Review: Katawa Shoujo

By: Derek Yu

On: February 8th, 2012

[This is a guest review by Tof Eklund.]

Katawa Shoujo, by 4LeafStudios
“Everyone wants someone there to pull them up, out of their self-pity.” -Hisao Nakai

Katawa Shoujo is a visual novel that takes place at a school for the disabled. The game’s protagonist, Hisao, arrives there reluctantly after a long hospital stay for life-threatening arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat). His first episode occurred when a girl at his school confessed to him, setting the tone of heartbreak, isolation, and the difficulty of human connection for the game. Thus the game’s logo, a yellow heart criss-crossed with bandages: wounded and frightened.

This is a relationship/dating sim game, but it is closer in feel to Evangelion than any of the “harem” anime and manga (Tenchi Muyo, Love Hina) that it may seem, on casual inspection, to resemble. Each of the girls that Hisao can wind up falling in love with at Yamaku Academy has a different disability, and that, combined with the fact that there is (semi-)explicit sex in this game, is the reason some people have dismissed it, unplayed, as a fetish-fest.

The thing is, though Katawa Shoujo is painstakingly detailed and accurate in its representation of different forms of disability, it isn’t about disability. Hisao is the only character in the story who is learning to live with and accept his handicap. None of the girls in the game need or want a helper or caretaker. The first thing that Hisao, and the player, starts to see is that the people around him aren’t charity cases. Each one lives with their disability, taking blindness or armlessness the same way you or I take the fact that we can’t fly – when was the last time you worried about that?

There is an exception: a nearly-blind social phobic (hikkikomori) named Kenji who lives across the hall from Hisao. He alone, out of all the characters, has completely failed to adapt, and lives a small, pathetic life of isolated paranoia, characterized by extreme gynophobia. Kenji is a kind of dark and distorted mirror of what Hisao could become if he lets himself wallow in his own misery.

The real challenge in the game – and it is a challenge – is emotional trauma. If Katawa Shoujo has an underlying theme, it is that we are all disabled and “normal” alike, walking wounded. Even the teachers at Yamaku Academy (who are, as far as we can tell, not disabled) show some emotional scarring. The name of the game is “the hedgehog’s dilemma”. Sometimes the “obvious” decision, an attempt to get closer, pushes the other character away.

If you treat other characters as invalids to be taken care of or broken dolls that Hisao must “fix”, you won’t get far in Katawa Shoujo.

Katawa Shoujo, by 4LeafStudios

For all its strengths, Katawa Shoujo is still prone to the flaws common to visual novels, like decision points where reasonable actions are not available and occasionally some lack of clarity about where a single choice will lead the conversation or action. In many visual novels, choices are either head-smackingly obvious or impossibly vague. This is especially true of games translated from Japanese, where differences in degree of politeness are hard to convey. In Katawa Shoujo (which was written in English), the choices generally feel credible, and decisions are usually made difficult by apparent tradeoffs between options rather than lack of clarity about what the options are. Some choices yield fairly clear and immediate consequences, but many take time to play out, increasing suspense and replayability.

There is sex in this game, and it’s an important part of the game. There is a general division of dating sims (visual novel or otherwise) into “sex” and “no sex” games, with the former group often making sex the goal of the game, in the vein of “sow wild oats, then (maybe) pick which girl to settle down with”. I think it’s inevitable that the sex in Katawa Shoujo will act as a “carrot”, a part of players’ interest in the game, and I don’t think that’s a bad thing. What’s interesting, then, is that sex is also depicted realistically in the game. Sex isn’t a cure-all. In the game, it sometimes deepens intimacy or releases tension, but it can also really mess things up.

Most interestingly, it can even be desired and appropriate, but go poorly. There is one scene in the game that involves poorly-informed experimentation with anal sex. Rather than succumb to the porn-industry cliche that the only thing better than vaginal is anal, this scene leads to a much more likely conclusion: both characters vow to “never do that again.”

There is an option in the menu to skip the game’s adult content, a key design decision. Four Leaf Studios clearly recognized that there are people who would want to play this game but would be put off by the graphic sexuality. This self-censorship, when enabled, is crude but functional. There is still sex in the game, and it is obvious when it happens, but it happens offscreen. To be clear, images with nudity and/or sex acts are skipped, as is the most explicit text, but there is still sexually suggestive content in that mode of the game.

