingawful.com/showthread.php?threadid=3426699 (welp I hope this won’t get eaten by the spam filter…)

    • Nilum says:

      Or alternatively, played the much-more-excellent Fate/Stay Night.

    • Lurenai says:

      Ever 17 is just amazing. coming from 999 from the DS, I already had high expectations and it still managed to blew my mind *and* give me tears.

      There’s a bit of filler/repetitive content (specially since the true ending requires you finishing the game a few times) but it all pays off. And your choices are mostly significant.

      This with a great plot, charismatic characters (<3 Sara) makes this a must play for anyone who can endure the visual novel format.

      A pity the fan translation of Remember11 isn't up to my standards.

  6. Casshern says:

    Been waiting for this for a couple of years as I’m a fan of visual novels, refreshing the page until it went online.
    It’s not the best I’ve played in it’s genre but it’s definitely good. To bad you went with Emi’s route because I found that one the least impressive.
    Lilly’s and Hanoko’s route were my favorites and Rin’s route is quite good as well, all those feels..
    Shizume has a good first act after that it’s just a train wreck.
    But if you’re looking for a real game you better just let this pass. If you’re looking for a good first VN to get started with, this is a great choice.

  7. Zeewolf says:

    Sounds like my experiences with stuff like Ever 17, which everyone claimed was amazing but in reality it was just clicking clicking clicking through boring conversations where the fact that it sometimes changed the background pictures was the main highlight of the show.

    After a few hours of that, I gave up.

    • Gemberkoekje says:

      Granted, if you want to play a game, don’t play these kinds of games.

      If you want to be served a touching story, some of these visual novels, including Ever 17, delivers.

      For me personally: I don’t often finish games, but I have finished Ever 17, wanting to know all the endings cause it was so well-written.

    • Zeewolf says:

      I guess I didn’t find it very interesting. The setting was cool, and in the beginning I was definitely anxious to see what happened. But…. nothing happened. The characters spent ages engaged in stupid, long-winded conversations and in the first few hours at least it went absolutely nowhere.

    • malkav11 says:

      The first few hours of Ever 17 are tedious to the extreme, especially on one of the two main character’s paths (Takeshi). There’s a ton of mindfucky payoff (which gets kinda silly at the end, admittedly) if you can force yourself past that, though.

    • infinite_walrus says:

      Ever 17 was pretty rough to get through. However, the payoff is huge and well worth it. A lot of time needs to be invested though, so I can understand giving up on it. If you want an experience similar to it but more condensed, focused, and faster paced I suggest 9 Hours, 9 Persons, 9 Doors on the Nintendo DS. It’s exciting throughout, with a horror/mystery/sci-fi angle. In Ever 17 there’s plenty of times where the characters are just waiting (chicken sandwiches, hide-and-seek). The situation in 999 is much more tense and the story always feels like it moving forward.

      The game is written by one of the writers of Ever 17, and threads a lot of the same stuff. It’s much more inviting to people who aren’t into visual novels, as there’s escape the room puzzles every once in a while. It’s also less anime-y and contains no semblance of a dating sim. Some parts are better and some parts are worse than Ever 17. If you want to know what was so amazing about Ever 17 check out 999.

    • Lurenai says:

      One of the best factors of Ever17 is that your choices tend to be significant. Some are just to ensure plot understanding (“Do you know the archimedes principle?”), others are fillers but some change the game drastically (“Who am I/I have to find my friends”) and every branch of plot reveals something important.

      it’s tiresome, it got me sleepy but in the end it rewarded me, involved me and made me cry.

      Like infinite_walrus said, if you can’t stand the visual novel format, try 999. More fast paced, perhaps less engaging with the characters, but still an engaging experience.

  8. Lord Byte says:

    It’s a dating sim. Dating being notoriously lacking in explosions (unless you get really lucky…), this was pretty much what I expected. I guess some people may find that amount of detail interesting, like some do pushing and pulling all kinds of levers for 5 minutes before they take off.
    All the rest are just there for the boobies I guess…. Thanks for the review, now I know not to bother with it.

    • Casshern says:

      It’s not a dating sim, just because John says so you’re going to blindly follow him?
      It’s about the story, and discovering feels you never felt before. The main objective isn’t to fuck crippled girls.
      You have to go through 4 hour story to get 3 minutes “boobies” as you like to call them. People don’t play it for that. Just watch porn if you want fap material.
      Maybe if he actually tried to play some other routes or even started playing it open minded on not biased like you can tell from his review he might have actually like it.
      But then again some people always need mindless action.

      • jackuars says:

        I believe that John shouldn’t have reviewed this game, who’s not even used to playing Visual Novels in the first place. I guess that if he had to review the classic masterpiece Ever17 or Fate/Stay Night, he would write the same thing, long, boring etc etc and these games are around 30-100 hours of playtime whereas Katawa Shoujo was around 10-20, the best playtime that you can get from a freeware visual novel.

        Most part of his review is like he’s not even interested with this genre, I believe he doesn’t even like to read books in the first place, then why write a review on this? This is not anything personal anyway, but I guess one who reviews a visual novel should be a die hard fan of it.

    • John Walker says:

      Just out of interest, what is my bias?

    • Gemberkoekje says:

      I won’t pretend to speak for Casshern, but what I think he means is that you don’t like Visual Novels, which is fine, and then project that on this particular game.

      The fact that Visual Novels aren’t the most engaging ‘un-games’ around (Using RPS terms now!) does not mean this particular Visual Novel is bad (or good, for that matter)

      It’s like saying Microsoft Flight Simulator is bad because it’s boring to virtually sit in a plane for hours on end. Now, I don’t pretend to like Flight simulators (I much prefer Simulated Crashes) but I’m aware that my opinion on flight simulators will rub off on my opinion of MFS if someone would ask (Which, luckily, they don’t)

      As the button says: Opinion, Away!

    • Lord Byte says:

      Well, most people don’t play DCS Black Shark for the explosions. They play if because they like to do a full start-up procedure and do a pre-flights check too, and then blow some shit up! Otherwise they’d play BF3 or Arma 2.

      I found out I’m not one of those people, I know I’m not one of those that likes playing those dating sims, especially if my interaction doesn’t bring anything more meaningful than what girl I’m going to pick. If I wanted fap material, I have the internet, then again the fact that it takes effort to reach it would make it more interesting for a lot of people. But there are other games out there that don’t take 4 hours ^_^

      Only thing I wanted to know if there was anything else meaningful in there, and since there isn’t (except the premise), I’m passing. It’s not that I don’t like to read, just don’t like to do it in my games, in which I expect interaction and meaningful choices.

    • Zanchito says:

      “The main objective isn’t to fuck crippled girls.” I SO have to say this at a project management meeting!

    • Chaz says:

      @ Gemberkoekje

      “The fact that Visual Novels aren’t the most engaging ‘un-games’ around (Using RPS terms now!) does not mean this particular Visual Novel is bad (or good, for that matter)”

      A badly written boring story, is a badly written boring story, no matter what format you put it in. Which is what I took to be the gist of Mr Walkers main complaint, not the format it was presented in.

    • DigitalSignalX says:

      The main objective is to experience this and make meme’s.

    • Snargelfargen says:

      What I took from the review was basicallly “too long, not much happened”, which is a valid complaint.

      Books can be long and still have a lot happening in them, you know. I’m sure it’s the same for visual novels. If I had to guess, the length is because KS was developed by committee, and they were all in love with the premise.

    • JohnnyMaverik says:

      @ Snargelfargen

      Actually quite a lot happens over all the possible paths.

    • Ckarasu says:

      I felt that it was a well written game. Sure, it goes on a tad bit too long on some parts, but it never reaches anywhere near tedious. This is coming from a guy who refuses to read most books because they are, in fact, tedious.

