The Japanese Adventure Game That Japan Didn't Make
"Letters from the New York Otaku"
By David Cabrera
#14 - The Japanese Adventure Game That Japan Didn't Make
Speaking of moe outside Japan, here's one you might not have heard. Years ago, the Japanese artist Raita drew some pictures in a doujinshi for a theoretical dating sim called “Katawa Shoujo.” Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, the image appeared on Futaba Channel's English counterpart 4chan.
Posters fell wholeheartedly in love with the idea, and improbably, a group came together as Four Leaf Studios (Futaba Channel is Futaba, so 4chan is Yotsuba) to actually create this game to Raita's specifications. “Yeah, yeah,” I thought. “Call me when it's done.” When a group of Internet people gets together to make a game, it's best to assume they'll never finish it.
So against everybody's expectations, these guys got their project done. A full-length (about 15 hours) and full-featured Japanese-style adventure game (with the requisite adult content), Katawa Shoujo was recently released to the Internet for free.
The weirdest thing about it is how sensitive and soft-hearted it is. 4chan's users tend to be a little rowdy and disgusting, and certainly a game concept like this could be handled in incredibly bad taste. Katawa Shoujo goes all the way in the other direction, with a gentle and honest touch that portrays all of the heroines with dignity instead of making a fetish out of their disabilities.
The content is a bit of a patchwork, as one might expect from a team that's working completely online. Each story route and character are handled by different writers and artists. in every route, our hero seems like a very slightly different person. At rare moments you'll see a CG from one artist immediately come after one from another, and the girl will look totally different: that kind of thing. For a non-profit fan effort, one can't expect something completely polished.
The developers must also be praised for their adherence to the source material: from “you can't make a confession to her until you pass the sign language class” to “there's got to be an eating-lunch-on-the-rooftop-with-her scene” to even “she's a bit cliched”, every note that Raita made on the original sketch has been somehow worked into the game. And of course, the whole business takes place in Japan with Japanese characters.
I have to admit, I'm a little proud of otaku outside Japan (I don't know where every member of the team is, so it would be rude to claim KS for America) for pulling off a project like this and doing so well. Congrats to them: however, Four Leaf was formed only for this one project and disbanded immediately, so don't expect to see anything else from the team.
If you read English, Katawa Shoujo is available for free from the developer. No translations are planned.