However, there is no option to “lock out” the adult content. This is consistent with the developers’ 4chan origins: you don’t have to see things you don’t want to, but other people have a right to. The lack of an option to lock out the adult content means, for example, that a parent who thinks the expurgated version of the game might be appropriate for a young adult would have to trust their child not to turn the sex back on.

That’s my one complaint about the game: the no-sex version of Katawa Shoujo could be appropriate for tween/teen audiences, and maybe even educational use, but that won’t happen when the adult content is just a click away.

  • Guest

    literally just got through explaining this to my girlfriend of four years. We’re having a sparkling discussion about the game and its various points, each resolving to play it and come to a conclusion

  • Jon

    It’s really a shame that people are dismissing Katawa Shoujo on the basis of it being “cripple porn”.  Not because it’s good, but because people should be dismissing it on the basis of it having horrendously uneven and lazy art in a lot of places, pretty much no gameplay whatsoever, and some of the worst writing I’ve ever seen in a plot-driven game.

    Really, I wish less people were focusing on the cripple sex… so that fewer people would rush to its defense and ignore the fact that it’s a pretty shitty game in general while they do it.

  • News

    phallicly phixated phreak

  • Paul Hubans

     lol, I don’t really give a fuck if you believe whether I have a girlfriend or not. “Oh shit, some lonely pathetic nerd virgin who faps off to girlfriend simulators doesn’t want to consider the fact that someone who’s calling him out on being pathetic actually has a girlfriend!” Let me show this to her so we can laugh at your level of immaturity.

  • Firepith

    So… this game has nipples?

  • Lark

    Are we playing the same thing here? I take it that disliking KS for ‘bad writing and art’ is now the anti-conformist conformist thing to do.

    Sure, the writing is not as consistent and it could be and there’s plenty of bloat (more a fault of the genre i.e. telling is easier than showing), but it does its job. The characterization is generally excellent and there is an organic feel to the development of the protagonist. Taken as a whole, the VN is wonderfully evocative and emotional.

  • westley

    “lol, I don’t really give a fuck if you believe whether I have a girlfriend or not.”

    Your right hand doesn’t count. Except to five.

    Go NOT play a game and whine about it, that’s real maturity there.

  • Piotr

    If there are sex scenes, it must be porn. Puritan sexophobic much? Put on some pants on that David shit.

  • Anonymous

    i just read all 200+ comments. was pretty entertaining (but that’s usually the case when phubans is involved in a discussion)

    i think i agree most with jabberwok as far as thoughts on the topic go. i think in 50 years we’ll look back on games like this and think ‘why was this even controversial’, just as we do now with stuff created in the past which was controversial at the time but is pretty tame by today’s standards (e.g. 60s and 70s horror movies or sex scenes). if you look into stuff that was banned in the past, it’s usually extremely tame compared to what is standard now — not even tame compared to what is extreme now, but tame compared to what is *standard* now

  • OMG


  • Brian Westley

    People in the game have nipples, but they all seem to be mammals, so it shouldn’t be a surprise.

  • Patter

    So if there is sex scenes in a movie, does that make it a porn movie too?

  • Guest

    I’ve never seen such a large congregation of retardation.

  • Austen_durham

    This is great.i love you guys

  • Anonymouse

    funger my binghole

  • What

    Yes, Katawa is a derogatory term in Japan, but since neither you nor I nor the developers are japanese it doesn’t-

    Wait… Where did you learn that? Surely not from the developer’s blog? The discussions that people have on the games?

    Well, I may be four days late, but you’ve been found out.

  • westley

    Four days late?  Are you pregnant?  Can you still handle second base?

  • welp

    I actually did, back when the first act came out, I explained what it was.
    a book with pictures and an input to influence what ending you got.
    I’m not some average american wanker whom claims seeing a nude women back in eighth grade fucked my head. sex and violence are natural parts of life. doesnt mean i go around raping and killing everything I see because I saw it on t.v. and i told her how much i liked the characters and the like when the full version came out. your words and overall tone just reek of ignorance.  Ignoramus the name of someone who is willfully ignorant. so by definition you are an Ignoramus. people like you were what got books burned

  • Cypress_dahlia

    It’s only controversial because people are failing to recognize the disabled as normal human beings. That’s really what the issue is here. Without thinking about it, they’re relegating the disabled characters to a limited set of activities, excluding ones that “normal”, non-disabled people typically partake in. So even though fully able people dating and having sex is okay, disabled people doing it is somehow vulgar. It’s really just discrimination. Nothing more, nothing less.

