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January 21, 2012

A New(er) Personal Low

A game for real men.

Remember how I mentioned the other day that I downloaded the visual novel Katawa Shoujo?  You know, the one where you play a lad with a heart defect trying to find true love amidst a gaggle of lasses with disabilities?  Well I’ve been playing a fair bit of it recently, and…well…

I don’t think I’ve ever HNNNNNNNNNNNNNGed so hard so often with a video game.

"Just...too...cute...!" -- The last words of most Katawa Shoujo players.

I know video games.  I know anime and manga.  I know memes and books and internet culture and even a little bit about comics.  But I never really understood what it meant to think of characters as cute or “moe” or even longingly whisper “mai waifu” into my screen.  And while I’m not that far gone (yet), I can at least understand the appeal.  I’m on my first playthrough of KS, on Act 3 of -- what I assume is -- Lilly’s route, and I doubt I’ve played a more heartwarming game in my entire life.  Bear in mind that plenty of games are now multi-million dollar affairs with marketing campaigns and/or legacy names behind them -- and bear in mind that as it stands, they’ve all been beat by this labor of love and art.  Or more appropriately, by a bunch of guys forming a sort of Superfriends out of communities all over the net. 

There’s not much gameplay to speak of; the most interactivity is pressing the left mouse button/spacebar to advance the text, and occasionally choosing your course of action in a multiple choice prompt.  But unlike the games you’d hear about in commercials or cram into your Xbox, it doesn’t really need complex inputs.  This is a game where you watch and read, and enjoy.  It’s contrary to my normal opinion that games are supposed to have deep player interaction by nature -- unlike movies, for example -- but I’m willing to make an exception.    Notably, because there IS a sort of interaction between the player and the game; it’s not done with button presses, sword slashes or gunfire, but with emotions.  Crazy, right?  But there’s something there that’s missing from even the most erudite of experiences on other systems.

Maybe games need more blind girls...?

Maybe it has something to do with the music -- at times it’s cheery and even silly, while at others it’s decidedly gloomy.   Maybe it has something to do with the visuals -- while plenty of the backgrounds are lifted from real-world photographs, the characters themselves are drawn (quite well!) with still pictures and cutscenes alike interspersed.  Maybe it’s the writing -- main character Hisao is interesting, sympathetic, a bit sarcastic and a bit of a straight man, and moreover deals with the story’s themes/issues just as the player does.  Scratch that, it’s definitely the writing; there’s just so much to like here that I’ll probably have to talk about it later.  Until then, I’ll just say that whenever Hisao’s heart starts acting up…trust me, yours will too.

But the obvious reason why I -- and others, it seems -- are so excited about this game is the characters.  If you want to be a heartless objectivist about the matter, then yes, you could argue that this is a game where you try to romance disabled girls.  But it goes much deeper than that.  They’re not just Achievement Points to tack onto your Gamerscore.  They’re not real, but they’re real enough.  They have issues, likes and dislikes, rivalries and friendships, and they all handle their disabilities with the same expertise and tact that you’d expect of high school girls -- several of which have had those issues since birth.  So when you have a scene where Hanako, a girl with half her face scarred, tearfully hugs her blind best friend Lilly, you don’t think “All right, what’s next on this route?”  You -- assuming you’re still alive after that cuteness assault -- feel short of breath, and warm, and even the most jaded of eyes start to melt.  In short, HNNNNNNNNNNNNNG.

So needless to say, I’m going to keep playing.  I’ve got a lot more to say about the game, and a lot more to experience.  So I hope you’ll check back later.  I’ll try not to have a heart attack while you’re gone.

But seriously.  If you have a chance, download the crap out of this (free!) game.  Your soul will thank you.


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