Essaypost on my experience of the game

For all feedback on our releases in all languages.
Post Reply
Notta
Posts: 2
Joined: Sat Nov 05, 2022 5:59 pm
Location: UK
Contact:

Essaypost on my experience of the game

Post by Notta »

I've spoilered the most important parts of the game to be safe, but most of everything else I talk about could probably be considered spoilers too. This will be a long post, so I've included headings to make navigation easier.

Preamble

I recently finished all routes of Katawa Shoujo and, given the amount of time and emotional investment I put into it, I feel like I owe the game and its talented creators a thoughtful review. I'll talk about my experience chronologically, covering each girl's story, and the game as a whole. This will be the first time I've put my thoughts on it into words.

Katawa Shoujo was released some time before I was active on the Internet, and flew under my radar for even longer. I didn't really take notice of the game until I stumbled across it just a couple weeks ago. I started playing it almost immediately, reading nothing about the plot beforehand. I'm not a frequent player of visual novels, let alone a fan of them; Katawa Shoujo is the only one besides Doki Doki Literature Club! that I've completed. I've played very few others, which I haven't finished at the time of writing for loss of interest more than anything else. What drew me to Katawa Shoujo was its novel subject: disability seems to be under-explored in both visual novels and anime in general - particularly in romantic settings. I read that the game handled it in a tasteful manner - a merit on which it didn't disappoint, as I'll talk about in more detail.

I realised as I was writing this that it's been 10 years since the full version of the game was released. I feel somewhat left out that I discovered it so late, unable to participate in the discussions and activity that it undoubtedly generated during its development and around its release; but I'm also happy that I was able to avoid all information about the game until I played it, getting a fresh experience as if I'd done so in 2012. It's rare to be able to do that with such an old game. I'm also grateful to have a place to talk about it; it's good to see this forum open and still receiving posts.

Review

It will help to establish some context first:
  • I went into the game blind, knowing only the premise
  • I didn't consult the Act 1 flow chart until after my first few playthroughs, minimally, to get the routes I hadn't done yet
  • I didn't look at any flow charts past Act 1, until I got all good endings (to get the remaining scenes for 100% completion)
I took the game seriously as I wanted the best experience and to feel invested in the stories. I played in the evenings with minimal distractions, for a few hours each night; I'd usually try to finish an act in one session. I think I played the game every day since I started, until I had 100% completion. This way I was able to get fully immersed in the story.

Emi

For my first playthrough of Act 1 - and the rest of the game when I wasn't trying to get a different girl's route - I answered in the way that felt the most natural to me. I got Emi's route; I hadn't been trying for any particular girl at that point, but Emi wouldn't have been my first choice. Regardless, I kept playing and got her good ending.

This one was ok. The character who needs help but won't admit/accept it feels played out to me, but it was executed well enough. It was nice to see Hisao find motivation in Emi and want to be the same thing for her.

I'm not sure if we're supposed to figure out that her father died in their car crash as early as I did, but this harmed my experience a bit as the drawn-out reveal lacked any mystery or suspense. It's hard to empathise with Hisao when he's failing to put together something that I did two acts ago. But I might be thinking about this the wrong way and missing the point.

Emi is the least interesting character to me, and had one of my least favourite stories. That's not to say it was bad though, and I think it has more to do with me than the game.

Kenji

After Emi, I loaded one of my latest Act 1 saves and chose differently, which got me to the bad ending. I thought it was funny to chastise the player for failing to get a date for the festival or make any friends and going as far as Hisao falling to his death to really get the feeling of despair across.

Rin

Again, I loaded a recent Act 1 save and got Rin's route. I was happy to get her's next as she was one of the more interesting characters to me, owing to the nature of her disability and how she overcomes that, as well as her personality.

Fitting a story about her, I found the meaning of this one hard to penetrate. I must've missed the point, as I got her bad ending (the argument in the atelier) once before I got the good one. To be honest, the writing was a bit esoteric and repetitive for me and I found myself losing interest during some of the longer runs of dialogue, which didn't really resonate with me. Again though I think it's just not my thing.

Not getting to know Rin as much as I wanted to was disappointing, but that seems intentional and integral to her story; I think the point being made there makes up for it at least a little. This one wasn't as satisfying to me as I'm sure it was for others.