      John’s opinion is not the final say, but it seems as if some of you think it is. Most of the people I’ve talked to enjoyed the game a lot, and found the writing to be really good and the story to be enjoyable. I cannot take John’s opinion seriously. And why should I, if it’s not something in line with my experience? To me, he’s just another guy sharing an opinion I do not agree with.

  9. Echo Black says:

    I downloaded this, and “played” a bit, but don’t know if I’ll end up reading it all. I do feel it’s kind of great that people with disabilities are being sexualized for a change. It may well be objectifying girls with a kink in the end – but it’s pretty welcome in my book, considering how rarely (I can’t even think of another example!) people with disabilities show up in games, let alone as a main character + supporting cast.

    Just the fact this “game” is getting some visibility is excellent.

    • The Divine says:

      It doesn’t really turn them into sexual objects due to their disabilities, it’s just a story of emotional growth and romance framed by disabilities. It’s not about stumpfucking amputees, it’s about pursuing relationships with people who happen to be amputees or who happen to be blind or deaf.

    • Echo Black says:

      As I said, I’ve read very little. If that’s the case, even better.

    • Skabooga says:

      Adam Jensen had multiple amputations. He didn’t ask for that.

  10. Innovacious says:

    Didn’t expect rps to pick up on this one. Half the people i know are crazy for it and the other half are disgusted. Although, the half that are disgusted seem to be gravely misinformed about the game. Myself? I don’t really care either way, I’m just keeping to myself til the fuss is over.

  11. RaveTurned says:

    I refuse to say “it’s not a game”, because it is. It’s just one where you don’t get to do anything meaningful, as you’re told a massively long story about not very much. … [It's] scale is unquestionably impressive, and it’s obviously been a great deal of work. But I’m not sure I’ve gained anything from playing.

    From that description, sounds a bit like MW3.

    • Tyrone Slothrop. says:

      It’s this comment that reveals how fucking arbitrary and unhelpful deeming MW3 an ‘ungame’ is.

      Obligatory qualifier that I don’t like Call of Duty because some knee-jerker will conflate taking issue with asinine reasoning with a defence of the game in question.

    • Asyne says:

      @John Walker
      “I’ve only played a fifth”

      Correction, a fourth of a fifth. The first of four chapters in one of five character routes. Not counting dead ends like Whiskey Picnic and Rin’s ‘true’ end. It’s a lot of text.

      Remember though: most VNs don’t follow the rules of games – they say rather than show. They’re not like Planescape, King’s Quest, or Monkey Island, and more like Ace Attorney, 999, and (kind of) Fate/Extra. Exploring the mood of the moment and the psyche of the characters is what it’s about.

      That said, there are VNs that are more game-ish: the aforementioned Fate/Zero plays like a SMT game, Utawarerumono has a turn-based strategy element, and the Baldr series is a lot of fast-paced action. But KS is a flat VN whose biggest achievements are the use of an engine that wasn’t made in 1995, and that it’s pretty impressive for an indie VN done on a volunteer basis.

      Don’t expect to ‘get’ the game on first impression; there’s five years of related material that fed into the final product. Sharktopus, Rin bin, Saber Lilly, chocolate Hisao, “why do wear glasses if you’re deaf,” “HHNNNGGG,” and so on. Play it like you’d read a ‘choose your own adventure’ book with illustrations, not like the latest Obsidian release.

    • Ckarasu says:

      At least in this game, your actions have some effects on the plot.

  12. Domebuddy says:

    The writer has absolutely no experience with the topic, and obviously isn’t a fan of literature. I’m not sure what someone expects from a visual “NOVEL” besides a written story. The writer has a biased opinion and calls it a soft-core porn game even though each route (Which is around 3 hours each or more depending on reading speed) only has a few minutes of love making (which is rather tasteful for the most part).

    If you want a great choose your own adventure story that is fairly well written, You are going to want to read this. Don’t come into this expecting a gun and stuff to shoot at.

    I recommend the writer of this article rewrite it so it at least seems like he doesn’t hate reading.

    EDIT: I forgot the mention the key words in this review
    >And after speed-clicking through approximately 870 more scenes

    You didn’t even read it? How can you review something if you didn’t even properly play through it?

    • John Walker says:

      YEH! ME NO LIKE REDDING! REDDING 4 LUSERS!

    • Domebuddy says:

      This is how “professional” critics deal with factual criticism.

      When you do not actually read a novel, people are going to think you don’t like to read. Please correct me if I am mistaken.

    • GT3000 says:

      Speed-clicking is to be assumed that he read and wasn’t enamored with he story. To be fair it’s a dry story. Take away the stupid disabilities and it becomes what every VN becomes. A crappy dating sim. This is that, and I did bother to play. I wish I hadn’t.

    • Echo Black says:

      In John’s defense, these are meant to be Impressions, it’s not even framed under the “Wot I Think” review header RPS usually does. Don’t forget this is a blog as much as it is a news site, if not more so. If they wanted it “reviewed”, surely someone with greater affinity for the genre would be writing it.

    • Domebuddy says:

      This article is akin to a Heterosexual porn reviewer reviewing a gay porn.

      Or probably significantly more accurate, a novel reviewer, reviewing a first person shooter.

    • Blandford says:

      Oh come on John, you can do better than this! Say something about his Mom.
      But honestly, he’s raising an interesting point – considering most of the value out of visual novels (I assume, having never played one) comes from, well, reading and absorbing yourself in the story – you should probably clarify what you mean by “speed-clicking”.

      Also, you pissed off /v/.

    • GT3000 says:

      Somebody brought sexuality into the conversation! HIT THE DECK! [-Awaits impending explosion.-] Seriously though, it’s marketed as a video game not a visual novel. Visual novels don’t demand interaction in any fashion short of “TURN TO PAGE XX FOR YOUR CHOICE” if you count those R.L. Stine books…Damn those books were good.

    • Domebuddy says:

      GT3000, This is where you are wrong. This is marketed as a visual novel. Or Eroge.

      In fact, there is an entire website dedicated to archiving all visual novels of all languages and translations.

      VNDB.org

      Visual novel database.

      Check out the wikipedia article
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Visual_novel

      Try to educate yourself on the subject.

    • GT3000 says:

      I’ll pretend that you didn’t link me a wikipedia article and told me to educate myself.

      The point remains. Why bother with any interaction? Why not split it into 5 stories with each character and you just clicked “Play.” Done. Simple. This is a game, if the most basic one. This bears as much resemblance to http://www.pippinbarr.com/games/letsplayancientgreekpunishment/LetsPlayAncientGreekPunishment.html Ancient Greek Punishment as it does to any other game. It’s a poor game. The plot is subjective, it isn’t John’s or my cup of tea. It’s as deserving of critique based on opinions as any other work of art as it is of praise. It’s just a shitty game.

    • ericks says:

      At least you’re honest about it John.

      I can see why you wouldn’t like it then.

    • Domebuddy says:

      I linked you two websites. If you want me to give sources and better websites I sure as hell can. There are choices because it makes you feel more aligned with the protagonist. You said that “Choose your own adventure” books were awesome, and visual novels are just that. Some visual novels have dozens and dozens of choices, and splitting branches. It adds re playability, far more than any novel where the outcome never changes There are however visual novels with absolutely no choices, such as Umineko.

      You are promptly shitting on the entire visual novel community by saying it’s shitty in any way. This isn’t advertised as a game, Its a visual novel. yet you treat it like one and downplay it completely. I agree that it shouldn’t have articles on a reputable website where the community is more aligned with call of duty than Fate/stay night.

    • CaspianRoach says:

      This is a gaming blog, this is a game, and not a particularly good one in the gameplay department. Even the wikipedia article you linked states it being a game multiple times. From a standpoint of a gaming journalist it is a completely valid opinion not to like it as a game.

