Wot I Think: Katawa Shoujo

The Internet’s Leigh Alexander gave us her take on visual novel, Katawa Shoujo.

It’s with a mix of amusement and chagrin I admit my career as a game journalist might well have never taken off if it weren’t for the erotic visual novel genre. Some of my earliest writing explored the “weirdest” games I could find – bunny girl dating sims, teenage girl “training/raising” games, brutally sexual supernatural murder mysteries, and stuff like that, and I think my work was recognized fairly early on in my development as a writer just because I was pouring so many words onto stuff no one else would touch.

I put “weird” in quotes, by the way, because I actually tasked myself with understanding and explicating them. And when you do that, these games don’t actually seem all that weird. What else would a niche, shut-in audience of otaku want but a gameplay experience that blends anime porn tropes with emotional simulations of human drama – without any possibility of becoming stuck or frustrated, since visual novels are indeed more “story” than “game”?

The stories in visual novels commonly deal with deeply-damaged people, and commonly put the protagonist in the role of hero. Through his interaction with the game’s characters, he generally “rescues” one or many girls (more rarely, women) from herself, or from some more quantifiable aggressor. Common themes: Girl is too stubborn to let anyone love her, girl is terrified of interaction with others, girl is imprisoned by low self-esteem (or by some kind of demon bondage queen that presumably represents her low-self esteem, or something).

Eroge protagonists are usually and for obvious reasons a kind of cipher whose first-person inner monologue goes rather logically with the flow of the story, interspersed with occasional bursts of aggression – a lot of times you don’t even see his face, only a looming male shape attached to a penis during the sex scenes. At other times, his job as stand-in for the player is more direct, and he can be tasked with working out issues of his own by interacting with the girls in the story.

The result of this structure is you can have games where, say, a young detective learning to stick up for himself rescues a bunny maid by having really rough sex with her, which bestows upon her the emotional wherewithal to finally quit the abusive sex café where she’s been working, and the game ends with them falling in love and getting married and having kids. I mean, I just now made that up (as far as I know!), but that’s actually a plausible scenario for this kind of game.

And as silly as that sounds – how could that be erotic or meaningful to anyone, you wonder – I still maintain that those games quite reasonably and often fascinatingly knit with the needs of their audience, especially in the form’s modern state. Japanese anime and manga seems to be getting awful self-reflexive these days, with popular series in the past couple of years focusing on characters that are richly similar to its audience members rather than caricatures thereof, or incisively examining traditionally-popular genres.

Maybe nerdy superfans aren’t obsessed with their cartoons, comic books and games because they want escapism; some clearly want to use those things to work themselves out and to connect with others who feel the same. You can’t help but have a little compassion for that.

I heard the early criticism of 4 Leaf Studios’ Katawa Shoujo. It was slow, it was boring, it was weird teenage girl porno, it was disturbing fetish stuff. There was too much clicking and not enough to do, too much reading about stuff “no one” cares about. That’s what I expected to hear regardless of whether it was true or not. Most people don’t understand the genre and it isn’t for them. Visual novels are for people who like visual novels, and I am not especially convinced that anyone will ever make a Japanese-style eroge that will convert those who don’t.

The genesis of Katawa Shoujo is absolutely fascinating. It seems to me the developers of the game take care these days to distance themselves from 4Chan, but it’s in that culture – ground zero for the precise breed of misunderstood escapist trying to work themselves out that visual novels tend to address – the demand for Katawa Shoujo was birthed.

How did the Internet Hate Machine dig up such lavish compassion, erotically-charged as it is, for disabled girls? Rather than repeat myself, I’ll direct you to this bit I wrote back in 2010 – if you’re confused, horrified, don’t get why Katawa Shoujo exists or who would want to play it, et cetera, you should read it. The backstory’s very important.

Bearing in mind that the game is a crowdsourced fan project, it’s sort of incredible that it exists, is finished, in the first place. It’s a massive undertaking. And it’s absolutely, inarguably incredible how much polish there is on it. Overall, it’s not just “good for a fan project”, it has elements that would stand out in its genre if it were a commercial release. Whatever else, you’ve gotta give ‘em that.

The game also seems genuinely interested in exploring the challenges of relationships among people with compromising illnesses and disabilities (Hisao, the game’s protagonist, has a heart condition and feels uncertain whether it’s worth planning for his future after school). And it’s admirably complex – for example, the easy get would be to make the girls labor under predictable “alas, I’m broken, how can you love me” tropes, but they are more elaborate than that, affected more by the things they’ve lost or come to fear because of their trauma than by whatever physical shortcoming with which they live.

Nor does it fetishize the girls’ disabilities as one might expect; they are details of the girls’ bodies that are described with equal weight as would their eyes, hair, or any other trait. Hisao frequently struggles with his own reactions to disability, wrestling with whether to ignore the fact that, say, Rin has no arms and eats with her feet, or to treat it as nothing to avoid and ask her about it. Ultimately it’s a game about relationships between people who happen to be disabled and certainly not a “cripple girl sex sim” (nothing, Mom, just reviewing my cripple girl sex sim, how are you?).

I’m loath to say that might actually be the problem. Or part of it.

Because there’s certainly nothing erotic about it. There isn’t a lot of sex, and what there is induces hard cringe. Sex between teenagers is supposed to be awkward and confusing. Teens have no physical confidence, unrefined self-expression skills and no self-awareness, I get it. They make a hash out of it and it’s overly mechanical and even silly – so why would you want to render that literally in a game that’s supposed to be a fantasy, the way this game does? The anal scene Walker described in his impressions is even more ridiculous than it sounds: good thing Emi’s track captain is gay, because there’s flavored lubricant in the gym supply shed! Really?

The descriptions are too mechanical to be emotionally intimate, and too focused on function to be arousing to anyone. For example, I’m all for safe sex and everything, but I would hazard a guess that even when the staff of Planned Parenthood describe their sex fantasies, nobody pauses to describe the fetching, unwrapping and application of a condom the way Katawa Shoujo, in a jarring show of social responsibility, does. Like, go ahead, take advantage of the burned girl’s terror of abandonment and do her, just make sure you use protection!

In the most ruthless twist, the “erotic” CG is about the only time in the game that the art gets poor (except for the drawings of male characters, but that’s normal in the genre). It’s like the developers wanted to make something sexual, but were afraid to. Or didn’t know how.

Maybe I should back up; maybe Katawa Shoujo isn’t supposed to be a romantic fantasy. Or a sex fantasy. Maybe it’s supposed to be an interactive coming of age story… or relationship story… or… something. I don’t know. Katawa Shoujo doesn’t know what it wants to be, either. Perhaps that’s the product of being made by a collective, but it’s a fatal problem.
I just don’t see why anyone would be drawn to play an erotic novel about disabled girls if they wanted an agonizingly slow-paced, text heavy story about a guy adjusting to life at a private school and dating. I think Katawa Shoujo wanted so much to be moral, to be respectful of its subject matter, that it actually forgot who it’s for. I mean, I’ve been playing the thing for weeks, and I’ve played a million games like it, and I still can’t tell who it’s for.

And it pains me to say this. It kills me to say this. I wanted to be the one who would show up and defend this fascinating project that so many people spent years of their lives on, explain that detractors just aren’t the target audience, don’t “get” the genre. But I can’t.

On the macro level the characters have interesting, plausible narrative arcs, but they unspool in such excruciating and mundane detail that you won’t care by the time you get to the payoff – either the sexual one or the emotional resolution. “Too much reading” or “too much detail” is often a criticism that people who don’t like visual novels, which are about reading and details, levy at the genre. But this just isn’t good reading. They aren’t useful details. The prose is concrete-legged; it defies engrossment.

We’re also given no reason to care for Hisao, who regardless of whose path you pursue seems to attach to the female character literally out of a lack of knowing what else to do with himself. Background characters are unsettling, given grating “quirks” that make me wonder if the creators intended to imply that people with mental and social illness are being treated at the special school, too. Hisao bonds with girlfriends through jaw-droppingly dull and repetitive conversations and behaviors; runs at the track, visits to the nurse, trips to a teashop, shopping for groceries. Again and again. I mean, maybe the game wants to make a statement that those routines are… no, no.