  • Sine

    Haters gonna hate.

  • Sine


  • Sine

    “rationalize his fetish of wanting to fuck disabled girls by using a strawman about disabled people being sexual”
    I played a few VNs before. Never ever jerked off, or thought about jerking off while I played, even during the erotic scenes, which I always skip, since sometimes the transition is so abrupt that the scene would feel out-of-place even.

    People against this game seems to have many misconceptions about VNs in general and the people who play them.

  • LeavingCommentsTheGame

    Man, Christine Love should update “sorry babe, it’s not your story” by just copy pasting all these comments into those ‘4chan parody intermission’ segments. I could’ve spent all the time reading these (and I assume you could’ve spent the time writing them) doing, oh, I don’t know… Making the games you want to play?

  • Anonymous

    to a degree, but it’s also that it’s a visual novel about relationships, which would have gotten trolling comments on tigsource even if it weren’t about disabled people

  • Brian Westley


  • Guestimus Prime

    Katawa Shoujo is not about fucking crippled girls. If you think it’s about fucking crippled girls, you haven’t played the game/are a heartless monster.
    You can’t form opinions on this without playing it precisely because the subject matter is so… touchy. But believe me, everything is handled tastefully, and the explicit scenes are rare and fitting. A fetishist would be disappointed with this product.

    Saying this is porn because it’s a visual novel is like saying every video game with jumping is a platformer.

  • Vincent

    Are there other commonalitiers between 4 leaf studio and 4chan ???

  • Greg Morton

    Thanks, TiGSource for actually playing/reading through it before making any judgements… unlike 90% of all the commentators/trolls on here.
    And thanks for not falling to the level of RPS for outright hating it for being a Visual Novel.
    In truth, Visual Novels don’t get fans for their deep gameplay, but for their writing, art, and characters. That’s the exact reason why you see so many anime adaptations of them(e.g. Kanon, AIR, Clannad, Fate/Stay Night).

  • Asdf

    I am feeling sqeezed into a certain pattern here

  • Guest

    If anyone who is complaining about it has actually played the game, they will see that the “sex scenes” only show breasts, and that there are very few that actually pop up during the story.   Maybe one or two depending on what girl you are going for.

    The story is actually about showing acceptance for individuals no matter what they look like on the outside.  

  • Kelly Miller

    First of all, and I know I’m just inviting trolls and pretty much everyone else on the internet to bad mouth me (that’s what it was made for wasn’t it?), I actually played through this and thought it was a rather touching story about relationships and growing up. The sex that is in the game is very minimal, I only remember at the most maybe three scenes that added up to about 10 minutes in my entire play through. 

    I was never and have never been a frequenter of 4chan so I’m not sure what the debate surrounding the creators of this so called “anime cripple rape sim” but I gave it a chance and thought the story was genuine interesting and sweet. 

  • Tof Eklund

    Thanks, everyone. I appreciate the relevant elements of the discussion, and I figured I’d respond to some of those.

    The issue of whether Katawa Shoujo is as dark as I seem to be painting
    it is a good one. My comparison to Eva was intended to explain how
    serious, and even (at a few points) dark the game is. There are tragic
    tradeoffs in some of the “happy” endings, and many (not all) of the
    “bad” endings are written with considerable credibility and pathos. The
    only thing that marks out the “good” endings is a difference in the
    style of the credits.

    I’ll accept criticism of the caliber of writing in the game, but
    respectfully disagree. Others have pointed out before me that the
    writing is somewhat uneven, coming as it does from multiple authors, and
    that not all paths are as varied or detailed. I do think that, within
    it’s genre, and within the broader scope of games writing, Katawa Shoujo
    is written in an appealing, accessible style that captures the
    characters well. I’m not comparing it to Gravity’s Rainbow, but I think
    the writing generally accomplishes its own goals. The game’s title seems
    unfortunate, but is interesting for the same reason, as a large part of
    the game is about taking the stigma out of disability.