    • jrodman says:

      domebuddy, you are too easily hurt.

      A compelling story, visual novel, written page, or visual form, is going to work on a vast array of readers, regardless of their interest in the medium. This one must have been bad.

    • John Walker says:

      I think the piece is pretty explicit about what happened as I played, since I wrote it throughout. It was incredibly tedious, and when conversations were looping gibberish of no interest, I would click very fast, taking in the flashes of text and keeping up, without wanting to twist my mouse cord into a noose.

      I have not flagged this as a review, because I’ve only played a fifth, and because I did skim read a chunk of it. Instead, as is abundantly obvious, it’s an account of my experience with the game.

      It worries me deeply that people think not wanting to read through this massively overwritten, sophomoric dirge means someone does not enjoy reading. It’s precisely because I DO enjoy well written stories that this one frustrated me so much.

    • Casimir Effect says:

      Visual novels sound like they’re made or broken by their writing, more so than any other genre of game. So I imagine the main problem here is, as John says, the writing just isn’t very good; the sort that reads like some kid with a GCSE or maybe A-level in creative writing under their belt. The way so many Let’s Plays read when the author/player tries to write in character.

      Doesn’t matter how intriguing the themes are or how novel the plot/characters may be when it’s written with the same skill as a bad Final Fantasy 7 fan fiction. It’d be like an FPS where the shooting was dull or a laggy rhythm game.

    • tanith says:

      So… you took a game whose emphasis is on reading and skipped through the reading part (because you had no interest in the thoughts of the protagonist).
      … okay.
      Well then, I guess you should not play Mafia or something like that because it is just basically some dude talking about some crazy things he has done in his life. Just a hint to save you some time. :)

      Writing was excellent. Sure there were some flaws here and there but you probably should not expect something akin of Vance or Lem when you read this – well, those are also different categories.

    • lurkalisk says:

      tanith, the irony… Can’t… Contain… Grin…

    • mondomau says:

      @ Domebuddy. so I’d be careful bandying it around terms like ‘Factual criticism’ , since it’s fairly apparent that you don’t actually know what the term means. Nothing said in the piece is empirically wrong – it’s a factual recounting of the writer’s experience of the work, along with opinion on that experience.

      Further, it at no point claims to be a complete review – Walker is quite up front about his reluctance to fully engage with the text in it’s entirety and explains why. Your argument is invalid and, frankly, reeks of the injured pride of a zealous genre-fan.

    • apocraphyn says:

      Rage more, Domebuddy. Why the excessive defence? It gets a slightly negative reception from one voice on the internet and you can do nothing but argue inanely that since the author of this article disliked the story, he clearly dislikes reading in general. [spoiler]Though to be fair, I guess he is underlining the fundamental flaws of the majority of VNs.[/spoiler]

      Go back to your 200+ post KS threads on /v/ where you can continue raving about it, day after day.

    • Baka says:

      It’s great that you can always see which articles are getting linked all over the place, providing reactions from instantly recognizable first-time readers, just trying their hardest to understand “the writer” wrong.

    • cappy says:

      @John Walker

      “YEH! ME NO LIKE REDDING! REDDING 4 LUSERS!”

      Well, with comments like that and,

      “I was flipping through The Hobbit the other day, but to my dismay there was a whole chapter of words between every single picture. Needless to say I angrily hurled it at my sleeping cat. The worst comic book I’ve ever read.”
      – John Walker

      It’s no wonder! :3

    • Gap Gen says:

      It’s interesting how many people accusing John of not reading the text in the game properly clearly haven’t read the review properly.

    • cappy says:

      Hey man, he said it.

    • tanith says:

      @Gap Gen
      http://www.thefreedictionary.com/irony
      Read and weep.

    • FhnuZoag says:

      @John Walker:

      Still, I suspect you don’t like reading this sort of genre/writing style generally speaking, preferring something with a bit more, well, action. I mean, it’s alright not to, but it seems like on the internet there are people who like the game more and in fact praise it for its writing. My impression seems to be that the game lost you early, and once you were off it, you weren’t gonna get re-interested again.

      I haven’t played it yet, so I guess this is a pretty meaningless opinion.

    • Felix says:

      I thought the VN started off really well. Then I arrived at the school and he spent paragraphs-worth of sentences describing something I could already see. And doing so poorly, I might add. If the writing is all this “game” has to offer, then it doesn’t have anything to offer. I would prefer to read this as a book.

      I don’t think this makes a good CYOA since the story doesn’t reel you in, the CYOA part is almost nonexistent, and, as the author of the article stated, the details of boring shit is excessive and unnecessary. Unnecessary to me because the description takes its time with something we can already see, so what’s the point? Showing off bad writing skills?

    • Felix says:

      @tanith:

      He used “irony” correctly based on your link to the definition. Just sayin’.

    • Ckarasu says:

      @John Walker

      I wouldn’t call the conversations anywhere close to “dirge”. If we were to compare them to most games out there, then you’d see that the game is well written. Hell, even Portal’s dialogue seems childish in comparison, and I do think that Portal is a well written, but poor in every other respect, game. But, that’s the beauty of opinions. You’re allowed to have your own.

      My own opinion is that it’s a good story, with interesting characters. It’s written very well, and it has some pretty nice surprises in the plot.

      @Felix
      That’s not a really good complaint, to be honest. Most of the writing in the game is for dialogue. Act 1 is probably the worst offender of what you are complaining about, and subsequent acts do it much less. It’s not the best the game has to offer, it’s just the main character thinking to himself about what he sees.

    • Phantoon says:

      Huh, you can tell who normally reads RPS and is here because of this silly thing.

      But yeah, I was surprised it was looked at, at all.

    • Phantoon says:

      EDIT: Double post! Ignore me!

    • E_FD says:

      It must feel horrible to be surrounded by uneducated philistines who can’t appreciate the literary merits of anime porn memes from 4chan.

      I weep for our future.

    • Gap Gen says:

      tanith: I assumed your bone of contention with the article is that you believed the writing was good and the article did not. This is something that could be explored, but I don’t believe the article says or implies that games shouldn’t use blocks of text to convey information. When he criticised the descriptions of what was in each sock drawer, I inferred that he thought it was a terrible idea to do so because it’s a boring thing to do with no real information value, rather than wanting less text per se.

      My own instinct is that games should show and not tell, and that exposition is usually horrible and turgid, but then this applies to novels as well.

  13. kalelovil says:

    The problem is you (probably unwittingly) chose the Emi arc first.
    So did I, but my impressions of the game were a lot better after playing the Lilly arc.

  14. Casimir Effect says:

    “looks about 14. (She is in fact 18 according to the story.) ”

    This is the single biggest problem I always have with Japanese media, whether it be animated or a JRPG. Whenever there is a character who is obviously around 14 (or less, depressingly) but then is drawn to be incredibly attractive while also wearing very little and so gets a small sentance saying how she is 18 so it’s totally ok guys.
    Means the things I enjoy from Japan are very few and far between, as otherwise the whole thing makes me feel uneasy.

    • Echo Black says:

      If there’s grass on the field…

      (Sorry.)

    • NathanH says:

      Yeah, if there is a character who is supposed to be 18 but looks way younger and their appearance isn’t explained or touched upon, but instead is just assumed to be not weird at all, I’m going to feel pretty uncomfortable about it. Especially in something about dating.

    • cappy says:

      The thing that bothers me about that is that my fiancee is 20 and she does look 14. She get’s called out on it by everyone and can’t even see an R rated movie without being ID’d.

      Is it wrong for me to be attracted to her?

    • inawarminister says:

      To be fair, the entire reason she looks like 14 (the shortness) is because her legs are amputated below knee, and she wear prosthetic that was designed for her at… around 13-14 years old? I didn’t really remember if it was mentioned in her route or not (SCHOOL!!!), but that’s pretty logical, isn’t it?