It hardly even matters that the game gives you so few choices to branch the plot. Narratively it’s murderous. The story is bad. The sex is bad. Whether your reason for playing a disabled girl dating sim is you like dating sim stories, you like sex games, or you like disabled girls, you will not be salved. There is absolutely nothing pleasurable or compelling about Katawa Shoujo, save for the fact it exists.

Yet that’s no small thing, its existence, that it was born entirely from a strange internet culture nebula and the dogged effort of those devoted to bringing it to life. I can’t look at the hundreds of thousands of posts on the forum, fan works and art on message boards, I can’t look at how loved Katawa Shoujo and its characters are by those who made it possible and those who deeply wanted it to be born and say I’m not glad of its existence.

That it exists says so much about games as a medium of cultural expression that it doesn’t even really matter to me if the game is “good”. The internet made, lovingly, a game about romance with disabled girls. That’s so weird; that’s so wonderful.


  1. CaspianRoach says:

    What? A girl writing articles on RPS? Preposterous!

    • necromental says:

      That’s not funny.

    • Zaboomafoozarg says:

      I LOL’d a little

    • Acorino says:

      necromental, you better check your funnybone!

      But this was a great read! I’m not sure if I’d have played it anyway if it was lauded here because I’m not particularly intrigued by the visual novel genre…

    • Snids says:

      This is a shit top comment.

    • eks says:

      Ugh, I feel embarrassed about this comment being up here.

    • Lord Byte says:

      It’s the counterstrike Beta 5.0: Retail values (made by gearbox) but still a flawed game in the end.

    • Metonymy says:

      Why am I reading another review, if the consensus is that it’s a fan project that sucks?

      By the way, the author finds the rote description of sex tedious because she is female. Men don’t care about the romantic subtleties, because it’s just the physical act that matters to us. That’s why we’re instantly bored once it’s over. For the next 5 minutes or so, anyway.

    • zairekaboom says:

      Lol @ all the white knights here. Try that in KS… and learn!

    • Phantoon says:

      I happen to enjoy the lovely miss Leigh’s articles quite a bit.

      She should write here more often.

    • Dhatz says:

      the way I catch it she wrote it FOR not ON RPS. At least my comment doesnt attempt to be funny.

    • RobF says:

      “By the way, the author finds the rote description of sex tedious because she is female.”

      Yes, that’ll be it. Good spot.

      Hang on.

    • TCM says:

      “By the way, the author finds the rote description of sex tedious because she is female.”

    • jrodman says:

      You don’t have to be a white knight be annoyed with a derailing first post.

      I’d report it, but I have no real hope for the discussion on this article in any event. *Mope*

    • Shortwave says:

      That made me laugh, ha.

      But now makes me think again, RPS should have a female writer. : P

    • mondomau says:

      It wouldn’t have been a derailing top comment if you’d all just ignored it as a bad joke. Instead you all had to mouth off and bloat the thread.

      Yes, I’m aware of the irony.

    • sinister agent says:

      By the way, the author finds the rote description of sex tedious because she is female. Men don’t care about the romantic subtleties, because it’s just the physical act that matters to us. That’s why we’re instantly bored once it’s over.

      I have not enough face to palm.

    • MD says:

      I have ample face, and too little palm! By our powers combined, we can perhaps produce the appropriate response to that little gem.

    • sinister agent says:

      Captain Cringe will be very upset if we summon him at this hour.

    • Adventurous Putty says:

      Someone shoot me to put me out of my misery.

    • mxzcastdf says:

      A new online shopping platform!

      I recommend a! link to c7r.de

  2. CMaster says:

    So it’s really polished and well made, but everything about it is bad? I’m a little confused there.
    Also, I followed that link to Kotaku. Now I feel dirty.

    • Acorino says:

      Well, you can’t polish a turd, I guess…

    • Leigh Alexander says:

      It isn’t logically exclusive. High production values don’t bear on gameplay or story at all.

    • CMaster says:

      I’ve read through again and see that I didn’t quite parse it right. I’d initially had para 11 saying “not just good for a fan project, but good for an eroge visual novel” – but on rereading I see that you were just trying to say it was high quality for a VN in production values terms.

    • Tams80 says:

      Well, as the article says; it depends on what you consider ‘bad’.

    • Tacroy says:

      So what I’m hearing is, this is the Modern Warfare 3 of visual novels?

    • Goldeneye says:

      In what way does the analogy make sense?

      Modern Warfare 3 is a highly polished multi-million dollar game in an established franchise that delivers what its predecessors always have: Big action and gunplay.

      Katawa Shoujo is an amateur production, the first of its kind (and the last), that has comparatively high production values for its genre despite not a single cent going into its production.

      In terms of story, I found the latter significantly more engaging and more relevant than the former.

    • TurquoiseTail says:

      I finished the entire thing and enjoyed it, isn’t that what matters most? having fun ?

    • TCM says:

      There is no such thing as a guilty pleasure, there is only a game you are wasting your time with when you could be playing something good.

      (I know somebody who actually has this opinion)

  3. Zaboomafoozarg says:

    Meanwhile in Japan

    • inawarminister says:

      Well, the game is *extremely* popular in Japanese underground circles too…
      People even learning English just to play this game. I don’t know what’s to believe anymore…

    • Nick says:

      hah, thats amusing as its often the other way around for “dating sims” and learning languages..

    • cckerberos says:

      Where did you hear about the game’s popularity in Japan?

  4. Faldrath says:

    Leigh should write here more often, really.

    I played through one of the storylines (Shizune) to see what the fuss was all about, and my impressions were broadly similar to the article: props to the team for the effort, but the result is immature (*not* in the sense of juvenile or silly, but in the sense that it displays lack of experience, writing/editing techniques, etc.). Hopefully the team will move on to better things in the future.

    • inawarminister says:

      Yes, of course, they’re only amateurs who volunteered for free…
      That it was even completed was… surprising, to say the least.

      (Also, I’ve not played Shizune’s route, but everyone keep saying that it’s the *worst* route on #KS.
      I recommend you to play Lily’s or Rin’s route next. Emi is a bit too… normal? I guess. Also a bit awkward. Whilst Lily seems to be the best overall. (Or is it Hanako? People keep disagreeing on the internet)

    • Leigh Alexander says:

      I thought Rin’s was most interesting.

    • zairekaboom says:

      While the rest of the writing was sort of ok, Shizune’s path is just painful to go through. Some Kenji and Misha parts were just about worth the 7-hour slog, though!

    • Eddy9000 says:

      +1 to Leigh writing here more often, this is just the kind of thing I come to RPS to read. I work as a psychologist in an adolescent mental health service and itthis article made me think about the way adolescence and disability is constructed by a mass media that is probably more male dominated than any other.

    • Keith Nemitz says:

      echo: “Leigh should write here more often.”

    • Shih Tzu says:

      I too must contribute to this groundswell of support for MOAR LEIGH PLZ

    • Leigh Alexander says:

      You’d kill me within a week, which is a generous estimate of how long it’d take you to realize I am primarily a console player.

    • Arglebargle says:

      ‘…..and there was a collective gasp of horror!’

    • dsch says:

      Perhaps it can be constructively suggested that it is not necessary to describe one’s “earliest writing” in every article one writes.

  5. Strabo says:

    “[4chan] – ground zero for the precise breed of misunderstood escapist trying to work themselves out”

    Finally, someone who gets 4chan.

    • Kieron Gillen says:

      Struck me as a good line too.


    • Hoaxfish says:

      Better than the idea that even mentioning it will cause your eyeballs to melt and the FBI to break down your door for crimes against humanity.

    • sinister agent says:

      I must admit, that line gave me some pause for thought, too. I tend to be a bit dismissive of the 4chan, but had it been a “thing” when a young me first stumbled onto the internet, I would probably have a very different attitude to it.