Lilly

At this point I started glancing at the Act 1 flow chart as I didn't want to spend much time trying to get a different route. I specifically chose Lilly for my next playthrough; I was drawn to her character from what I'd seen of her so far. Like Rin, the significance of her disability was a factor, but her personality played off of it in a way that made her more interesting. Of course though, she's also endearing on her own merit.

I got her good ending on my first try. Having just answered naturally at first, I noticed a theme with the choices and guessed what I should be choosing, which turned out to be right. As AdamL touched on in his review, the part of her story at the guest house felt a bit rushed, but I think it was executed well enough for that to not matter too much - and, let's be honest, it's not as if the progression of any of the routes is particularly realistic.

I'm very happy with the thoughtful and respectful portrayal of her blindness: we see the challenges it presents to Lilly and those around her, but are never made to feel sorry or bad for her. Lilly herself is comfortable and doesn't want to be pitied, making this clear in her own words. Getting this message across through the lens of an initially awkward and less-understanding Hisao that the player can empathise and learn with was clever.

This was definitely the most touching route for me. Lilly is an endearing character whose story inspires an idyllic vision of friendship and young romance. A minor element of the story (which comes up in other routes as well) that resonated with me is Hisao's newfound appreciation of quiet, picturesque country life. I live in a fairly rural area myself and, while I'm not a former city dweller like him, it's made me appreciate the natural surroundings and relative peace that I'm able to enjoy.

I find it interesting that Lilly's is the only route with a post-credits scene. I think the developers had a favourite :wink:

Hanako

Hanako's was the next route I did, being easy to reach from one of the later Act 1 saves from my Lilly playthrough. I wasn't that interested in her initially - the shy girl character is done to death at this point and I already had an idea of how her story would go - but she'd grown on me as I'd seen more of her in the other routes, particularly Lilly's in which she was more prominent. So by the time I started this playthrough, I was looking forward to seeing more of her.

I got her good ending. Like Lilly's, Hanako's story was touching, but I enjoyed it for different reasons. Whereas Lilly is enjoyable from the start and doesn't change much (although we do learn more about her), the joy of Hanako's route for me came from seeing her develop as a character. Noticing this helped me make at least one decision: I rightly suspected when choosing whether to go to town or call it a day that giving her a chance to come out of her shell would be the right choice. The decision on the phone was less obvious to me, but again I think I was nudged towards the right choice by that theme.

On that note, I think the main message of Hanako's story was the most effective and well-done of the five. Allowing Hanako to grow on her own instead of patronising her, doting on her and treating her like a responsibility was to me a great lesson, and it was satisfying to realise that as I played and be rewarded for implementing it. The writing in her story was the best in my opinion, and I was glad that it avoided a lot of the annoying tropes that often come with her type of character, treating it with the appropriate seriousness.

As AdamL also mentioned, her sex scene was less than uncomfortable, and I worried that the game was going to drift into the weird and disturbing atmosphere that anime and other Japanese media often has in that area, but the tasteful way it was done and Hisao's guilt alleviated my concern.

Hanako's was definitely my second, if not outright, favourite story, after Lilly.

Shizune

The last route I played through was Shizune's. Like with Rin and Lilly, Shizune's disability posed significant challenges for the characters to navigate - perhaps the most out of all of the girls due to the significant communication barrier - and this made me interested in seeing how that would be dealt with and overcome.

As with every girl except Rin, my first try ended in success. This was a weird one - maybe the most different of all of the girls' stories - and I'm not quite sure how I feel about it. It felt repetitive at times, especially in the earlier scenes. Shizune's father was a little over-the-top and the first character besides Kenji to shift the game into absurdity for me (although I found it less distracting with Kenji as the comic relief with little plot relevance). As for positives, Shizune's being deaf and mute made for interesting situations and dialog, and it was touching to see Hisao learn a language just to be able to talk to her.