      (Also, this comes from the West indie scene, not from Japan. Although it could be confused for a Japan-made VN easily… It’s that faithful)

    • Mad Hamish says:

      I guess it doesn’t matter if you’re 14. Which seems to be the age it’s aimed at judging by the fans. Like that Cappy troll fella.

    • bill says:

      The standard anime “actually she isn’t a 14 year old schoolgirl, she’s an 18 year old.” making everything all fine and legal.

      If only that worked in real life.

      “no officer, it might look like i shot that guy in the head and killed him, but actually I just gave him a hug – so it’s all fine!”

    • ripdog says:

      Ah, the good old American age guilt thing. Law aside, it’s almost like y’all believe there’s something morally wrong with having sex with under-18s. Leaving the silliness of deciding mental maturity based on physical appearance/age aside, to then take such fears into the fictional realm… You might want to take some lessons in distinguishing between reality and fiction. If you don’t, who knows what you may do?

      Looking at it another way, are you uncomfortable shooting people in other games? Is it okay to brutally murder people for no reason in GTA, but not okay to have sweet, loving sex with a young looking 18 year old in this? Keep up the double standard, America. If you aren’t American, I’m very sorry for calling you those names.

  15. GT3000 says:

    Oh boy, my girlfriend was telling me about this. Now I can treat her like a monster that she is and assert my masculinity.* Thanks RPS!

    * = Read as filthy as you please.

  16. zairekaboom says:

    I read it all. Shizune’s route is a real test of patience, it is not written well at all. The other routes are better and some stuff even caught me off guard. A lot of the character art and especially the short animations are very good for a free game. What baffles me is there are people on the Internet who are saying this is the best piece of literacy they have read. Read more, please… And stuff like this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=grP6Z0tMmYM

    • The Divine says:

      That video is disturbing. Everyone knows Lilly is the best girl, loving Rin over Lilly is just silliness.

  17. TurquoiseTail says:

    I’m so surprised this visual novel was covered, i started playing this 2 days ago when i stumbled upon it

    Played only 2hours and i failed my first playthrough miserably but it is surprisingly detailed from such a group of people, i hope the best for 4 leaf studios. I’m still playing it as of now

  18. hoodimin says:

    “Aw, man, what’s a visual novel! I have to read?! Hell no, I’m going to skip through all the text and go straight to the anal scene! And now that I’ve skipped everything in the game, I can safely say that its story sucks and has bad writing.”

    This is what you sound like.

    • RaveTurned says:

      Sounded more like “This poorly written text doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. Let’s skip forward a bit to see if it gets any better…….. No, no it doesn’t.”

    • InternetBatman says:

      No, it sounds like “God, not more of this crap. Lemme just get through this so I can finish the article.”

    • kemryl says:

      No, it sounds like a million voices crying out in unison, then suddenly silenced.

  19. JackDandy says:

    I played it and really enjoyed it, too- I did Hanako’s route, and I think I’ll try all the rest of the girls as well.
    Well, except for Shizune, she’s a boring bitch.

    I’m glad the devs managed to release it.

    And yes, I agree this isn’t exactly a “Game”, it’s more of a digital “Choose-your-story” book. Doesn’t make it any less worthy of a playthrough, though!

    EDIT: I definitely don’t agree with the whole “speed-clicking” thing. The whole basis of VNs is that you’re supposed to READ it, not play it. I’d suggest trying another route next time John- take your time, read everything, let it sink in and then make your choices.

    • NathanH says:

      I read the speed-clicking thing as analogous to the following situation when reading a book: “the book was too longwinded so when I got bored I skipped to the end to read what happens”. That’s a fairly normal thing to do with a book that you don’t like.

    • Hoaxfish says:

      Frankly, from the sound of it the “choice” part of “choose your story” was woefully underdeveloped. I’m guessing it’s nowhere near the levels of Fighting Fantasy.

    • JackDandy says:

      No, definitely not close to Fighting Fantasy.
      Japanese-style VNs are much more passive. As I said- I wouldn’t exactly call them games, but they’re still worth a try.
      Go into it with an open mind is my best advice.

    • gekitsu says:

      @nathanh
      my suspicion (not played yet) is that the writing is very slice of life-ish. thus, it deliberately gives everyday “tedium” a lot of space. you could call it unnecessarily longwinded just as much as you could call the lotr novels that, compared to the movie scripts.

    • maninahat says:

      @gekitsu Even in most slice of life stories, there is an overarching element of mystery or intrigue, so as to carry the reader through. If a hook isn’t provided, then all the story becomes is a list of mundane scenarios, with no reason for the reader to care about the characters or their situation. Take the manga Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou, which spends a great deal of time digressing over the making of coffee. That sort of indulgence can be tolerated because the reader is presented with a whole bunch of bizarre circumstances and mysteries, and the desire to solve those puzzles carries the reader through.

      In my experience of KS, the opening was excellent. It came across as authentic, interesting, and I felt sympathetic towards the protagonist’s frustration. But once the set up has been established, there is nothing to carry the reader on beyond “look, cute girls!” The girls have personalities, but there isn’t any mystery or overarching element to carry you into later acts. You are just stuck with boring conversations about student councils that go on far longer than necessary.

  20. bta47 says:

    2 problems with this review:
    1. You obviously hate the medium – that’s fine, but if you’re taking a bias like that into this VN, you’re not going to like it. Katawa Sojou is just a VN – a very well written, well done VN, but nothing more than a VN. Get someone who actually likes and/or is familiar with them to review this.

    2. You played through the two worst routes. Shizune’s route was just painful – Emi’s is okay, but I would not judge this game until you did Lilly’s and Hanako’s routes. Also Rin. But apparently you don’t like Rin, so I’ll let that one slide. Also, no Kenji’s manly picnic route, aka the most hilarious thing in the game.

    Just another part of the massive feminist conspiracy trying to keep this game down.

    • CaspianRoach says:

      1. It’s not a review.
      2. He couldn’t have known it beforehand and saying things like “there is a 40% chance that the choice you make without knowing would make the game more shit” really makes you think about quality control of the game.

    • John Walker says:

      Where has this bias thing come from?!

      I have no hate for the medium, because that would clearly be as nonsensical has hating books, or hating film. I ask the question about whether this is a game at the top, because it has been suggested to be one, and makes pretenses of being one.

      If this had been better written, and massively, massively edited, it would have been enjoyable.

    • MaXimillion says:

      How does it make pretenses of being a game? It’s referenced to as a visual novel on the official site and blog as far as I can see. Whether VN’s qualify as games is not clear-cut of course, but I don’t see KS being unclear about what it is.

    • malkav11 says:

      I can’t speak for the quality of this particular visual novel, because I can’t say that the subject matter interests me at all, but I would cheerfully recommend Chaos;Head or Fate//Stay Night to anyone curious about the visual novel medium. (Both are fan translations, and the Chaos;Head one in particular might be a bit tricky to come by because the translators were hired by JAST to work on official translations for Nitroplus VNs and promptly took out all their unofficial translation patches, despite there being exactly one official release to date (Deus Machina Demonbane) and no mention of Chaos;Head in their upcoming release schedule.)

      Chaos;Head contains zero porn, although the shut-in otaku-ness of the main character might be difficult to take for some (it’s a fully relevant aspect of the story, however, and has significant payoffs). Fate//stay night has a couple of sex sequences here and there amongst hours and hours of nonsexual content. You’ll want to skip past those – the writing noticeably suffers during those sequences and they’re pretty silly.

  21. ninesevenseventhree says:

    For those of you who are not already acquainted with the game, I beg you – please look to this excellently written and researched article by Leigh Alexander before you fall into a reflexive “oh ho Japan, oh ho cripple porn, oh ho reading” response. That would be so easy.

