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January 15, 2012

A New Personal Low

There have been three games I’ve wanted so much that I’ve gotten obsessive over them.  The first is Super Smash Bros. Brawl.  The second: Persona 4, which would go on to become my 4th favorite game ever.  The third -- and the most recent -- is Katawa Shoujo.

All the colors of the rainbow.

I’d heard about the game a while back -- a freeware visual novel created by, get this, a bunch of forum-goers on the internet based on a single page of art from an indie artist.  Its main characters?  High school students gathered at a school for people with disabilities, running the gamut from blindness to deafness to amputations.  Its gameplay?  Reading and clicking through text and occasionally answering a multiple-choice prompt, with the perceived goal of becoming “really good friends” with one of the disabled girls (hence the title). 

I feel embarrassed just writing that.  Hot off the heels of finishing the sublime 999, I wanted to try my hand at another visual novel.  And when I heard that Katawa Shoujo was available for download, and FREE, I raised my eyebrows in amusement and intrigue, as I so often do.  And when I saw the reactions across the internet -- tales of grown male gamers closing their laptops and setting their heads on their desks to cry -- I knew this was a game I had to play. 

I’ve only played a few games that have made me cry, or tear up, or choke up.  Sonic Adventure 2.  Trauma Team.  The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword.  The aforementioned 999.  Those are the kinds of experiences that I want to dissect -- to understand what makes them tick, so that I can use them in my own works.  How do I make a true emotional moment?  How do I make readers choke up and take a look at their own lives?  Sure, I can make people laugh, and I can make them pump their fists and say “Hell yeah, homeslice!”  But do I have what it takes to make them cry?  I suspect not.  And that’s why I intend to use the game as training to learn its secrets.

Such as how to resist the awesome seductive power of drill hair.

The only problem is the price of entry.  Do I dare venture in?  Do I dare face the power of emotion?  Do I dare play a game that veers dangerously close to being a dating sim, coated with distinctly Japanese visuals, and risk becoming a glossy-eyed nerd who clutches anime hug pillows and whispers “Moe…^_^” well into the night?

Okay, maybe that’s a little extreme.  For one thing, I’m already nerdy enough.  Playing a visual novel isn’t going to change me that much.  And besides, from what I've heard this game is quite tasteful...outside of its title, in which "katawa" is considered very offensive in Japan.  But that was intentional.  The developers behind it are pushing boundaries in a way plenty of other companies shy away from -- or arse up entirely -- so this might be...interesting, to say the least.  I'm all for a game that teaches me something new, and something with a bit more class and taste (my gamer cred needs a quick boost every now and then).  So all in all, I’m looking forward to a full playthrough of Katawa Shoujo; it could be a very nice change of pace from a world of brown shooters. 

Bring on the tears, game.  I DARE you.

Download it here (assuming you have a torrent program): http://katawa-shoujo.com/  Be a man.  (Or a woman.  A...WOman.  Or...woMAN.  Or tacos.)

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