      Edit: Totally didn’t mean to call it “the 4chan”, but I think I might from now on.

    • Kieron Gillen says:

      Yeah – I think that’s the key thing to remember. Frankly, the 4chan headspace strikes me as a interest-flipped version of the sort of headspace I wrote Phonogram about, y’know?


    • McCool says:

      That line made me cringe a little I have to admit (in an article that is otherwise without a doubt the finest I’ve read this year, anywhere, on games). Whereas escape is an aspect of 4chan, don’t confuse 4chan for being a place for lonely people to lick their wounds. It is, but it is so much more than that. It’s alternative to the current facebook, twitter, hyper-connected augmented reality of the internet. It as much as an escape as any symposium or forum ever has been. It’s a community founded upon the rejection of a few certain norms of the internet. Really it’s one big boys (and girls) club. It’s family. What is actually great about this article is it eludes to that aspect of 4chan, which I don’t think I’ve seen before.

      Don’t think escape, think LCD Soundsystem’s All My Friends:

      And if I’m sewn into submission, I can still home to this

    • sinister agent says:

      I think it’s a mistake to interpret “misunderstood escapist” as someone who’s necessarily lonely and/or hurt in some way.

    • Leigh Alexander says:

      Everyone is lonely and hurt in some way, everyone. The ones that create elaborate societies in response are the interesting ones.

      (I spent years on 4chan. I’ve never been so close to proper fainting than the one time I was at a little party and realised moot was there.)

    • Kieron Gillen says:

      The bit in that Red Alert 3 video thing we did which always made me laugh was the you outing yourself as a proper 4chaner.


    • Leigh Alexander says:

      Welp, time to google “War and Boobs” again.

  6. Spengbab says:

    Leigh is a female name? Cripes

    • tossrStu says:

      It’s one of those names that’s unisex, like Vivian, Tracy, and Steve.

    • Gaytard Fondue says:

      Alexander is a surname?

    • timmyvos says:

      @Gaytard I vaguely remember a pathologist in one of those newfangled crime-drama’s with the surname of Alexander.

    • Vinraith says:

      Is this one of those cross-Atlantic things? In the US, Leigh is the female form, Lee is the male form. There are exceptions, of course, but that’s generally the way things lie.

    • Bhazor says:

      Thought Leigh was a guy? Thats nothing for the longest time I thought she was a transgender New York DJ. For some reason I thought Auntie Pixelante was her pen name.

      I don’t really know why.

    • sinister agent says:

      Leigh is a male name? Cripes.

    • Shih Tzu says:

      Bhazor: That’s kind of an awesome conflation to make.

  7. noom says:

    Slightly off-topic I guess, but 6 year old Leigh’s review of Donald Duck’s Playground was superb. Well done that lady.

  8. Orija says:

    I’m beginning to find it embarrassing that this is perhaps the only game that has got me emotionally engaged to it.

    • anotherman7 says:

      I know exactly what you mean. I have no idea why I like this game so much; it is very amateurish. Maybe because it’s my second VN, after DTIPB? For whatever reason I have a waifu now, don’t tell anyone.

      Also: Headhunt Leigh, she is the literal shit and RPS needs a female perspective!

    • mouton says:

      That really depends on what other games you played. Most games – especially the AAA stuff – tend to be emotionally dumb and shallow.

    • Orija says:

      Hmm… I guess it may be because games like Katawa Shoujo are geared solely towards eliciting emotions of sympathy and melancholy that you usually don’t feel in games. But now that I think about it, Katawa Shoujo seems like sorrowporn to like the anime Grave of the Fireflies or the movie A Requiem for a Dream, both which did not have discernible stories but rather focused on providing scene after scene of emotionally saturated sequences.

    • diamondmx says:

      @Anotherman I don’t think “She is the literal shit” is a compliment… perhaps you might want to rephrase that.

      Excellent article though.

    • Dhatz says:

      THis reminds me In the end I played enough games to be genuinely bored by anything they try to label as new(games arent entertaining enough after I developed ability to watch series online). I don’t even expect I get to the ending anymore, after all I didn’t finish Psychonauts(by like 1 inception, I must sound silly).

    • Vagrant says:

      I actually thought the first act was interesting and enjoyable. Everything after that was just endless banter.

  9. Chrouya says:

    I am fervent Visual Novel reader (in both Japanese and English), and I have to say I am impressed by the quality of this “Western” Visual Novel. I much agree to what has been said in the article. Although I am not known in the field of 4chan, so I cannot give an opinion about in what perspective they thought about this whole story. But I think I can understand.

    Even if it is written in an immature way, the moral of the stories is conveyed without any problems. The audience…To be honest, I think it could be redirected back at the people at 4chan. Some stories touched me, albeit not all of them, and I think the same goes for them. For the ones who read visual novels.

    Also, I feel that the lack of quality in the erotic scenes is arguably meant like that. They did not want to put the focus on that. I believe there might have been interference from the 4chan audience itself, in several ways.

  10. Zyrocz says:

    I “played” through one of the storylines and I must say that I enjoyed it. I can’t see how this game has been labeled as a “dating sim” though.

    • inawarminister says:

      Visual novels like this — where you have per-girl character routes and have good ends and bad ends for each girl characters (and score with them) — are called dating sim in Japan.

      Don’t mistake them with the more commonly associated dating sim games in the West.

      Or I think that it is. Might be wrong though
      (sorry for broken English, just woke up)

  11. Kieron Gillen says:

    Leigh killed with this one.


    • Bhazor says:

      Honestly I thought this game had KG written all over it.

    • Kieron Gillen says:

      Leigh and I were talking about how we met, and it was over her early reviews of the perverse edge-of-gaming kinda stuff.


    • McCool says:

      This. I’m sorry John, but this is word for word the article I knew KS was crying out for when I read your write-up. Talk about the right woman for the right job! I now offically don’t need to have an opinion on KS, I can just link to this article. All the words. Out of my mouth (but better).

    • Leigh Alexander says:

      Yes, my first interaction with Gillen was on a column I wrote about Princess Maker 2 (specifically, he disagreed with my assertion that it was more like a dating sim than not).

      As I just told him in an IM, I still get a bit giddy when he leaves a nice comment on something I write. STILL.

    • Stellar Duck says:

      I think my life would be complete if ever I got a comment on my writing signed with KG.

  12. JesterRedPanda says:


    She tastes like bacon!
    Yeah there’s no mistakin’
    From the lovin’ to the oven yeah you know what I’m bakin’

    She’s a timid girl
    Like a leaf, yeah she’s shakin’
    You say Hanako’s the best? Well, I know you’re just fakin’

    It’s fuckin’ Lilly
    It’s fuckin’ Lilly
    It’s fuckin’ Lilly

    Thank you.
    Credit goes to foreverpandering

  13. Rii says:

    Nice of you to visit us again, Ms. Alexander. Do drop by more often. That piece you did with KG on the Red Alert 3 trailer remains one of my all-time site favourites!

    Regarding *this* piece: a fascinating read regarding an ill-illumined corner of the gaming ‘verse. I had no idea of the 4chan/crowdsource origin of the game, despite being well acquainted with /s/.

    • Vinraith says:

      I can only second Rii here that this was an excellent read (two in fact, since I read the linked piece as well). It’s not a game I’d ever “play,” but the story of how it came to be, and the culture it serves (or attempts to serve) is fascinating.

    • Adventurous Putty says:

      Thirded; an excellent piece of games journalism as always, Ms. Alexander.

  14. mjig says:

    This game has easily one of the worst fanbases of all time. /v/ is covered in KS crap, I’d rather see MLP spam on the front page than this crap.

  15. HammerBackspace says:

    Why is anybody taking this game seriously when its title translates to ‘Cripple Girls’? As in a highly offensive Japanese slur?

    I mean it’s a very well written article and all but good god.