    I’m disappointed that John spent a great many paragraphs utterly missing the many points. Contention with the genre is one thing – to utterly miss a work’s context and subtexts in favour of complaining about the mechanics and throwing in cheap shots born from and seeking to reinforce lazy prejudices is just plain ugly journalism.

  22. gommywommy says:

    Maybe this short video could change your mind, John?

  23. Khemm says:

    When I opened the RPS front page this morning and saw some of these pictures, I honestly thought I had accidentally typed in the name of some hentai porn site.
    It took me a while to figure out everything’s OK.

  24. Baboonanza says:

    A question for those that seem to like visual novels, out of curiosity: Why would I ‘play’ a visual novel instead of reading an ordinary novel?

    To someone who doesn’t have a fetishistic interest in anime they just seem a pointlessly painful way to read something.

    • Domebuddy says:

      I dont think you thought into it enough or you would not have needed to ask. Novels generally don’t put you in the driving seat unless you are reading those classic choose your own adventure books. They don’t have you feeling directly attached to the characters, and you never make choices or drive the story in the way you prefer. When you actively decide that you want to follow that route, your feelings are a lot more involved because that was your individual choice, and not just an on rails experience. Another aspect is the art and music, you don’t get much to work with in a novel in that regard besides what your imagination gives you. (which sometimes isn’t really a bad thing).

    • DeliciousYogurt says:

      Visual novels appeal to the eyes and the ears as you are able to place images and music. There is potential for them to provide a better experience to people than ordinary novels. We have ears to listen with and eyes to see with and appreciate them. Also, the music can help amplify an emotion the author wants the reader to feel. For example, suspenseful music would have irregular rhythm to demonstrate uncertainty and unpredictability of the upcoming events. If presented well, a visual novel can provide a more effective entertainment experience than any ordinary novel can due to limitations.

      In my opinion. ordinary novels are better suited to illustrate messages through the story about humanity rather than be sources of entertainment.

    • Baboonanza says:

      Perhaps other visual novels are more interactive than this one but it certainly doesn’t seem to me (from John review) that there is much player agency here at all. And surely to be classified as a visual novel it must be very limited in interactivity or else it would be classified as some sort of ‘game’.

      In other words: At what point does the interaction become so limited that the exercise becomes pointless and the story would be better told using another medium? I would say that this game sounds like it’s easily crossed that line to me, since if you aren’t using the advantage of the medium (player agency) then you get all of the pains ( like having to click to get the next line etc) without any of the benefits.

      EDIT:
      @Delicious Yohgurt
      Fair enough I can see that point of view. Though to be honest it just makes it sound like a poor mans Movie. I suspect I’ll never understand though, like why anyone on earth thinks Battlestar Gallactica is anything other than pure dross.

    • unangbangkay says:

      VNs are different from regular books in the same way that a choose-your-own-adventure book is different from a standard novel. There’s choice in there, or at least the illusion of it. Also there are visuals. Higher-end titles have animation and more pictures.

      Yes, some VNs are definitely un-games. Some VNs are single-route affairs where the only benefit to choosing something other than the mandated one results in a grisly, vividly described death or simply a game over screen. But, there are others that are not. It may not have occurred to some of the more contemptuous types on these comment threads (seriously, they’re the type that give PC snobs a bad name), but visual novels are rather diverse and have their own set of subcategories.

      As an aside, Katawa Shoujo truly is impressive. It’s well-produced for a free indie affair from a first-time studio, and has earned a lot of acclaim in an environment that at times seems so hostile to anything remotely smacking of Japanese-ness.

  25. unangbangkay says:

    “I refuse to say “it’s not a game”, because it is. It’s just one where you don’t get to do anything meaningful, as you’re told a massively long story about not very much.”

    While I’m glad you’re not hopping on that particular bandwagon (because that bandwagon includes people who claim Minecraft isn’t a game), I think you’re missing the “meaningful” part. After all, the most meaningful part of EVERY dating sim (and most visual novels) is picking which girl/guy’s story to read.

    [Side note: Not all visual novels are "dating sims". It's useful shorthand given "that" type of content represents the majority of what's available in English, but as the medium diversifies it will unavoidably cause misunderstandings moving forward.]

    I’m in no position to tell whether or not your experience would be better had you bumbled into a different route, and I won’t begrudge you opting to stop when the game failed to deliver on your expectations (of engaging writing, story, what-have-you). BUT, you could say the same if you quit Skyrim after getting bored of those “Kill the Bandit Leader” random quests.

  26. GameCat says:

    Try it, seriously. I tried it because of “wut, visual novel about dating disabled girls made by guys from 4chan, DOWNLOADING NOW, THAT MUST BE SOME SICK SH*T”, but then – “BAM! surprise! It isn’t like you think, idiot!”
    Instead of some weird hentai VN (that’s first impression that KS give) we have beautiful, moving story.
    Hell, it almost made my cry and last thing I’ve read and almost made my cry was “The Road” by Cormack McCarthy. It also can actually teach you something.
    And if you didn’ want to try it, because of “omg, dating with girl without legs, how gross!” – go hang yourself.

  27. Eraysor says:

    The storylines are actually pretty good!

  28. MrBRAD! says:

    I was flipping through The Hobbit the other day, but to my dismay there was a whole chapter of words between every single picture. Needless to say I angrily hurled it at my sleeping cat. The worst comic book I’ve ever read.

    • cappy says:

      “I was flipping through The Hobbit the other day, but to my dismay there was a whole chapter of words between every single picture. Needless to say I angrily hurled it at my sleeping cat. The worst comic book I’ve ever read.”
      – John Walker

      That sounds like something he’d say anyway, lol.

  29. TheGreatSashimi says:

    Could anyone who’s played this give us a second opinion on whether the not-related-to-the-probably-interesting-disability-stuff dialogue is as inane and bloated as John found it?

    I’ve been considering trying this with the scuicky bits turned off so I can get a decent handle on the countless interesting internet conversations it’ll spawn in the coming weeks, but I still have post-traumatic-stress disorder from the first Golden Sun, and at least THEY were droning endlessly about dragons and magical locked doors and other non-sock drawer-related topics.

    I am both capable of and extremely willing to hold this experience to the same standards as I hold novels, it’s just that one such standard I hold for novels is to not pad things out with pointless characterizationless banter about the unending thrills of deciding on a locker combination.

    • Andy6000 says:

      Well, one thing John mentioned in the article was that the conversations with Shizune and Misha were confusing. In that scenario I don’t feel like the game (and I use the term because it’s simple) is doing any wrong by overly describing it. Talking to a deaf-mute individual through a translator IS rather confusing when the translator is also actively participating in the conversation, and the game conveys it well in the first act.

      At some points I do feel the descriptions can plod on, but overall it’s presented well. However, the routes do have different writers, and it is apparent. You might find a more enjoyable experience in some rather than others.

      EDIT: oh, and I don’t recall any descriptions at all regarding sock drawers. Just a bit of hyperbole John threw in, I’d assume? Perhaps my memory’s just a bit cloudy.

    • The Divine says:

      I think the quality of writing depends on which route you go down. I completed Lilly’s route, which I found to be genuinely moving, as it was about the main character coming to terms with his new life and disability with the help of the blind girl. The writing can be a bit clumsy in some places, but overall it was a fantastic story, and the sex scenes didn’t feel like fan service – they felt like a necessary part of the plot. I think it’s generally accepted that Lilly, Hanako and Rin are supposed to have the best written routes, so try one of theirs first. Emi and Shizune, which are the routes reviewed, I hear are less well written. Emi’s is supposed to be pretty boring until the final few scenes, and Shizune’s is poorly written as the other writers left before her route could be finished I believe. Definitely give it a try, but with one of the better routes.

  30. ffordesoon says:

    Yeah.