    Someone raised the issue of whether Kenji was simply intended to be
    comic relief. Perhaps. What I saw in the character was tragic, because
    his primary disability is psychological, not physical, and he is evading
    treatment.  It reminded me of accounts by people who live with paranoid
    schizophrenia about how their paranoia made it impossible for them to
    seek treatment, and the legal dilemma over when and whether treatment
    can be forced upon someone whose condition renders them unwilling to
    consider treatment (though almost always appreciative of help, if they
    get onto a successful treatment regimen).

    That may or may not have been what was intended, but it’s what I found
    in the character. Certainly other characters in the game have
    psychological issues that cannot be cured, only lived with, including
    Rin’s dissociation and Misha, who I saw as Aspergers (high functioning
    autistic), though Misha might well have just been written in accordance
    with a particular anime archetype.

    I won’t even dismiss the criticism of anime style as very young looking,
    but that is a much broader issue, having to do with a lot of factors,
    none of which are particular to Katawa Shoujo. Simple, clean style that
    eliminates the marking of age, the combination of prewestern manga with
    WWII-era American cartooning style (early Disney and Fleisher – think of
    Betty Boop), and the peculiarities of Japanese censorship law in those
    formative years have had a huge influence on a style that has become
    internationally popular. Then there’s the American and International
    obsession with youth that permeates the entertainment and fashion
    industries. I’ll be blunt and state that the character I found most
    visually appealing in the game was Emi’s mother, and I wish there had
    been more to the subplot about her involvement with a member of the
    school’s faculty: I think they make a cute couple.

    Since identity issues have been made a part of this discussion, I’ll lay
    may cards on the table. I’m a University Professor, white, male,
    30-something, married with one child (so far). My politics are liberal,
    my beliefs are alternative, and I consider myself to be a feminist –
    which may be part of why I wasn’t able to laugh at Kenji. My wife is
    interested in playing the game, but she’ll have to drag herself away
    from World of Goo first.

    Oh, and for the trolls out there, my current score is 180. I’d like to break 200.

  • Katawa Flamewars 2012!

     “Adults” “aged 28 & 30”

    *snicker* 28 and aspie on an Internet comment thread qualifies as adult these days?

    (Sorry, sorry… the bait was too good not to take it.)

  • Quazi

    Hello, my text is really thin and insignificant, just like your nested opinions.

  • Paimun

    I’m willing to bet you couldn’t even get a date from a disabled girl. Being a cocknugget who can’t overlook the fact that someone has no arms is a lot more of a turn-off than, well, someone with no arms! You’re boiling down a visual novel into a game people play to take advantage of handicapped females. I am not sure I want to know how much thinking you have done about this to come up with that conclusion, honestly, and I think someone should keep you away from anyone with missing limbs or disfiguration of any kind.

  • Paimun

    Stuck in a 12 year old mindset, perhaps, and assumes everyone is the same? Because anyone with an ounce of maturity can realize how powerful emotionally sex can be. It’ s not -just- something people do because it feels good.

  • Paimun

    Hang on, who says we’re getting off on them for being crippled? We’re able to look past that and enjoy them for who they are, unlike you.

  • Paimun

    Because Lilly doesn’t POSSIBLY look like she could be 19 at all…

  • Super

    I am just terribly shocked by the whole thing.

  • coolfaggot

    Holy shit
    There are so many people, projecting, in these comments
    I loved the noevl, but I don’t have any fetish, nor am I that socially inept

    Of course, the premise was school for disabled people, but if you seriously think the point of this game is to fuck disabled people, you need to either 
    a) shut the fuck up and stop being retarded 
    b) play it

  • Sebastian

    This.. is just insane. Why the hell do people get so upset about this? People have OPINIONS. They DIFFER. There is no one opinion that is TRUE, because that’s the whole POINT. You may say that this is just for fetishist or whatever you think, but that doesn’t mean at all that you should shove that ‘truth’ of yours up everyone’s throat and suppose everyone is just going to accept that! There’s other things you can do by speaking than trying to convince people you’re right, like sharing your opinion so that other people’s opinion may become more complete. Nothing’s going to happen if you’re only trying to aggrevate people. Here you are, speaking badly about /b/ when you’re doing the exact same thing as they are doing… 

    Why the hell is today’s society so hypocritical? I even have to watch out for posting something like ‘god dang it’ because there might be people who take offense on that when the same people are trampling things that other people believe in…