    • Rii says:

      Judging a book by its cover is one thing … expecting everyone else to do the same and objecting when they don’t is quite another. How bizarre.

      P.S. You’re missing out by not seeing ‘Fucking Amal’ too.

    • HammerBackspace says:

      Okay, let me elaborate on my point a bit. How can a game claim to be a sensitive and progressive portrayal of disabled people, and yet have a title like ‘Cripple Girls’?

      That’s not ‘judging a book by its cover’, this is objecting to an incredibly insensitive design choice that is obvious every time you mention the name of the game. Frankly it could be GOTY 2012, but that title is signposting that it’s nothing more than exploitative pap.

    • Bhazor says:

      link to ks.renai.us

      The producers justification. Can’t say I agree with it but there it is.

    • Goldeneye says:

      Bhazor should’ve linked this instead:

      link to katawashoujo.blogspot.com

      “The origin of the name is of course Japan itself, with Raita and his original concept picture of KS. Due to the name being readily available from the picture and the general idea of staying as true to it as possible, the name was adopted to the project without a second thought (and I don’t think anyone with enough finesse in Japanese was around at the time to point out the problem with the name).”

      “So why not change the name? We have thought about changing the name for this very reason before (and also because an English game having a Japanese name felt odd to some), but gave up on it because it would be patently stupid. Due to our relatively high profile the project would just end up as “the game formerly known as Katawa Shoujo” and it would change absolutely nothing. So we kept the name, and we probably will even in the future.”

      Even as a fan of the game, I do think that the name does hurt it. Nonetheless, the reasons are there.

      Allowing yourself to see the game only by the supposed carelessness of the title itself though is very much judging a book by its cover.

    • Rii says:

      “How can a game claim to be a sensitive and progressive portrayal of disabled people…”

      *Is* the game claiming that? Or is your real question how is it that *reviewers* can read a ‘sensitive and progressive portrayal’ of disability in the game given its title?

      I don’t buy that the title necessarily indicates the game’s attitude towards its subject matter one way or another, particularly if the slur in question actually has some currency in the real world. The re-appropriation of ‘nigger’ by the African-American community is an obvious example: context matters.

    • HammerBackspace says:

      Laziness is a terrible reason to be saddled with a rubbish title. They really should not have used that word without knowing what it meant. A Google search takes five seconds, for god’s sake. What they unintentionally revealed is that the original 4chan design brief, title and all, was exactly as heartless and fetishistic as it first appeared. The developers should not have been afraid of developing an identity for their game that distanced itself from that kind of crap; that they didn’t is why I’m not touching it with a ten-foot pole. I can’t be blamed for judging a book by its cover when that cover is a big red sign saying ‘Warning: This Book Is Creepy, Don’t Read It’.

      To Rii: katawa has not been reclaimed as far as I am aware, and even if it was that doesn’t mean it should be thrown around willy-nilly by people with no perspective on what it actually means. As to the ‘sensitive and progressive’ bit, that was more taken from the game’s defenders than any comment from the RPS guys or Leigh.

    • Goldeneye says:

      You might want to reread Leigh’s article above again:

      “The game also seems genuinely interested in exploring the challenges of relationships among people with compromising illnesses and disabilities (Hisao, the game’s protagonist, has a heart condition and feels uncertain whether it’s worth planning for his future after school). And it’s admirably complex – for example, the easy get would be to make the girls labor under predictable “alas, I’m broken, how can you love me” tropes, but they are more elaborate than that, affected more by the things they’ve lost or come to fear because of their trauma than by whatever physical shortcoming with which they live.

      Nor does it fetishize the girls’ disabilities as one might expect; they are details of the girls’ bodies that are described with equal weight as would their eyes, hair, or any other trait. Hisao frequently struggles with his own reactions to disability, wrestling with whether to ignore the fact that, say, Rin has no arms and eats with her feet, or to treat it as nothing to avoid and ask her about it. Ultimately it’s a game about relationships between people who happen to be disabled and certainly not a “cripple girl sex sim”

      Even Leigh vouches for the game’s sensitivity and respect to the subject matter.

      Also, a simple google search does not really reveal the negative connotations of the word “Katawa”, and you would have to know Japanese to even begin searching for the term, let alone know what connotations it has, which as mentioned in their development blog they didn’t have anyone Japanese-savvy enough at the time to do so.

    • Asyne says:

      1) It’s what the page that inspired the game named it. 4LS kept everything that was on that page in the game, right down to the rooftop lunch with Rin. Faithfully following the source.

      2) That “katawa” more exactly translates to “broken,” and one of the greater themes in the game is that a broken mind/spirit can be more disabling than any physical injury. People see Rin’s missing arms and focus on that, instead of how spoilerspoilerspoiler; people see Hanako’s scars and focus on that, instead of spoilerspoilerspoiler; Kenji’s legal blindness seems trivial when compared to the emotional scar that defines his life; and Emi’s missing legs mean nothing to her vigorous attitude. The mind is just as important as the body.

      3) Using a term that’s used in a derogatory manner and sticking it on these likable characters could be a gesture of distaste for that use. Another big theme is that the disabled are no different than the ‘normal’ – even making an effort to live more normally. That wording will evoke the idea of how Japan treats the disabled as “different (and bad),” while presenting the case that the disabled aren’t as different as thought. An argument against the negative connotation.

    • cckerberos says:

      I don’t really feel too strongly about the issue but :

      1. Talking about empowerment or the symbolism of using a taboo word in the title doesn’t really seem like that convincing of an argument to me since it’s all a rationalization after the fact. We know that the authors didn’t choose the name with that intent behind it, since they didn’t choose the title at all. They lifted it from an image and didn’t find out what it meant until later.

      2. The only potential problem the name has is for Japanese speakers since they’re the only audience who can take offense. So it’s probably worth noting that even if the use of the name had some kind of ironic or empowering motive behind it, that wouldn’t really alter the Japanese reaction. The Japanese don’t really have much of a sense of irony and their minority groups don’t attempt to reclaim slurs.

  16. Jip says:

    I have absolutely no interest in this style of interactive novel/game/un-game whatsoever, but for some reason I’ve enjoyed reading both RPS articles on it immensely. Both times I’ve found it slightly disturbing – not so much the reviews but the subject matter of the game itself and how the reviewers have described it. From what I can gather, playing this game is the same sort of emotion people feel when they watch motor sports just to watch the crashes.

    • Zyrocz says:

      Am I mistaken or are you comparing people with disibilities as car crashes?

    • Grygus says:

      Clearly not; he’s explicitly comparing the emotions evoked. If I say that playing a close game and reading Russian literature can both leave me exhausted, I am not saying that reading Dostoyevsky is the same thing as playing football.

    • pl4t0 says:

      Believe me when I say that that impression of the game is incorrect. “Disturbing” is entirely the wrong word to describe any aspect of it, at all.

    • Jip says:

      Would you prefer “awkwardly uncomfortable” ?

      Like I said, I haven’t played the game, and it doesn’t sound my thing so I’m pretty sure I never will. However, a game that can generate such heated & enthusiastic responses from it’s fans is interesting.

      Zyrocz, yes you are mistaken. Read what I actually wrote, not what you wanted to see. Both RPS reviews say that this game is about semi-participating in an (extremely drawn out) interactive novel about the social & sexual fumblings of (allegedly adult) schoolkids. Whether they have disabilities or not isn’t really the issue, even though that seems to be the focus for it’s unique selling point, even if it is free.

      Myrpoint, as Grygus obviously spotted, was about the emotion this thing seems to stir up in people. Let’s be honest, it’s not really a mainstream product is it ? I don’t hear “Katawa Shoujo” mentioned in the same context as “Tomb Raider” when people talk about games that define a generation !

  17. Inigo says:

    Oh good – we needed another 300+ comment thread consisting of nothing but shit-slinging.

    • Bhazor says:

      Yeah we do! Ya big fanny!

    • tanith says:

      Come on, this is the internet.
      This place in particular looks like a self-help group where everyone jacks off everybody else and congratulates them on a job well done.