    Visual Novels are weird, because they’re the one genre that seems absolutely tailor-made for the iDevices, and yet there aren’t very many on there.

    To be clear, there are good visual novels, but there are plenty that are pure tedium. I, er, “got” *winkwinknudgenudge* Bible Black on a lark, and playing it was like slowly sawing off my own arm. While feeling shame.

    • SuffixTreeMonkey says:

      @ffordesoon: You’re right, in this particular case it’s because of the rather strange policy of the developers, who have no incentive in either opening the source code (even the translations!) to a wider community or porting the game themselves.

    • Domebuddy says:

      There are actually a surpising amount of VNs for PSP in japan, but there just isnt a market for it in the US because of people such as the reviewer who just tosses it out as “manga style” “softcore porn”

    • malkav11 says:

      There are iOS ports of several popular VNs that I’m aware of…they’re just not available in English. In fact, with only a few exceptions most of the well regarded visual novels are not officially available in English. I assume the feeling is that the massive amount of translation effort would not be rewarded with a commensurate degree of sales. So instead we get a big pile of porn and not much else.

  31. Schiraman says:

    A lot of people are talking about John’s “obvious bias” here, and how he hates visual novels, etc. but honestly that’s not how the article came across to me.

    My take is that John came to this visual novel without really knowing much about visual novels in general, and thus without really any bias – but found the story itself to be extremely boring. I don’t think finding it boring is a result of bias – honestly, from the details he describes, it sounds boring to me.

    It’s great that a lot of people seem to have really enjoyed the story. All power to them. But that doesn’t mean someone else is biased or ignorant for finding that same story boring.

  32. Deano2099 says:

    While a lot of John’s criticisms can be taken as more reflecting the genre as a whole, rather than this game, they’re also entirely fair. It’s easy to have blinkers on once you’re used to the genre but…

    They’re novels right? With some visual elements? Like an illustrated book with interactivity. The words are what are important. So why the hell are the words confined to 3 lines at the bottom of the screen while the static image that doesn’t change for 100 clicks sits there and takes up 80% of the space? Why not a smaller font, scrollable text, only needing to click on a scene change… VNs could be so much better if the common engines weren’t such utter failures of UI design.

    John – I hugely recommend checking out 9 Hours, 9 Persons, 9 Doors on the DS for this sort of thing done right – it has a whole second screen just for text, and also includes actual game with point-and-click room escape scenes. Plus no boobies. It demonstrates that there’s something to this sort of thing anyway…

  33. JackShandy says:

    My chosen path lead to a sex scene with the line “I looked down to see red drops of blood,” which is the last line I ever want to read in a sex scene. They managed to achieve simultaneous orgasm anyway, though, so maybe these anime kids know something I don’t.

    The writing presents an idea, then spends three sentences making sure you didn’t miss the meaning of it. If a girl comes in acting confident, the protagonist’ll be sure to go “This girl was confident. Very confident. Some might even say over-confident.” It’s like reading a game written by Wulf.

    Despite that, I found myself honestly moved when I got to the ending. I had a think, and came up with a reason: reading through the whole thing took me at least 9 god-damn hours. If I spend 9 hours with a character then shit, of course I’m going to become invested in their well-being. It’s the same principle that drives JRPG’s – if you spend 50 hours levelling up Tifa, you’re going to cry when she dies no matter how shitty her character is.

    • SuffixTreeMonkey says:

      I tend to agree — the game itself was moving to me, yet sometimes the sex scenes seemed off. Maybe the game would work even as a non-adult game? Well, it was the authors’ decision.

      Also, the writers aren’t the most experienced ones, and it sometimes feels rather amateurish (even John, as much as he’s angered all the true fans, has a point in that the amount of text could be reduced and yet it’d work), but it managed (for me, at least) to tell some moving, romantic stories.

    • DeliciousYogurt says:

      For that particular scene, the main character and the girl began their first time having sex. To me, the writer was not trying to make the sex scene erotic but rather show the main character’s perception of his first experience with having sex. The appearance of blood would make him feel awkward at first. And the rest is spoilers.

    • JackShandy says:

      I’m absolutely down with a game depicting awkward first-time sex; it’d certainly be novel, at least. The game’s decided to be about relationships with disabled women, it’s decided not to flinch when it comes to the sex bits of that, and it’s decided it’s going to tackle the awkwardness that comes with it. Got it.

      Where that falls apart for me is the bit where they don’t stop when blood is drawn. They continue, and they achieve simultaneous orgasm. That’s where the scene crosses the line into the ridiculous magical sexiverse from every other erotic anime. It just falls into all the bad stereotypes it’s trying to subvert.

    • apocraphyn says:

      “It’s like reading a game written by Wulf.”

      Thanks, Jack. That really made my day.

  34. GameCat says:

    Yeah, some dialogues are maybe a bit too long, but hey, it’s all about normal school life. Did you guys always had non-boring days in highschool, filled with some memorable events? Most days of our lives are copy of copy of copy. Wake up, go to school/work, go back home, eat something, play games/read book, eat something again, go to sleep, repeat until weekend. Same in KS.
    Or maybe I’m just the only one who didn’t fight with zombies or something. Damn.

  35. DarkHatman says:

    It was a pretty well written and deep game. Also Emi is the most sexually active one, the fact that you got her makes me laugh allot.

  36. QuickScopeSephiroth says:

    I had a very similar experience to the aeuthor’s, though, with another medium.

    Just the other day I decided to give “The great gatsby”, after hearing a lot of possitive reviews from it.

    To my surprize, though, I quickly found out it was not what I expected it to be, when I opened the book and found out that was actually composed of words. Literally, hundreds of words, all over the place. What the fuck is this? I kept on speed turning pages expecting a picture or two, but damn, that shit was borring. If it were a movie, it’d be like 400 hours long, and it’d be like a fucking huge monologue.

    Yeah, it was quite shitty, so I see where he’s coming from when he judges Katawa Shoujo.

    • Gira says:

      Yeah, except, you know, it’s a game, not a book.

      And the fact that you’re comparing one of the greatest works of American literature to this is kind of horrifying.

    • westyfield says:

      IT WAS A JOKE

    • Gira says:

      Yes. A bad one.

  37. Gira says:

    The debate is mostly unhelpful – it generally comes down to a person’s expectations of the game, and those not being met.

    Are you serious? The debate of whether games should need to have gameplay is unhelpful? At what point did we start accepting click-through narratives as games? I mean, sure, whatever, some people like them. I think they’re laughable as works of literature. (To The Moon was an embarrassment and the praise lavished upon it speaks volumes about the philistinism prevalent in the gamer/games journalist community.)

    But that’s beside the point – these things aren’t games, in any sense of the word. It’s not an Opinion thing or A Matter Of Taste. How can it be, when they actually defy any dictionary definition of what a game is? There are no rules, no systemic frameworks with which to interact, no agents (player or non-player) interacting with each other.

    It seems like this – like John Walker reviewing an erotic Japanese “visual novel” on RPS and softening his (completely apt) criticism of MW3 as being an “ungame” – is merely a symptom of a larger trend within the industry. The past decade has seen a strong movement away from any kind of systemic elements in games. It’s all about assets and asset tours now. Gameplay seems to be a lost, arcane art.

    Raph Koster summed it up pretty well quite recently. I won’t paste the text because long posts get eaten here, but you can find it here http://www.raphkoster.com/2012/01/04/making-games-more-cheaply/

    Pay attention to Rule 5. It’s so refreshing to hear this stuff after years of Emotional Narratives and Moral Choices and Everyone Likes Different Types Of Games.

    Actually, since it’s a blog post by a venerable games designer talking eloquently, exhaustively, and intelligently about a very serious problem in the industry, I’m surprised RPS hasn’t written anything about it.

    • wiredhuman says:

      Visual Novels exist as a genre since 1995. This particular is also a western one.
      Get your facts straight.