  • Anon

     Huh, I haven’t read all comments, this ‘visual novel’ has been in development for 4 years and all discussion always end up like this, whether the girls disabilities are exploited or not.  The article makes it pretty clear they’re not.
    As for their childish looks, well

    1. it takes place in their last year of highschool, so they are probably 17~19, yes shockingly enough real life 17 year old girls do have sex,  take some time to let your brain process that. Their appearance is just a stylistic choice, hell Twilight is a million times creepier than this and the female protagonist was 16 in love with what seemed like a 20 something guy, and teenage girls actually bought that. No one called that book pedophilic or sick even though it kinda was. Just because this is anime style there’s a lot of prejudice going on.

    2 The game actually takes place in a  Japanese school, girls there actually do wear sailor uniforms, and asian women usually do tend to look younger. None of the characters were  sexualized or cock teasing, girls actually do dress like that in real life Japan.

    3 You might disagree but I don’t consider this porn. Erotic maybe, but not porn. Porn is about getting off exactly how you want as fast as possible, cleaning up, then entirely forgetting all about it. To get to to a  sex scene, which in this game is really just 1-2 slightly censored screens and lots of text, you have to play at least 15 hours.  One could easily find all porn screens easily on the net if you know how to use google so if you’re just looking for that do that instead. Your opinion may vary but this is a bit annoying, people are so politically correct these days even mentioning that two young people might consent to have sex throws them into an outrage.
    Thank god I live in a country where admitting that a 19 year old looks good isn’t considered a sex offense.

    4 Mainstream movies with attractively young characters with sex scenes in it get made all the time. Yet  I don’t see anyone complaining.

    Feel free to disagree with me and tell me I’m a sick perv, the fact is, if you really wanted weird cripple porn there are plenty of places to find it on google. Anyone who plays this skipping all text just for the sex scenes is wasting their time and completely missing the point. It’s just 2 screens people.

    And finally, goddam it at least they had the balls to try something different. Go back to coding hard abstract 8 bit platforms with chiptune music about having a midlife crisis, or maybe you can make a voxel engine to build a spaceship with blocks, that’s what real creativity is about. 

  • Rejectjohn

    i think the story was amazing

  • Mateus

    Excellent game. Excellent writing. I fell in love with all the girls (except Shizune). Mature sex, mature content. Sensible feelings. Not all the answers make sense, but most do (Rin route is tricky). If someone asks me which are the best love stories in videogaming, I’ll answer “the 5 stories in Katawa Shoujo”. 

  • ur a faget

    Holy shit you are the biggest asspained faggot I have ever witnessed in my entire life. You are the definition of the “stop liking what I don’t like” douche bag that plagues Internet communities. Not only that but you take it to the next level of faggotry. You get so butt-troubled over a game that you have never played that you write fuck-huge walls of incomprehensibly stupid text full of ad hominem fallacies. It is painfully obvious that you are seeking attention by replying like that.

    So here’s the run-down, you’re a massive butt-lusting crybaby bitch. Please set yourself on fire and die.

  • Spencer Trace

    Not gonna lie, but if these guys with sick disabled girl loving fetishes truly existed, they would’ve looked that up on the internet. Not go through hours after hours just to see a drawing of girl with a disability having sex with a equally disabled guy. Hell, what exactly is wrong with having sex with a girl who is blind or mute or has no legs cause of a car accident. I bet half of you “Average” people must have no lives to have stayed on this post to try to dismiss it as a weird fetish porn. How the hell did you get here anyway without first looking this up. This isn’t a porn VS with actual plot in it, this is a plotted VS with a few sex scenes in it. If you want to go to war with people who have seriously weird fetishes, go to the guys who watch demons and reptiles tie up a 16 year old and rape her. Or go to the equally twisted people who have sex with animals.  

  • TheMan

    What is it about these Japanese visual novels and sex? Don’t get me wrong I really respect Japanese people, their love for tech and of course their cartoon mastery. But sometimes it really scares me to see the stuff out there. For example I went to the mirrormoon website to get the link for Bootfighter windom XP a cool translated 3D mech fighting game , after getting the link I decided to see what other games they had. Bad Idea. Lets just say I’m not going back there in a hurry.

  • Charlie G. Pierce

    One of the finest novel which takes about the disable people who are interested in education side and they have option for it..