4 Leaf Studios has released the first act of the Katawa Shoujo visual novel. Katawa Shoujo was made using the Ren’Py engine, and is released under the Creative Commons license. The demo covers Act 1, the release date for the completed game has not yet been announced. For those unfamiliar with visual novels, they are interactive fiction, essentially computerized versions of choose your own adventure books. However, they tend to have deeper character and plot development than their printed predecessors. Often, they center around the development of relationships between the protagonist and a choice of characters in the game. While many are romantic in nature, others fall into sci-fi or horror categories. The Ace Attorney series that I’ve mentioned earlier this week can be considered a law based visual novel in many respects. Katawa Shoujo, which means Disability Girls in Japanese, is an original English language visual novel about a Japanese boy at a special needs school. After a heart attack, Hisao Nakai, the main character, has to spend some time in hospital. When he is finally released, he transfers to a school with a full-time nursing staff so that he can continue school while still under medical observation. While he is otherwise a normal, healthy teenage boy, he is surrounded by people with all sorts of disabilities. For example, Emi is missing both legs and has to use prosthetics, Shizune is deaf and Hanako seems to have burns over a large portion of her face and body. In Act 1, the story centers around Hisao coming to grips both with his own condition as well as his ability to work and interact with the other disabled students. By the end of the demo, while Hisao is still concerning himself with his classmates’ conditions, he’s becoming more and more comfortable interacting with them.
Visually, the game is pretty good for not being commercially produced. It uses photographs for many backgrounds rather than drawings, which was a little odd to see contrasted with anime-esque character drawings in front of them, but they are easy to adjust to. According to their development blog, they intend to keep the photographs in the final product, as well. The character designs are cute, and were definitely designed with the concept of moe in mind. Which concerns me that supposedly there are some H scenes later on in the game. The demo has nothing of the sort in it, and was well done without them.
The story develops as a good pace. It doesn’t drag on repeatedly, and while it jumps between interaction with several groups of characters, it is still easy to follow. I’m looking forward to seeing how the story goes, getting more back story on all the characters, and seeing how they grow together. All in all, I was quite pleased with the demo, and look forward to the full version. Update 5/5/09: Over at the Katawa Shoujo Dev Blog, they say that there will be options to skip the H-scenes, for those who don’t want to watch cripple sex.
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