Minor Spoilers Below
Katawa Shoujo,(“Disability Girls” or “Cripple Girls“) is a bishoujo-style visual novel by Four Leaf Studios. It is a 4-chan game created by an international team of amateur developers. It was developed for 5 years, and it was fully released on January 4, 2012. One key artist who contributed to the animation of the game is Mike Inel, a Filipino artist and animator.
We play as Hisao Nikai, a normal boy living a normal life until one of his classmates confesses to him. His life suddenly turned upside down when he suffered a heart attack in the middle of the confession and collapsed to the ground. He was diagnosed with a congenital heart defect that forces him to transfer to Yamaku Academy, a school specializing in providing proper education for students with non-mental disabilities.
The story centers around the journey of how Hisao deals with and adjusts to his sudden situation. There are five girls that we can conquer, namely, Lilly, Hanako, Emi, Rin, and Shizune, with varying physical disabilities. Each of the girl’s routes has four acts that you go through, and there are various endings that you can achieve with each route.
Lilly Satou is a tall girl who has been blind in both eyes since birth. She is a mother-like and old-fashioned girl who often speaks in a formal and polite manner. She is an independent and responsible girl, who a lot of people look up to and feel comfortable around. She likes to drink tea and read books in her free time.
Hanako Ikezawa is a shy and timid girl with the right side of her body completely covered in scars. She tries to hide her scars from other people and tries to avoid other people in general. She likes to stay in the library and read books alone. As a result, she doesn’t have a lot of friends. She has a very close relationship with Lilly Satou, almost like a mother-daughter relationship with her.
Rin Tezuka is an artist who likes to paint, and she does not have both arms. She has difficulty communicating her expressions and feelings. She uses her legs and mouth to paint and do her daily tasks. She often speaks in riddles with a unique sense of humor.
Emi Ibarazaki is a short girl who has both her legs amputated below the knee. She is a happy-go-lucky girl who always smiles and brightens up everyone around her. She likes to run and is part of the track and field team. Despite her circumstances, she remains playful and willing to try new things.
Shizune Hakamichi is a serious girl who is both deaf and mute. She is a class representative of Hisao’s class and the student council president. She is known for being sticky and frightening, yet fair and just. She uses sign language to communicate with Misha, a close friend of Shizune who is loud and energetic, who translates it to words and vice versa.
I only recently knew about Katawa Shoujo when I saw a meme of it on Reddit with a girl with no legs and a caption of “Jesus Christ, did your mom give birth on a minefield?!” I was quite interested to see if it was real or not, so I gave the game a try. Little did I know that I would play the game seriously and complete it.
As the game starts off with Hisao living his sudden and surreal new life, it reflects how a normal person might react to those who are disabled. The game properly respects and represents how disabled people live their lives with their disabilities. It shows how their disabilities affect their daily lives and the ways that they deal with them. The game focuses on the character’s internal struggle rather than their disabilities. As I played through the routes, I started to slowly forget that they are disabled and that they are just people like everyone else. Despite the various disabilities affecting their lives, they continue to do what they love, and they do not let their disabilities hold them back.
Personally, Katawa Shoujo’s strength is not the romance part of it but how it shows you the perspective of people that are outside of your own experience so that you can examine and reflect on them. They do not let their disabilities define them as people. These things are only a problem if you make them so.
Each route of the game allows you plenty of time to reflect on yourself and evaluate your own experience in order to improve. It helps us see ourselves from a different perspective and realize our own strengths and shortcomings. There are characters that you can identify with and relate to on a personal level. It also helps you solve your own problems by learning from other people’s struggles and experiences.
The routes were an emotional roller coaster that has its ups and downs, but it teaches you a lot of lessons that we sometimes easily forget or take for granted. It makes us appreciate the things that we have in our lives and helps us see that we are growing as a better person each day.
Overall, Katawa Shoujo is a great visual novel with well-written stories that impacted me in a lot of ways. I recommend that you play Katawa Shoujo for an experience that you will not forget.