I knew Misha was a main character from the website and her prominence in the game, but I was unsure of what her role would be in Shizune's story, although Shizune's movie gave a hint (albeit a fiendishly deceptive one). The only choice in the story wasn't too surprising for those reasons (and I'm proud to have rejected her on my first playthrough), but the reveal that she loved and had confessed to Shizune was a complete curveball. At that point I had been starting to lose interest, so it was a welcome surprise. This story also mentioned suicide more explicitly than anywhere else in the game, and for a minute I wondered if they'd actually go there. I suppose it would've been a bit much, but what they did was effective and sensitively done.

Apart from that, I didn't find this story particularly compelling or enjoyable otherwise. It wasn't bad, but whatever it was saying went over my head or just didn't resonate with me, and while Shizune is an engaging character in her own right, as a romantic interest she wasn't one of my favourites.

General Thoughts

I've been writing this post on and off for a few days now, the chances that anyone will read the whole thing rapidly diminishing, so I'm going to summarise my thoughts on the game as a whole quite succinctly and wrap this up.
  • The character art was good, although on a more technical level some characters seemed to be drawn with slightly different brush strokes and/or at different resolutions (particularly noticeable with Emi and Rin) which was a little distracting.
  • The artwork for scenes was especially well done, and the sex scenes were tasteful and appropriate, without overindulging or getting weird.
  • Mike Inel's movies were characteristically excellent and a nice addition.
  • I enjoyed the soundtrack, and some of the emotional tracks in particular had some real emotional weight behind them that helped the game a lot.
Afterword

There's probably more I could say, but I've covered all I can think of for now and this post is long enough already. I'd like to talk more about the game with you guys, and I'm definitely not done enjoying what the developers and the community have to offer. After achieving 100% completion (including the bonus artwork), I was delighted to see how much more Katawa Shoujo content is available in the form of development and art books, which I'm looking forward to reading. I'm sure there's also plenty of quality fan content to discover and enjoy.

This game was a special experience that I thoroughly enjoyed. I want to express my appreciation for the developers; from what I read, this was a real passion project that was conceptualised and organised on 4chan, inspired by a single image. It's awesome that I got to play the result of all of the hard work and dedication that came out of that.

Thanks for reading.
User avatar
Iceconsciousness
Posts: 12
Joined: Thu Aug 27, 2020 5:59 pm

Re: Essaypost on my experience of the game

Post by Iceconsciousness »

Thanks for posting your thoughts, I really enjoyed reading and hearing what you had to say. The forums may be slow, but we're always happy to hear what newcomers think fresh off a completed savefile. I do, at the very least, in fact it is one of my favorite parts about this community. However, I wrote this to share a few thoughts of my own, as well as to express my shared emotions on some things you wrote about.

I agree that Rin's route, as well as Rin herself, can be frustrating. Around act 3, I found myself feeling utterly confused and hollow, emotions not unlike those Hisao was feeling during that time. I liked Aura's way of writing Rin and her route. It was quite different from the others, but I think this fits with Rin well. This route wasn't my favorite either, but I appreciated it all the same.

Alternatively, Lilly, too, is my favorite. There are a few moments throughout that keep her character and route from being pure gold to me not least of which being when she knows of her return to Scotland yet refuses to tell both Hisao and Hanako, but she still really struck a chord with me. On that note, I got her neutral ending based on one incorrect choice. It would have saved me a lot of heartbreak if I had just chosen to have Hisao tell her that he was feeling ill while they were in Hokkaido. That ending was the hardest I cried in years. I like that you addressed the increased appreciation for quiet and rural living that Hisao gains. I too live in a rural area, and throughout my entire first playthrough to completion I was on vacation in an even more remote area, which also gave me time to reflect on what I had read.

Emi was my first character as well, as is the case for many others who went in without knowing what to expect. I put her second only behind Lilly, but I think I read through her route before I was wholly invested in the experience, and I haven't re-read it since then, which is something I certainly need to do. Emi stuck with me as well, but she wasn't as inspirational for me as for some others who, for example, went through her route and decided to take up running as a permanent hobby with that alone.

I liked Hanako's route, too, but i've never liked it nearly as much as some of the others, and I've never quite been able to pinpoint exactly why this is. She never really appealed to me when the characters were being introduced in act one, besides the obligatory mystery factor that comes with her being so secretive. Having said that, however, I enjoyed her route once I really got into it, and I think the ending is satisfying and a good conclusion.