    • Gira says:

      At what point did I suggest they hadn’t?

    • malkav11 says:

      I submit that many visual novels may fit the definition of game only in the loosest possible sense, if that, but that that does not make them a symptom of some greater malaise affecting the videogaming industry…they’re just not trying to be games. They have other things to offer.

  38. Herbert says:

    Since I began reading RPS roughly three years ago, and registered an account, I have not made a single post.

    Walker’s gross bias against the visual novel genre was just about enough to rip out a post from me.

    What is a professional reviewer doing reviewing a visual novel ( the keyword is novel, folks ) when he dislikes to read? More so, why is this professional reviewer freely admitting that he skipped all the text; dialogue; the entire point of a visual novel, after the first 30 minutes – 1 hour? If Walker did not even bother to get soaked into the story, or at least try to stick with the material for longer than a passing moment before forming a crude opinion and spewing it as an RPS Feature, why bother reviewing it in the first place? The man states that yes, this is a visual novel, but then completely ignores the fact and complains about tropes and elements which are at the core of a visual novel?

    Visual Novels are for the most part, dating sims. Relationship simulators. Games for individuals who would like to experience a romantic story with characters that pique their interest. The by far unique feature of KS is something no one rarely touched upon, disabilities. And the game portrays that element perfectly, a life of a disabled student forming relationships with other students in similar circumstances.

    Obviously bored and uninterested in the story, and more than certainly the genre as a whole, what was Walker expecting as he mashed the left mouse button until the closing credits? A sudden change in genre? An anal minigame? An end boss to defeat?

    When I read an FPS review, I expect an actual review, not a five paragraph features post consisting of complaining over; the superhuman ability to carry more than one or two weapons, the strange ‘using a mouse to aim your gun’ mechanic, and the lack of dating and social interactions with possible homosexual scenes with my fellow comrades.

    Why should reviewing a VN be any different?

    I apogolize for this verbal diarrhea, and for the record, I whole-heartedly dislike VNs, for many reasons Walker has stated. But at least I know what kind of waters I dip my toes into when I boot one up.

  39. DeepSleeper says:

    “You should totally try our niche product. Everyone would like it if they gave it a chance.”
    “I didn’t like it.”
    “YOU’RE THE PROBLEM! IT’S YOU! YOU DID IT WRONG!”

    – Every fan/outsider/fan conversation on the internet.

    • Gemberkoekje says:

      Did you even read the comments?

      I don’t know whether this ‘game’ is good or not, I can’t as I haven’t played it (And playing it at work doesn’t seem like the brightest of ideas)

      The only thing I and some other people are saying is that you should compare Visual Novels with other Visual Novels, and not to, say, Battlefield 3.

      As you shouldn’t compare Microsoft Flight Simulator to X3:Terran Conflict. Yes, they both have flying craft, but that’s where similarities end.

    • DeliciousYogurt says:

      I would find this believable if the writer didn’t reply to a reasonable comment with sarcasm.
      I would find this believable if he didn’t oversimplify the game to be “cripple porn” or “teenage romance”
      I would find this believable if he didn’t tick off every character interaction by saying that he doesn’t care.

    • galifer says:

      First and foremost, I would like to say that Katawa Shoujo is a Visual Novel, not a Dating Sim.

      Now, I’m not a fan of Visual Novels as a whole, but I doubt KS was marketed for everybody. I think 4 Leaf Studios created this for long fans of the Visual Novel medium, the only reason KS is getting this much attention from others is because it came from one of the most infamous sites on the internet.

      This makes me question why RPS even bothered making a review about it. It’s pretty obvious that the author isn’t a fan of the medium, so why go through all the trouble?

      If John just jumped the bandwagon in playing this then it’s no wonder why he’s pretty much ignorant in how Visual Novels work.

    • bill says:

      Are you guys trying to illustrate DeepSleeper’s point?

  40. awfulreview123 says:

    it’s a game about reading and you stopped reading not even halfway through the first act.

    you said the stories not interesting or engaging but you never even gave it a chance.

    this is like reviewing a book by reading the first chapter, skipping the next 50, and skimming the last 5.

    • Hanban says:

      Did you stop reading the impressions piece halfway through?

    • Kizor says:

      I don’t know, John said he put well over an hour into it first. If I read for well over an hour and didn’t find anything to hold my attention, I’d more than likely put down or skim the book (or website or game). It’s all well and good if a work gets better later on, but too late and the good bits can’t redeem the whole.

      I’m not familiar with visual novels myself. If you are, do they usually take a long time to get interesting? What is a reasonable amount of time for bearing with them?

  41. Chicago Ted says:

    I hate to call it a dating sim, which is a different genre all together, those rpg sorta things you can find plenty of examples of on Newgrounds.

    Well, you gave it a shot I guess. Sounds like VNs are less your speed than, say, manshoots.
    I sort of get the impression you’re not big into reading like books and stuff.

    Also you can press space to advance, and yeah the auto mode is hella slow.

  42. Shazbut says:

    Well done for covering this, John. Many visual novels have this endless “slice-of-life” stuff that’s never been my cup of tea either. Of course, many don’t.

    You should try “YU-NO: The Girl That Chants Love At The Edge Of The World”. It’s 40+ hours and tight as a nutshell, the story constantly moving forward, and it’s more interactive than any other visual novel I know.

  43. Cinnamon says:

    If this sort of thing qualifies as a game then everything does. Myself I don’t want to read a review on a games blog of someone going out to buy milk and bread. Even if the queue was particularly realistic and the feeling of achievement as they checked the reward points on their receipt was particularly piquant.

    I feel that as time goes on there should be some base line ratio of active involvement to doing shit that you might have been doing if you were not playing a game.

    • inawarminister says:

      It’s a freaking visual NOVEL, no one said it’s a game.
      I mean, sure, VN is a genre of gaming, but it’s as different from normal game, as simulations are.
      Surely you won’t compare a train simulation (or janitor simulation, we have those from the Germans, right?) to a normal game, right?
      So don’t compare the visual novels with normal games, too. They’re really, really different.

      Just my two pence.

  44. McCool says:

    Wait, what? Katawa Shoujo …on RPS? I’m in disbelief here. This is so far out of left-field, this game is a bit much even for the KG of legend’s tastes, surely? This is a specialist, disabled-girls porn game made by 4chan. RPS’s remit turns out to be bigger than any of us ever guessed…

    While the genre has been used with genuine artistic intent (my first game is an arty VN for gawds sake), I’m not sure Katawa Shoujo is the best example of this. It really is a porn game made by the most depraved website on the internet, with the sole intention being titillation. You did understand this when you started playing, correct?

    Oh who am I kidding, RPS just did an article on KS. I’m over the moon.

    • The Divine says:

      It’s not a porn game though. In the 7 or so hours I spent playing through one of the routes, there was approximately 3 or 4 minutes which could be considered porn. If it was solely for sexual gratification, it would fail by getting the ratio of good story to porn way off.

    • zairekaboom says:

      Not made by 4chan if we go by this comment made by one of the writers: http://ks.renai.us/viewtopic.php?f=13&t=4896&start=330#p67557 The team was more than 20 people.

    • McCool says:

      It’s porn in the same sense as an erotic novel is porn. The point here is titillation, and you shouldn’t forget that. Everything has been written with the express intention of getting the player to fall in love with the girls, build a relationship with the girls in which the player imagines he or she is a part of, and then there is a pay-off, which includes sex. It’s smut. Not to say it’s bad smut, there are totally awesome examples in this genre (KS isn’t a game I’ve completed) where really compelling stories are told, that include titillation throughout. I have nothing against the genre, I’m just surprised to see John (of all people, though maybe Alec would’ve been even better!) writing a piece on a Visual Novel, especially one like KS. I guess there was always the chance John was going to cry ;).

