Katawa Shoujo Review


The concept of a dating sim has been done to death on a number of different platforms. Particularly popular in an indie (and Eastern) sense, one is likely to find some variety in the genre on sites hosting games developed by independent studios or aspiring game developers such as Newgrounds. The origins of Katawa Shoujo are a tad more spontaneous than most would imagine, beginning as a simple thread on 4chan about a visual novel involving “disabled girls.” Soon enough, the idea became so influential that a studio was formed with the desire to make the game a reality. In early 2012, that single thread, which would likely disappear into obscurity among 4chan’s hive of daily threads, gave birth to one of the most beloved (online) visual novels of my generation.

True to form, Katawa Shoujo is entirely reliant on the story and characters to provide its worth as a game. The level of interactivity is nearly nil, only requiring a steady hand of mouse-clicking and the occasional choice every so often. It would be more appropriate to say that you’re “reading” Katawa Shoujo rather than playing it. Despite this, there’s a sensation of immersion present when playing the game that’s unlike most visual novels. I’d likely attribute this to the casual—and amusingly sarcastic—writing of the game. The down-to-Earth sense of atmosphere, despite the circumstances of the plot, allows an approachable nature compared to other visual novels made by bigger studios. I suppose one could say that the relatable dialogue and accessibility of the “source material” is an advantage against the big-wig, otherworldly standard that bigger studios try to emulate based on what they assume of the general public.


Youthful antagonism against corporatism in check, there’s something to be said about the dialogue of the characters and overall appeal to the setting of Katawa Shoujo. When a game can entrance you alone with the pacing of its set-up, that’s commendable. It clearly establishes the origins of the player, what the conflict becomes, and the transition which occurs because of it. It’s simplistic, but there’s no need to overindulge in a slice-of-life-like scenario. Other than the health concerns, of course. Some would argue that the starting scenario comes across as too long, with the path leading to a specific girl’s route taking longer than it should. While I would agree to some extent, especially after repeated playthroughs, I think it does a well enough job of setting up every scenario to make it desirable. In a visual novel/dating sim, this is probably the most important aspect.

Characters are what drive Katawa Shoujo, as they should. The variety in characters and their distinct quirks shine a bright light across the foundation of the game’s core. Even side characters hold a distinct pleasure of making the game feel more alive in hindsight. With a place like 4chan, which can be off-putting for a lot of people, a lot of assumptions can be made about the way they would treat the girls as characters. One might be surprised at the level of care and love placed into making them seem as realistic (while also sexually aggressive) as possible, with even an underlying moral message attached to every route. The fresh relatability of the story, combined with the vivid flesh and bones of the pursuable girls makes the game all the more enjoyable to experience.


While the game has the pleasure of “variety” to its credit, that doesn’t excuse the overall quality of writing for every story arc. There are some stories that blew me away with their strong structure and comfortable parlay of conflict and tenderness. Others came across as dull, overexcited, or otherwise incomplete. Of the five story arcs present, only three of them are really worth going through, which is a shame considering the impact that has on the rest of the game. To have only 60-65% of the game be of capable quality is not something that can be easily recommendable, as one would have to hype up the good to the point where the bad doesn’t seem entirely repugnant. Some of these are due to the characters, while others are simply subject to the monstrosity of poor writing. One could also argue that the stories are only subject to the character’s disabilities at hand (or foot), and for the most part it’s justifiable. It still doesn’t allow for one to throw every gap or obstacle in the way of getting to the final, inevitable resolution (which may not even mean anything by that point).

Story doesn’t necessarily have to carry a visual novel, as the characters offer a lot of leniency on that ground. Still, it’s hard to find a character enjoyable and/or developed if they don’t change or behave in a realistic or likable manner under extensive conflict. Story goes hand-in-hand with making those characters all the more three-dimensional, and Katawa Shoujo simply doesn’t have the firepower to make all of those characters as inflated as they desire. Again, three of the five story arcs are all I feel are truly worth playing—due both to the story and their characters. There are a few scenarios where characters outshine their story, while others less involved than the main girl end up shining more. Most presently in the case of Shizune’s route, where I found myself more empathetic of Misha’s situation than Shizune, who… didn’t have much of a situation whatsoever. There are times where it seems the story tries to embark on a journey of its own and drags the characters along, while others have the characters outrunning the story at every turn. The most enjoyable scenarios involved are when the story and characters work together in harmony. The side characters pick up after the incessant droppings of the weaker leads, but it isn’t quite enough to get the smell out of the hallway.


A lot of what people find most appealing when going into a visual novel is the way its presented. I can’t count the number of times I’ve been entranced by one of the covers of the “Sakura” series of works. Katawa Shoujo has a structure of artistic quality dependent on the situation. However, there is some debate as to what is and isn’t better than the other. The more “dramatic” artwork that is displayed during tender or harrowing events has the artistic intrigue of the emotions put forth, while the typical sprite work is a lot more clean, structured, and varied overall. I also believe that the artwork of some story arcs outshine others; whether this be because they came out more recently or not is beyond my knowledge. What’s shown in Emi’s route might be better than what’s shown in Rin’s route, or vice-versa. They’re (relatively?) the same style, but they appear different in small details. I almost prefer the ever-changing spritework that expresses a lot of the characters’ quirks and charms, but there are a few high-quality drawn scenes that make my heart aflutter. While it doesn’t have the splendor of top-quality artwork from the best designers in the business, it holds up well enough to make the game both beautiful aesthetically and emotionally.