Shizune never really stuck with me either, though I am far from the first to feel disconnected from her. It was difficult to appreciate the value in her route, though again I think a re-read is around the corner, as I feel like I missed something emotionally.

As a footnote, I thought Mike Inel's character intro cutscenes were a perfect addition to the game. It would have been fine without them, but its small details like this that can make or break something, and in this case they certainly help with the former.

I also found the difference between artstyles strange at first, but now I find it to be a notable characteristic of the game; a testament to how so many people so far away from one another were so united and devoted in purpose.

Here are some things that I've thought about since I first played that might be worth considering on a second playthrough:
Iwanako's Letter to Hisao. From what I can remember, he receives it in each route, but his reactions differ greatly between them. This ties in closely with his mental state during each of the routes. The difference is most notable during Rin's route, but it is noticeably different each time.

That's about it. You said you have only read two visual novels to completion as of now, but the things you pointed out, as well as how you were able to describe more in less, suggest a plethora of experience. Perhaps I'm reading too much into things.
Notta
Posts: 2
Joined: Sat Nov 05, 2022 5:59 pm
Location: UK
Contact:

Re: Essaypost on my experience of the game

Post by Notta »

Thanks Iceconsciousness, I'm glad you enjoyed reading it. You made some interesting points and reminded me of a few other things I wanted to say.
I liked Aura's way of writing Rin and her route.
I'll have to look into the game's writers as I don't know whom wrote which parts. The writing was great so I'm interested to see if they've worked on anything else.
On that note, I got her neutral ending based on one incorrect choice. It would have saved me a lot of heartbreak if I had just chosen to have Hisao tell her that he was feeling ill while they were in Hokkaido.
I can see how devastating Hisao not going after Lilly as she leaves for her flight would've been as an ending, so I'm glad I avoided that disappointment, and it was only because I noticed a theme with her choices and could reasonably guess what the game wanted from me.

I've seen the complaint that the choices in Lilly's route have no logical connection to the point at which the story diverges. To be honest, I agree: although the virtue being taught is a good one, I can't see the justification for the effect it has in-universe. It might be deeper than what I'm seeing though.
Emi was my first character as well, as is the case for many others who went in without knowing what to expect.
I noticed this while reading some other reviews. I guess either her's is the most likely route probabilistically, or the choices leading to it are just the most popular on average.
Emi stuck with me as well, but she wasn't as inspirational for me as for some others who, for example, went through her route and decided to take up running as a permanent hobby with that alone.
I'm not surprised that people took up running after playing Emi's route, as I'm familiar with the phenomenom of people finding inspiration in fiction. I read that Laid-Back Camp increased interest in camping in Japan for instance, and I'll admit that I started trying some exercises while watching How Heavy Are the Dumbbells You Lift? - although I suspect for less personal reasons than those inspired by Emi.
She never really appealed to me when the characters were being introduced in act one, besides the obligatory mystery factor that comes with her being so secretive.
Like you, I wasn't that interested in Hanako as a character initially. The archetype is well-trodden ground, and her only friend being the blind character was almost enough to make me roll my eyes, but I got to like her more thanks to the good writing that largely avoided the cliches I was expecting.
Shizune never really stuck with me either, though I am far from the first to feel disconnected from her.
"Disconnected" is a good word for it. She might just not be my type, but I didn't feel much closer to Shizune by the end of her route. I think it's at least partly because there's only one choice in the whole route, and it isn't obviously related to the most significant character development she gets. I guess in that sense the story is hard to get invested in.
I also found the difference between artstyles strange at first, but now I find it to be a notable characteristic of the game; a testament to how so many people so far away from one another were so united and devoted in purpose.
I don't mind a mix of art styles; my criticism was more of a technical one with how the images looked side-by-side. It's a minor gripe though, and the character art itself was very good.
Iwanako's Letter to Hisao. From what I can remember, he receives it in each route, but his reactions differ greatly between them. This ties in closely with his mental state during each of the routes.
I'm glad you mentioned this, because it's something I wanted to address but forgot to. He does indeed receive it in every route, reacting differently each time. It's a really clever storytelling technique that helps to contrast the different routes using a common plot element.