    • Buttless Boy says:

      Congratulations Tanith, that was well done.

  18. JackDandy says:

    Still gotta finish Lilly and Emi’s route…

  19. timmyvos says:

    I’ve heard of this game before and I’m a fan of visual novels (Mostly Ace Attorney and 999) but this game just doesn’t look interesting to me. Maybe it’s the cripples or something but I’m just not interested. Can anyone change my viewpoint or should I wait for a different game?

    • Zyrocz says:

      First off, Ace Attorney is not a visual novel. I believe that game included enough gameplay in order to be called a “game”. Secondly, try it out. It’s free so there shouldn’t really be any reason not to try it out for yourself.

    • Palodin says:

      I agree with Zyrocz, download it and play Act 1, its only 40-50 minutes long and you’ll get a feel for the game.

    • HammerBackspace says:

      Also don’t call people cripples in the future, tia.

    • timmyvos says:

      Then they shouldn’t have called the game “Cripple Girls”, I’m only using the nomenclature of the game itself.

    • elfbarf says:

      Yeah…Ace Attorney and 999 are definitely games, though I can’t say the same about KS.

    • malkav11 says:

      Huge, huge portions of both Ace Attorney and 999 involve paging through screens of illustrated text. They’re visual novels. That they have actual gameplay does not disqualify them from this classification. 999 in particular makes a pretty clear distinction between visual novel sections where most of the actual plot happens and the interaction is limited to the occasional dialogue choice and puzzle/exploration sequences.

  20. sanitysama says:

    thanks for including spoiler images you stupid bitch

    • Kaira- says:

      What? If these are spoilers to you, I believe you should not read any gaming-related news.

    • Grygus says:

      Interesting. I wonder whether you would have resorted to name-calling had the writer been male. If you felt you had a legitimate complaint, rest assured that your point was lost by the end of that sentence.

    • Cryptoshrimp says:

      How about you unplug your internet cable and throw your modem in a pond?

    • Unaco says:


      That is a terrible, horrible thing to say, and you should be ashamed of yourself!

      The improper disposal of Electrical waste is a growing problem, both in the developed and the developing world. Modern day electronics contain a multitude of substances hazardous to the environment, wildlife, and to humans. For example, the Brominated flame retardants that are added to the plastics used in many pieces of electronic hardware (PBBs, or DecaBDE for example) can cause impaired development of the nervous system, thyroid problems, and liver problems for both humans and wildlife.

      Or what about the Lead used in the solder in that modem, huh? It can cause blood and brain disorders in both humans and animals if the Lead is allowed to enter the ecosytem.

      Dispose of your E-waste responsibly: recycle or reuse if you can, and if not, have it disposed of by professionals, who will ensure that the minimal environmental damage is caused. Many local councils or municipalities will offer services for the disposal of unwanted Electronic products.

    • Acorino says:

      Now if you have to be rude and misogynistic, then at least be funny about it, sanitysama!
      Otherwise it’s just nasty…

    • Cryptoshrimp says:

      My hat off to you, Unaco. I’m not even going to try and top that. Well done, well done.

    • Raiyan 1.0 says:

      Reported Sanitysama for being a troll, and reported Unaco for being too awesome.

    • LennyLeonardo says:

      Unfortunately the internet is full of brominated flame retardents.

  21. Unaco says:

    A ‘game’ where we finally get to talk to the monsters… and they spout off reams and reams of tedious, sub O-level English dialogue, philosophy garnered from the back of a cereal box, and emotional depth that would make the cast of TOWIE think you were simple.

    Please tell me I can carry more than 2 guns.

    • tanith says:

      lol why
      you only need one gun to shoot yourself so there is no need to worry

  22. Outright Villainy says:

    I’m very glad I read this article, because I knew next to nothing about visual novels, and this was very enlightening. I don’t think I’d ever want to play a game like this, but seeing a more honest appraisal on its merits, rather than pandering one way or the other, is always a good way of learning more about something.

    And yes, Leigh Alexander should write here more, I usually really enjoy her articles whenever they’re linked in the Sunday Papers.

  23. Zepp says:

    “brutally sexual supernatural murder mysteries” sounds whoah awesome!

    Guys/girls, can you suggest me some other titles from this glorious genre? Thx. ;)

    • Buttless Boy says:

      I have a vague memory of a visual novel where the protagonist (and thus the player) saw the world as a horrific nightmare dimension where his friends were alien monsters, all the food was made from people (and not even cooked!), and all the walls were made of flesh. There was an option at the beginning to censor “violent images”, and if you chose it, like 99% of the visuals were censored. Can’t recall the title though, sorry.

    • SephNecra says:

      That would be Saya no Uta

    • Goldeneye says:

      That would be “Saya no Uta” (Song of Saya), which is horrifically Lovecraftian as VN’s go.

    • Anthile says:

      There’s also the classic Divi-Dead and the more recent Kara No Shoujo.

    • malkav11 says:

      Divi Dead’s translation is awful, but it’s otherwise pretty rad. And there are other titles that involve a fair amount of surprisingly explicit supernatural violence as well as sex, though I don’t know if they’re quite what Leigh was describing. For example, the superlative Fate//Stay Night, or Tsukihime (I’ve not read the VN of Tsukihime but the anime was excellent. It did omit any sexual content, though.). Or there are things like Chaos;Head, which have violent supernatural horror elements but no sex whatsoever. (Its particular strength? Fucking with your head. I would describe the resolution as actually pretty comprehensive and satisfying, but my sense of what was really going on broke down almost completely during the middle stretch.)

  24. Tony Danza says:

    ” Sex between teenagers is supposed to be awkward and confusing. Teens have no physical confidence, unrefined self-expression skills and no self-awareness, I get it.”

    Yes, exactly. You get it! Finally, someone ge-

    “so why would you want to render that literally in a game that’s supposed to be a fantasy,”

    Riiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiight. Why would you want to portray characters in a realistic light in a story. So what’s next, we going to critique The Last Guardian if the MC isn’t Mary Sueish enough?

    Fantasy and realistic scenario’s/characters aren’t mutually exclusive, you know.

    • Felix says:

      First, your choice of the word “realistic” is not quite right. It’s more like it’s trying to convey the awkwardness in a heavy-handed manner. Second, the entire game is unrealistic. The scenario is ridiculous and the characters are typical.

  25. Zwebbie says:

    I gave this a try after the enormous storm of comments on the last post here on RPS, wanting to make up my own mind. I’ve played through Lilly/Shizune/Rin so far, and it’s only my third VN after Digital and Don’t take it personally.
    And while every bit of criticism leveled at KS by Leigh is absolutely true in my opinion, the VN has grown on me. I understand now what it expects of me, and I’ve become a bit more patient with it. If nothing else, it’s very interesting to see how the different writers tackled everything; some stories really are about living with a disability, or if they’re really such things, while in other stories they’re just metaphors for the real problems going on. Some writers are more romantic, some less so. Some work with a very fluid setup, others with foreshadowing and twists. It’s fascinating.

    But really, I appreciate the final result on its own too. It undoubtedly bit of more than it can chew, but it deals with disability, friendship, communication, outlook on life, and a few other things. At this point I respect ‘ambitious with tons of flaws’ better than ‘flawlessly executed but shallow’.

    I’d wholeheartedly at least advise everyone to just give it a shot. It’s hard to judge on its cover.

    PS: Of the three routes I’ve played so far, I actually liked Lilly’s least; it’s probably the best written, most charming and clearest, but as a character she basically descended from heaven and isn’t as interesting as Misha or Rin.