      EDIT: @zairekaboom
      That seriously surprises me. /a/ definitely acts like it made the game. /a/’s not a board I frequent, but I guess you can at least say KS came out of the 4chan subculture, even if the majority of the devs don’t browse the site currently. Is that fair?

    • JackShandy says:

      McCool, it’s only really porn in the way that a Romance Novel is porn. The idea that point of the entire thing was to pick a girl to fuck hung over my head at the start of the game, too. When it comes, though, the sex feels more like a bored concession to the genre than anything else.The 3 minutes of sex occur hours and hours before the real payoff at the end of the game (Which is, in the path I chose, the decision to spend your life with this girl).

      It’s the game equivalent of Mills and Boon. I’m honestly surprised it’s made for men. Guess guy gamers are a gentle group.

    • The Divine says:

      The game is loesely linked to /a/, as the creators met and initially organised themselves on 4chan, and early in development they asked /a/ for ideas. After that though, they worked pretty much independently from the chans, so it can’t really be considered “that game by 4chan where you fuck disableds”.

    • MaXimillion says:

      Have you actually read through KS? The sex scenes are hardly the end of any of the relationships, and they’re hardly written to titillate (in comparison to pretty much any VN or piece of erotica I’ve read, the descriptions of of sex are short and not very, well, fappable).

    • McCool says:

      Erotica doesn’t necessarily equal detailed descriptions of copulation. Quite often it’s more about the emotions of the characters themselves, drawing you into the romance of it. What qualifies games like KS as smut to me is the gamey aspect of it. You are introduced to several attractive girls, you pick one and this character your character will fuck. As gross a simplification that might seem there is an unavoidable kernel of objectification here. Whether you like it or not, alongside the innocent narrative in one very important aspect this game is the same as The Witcher with it’s sexcards.

      What is so weird and wonderful about the genre of VNs is how they manage this dichotomy. Formally speaking these are the most sexist games ever made – you pick a girl, pick the right options and then you fuck her. What’s interesting is that within the plots of these games you also tend to see some of the most fleshed out, realised and nuanced female characters in gaming. VNs have a habit of at once between a tale of two characters taking part in a well written, realistic romance, and also a game where you pick the girl you fancy the most, guess the right responses and are rewarded with a successful romance (that at one point will involve a sex scene or two!).

      I’d love to see a piece exploring this on RPS, but that isn’t what we got. Don’t Take it Personally, Babe, It Just Ain’t Your Story subverted this aspect of the dating VN brilliantly and was rightly praised for it. KS is more down the middle, more smutty, only really worthy of note due to it’s connection with 4chan, and the extraordinary subject matter. There are much better (and much, much (much) worse) written Visual Novels out there.

    • Hisui says:

      You must be very easy to “titillate”.

      Katawa Shoujo’s sexual moments are less vivid than non-erotic movies and books that vaguely depict sexual activity at some point, of which there are a lot. They really purely drive the point of “love-making”, bonding between the protagonist and the heroines, home, and nothing else.

    • McCool says:

      EDIT:

      My first reply to dip into Lacanian psychoanalysis and feminist cultural theory ended up being the first marked as spam. It’s like my university’s Philosophy essay marking system all over again.

      I repeat:

      @Hisui

      Which is my point, really. KS offers this strange, perverse objectification of those exact values in its gamifacation. This game openly fetishes not only the idea of sleeping with a disabled person, but fetishes the idea of romance with someone who is disabled. Whether this is good or bad, it is really, really interesting. I’m of the opinion that the focus on, as you say, love-making doesn’t detract but adds too Katawa Shoujo’s inherent smuttiness, but that culturally this is a good kind of smut to have. Society has already objectified a certain type of female figure. I’m of the opinion that perhaps the way isn’t back but forward – let’s objectify everything, and everyone! As Zizek says in his best Lacanian vein, Enjoy Your Symptom!

      Not that I think KS is intentionally feminist. I think it is a fairly typical smutty take on a fetish, in the ever-lovely form of a VN. Even though it’s not really for me, I can’t help but love it for what it is.

  45. Teddy Leach says:

    Impressions piece, guys. Impressions. Calm down.

    I mean, how DARE John have a different opinion to you? How DARE he. Naughty John.

  46. Dobleclick says:

    People who call this VN a good read make me sad and frightened. It’s crappy as a game (ok, maybe it isn’t meant to be a “game”), but it’s even worse as a novel.

    In any case, maybe RPS shouldn’t have covered this here. Its relevance to “PC Gaming” is tangential.

    • MadTinkerer says:

      Visual Novels are a genre on the fringes of PC gaming. RPS is, and I say it should be, just as much about the fringes of PC gaming as the mainstream of PC gaming. If you want mainstream, stick to Joystiq and Gamespy and Kotaku and such.

    • McCool says:

      Tangential is what RPS does best though! Maybe you are right, I don’t know. KS definitely has a cultural significance to a lot of people. But where will this road take us? Are we going to see RPS cover Violated Heroine now?! (Google at your own risk).

    • InternetBatman says:

      I think a bunch of people were also pushing for a review.

  47. MadTinkerer says:

    Meanwhile Sakura Wars combines this sort of thing with super sentai (Power Rangers / Ultraman type stuff), steampunk, turn-based tactical combat, and a bajillion different story and conversation branches. Most of the series is only available in Japanese, but So Long My Love did come out for the PS2 not that long ago.

    So yeah, it’s not a PC game, but if you have a PS2 and are curious to see a really good example of this genre (which throws in steampunk, turn based tactical combat and pseudo-Power Rangers type stuff into the mix), you can still get Sakura Wars: So Long My Love for cheap.

    • InternetBatman says:

      I loved the combat portions of Sakura wars (have it for the wii), but kind of hated the filler portions. I don’t hate reading, Planescape Torment is my favorite game and I wish less games had all their lines voice acted so we could see more verbose writing. I did hate the UI, I hated all QTEs (please just let me read stuff at my own pace in my own time), hated a lot of the voice acting, loathed the saving system, and thought the premise was stupid (use Broadway mechs to fight evil black guys with the power of love). My girlfriend, who enjoyed watching it, said she wished it had just been an anime and I think the developers did too. I think large parts of it didn’t translate, but generally found that the tedium of daily life mixed with the tedium of verbose writers, bad UI, and fun combat still made a tedious game.

    • malkav11 says:

      There is a Sakura Wars anime. Possibly more than one, I’m not sure.

  48. Chaz says:

    I don’t even know what 4chan is, does that make me old?

    Anyway if your character has a weak heart, is it wise to be engaging in any sexual excitment?

  49. Leman says:

    One of John’s favourite games is The Longest Journey. A game filled with reading and reading and reading. Also using the power of subjectivity its also this “massively overwritten, sophomoric dirge”.

    Its ok though because it made John cry.

    • jrodman says:

      Please bring more to the table than this.

      The criticism wasn’t “it had text in it.” If that’s all you got out of the article then it’s pretty fair to turn lens on yourself.

    • InternetBatman says:

      If he likes one game with tons of reading, and dislikes another one doesn’t that mean that the qualitative difference was elsewhere?

  50. Spakkenkhrist says:

    As a previous poster astutely mentioned this is an impressions post not an outright review so John has posted his initial impressions and I think it goes to show the ludicrous level of thoughtless devotion this genre seems to attract by the reactions of some posters, you are (presumably) grown men getting worked up about somebody’s thoughts on a game about relationships (be it sexual or otherwise) teenage girls, get some perspective.

    • inawarminister says:

      Oi, I’m 16, and I really, really love this game (and has started recommending it to friends and all)
      Am I count as a grown man now? Can I now drink in pubs and smoke and everything! Yay!

      (also, if you say: This game is for adults, it’s not for you kids; in my country, it’s still legal for minors to play this kind of game, yay!)