That reminds of a more general point I wanted to make: the game does a great job of building the world, feeding you information about the characters and encouraging you to explore other routes. There are events that happen in all or some of the routes (receiving the letter being the most obvious one) that make you wonder what it would be like to experience in other routes. The girls are present in each other's routes, giving you a glimpse at other paths you could have taken; as I mentioned, this was particularly effective for me regarding Hanako. I don't think it's a coincidence that I did Emi's and Rin's routes sequentially, as I did Lilly's and Hanako's, given each pair's in-game friendship and the two being prominent in each other's routes.
You said you have only read two visual novels to completion as of now, but the things you pointed out, as well as how you were able to describe more in less, suggest a plethora of experience.
I'm glad my writing gave the impression that I'm more knowledegable than I let on, but I assure you I have as much experience (in visual novels and real life) as stated :)
Last edited by Notta on Thu Nov 10, 2022 4:43 pm, edited 1 time in total.
User avatar
OtakuNinja
Posts: 1480
Joined: Sat Jun 16, 2012 10:42 pm
Location: Sweden
Contact:

Re: Essaypost on my experience of the game

Post by OtakuNinja »

Notta wrote: Tue Nov 08, 2022 4:24 pm
Emi was my first character as well, as is the case for many others who went in without knowing what to expect.
I noticed this while reading some other reviews. I guess either her's is the most likely probabilistically, or the choices leading to it are just the most popular on average.
Considering Hisao just had a major heart attack I would assume most people went running to be healthy, which of course means Emi :P

I got Lilly on my blind playthrough though. And Hanako when I first played the demo
Image
Emibro, Hanabro, [Lilly Lover], Rin Kin, Feminist, Two-timer
(Passively working on my KS YouTube series. Someday...)
User avatar
Oddball
Posts: 3027
Joined: Wed Feb 29, 2012 2:05 pm

Re: Essaypost on my experience of the game

Post by Oddball »

OtakuNinja wrote: Thu Nov 10, 2022 1:40 pm Considering Hisao just had a major heart attack I would assume most people went running to be healthy, which of course means Emi :P
The first time I played it, I thought Hisao pushing himself was the last thing he needed to do. The guy just got out of the hospital, he doesn't need to do anything to put him back in. So I ended up on Hanako's route.
Not Dead Yet
User avatar
OtakuNinja
Posts: 1480
Joined: Sat Jun 16, 2012 10:42 pm
Location: Sweden
Contact:

Re: Essaypost on my experience of the game

Post by OtakuNinja »

Oddball wrote: Sun Nov 20, 2022 10:00 am
OtakuNinja wrote: Thu Nov 10, 2022 1:40 pm Considering Hisao just had a major heart attack I would assume most people went running to be healthy, which of course means Emi :P
The first time I played it, I thought Hisao pushing himself was the last thing he needed to do. The guy just got out of the hospital, he doesn't need to do anything to put him back in. So I ended up on Hanako's route.
I was just being lazy, so I ended up on the same track as you :lol: But Act 1 keeps telling you how important it is that you exercise if you don't want to die
Image
Emibro, Hanabro, [Lilly Lover], Rin Kin, Feminist, Two-timer
(Passively working on my KS YouTube series. Someday...)
User avatar
Oddball
Posts: 3027
Joined: Wed Feb 29, 2012 2:05 pm

Re: Essaypost on my experience of the game

Post by Oddball »

OtakuNinja wrote: Mon Nov 21, 2022 12:03 am
Oddball wrote: Sun Nov 20, 2022 10:00 am
OtakuNinja wrote: Thu Nov 10, 2022 1:40 pm Considering Hisao just had a major heart attack I would assume most people went running to be healthy, which of course means Emi :P
The first time I played it, I thought Hisao pushing himself was the last thing he needed to do. The guy just got out of the hospital, he doesn't need to do anything to put him back in. So I ended up on Hanako's route.
I was just being lazy, so I ended up on the same track as you :lol: But Act 1 keeps telling you how important it is that you exercise if you don't want to die
And he was exercising, he just wasn't pushing him to the point where his heart would act out. At least, he wasn't unless you choose that option.

I guess I was just more used to games that had no problem killing you back then.
Not Dead Yet
Post Reply