This game started as a humble concept drawing by RAITA. Using the premise “Broken but Beautiful”, he created five girls, each with a distinguishing disability, from missing limbs to muteness. These pictures found their way to a 4chan thread where people instantly grew attached to these characters. Many begun writing stories about these girls, from how they were injured, what their personalities were like, their romantic interests.
The activity in the thread persisted for about a year, and then it begun to naturally moribund. A dedicated few stuck with the story, and began to flesh it out. They started writing and exchanging short stories, and eventually came to the conclusion that the work needed to made into a visual novel. 4 years and a plethora of artists and writers later, the game was completed in 2012.
The story follows Hisao, a young man entering his senior year in high school. On a calm winter’s day, he meets with his long-time crush. During her confession, he is suddenly stricken by a heart attack. Arrhythmia, a disorder that makes his heartbeat irregular went excited, robs him of everything: his school, friends, family, and his crush. Eventually it’s decided that he should attend a school for the disabled. With little protest, and much contempt, he transfers to this school. Expecting it to be a place of sterile walls and stymied hope, he is surprised to find an active, vibrant community, where people not only cope with shortcomings, but excel with them.
Five girls in particular stand out: the refined, beautiful and blind Lily; the strong, ambitious and deaf/mute Shizune; the energetic, determined and double leg amputee, Emi, the peculiar, artistic, and double arm amputee, Rin, and the coy, kind, and scarred Hanako. As you play, you will encounter, learn about, and eventually fall for one of the girls, with all of them leaving an indelible mark on Hisao, showing him what it truly means to be a “One-Wheeled” Girl.
The authors are excellent and like to flex their verbosity, but it never feels forced, and simply adds to the story. The narrative flows fluidly, passing in realistic time. There’s also an incredible amount of comedy in the series, most of it focused on high school antics.
Hisao is an interesting character; He’s very flexible, moving with the talents and pitfalls of each girl, while not being superhuman or Mary-Sue. He has his own problems (which he doesn’t like to share) and is stubborn about tackling them alone. He also likes to help people out, which often just makes things worse. He doesn’t always make the right the decision (even with your input), which helps to make him far more human than the average protagonist.
The art is very solid. The character designs are both simple and distinct, employing very simple lines and signs for faces and relatively realistic hairstyles. The backgrounds look like watercolor washes of photographs, which is a common shortcut found even in commercial visual novels.
The sex is mostly vanilla, but very potent and very emotionally charged. From the youthful ‘experimentation’ of Emi to the surprising raunchiness of Shizune, to the emotionally expressive love of Rin, almost all of the sex is cathartic and fitting to each character. The scenes are modestly illustrated, enough to expose the characters and make the action evident, with no grandiose exaggeration. The sex is a part of the story, not the highlight.
Katawa Shoujo represents the success of an online community coming to together to create an amazing project from an unlikely source. It’s an inventive story featuring characters that are “broken but beautiful”, and ultimately, it’s a story that makes you reconsider yourself as a person, making you ask “Am I performing to my full potential?” Download Katawa Shoujo for free.