    • PoC says:

      I think my experience matches up to yours; I recognize that everything Leigh says is exactly right, but the game has grown on me all the same. I’m willing to attribute that to both my relative unfamiliarity with the visual novel genre (which means I really have no basis for judging what does in comparison to the typical form) and that I’m basically a sucker for anything with a hint of romance. That said, I probably liked the Shizune and Lilly stories the least–Lilly, because I found her to be a fairly boring character, and Shizune because the storyline was just a little too absurd and all over the place. In contrast, I thought the Rin story took the most risks in terms of the territory the story covered, and Emi’s story was the most… realistic, I guess, if that term can even be applied here (apart from the wince-inducing, “God, is it over yet” sex scene). It strikes me that, scholarly-wise, there’s something to be said about the way it casts disabilities in the light of heteronormative relationships, but that’s a different discussion.

  26. DOLBYdigital says:

    I haven’t read anything from Leigh in a long time. I used to read her stuff on gamasutra I think and always loved her writing style. I don’t really like any echi games/stories but once I saw her name I had to read the article. Would love to see more of her stuff on RPS, especially other non-echi topics.

  27. Hisui says:

    Good to see that RPS decided to provide a qualified comment on the game in the end.

    • Unaco says:

      I’m not seeing much of a difference between this and the previous WiT. Both say, the ‘game’ is shit, the writing is bad, dialogue is terrible. It fails, basically. Or are you praising the fact that Leigh here has qualified Walker’s WiT? And they both agree it’s shit?

    • Goldeneye says:

      Leigh at least has an understanding of the visual novel medium; the other WiT got flak due to how it was expecting the game to be something it’s not. Although I would argue that even Leigh missed the “point” though, but in a different way: if the previous WiT wanted it to be something it’s not, this one wants the game to be more of what it’s supposed to be.

      As to Leigh’s opinions of the game’s writing quality, that’s her opinion of it, and I respect that even if I may vehemently disagree. It won’t change the fact that I, among hundreds of others, have been deeply moved by this supposedly “shit” story in different ways.

    • elfbarf says:

      Millions of people are “moved” by Twilight but that doesn’t make it any better in my eyes.

    • Archonsod says:

      Which is really the best argument for eugenics so far produced.

      It was either that or a bowel movement joke.

    • Goldeneye says:

      Somehow I knew the “Twilight” comparison was going to be brought up. I haven’t read the books or watched the movies, so I don’t have an opinion on them. Nonetheless, I would not judge Twilight before I actually have read it, and it would be a small matter to afford this game the same liberty.

      I myself didn’t actually know of Katawa Shoujo until the day it was released, with no expectations on it whatsoever, and it still had me floored.

      Since we’re going into the realm of opinion… would people mind if I post alternate reviews on the game, just to “level the playing field” a bit?

      link to kotaku.com.au

      link to escapistmagazine.com

      link to 2winfinite.net

      link to gamepodunk.com

      link to gamelitist.com

      link to tap-repeatedly.com

      link to fandompost.com

      link to technologytell.com

    • jrodman says:

      Mr. Walker is entirely qualified to comment on this as a game, and did so quite excellently. He wasn’t giving a nuanced review of a piece of eroge for the niche of people who typically read eroge, nor was he explaining that niche and genre to a larger audience. However, that doesn’t make him unqualified in the least to give useful informative impressions of the work, and to say otherwise is rather uselessly snarky.

      That said, this article is certainly more informative on many fronts, and I’m really glad we have it.

  28. Goldeneye says:

    While I agree with most of what Leigh Alexander wrote in the above, that agreement only reaches up to the point where she wonders whether this game is supposed to “cater” to the Visual Novel crowd, and asking “what this game wants to be.”

    In the framework of her introductory paragraphs, I can understand why she’d say such things. However, I think in claiming that Katawa Shoujo should somehow be an “escapist erotic story” like all others in the visual novel genre, I think one very important thing escapes this opinion: Katawa Shoujo has no obligation to be like all others before it. It has no obligation to pander to the “misunderstood escapist” that’s supposedly the audience of the visual novel genre.

    “Whether your reason for playing a disabled girl dating sim is you like dating sim stories, you like sex games, or you like disabled girls, you will not be salved.”

    I loved Katawa Shoujo not because it’s a dating sim story (it’s not even a dating sim), or because it had sex, or because it had disabled girls. I loved it because somehow despite its supposedly amateurish storytelling, it is one of the very few stories written in modern media that has somehow touched my heart. This story that a bunch may call “bad” as far as technical issues go is the only one that has made me think long and hard about the circumstances and actions behind my life. It is a game that people other than otaku or “escapists” can relate to because it doesn’t try to be escapist. It can be slow and pondering at times… but that’s real life is it? And it’s not like each moment in the story doesn’t add perspective on how the characters deal with situations altered by their unusual setting. Despite any shortcoming, I would say this story knows exactly what it wants to do: it just wants to tell its story framed by the backdrop of disability, and thousands of posts on multiple forums I’ve been to attest to that. People are already recommending this as a “gateway” title to the Visual Novel genre because it isn’t tailor made to the tastes and whims of the community from which it was born from.

    • The_Great_Skratsby says:


    • inawarminister says:


    • Whitechip says:

      Yes. I was deeply moved by this VN so much so that it has affected my life for the better, no other medium has affected me in such a way. Makes me wonder how many people are missing out based on prejudice towards this game.

    • The_Great_Skratsby says:


    • lurkalisk says:

      M… Moved? Perhaps I played a different game…

    • Whitechip says:


      Yup, hit me right in the heart and woke me up. And that is what I find great about this game.

  29. Keith Nemitz says:

    “I am not especially convinced that anyone will ever make a Japanese-style eroge that will convert those who don’t.”

    …sounds like an interesting challenge… :-)

  30. PatrickSwayze says:


    White Knight Faggot: The Game


    • Goldeneye says:

      The story actually punishes you for being the “White Knight” – one of the routes name drops this, while another centers around this very philosophy. Each time you go into the story thinking of “fixing” the girls in the manner that a “White Knight” would, you’re assured a one-way trip to the bad endings.

    • Vagrant says:

      Not true! I got an ending this way where you get drunk & die by falling off the school roof. Problem solved!

    • pl4t0 says:

      It may be true that each of the girls in Katawa Shoujo embodies one of the stereotypical archetypes that Leigh describes, but the whole point is that they take these stereotypes and break them over their knees. This extends to its protagonist and the typical approach to these conflicts – being a White Knight in Katawa Shoujo will only give you the bad endings, trust me when I say.

    • PatrickSwayze says:

      It’s basically the chans going

      “Look we’re so sensitive we would fuck cripples and burn victims!”

      But anyone else reads it as. “If we got out of our basement we’d be so desperate we’d pretend to be caring to fuck anything!”

  31. foda500orama says:

    I really like you when you’re sober ms. Alexander.

  32. Mohorovicic says:

    So RPS reviews books now? Since when did you branch off from games?

    Can you do Crysis: Legion next, I liked it and thought there was something wrong with me(because we all know books based on videogames are all bad).

    • Goldeneye says:

      Sarcasm aside, I actually think RPS reviewing books would be a good idea, especially game tie-ins like the aforementioned Crysis: Legion (which explains ALOT about what happens in Crysis 2, one of the times when all that extra exposition would’ve been well worth it).

    • EthZee says:

      See also: Richard Cobbett’s review of the ‘Doom’ novels. Works of art.

  33. ShatteredStone says:

    Walker’s review prompted me to play this game, since I was quite unsure of what to expect even given his review; I had never played a VN before and given that it is a somewhat exotic genre to most gamers, I had a feeling that his review might have been the result of different expectations and lack of experience in that genre. As much as I could, when playing KS I ignored his review in my head.

    I was pleasantly surprised. Yes, the thing is long-winded. Yes, it has some swathes of dialogue that are truly boring — and more importantly unimportant. However, after getting settled into the kind of thing a VN is, I did get engaged by the stories. I did care what happened to the characters. I wanted to find out what would happen next, and I think I developed a more complex understanding of the characters involved than I thought they would even have (expectations painted by most games, TV-shows, etc. in entertainment). The stories evoked a number of different emotions. Some characters reminded me of people I know. The game is genuinely engaging once you can immerse yourself (i.e. if you can make yourself ignore its shortcomings), on a level that is beyond most games I have played.

