Katawa Shoujo is one of the first straight-to-English visual novels. It was developed by Four Leaf Studios, a team of artists, writers, and programmers assembled from the message board 4chan. After five years in the making, the game is available for free download here.
KS follows Hisao Nakai, an average high school boy who lives a normal life until a congenital heart defect sends him into a lengthy hospital stay. Due to his health, he must transfer to a new school and begin a new life, full of friendships and heartache. A medium-sized game, the main route takes roughly 6 ours to complete. Completion of the entire game takes roughly 32 hours.
The game includes five main routes following the storylines of each girl.
The main route is Hanako, a shy girl who was permanently disfigured in a house fire. There is also Shizune, a bold and bossy Deaf girl, Misha, her interpreter, Lilly, the class representative of the blind class, Rin, an armless artist, and Emi, a track star with prosthetic legs. As you progress through their stories, you make choices that affect your relationship. Depending on these, you can have a very happy ending, or one full of sadness. Hisao’s character is also affected by his relationship with the girls. For example, he becomes bolder and more confident in Shizune’s route compared to gentler and more honest in Lilly’s.
The game mechanics are very smooth and streamlined, thanks to Ren’Py’s creator engine. The visuals are smooth with subtle shadows, though sometimes the side character designs are awkward. The game’s soundtrack is where it shines, though. Full of original compositions, the music does a flawless job of setting the tone of each scene without taking away from the text. (The soundtrack is also available for free download)
While some players may not feel that they are making enough choices to direct the game, I loved being able to immerse myself fully in the story. The game is highly replayable in order to unlock all of the endings, and challenging enough in Rin’s path for the whole game. I highly recommend it to anyone 16+, due to sensitive, disturbing, and sexual material. (The player has the option of configuring the game to skip sexual scenes, if that is desired)