Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Katawa Shoujo: Forget Any Controversy

It's articles like this that make me A) want to shut up and stop pretending I'm anything like such brilliant writers as Leigh Alexander or B) go out and hug someone and tell them they're perfect the way they are. I won't talk talk too much here, just to add my own thoughts on the subject.

Katawa Shoujo ('Disability Girls') is a forthcoming tale told from the first-person of a Japanese high-school boy who finds he has a debilitating heart defect and moves to a boarding school for the disabled. There he meets several girls, each attractive in their own way, and each with their own disability ranging from deafness to having no arms.

While the developers tell us that by the end of the game the protagonist will have the opportunity to have sex with one of the girls, so far only the first act of three has been released. I spent two hours on my first play through and sex was only twice perhaps hinted at. Instead, I was treated to an enthralling seven days of meeting, talking with and hanging around with these six people... and a myopic, paranoid flatmate. (I say 'I' did these things; even with a clearly defined protagonist/narrator, in first person these lines become a little blurred).

In this one week I have negotiated both high school political society and the unfamiliar social norms of the handicapped. Even though the choices in Katawa Shoujo are few and far between and all but the most important decisions are taken by the protagonist I personally worried over how to handle, or if to handle at all, when someone found a task especially difficult, or the matter of approaching a severely withdrawn loner.  The prospect of intimate relations at the end seems irrelevant when compared with the humbling emotional and educational qualities of Katawa Shoujo. 

It is going to be called a dating sim or eroge ('erotic game') by most people but as I see it is a growing up/romance novel that listens to its reader. For the most part, the player is a passive witness to narration and dialogue across the bottom of the screen with representative 'pose' shots of the key characters for visual reference. Occasionally there will be a long scrolling shot to emphasise the location/atmosphere or a unique event painting. The music alone is captivating - I have left the main menu on in the background while writing this post. The inclusion of an 'auto run' function allows you to just sit back and read/watch the story leisurely.

I want more of these. People haven't begun to scratch the surface with how modern technologies can be used to present new stories. There is nothing to stop someone making a story in this structure and with these techniques without being bound to the precepts of 'game' or, perhaps worse, 'eroge'. The gamer in me cries out for more dialogue options, more player agency. The reader in me just wonders if the teacher has a disability, or what problems Rin has beyond the obvious. He just wants more story, however it comes.

You can find the first act of Katawa Shoujo for free download HERE. I recommend you at least give it a go.

1 comment:

  1. It reminds me about an old dating game called "Season of Sakura". Everything was about high school role-playing adventure game with an opportunity to make love with one of the girls (the one who falled in love with your character) at the end of the game. There were a lot of dialog and sequences with multiple reply. It was an eroge because of the ending, but the heart of the game was led by a narrative dating adventure. Many different japanese game has been made in this category, you should do some research online based on this basis, if you really enjoyed Katawa Shoujo.

    By the way, thank for the link, I have read it on Gamasutra, but I wasn't caught by the game. I will give a try as soon as I can.