    I can’t unreservedly recommend KS to everybody; if you can’t see past the genre’s idiosyncracies (which is not always easy), look at the storylines for what they are, and can’t get past the whole “this is just dirty pictures of disabled girls, sssiiiick!”-attitude many people seem to have after reading the synopsis, this download will just waste your time and make you hate me for having recommended it (or even just for actually liking it). So the question of who this is for is apt, but I’m saying there are people I’d recommend this to. Those are the people this is for. I just can’t put my finger on WHY it is for them.

    In the end, KS’s story, writing, and setting had enough depth to make me reflect on things, and possibly apply some of those reflections to my life. If that isn’t high praise, I don’t know what is.

    For a game that started on 4chan.

    On /b/.

    • Goldeneye says:

      Katawa Shoujo started on /a/ actually. /b/ had nothing to do with it at all.

      Not that it matters. Despite its roots in 4ch, many of the developer staff came from outside 4ch, taking only the basic idea with them.

  34. cjlr says:

    A good editorial. Wonder how much comment angsting this one’ll generate?

    There’s something endearing about it. Sometimes a man is just totally in the mood for some (melo)dramatic and overwritten charm.

    I took the time to go through all the paths, a little while ago. There’s some bits that are genuinely funny. There’s some bits that are genuinely touching. There’s plenty of bits that are genuinely in need of an editor. On balance I quite enjoyed the thing. Lilly’s a bit too much the nadeshiko, but it was a nice sentimental ride. Music boxes just make me think of For a Few Dollars More, which is not at all related but is good priming, I guess. Hanako’s lays it on real thick at times but I must’ve been in the mood for it because it really sold me. Also wins for “most TS Elliot” of the eroge scenes. Shizune’s is a bit all over the place, though even slower in pars than the rest, but the family scenes are funny. Emi’s is really the least out there; it’s the easiest to fall into so I guess it’s the baseline. Well – but it’s like all of them, let yourself get a little invested and you’ll enjoy a happy ending well enough. And then there’s Rin. Whose character reminds me oddly of a guy I knew in high school… But hers has some interesting bits in it. It’s the least like all the others.

    The production values are pretty good. Well, values isn’t quite the word for something made for free, but it’s mostly cleanly drawn, the music is well put together, it runs smoothly. Interaction is a wash, though. After the first chapter branches the other choices mostly don’t actually do anything. But there’s not much overlap between ‘game’ and ‘visual novel’ at the best of times.

    An odd tale, clunkily told; but worth checking out. Though I guess anyone giving it a shot will know soon enough if they can hack it. Eh, I got some enjoyment out of it. How’s that for an endorsement?

  35. Gvaz says:

    I’ve never really played a VN game before other than to simply skip forward to the sex scenes, but on this one I just started playing, taking my time and reading.

    All of it hit me, the music while the story was moving along, the characters and their reasoning and just their overall humanity struck a very violent chord with me. I accidentally got Emi’s route at first, but I didn’t really care for her personality, and since I wanted Hanako from the start I restarted until I got her.

    When I got to the sex scene, it wasn’t really erotic, it was awkward. Afterwards there is a scene where you are made to feel fucking terrible, and then while you do that she drops an emotional bombshell on you. I cried. Maybe that’s pathetic or sad that I got so emotionally attached to these characters, but if anything that’s a hallmark of proper writing that you can empathize with normal people who happen to have disabilities and who are all broken inside. Hisao’s character is pretty shit, but he’s a conduit between the characters and the players and molds to each of the viewpoints established in order to properly convey the feelings the writers were trying to elicit from each of the stories.

    tl;dr: I really fucking liked this

  36. AmateurScience says:

    Great read, and I would love to see more writing from Ms Alexander on here.

    Have absolutely no interest in giving this a go, but I still enjoyed reading about it/knowing that these things exist and people get something out of them.

    Jolly good!

  37. Raiyan 1.0 says:

    I actually remember going through her Aberrant Gamer column, which was pretty interesting.

    OT: Great read. Drop by RPS more often.

    • Leigh Alexander says:

      Thanks! People remembering that ol’ column means a lot to me.

  38. Megadyptes says:

    Wow the comments field sure does look weird, I’m guessing that everyone who just doesn’t *get* the glorious Nippon Cripple Sex Non-Interactive Game And Animes genre are getting their comments ‘moderated’. ~uguu~

    • Vinraith says:

      Obviously not, but I’m curious: if you actually think so little of RPS, why bother to post here at all?

    • Thants says:

      This site has just posted two negative reviews of the game. Why would they delete comments critical of it?

    • paterah says:

      No, surprisingly enough, I haven’t seen these yet on this article.

  39. Inigo says:

    I was kind of hoping they’d keep using Raita’s artwork as inspiration for more games and make a 300-inspired RTS where every character was Sakaki from Azumanga Daioh.

    But no.

  40. Raiyan 1.0 says:

    Guys, could you please do a Saya no Uta WIT?

    link to en.wikipedia.org


  41. thestage says:

    romanticize terrible garbage and glorify destructive and sociopathic tripe

    yep, sounds like leigh alexander

    • Raiyan 1.0 says:

      Hmmm, I dunno what it is, but I’m getting vibes that you like her writing.

    • Thants says:

      Shame you didn’t read the whole article.

    • thestage says:

      no, it’s a shame you don’t know how to read. yes, there is tepid condemnation, as leigh struggles with not knowing what the hell she is doing. but it’s not hard to see the point of this whole exercise. you’ll note the last word of the piece is “wonderful,” Dr. Reader

    • jrodman says:

      You could have made this point rather more effectively.

    • Shouldbeworking says:

      I too find thestage to be silly. His anger seems larger than his argument, and that never ends well.

    • dsch says:

      @shouldbeworking Hey, that’s exactly what T. S. Eliot says about Hamlet.

  42. SaturnineMerill says:

    Sensationalist quacks writing for my RPS? Thought I evaded her when I left Kotaku to its downward spiral.

    • TCM says:

      How quickly people forget that Quinns and Kieron Gillen used to write here!

      Kidding aside, Katawa Shoujo isn’t really my thing, and I say that as somebody who loves VNs. I tried it, and it didn’t really click for me the way Ever 17 and Fate/Stay Night did. It may be because neither of those games is really defined by ‘eroge’, in that Ever 17 has no sex at all beyond the most vague implication, and Fate’s can be entirely skipped without losing anything from the plot (and they actually did so with the console port and anime, though the anime is of dubious quality).

      I think for now I’ll go back to Chaos;Head, that seemed much more intriguing — from there, it’s on to Remember 11, and hopefully Steins;Gate in the near future.

    • Inigo says:

      It may be because neither of those games is really defined by ‘eroge’

      For me, F/SN is defined entirely by the word “mollusk”.

    • TCM says:

      Kinoko Nasu: Sex is seafood.

    • SaturnineMerill says:

      Katawa Shoujo is by no means the penultimate visual novel. I don’t think it deserves to be lauded. But to pull someone like Leigh to review the game? They might have been better off with Owen Good—I like the guy, but this is not his cup of tea.

      As an aside: didn’t you have the option to skip H-scenes in Katawa Shoujo? I read that somewhere but never opted to myself.

      I can play something only slightly spiced with sexual content like CLANNAD and be absolutely spellbound. I think Katawa Shoujo falls into this category. The copulation is peripheral, something you encounter for a few brief moments. This isn’t why most people who pick up a game like F/SN pick up those games. Sure, it’s a welcome touch; it’s hardly the main attraction.

    • Robin says:

      Penultimate LOL

    • SaturnineMerill says:

      Let’s hope that minor goof doesn’t ruin everything I was trying to say. :(

    • jrodman says:

      I think it’s more the vocabulary overreach than the goof that mars it.

  43. CP37 says:

    I really appreciate RPS putting up a full fledged Wot I Think article about this game, because, if for no other reason, the fact that the game divides people so much makes it interesting to talk about, and the previous impressions article wasn’t in depth enough. I’ve only played through one route (Hanako’s), so what I say will be based on that.

