It's clear that Katawa Shoujo has some glaring problems in spite of its engaging stories and endearing cast of characters. However it's easy to forgive such mistakes when confronted with a game that is so honest in its convictions and clear in its artistic integrity. Because of its free-to-play roots, there really is a sense of the creators having complete artistic control and making a product exactly as they envisaged it - with a thematic focus on "imperfection," it's oddly fitting for the game's design to be aesthetically flawed.
For better or worse, it's a title that refuses to adhere to the trappings of modern Western game design.
For better or worse, it's a title that refuses to adhere to the trappings of modern Western game design; even the bad endings don't seem like you have "failed" simply because the sequence of the story lends itself to a clear sense of finality. With a generation of games seemingly over-reliant on graphical wizardry and overused cinematic clichés in order to tell a good story, it's refreshing to see a title focus less on flashy visuals and gimmick-ridden gameplay and more on simple yet powerful story presentation.
Our changing response to the game's content mirrors the developers' desire for us to look beneath the surface, to challenge our preconceived opinions of beauty and prejudice by presenting a very human story about love first, disability second. As it is however, the game lacks the polish and editing that would make it one of the classics of the romance genre, and as such the critic is left uncertain as to whether it's a noble failure or a flawed success. Nevertheless, Katawa Shoujo serves as an endearing introduction into the world of the visual novel, and undoubtedly its devoted cult following will continue to grow - with a $0.00 price tag there's very little reason not to at least try it. For all its faults there's a lot to like about Katawa Shoujo: its heartfelt ambition, its unashamed sentimental drama, the knowing-but-never-cynical commentary on teenage romance. Ultimately we're left with the image that true love, whether real or fictional, is never skin-deep.
TR Juro is an impoverished London-based writer who works as a script reader by day and strips for money by night. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, and he'll be sure to reply back to you/find out where you live.