So I heard about Katawa Shoujo and how a group of people from 4chan (yes that 4chan) got together and made a dating sim featuring disabled girls. My first reaction was to think this was going to be horrible horrible stuff. I mean 4chan isn’t exactly sensitivity and thoughtfulness central. Then I heard it wasn’t that bad and actually handled the topic with care from fellow online gamers. Yes, I was intrigued. However I only got around to trying it recently as I was waiting for the official site to post a direct download link (sorry I don’t trust torrents, I had enough problems using one before (¬__¬)). Hence the delay in my own post compared to the rest of the gaming blogosphere. But nonetheless I want to share my thoughts, so here they are~
Before I delve into Emi’s route though, I do want to point out to those unfamiliar with the game that each route had its own writer and artist so my thoughts here pertain exclusively to Emi’s route and do not extend to the rest of the routes (which I have yet to play). Also major spoilers from this point on. You have been warned.
Alright, so the game is broken down into Act 1, where your choices determine the route you end up in and the following Acts for each girl. There are 5 girls: Emi, Rin, Lilly, Hanako, and Shizune who get their own routes. Supposedly if you don’t end up on any of their routes you either get the bad ending or Kenji’s route/ending. Anyway, I wasn’t planning on doing Emi’s route first. She was cute but she didn’t really stand out like some of the other girls. I thought her route was going to be the dull predictable route, but boy was I wrong.
In Act 1 I, on whim, decided to race Emi, and then later realized this choice locked me into her route. I was a little disappointed but decided to see what would come of it. Emi was cute and I liked her as a character, so I thought if worst comes to worst, I would just reload one of my Act 1 saved files and go for a different route. But I soon found that her route was actually pretty entertaining. Emi was much more than just a cute bubbly girl. She teased Hisao a lot, swore from time to time, and liked to make cheeky remarks. Also Rin’s unpredictability was definitely a nice boost early in Emi’s route as both character’s different personalities really complemented them and made it interesting to watch them talk.
I think my first big shock came when we see Emi race. She’s determined, focused, and very assertive. All traits I love and traits I have never seen paired with a bubbly personality, which is a shame because it worked so well with Emi. I was amazed at how much more there was to her characterization than Act 1 let on. Later on she was the one who confessed to Hisao and she was often the one who began the sexual encounters between them. I wasn’t sure what to expect about the h-scenes but it certainly wasn’t Emi taking charge; this was definitely a pleasant surprise.
This assertive, head strong persona continues and becomes the main obstacle inhibiting Hisao from getting closer to her. Hisao knows something is wrong, but Emi refuses to tell him anything and this becomes the main conflict for her route. Normally this sort of conflict can become frustrating, but I feel Emi’s route avoided it by showing us just the right amount of vulnerability (we know it’s something really personal) so that her stubbornness about this issue comes off as believable. The best part about this whole conflict is definitely that this issue has nothing to do with her lack of legs. Emi’s legs never play into her negative psychology, which given the topic would be such an easy thing to do. Rather, it’s the loss of her father that plays the biggest role in her problems and it’s handled in a very sympathetic and believable way. What I liked about this is that this problem really humanized her, yet didn’t entirely make her a passive character. She was the one who ultimately accepted Hisao’s help and wanted to grow closer. The good ending was really well handled and was one of the best ways I have seen a vulnerable character handled like an active agent rather than a helpless victim. So two big thumbs up to the writer of her route. You have great talent with characterization and storytelling! Those are my honest opinions.
Other Aspects of the Route:
Very tasteful. No genitalia, male or female, is visible, only Emi’s bare beasts. The sex scenes show you what’s going on without focusing on eroticism. Some may think of this as a downside, but I think it’s for the best as it doesn’t cheapen the effect of the intimacy between Hisao and Emi. The writing for the sex scenes was also surprisingly good as it focused less on what Hisao was doing to Emi (although there is some of that as well) and more on what was going through his head during these encounters. I was also very happy to see that the writer chose to have Hisao think about Emi’s pleasure. It really helped me believe that he loved her because he actually wanted her to enjoy their sexual encounters too. So again, great job Emi’s team!
The Other Characters:
Rin: Rin was great on Emi’s route. She often added some funny moments to the mix, like walking in on a shirtless Emi with Hisao and acting like nothing happened or her blunt observations about their relationship.
The Nurse: He was the best! He was really funny and I always enjoyed his funny remarks and grin. I liked his relationship with Emi as well.
Emi’s Mom: No real feelings about her as she was more or less just a mom-like character. I did like that conversation between her and Hisao about Emi though, as she seemed really close to her daughter.
There are two endings, the good and bad ending, however there are two ways to access the good ending, one I feel is better than the other, so I’ll call this the best ending.
Bad Ending: This ending is triggered by first running after Emi when Hisao visit her house and then by having Hisao not spill his guts to Misha went she asks why Hisao and Emi aren’t together anymore. Misha will then tell Hisao to go apologize and when Hisao meets Emi after class and tries to do so, he is rebuffed. This ending is really heart breaking because you can tell that Emi is basically pretending nothing is wrong and Hisao can’t find it in him to try harder. It left me feeling empty when Emi tells Hisao, with a smile on her face, that they are just not meant for each other. She finishes with saying, “see you around” and when Hisao confronts her about this not being true, she just shrugs her shoulders and goes back to her running. The sheer lack of emotion in this break up just made this ending really chilling. I really felt bad when I got it, especially since I got it before I got the good ending.
Good Ending: The good ending is triggered the same way as the bad ending, except you have to make Hisao tell Misha about him and Emi. This in turn triggers a different event between Hisao and Emi when he sees her after class. In this scenario, Emi is visibly angry that Hisao has shown up and when Hisao calls after her, she doesn’t hear him, which prompts Hisao to run after her. When he catches up, a nice and tender talk happens between them, and Emi eventually breaks down and admits she loves Hisao. The route then proceeds to Chapter 4 and the good ending where Emi finally talks about what’s bothering her.
Best Ending: This ending scenario can only be triggered by talking to Emi’s mom rather than running after Emi. It’s better than the good ending because for one, Emi regrets kicking Hisao out of her house right away and Hisao doesn’t avoid Emi for a week. The two remain on friendly terms until Hisao musters up his courage to confront Emi. Another reason I think this is the best ending is that Iwanako’s note makes a reappearance and you finally get to read the final parts, whereas the other good end scenario never mentions it. Hisao also doesn’t need Misha to tell him what he needs to do about his relationship with Emi. He figures this out on his own and their confrontation plays out better. Hisao also delivers one of my favourite lines in this version’s confrontation: After Emi accuses him of trying to be the white knight on his charger again, Hisao says that he wants Emi and him to be like fellow knights who help each other out. Really, that’s a great way to put it and this also seems to win Emi over. After that you see the same sequence where Emi finally tells you what is bothering her.
And that’s Emi’s route in a nutshell. It’s very well written and has great art. I’m sort of worried if the other routes can reach the bar that Emi’s route has set so high. Time will tell I guess. Also I’ve started Shizune’s route now, so that shall be the next route I discuss. I hope you look forward to it! :)