    I agree with two of the criticisms in the article — namely, that we aren’t given any reason to care about Hisao and that the game doesn’t give the player enough choices. The game not knowing which audience to target, or what it wants to be, in my mind, is largely a result of the way that Hisao is written — his motives are always so underdeveloped, wispy, and noncommittal, that the game isn’t forced in one direction or another, instead muddling around as many have noted. For the second, while I don’t have any experience making visual novels, I would imagine that this is a result of it being a volunteer production, and thus being limited by the energies that they can put into it.

    And while I can’t talk about route’s other then Hanako’s because I haven’t had the time to play them yet, I do think that Hanako’s route was emotionally fulfilling enough to justify the time that I spent playing it. There are a lot of problems with the writing, yes, there are at some points too many incidental details that begin to detract from the experience, but at the end of the day, I remember the impact that the story had on me, something that I can’t say of a lot of mass market paperbacks that I’ve read.

    As Ms. Alexander points out, for those people that don’t like the VN format, it’s unlikely that anything that’s said about Katawa Shoujou will change their minds. But for those people who are open to playing this sort of game, I think that it’s worth playing. Yes, there are parts that have to be waded through, but most games/novels have parts like that as well.

  44. John P says:

    This article was really interesting so don’t take this as a criticism of the author at all, but I still don’t see why RPS is spending any time on this clearly-not-a-game. It’s a visual novel. Let the visual novel websites write about it, and let the games websites stick to games.

    I mean there’s a much, much stronger argument for RPS reviewing Facebook games regularly, since they are actually games, they are largely played on PCs, and many former AAA game developers are now making them. I’m not very interested in those either, personally, but at least it’s not an entirely different medium.

    • Dave Mongoose says:

      There are some visual novels that deserve attention from a wider audience than those who actively look for them: ‘don’t take it personally babe, it just ain’t your story’ is one of them, despite the clunky title.

      I think there are some lessons for games developers to learn from visual novels about story. Interactivity doesn’t have to mean compromising on character complexity or emotional weight.

    • malkav11 says:

      Visual novels may not be games, per se, but there’s plenty of overlap between them and proper games, and they’re routinely ported to gaming consoles over in Japan.

  45. amorpheous says:

    No visual novel has ever come close to being as good as Nocturnal Illusions for me, but I’ll give this one a go just for being available for OS X and the fact that I’m stuck with my Crapbook at my parents’ ’til tomorrow and bored out of my skull. xD

  46. pl4t0 says:

    I appreciate Leigh’s commentary, but examining something like this from the critical perspective is entirely the wrong thing to do. I feel that she is generally correct in most of her opinions, too, but regardless is coming at this from the wrong angle.

    This is the “game” that brought every man on /v/ to tears. Literal tears (there’s a picture of their aggregate reactions that substantiates this, but it seems to have evaporated from my hard drive). This is 4chan we’re talking about, home of the most cynical group of assholes on the planet. Obviously, there is SOMETHING special about this story, whether or not it is as perfect as or functions on the same level as the “masterworks” of the Visual Novel genre.

    Any story that can evoke the emotions/stimulate its audience in the way that Katawa Shoujo has managed (whether an amateur freebie or a professional commercial release), it has succeeded.

    • Det says:

      No there isn’t.
      …What, you want more?
      /a/ and /v/ rarely dwell into visual novels (monster girl quest being a game of the year contestant on /v/, although I have to admit monster girl quest was fucking awesome and puts most modern JRPGs to shame in my opinion).
      /jp/, being somewhat more well versed in the same sort of medium, basically unanimously agreed that Katawa shoujo was bad(Which is strange given that anonymous imageboards tend to contain a lot of arguing because people know there’s no harm in doing it and the “someone is wrong on the internet” syndrome).
      So even amongst the shallow pool of literature of visual novels, KS seems to be below average (according to people who have read a good amount of them).
      Sadly, /a/ and /v/ don’t seem to contain many people who have read a lot of visual novels.

    • apocraphyn says:

      @Det: There are often several “KS General” threads up that usually go over the post limit – but a large reason behind this are the people who enter the threads to troll or to state repeatedly that “KS is not a game”. The game seems to be favoured in the same circles as those who harp on about their imaginary “waifus”, which…well, explains perfectly the sort of audience for this kind of game.

      The “MGQ Generals” are fairly common, too; though it could be argued that MGQ isn’t strictly a graphic novel. If anything, it’s a graphic novel with a battle system – that makes it substantially more “game” than “ungame”. (I reckon RPS should do an article on MGQ instead, would be quite amusing).

    • Det says:

      I still propose that with enough exposure to the medium, the same people that hail katawa shoujo as the second coming of jesus will come around to admit that there are severe issues with it that have made it into a lesser piece of work.
      I think this all goes on to demonstrate that katawa shoujo is nothing exceptional and is simply a “phenomenon” that perhaps reveals more about the audience than the work itself.
      On a side note, monster girl quest is very awesome and very fun. Can’t wait for 2 to get translated. (And if any of you write a bad piece about it I’ll be VERY ANGRY.)

    • wiredhuman says:

      This I agree on.

      Aside from technical flaws, which are in no way flaws from my point of view, the reason that the game doesnt appeal to everyone is that is was written by a certain demographic explicitely for a certain demographic.

      KS supposed to encourage the typical Anon, that cynical, misantrophic, mysoginistic creature full of despair, loneliness and hatered for everyone else and most notably, himself, to come to terms with his own life. To become a better person.
      It shows that a typical neckbeards state of mind is fruitless however you look at it. The game punishes you directly for being an asshole and a whiteknight. It punishes you for giving in to depression instead of working yourself out of it.
      The choices are not choices of an established being in this game, they are retroactive. Chose to act like an asshole? Its not that the MC acted like an asshole just now out of confusion, he acted like an asshole because he is one. And if you would act like that yourself in that given situation, you are one too. KS holds yourself a mirror up, right in the face.
      Which is why many people find it uninteresting, or boring. If you cant see yourself in the mirror, it must be broken. Or a really shitty mirror.

      Now week after release:
      Grown men crying at the realization how they end up where they are, the mistakes they did. Not because those were mistakes, but because they understood why those were mistakes. What they did wrong. People reporting on starting running, working out, doing sports, people who previously loathed the jogger and the lifter for being “pretentious cunts”. People taking up painting or learning istruments, people learning braille or sign language, heck just people learning to play chess or contacting old friends.
      People previously crippled by depression and apathy, getting grip on their lives.

      The game had a greater impact than you realize. It changed peoples lives.
      In my book, that is a success.

      PS: Excuse the profanities, but they are quite on the spot of what Im wanting to say.

    • Whitechip says:


      Good read, at least someone gets it.

  47. forddent says:

    Man I love when Leigh Alexander writes stuff. I love it even more when it is about weird shit on the internet like this thing.

  48. Det says:

    >Narratively it’s murderous. The story is bad. The sex is bad. Whether your reason for playing a disabled girl dating sim is you like dating sim stories, you like sex games, or you like disabled girls, you will not be salved. There is absolutely nothing pleasurable or compelling about Katawa Shoujo.

    I can’t believe I’m saying this, but that is an accurate assessment of katawa shoujo. About fucking time too.
    I am impressed.

    • EthZee says:

      Uh, greentext doesn’t work on this site.

    • Det says:

      No, but I thought > was traditionally used for quoting anyways.
      How do people do it here then? double quotes? @user? ? ? ? ? ?

    • Hoaxfish says:

      use blockquote tags

  49. Deadly Habit says:

    never played a VN pre this, and i played it to 100% despite 4chan bs
    the stories are great despite shizune being worst. rin and lilly are best if you want to go direct.
    think of this as a book review done by a gamer. this is great

  50. Kevin says:

    Seeing as the idea for this game was crowd-sourced on the image-board-that-shall-remain-unnamed, I’m curious of what was the content of that post that led to its creation.