My experience with Katawa Shoujo began on a whim; a desire to partake in visual novels and another juncture of (typically) Japanese culture. There’s an odd perplexity to “amateur” works I find immensely appealing (see: post on Marble Syrup and Paper Waifu), and discovering the odd origins and development of this game had my interests at peak capacity. Not only am I more than happy that I was able to download and experience this story for myself, but it gave me the hope that many more games like Katawa Shoujo could be born from the desire to create and share a story with the world. While not perfect in the slightest, the attempt is a damn good one, a testament to what’s important in a visual novel-type game and what time and effort can do for a simple project. If not for the game itself, Katawa Shoujo is recommendable to help share the love that was put into the idea that anything is possible if one is willing to go through with it. One just has to make it happen.

Final Score: 7/10

The rating for this title and more can be found on MyVideoGameList.

Traveling Thoughts on Katawa Shoujo (Side Characters)


A few disclaimers before we move forward:

  • Traveling Thoughts is a means of putting down my thoughts in a bit-by-bit process that will eventually lead up to a formal review of the overall subject. These posts will be more personal than objective, though one should expect a good amount of both as is my personality of habit.
  • These posts will absolutely contain spoilers. Read at your own risk.

Typically when viewers are invested in a story, it’s the major characters that are given credit for most of the appeal. The wingman in a two-person team is usually also given high regards for the amount of development they go through along with the titular character. Something more commonly provided, which some may take for granted, is the addition of side characters who take the brunt of the more mediocre tasks, such as providing transitions or inadvertently being the voice of reason for the stars. Side characters aren’t given their time in the sun to bake, but are scooted into the limelight every so often for specific reasons (and sometimes not). Usually they wither, while the rare few end up stealing the show. See: Jaleel White in Family Matters.

In this particular post, I won’t be discussing every side character present in Katawa Shoujo, only the ones I feel are prevalent enough either all-around or within a particular route to become memorable. That’s not to say all side characters aren’t memorable, but a few feel more like jokes and puzzle pieces rather than actual characters.


I think it’s important to start with a bang, so why not start with Kenji? What a character he is. The level of unfounded nonsense that pours out of his mouth is more than a little charming. So often stories will use characters such as Kenji to give a sense of comic relief in the form of stupidity for the sake of stupidity, but he takes it to a bizarrely intellectual level. They are unfounded, yes; they are major stretches, yes; but the things that he says have enough there to kind of ponder the situation ahead. There are times when it appears that he knows more than he shows, while other times the feminists are wiring his room and he needs to hide out for a while. His entire character is that of a giant conspiracy and he always seems to be right in the middle of it.

Word around the fanbase is that he’s the clear favorite among side characters, and I can absolutely see why. His mannerisms and ability to come up with these giant web of strange “truths” gives him an undeniable identity. It’s more than this that sets him apart, however, as he encourages conversations and interprets friendship from the title character (much to the title character’s chagrin). He cares for the player’s well-being and will offer advice in his own way whenever possible. No matter the situation, Kenji’s appearance isn’t a nuisance to me.

The side character I find the most charismatic is The Nurse. No personal name, just “The Nurse.” He is, as the title implies, the nurse of the high school, and is tasked with helping the player with his conditioning. His playful personality and tendency to go for the kill with his jokes makes him immensely likable. At the same time, he takes zero tolerance when it comes to shirking off responsibilities. Of all the side characters, I think he might be the most rounded character, aside from Yuuko. We don’t get to know much about The Nurse, but we know enough to want to know more. Emi’s route benefited greatly from his constant appearances.


In all honesty, I was a tad disappointed when I found out Yuuko wasn’t romanceable. While her shtick of “She’s so clumsy and lacks confidence ha ha” is played a tad too much for my liking, she has a cuteness to her innocence that makes her an appealing pursuit. She slightly reminds me of Hanako, only a little more astute in her stature, while her appearance is slightly reminiscent of Sam from Totally Spies!. Random reference, I know, but I think it fits. For as self-conscious as she is, her words of advice do a lot more for the player than most others of a higher position. She also has two different outfits for two different jobs. I find this interesting for absolutely no reason.

Mutou is kind of like the representation of the “Why can no one ever be interested in anything I like?” The science teacher (although little science ever comes from his mouth) at the school, Mutou doesn’t really get a lot of emphasis in the story unless you’re in… Lilly’s route, maybe? I don’t recall off-hand. Otherwise, he covers the bases of what a standard teacher should do with new students. Ask ’em what’s up, how they’re doin’, and what they can do to improve their time there. If not for the foundation of the science club within whoever’s route, he wouldn’t really be worth talking about. Fortunately for him, he gets some much needed development to his character because of his enthusiasm for science and research. I liked his dialogue when he was discussing what scientists do to “check their work” and how he applied it to real-life situations. I think it’s handy advice. His gloom and doom appearance was a little off-putting at first, but it’s just the kind of thing that reflects his outlook on the current state of youth. So relatable!

Nomiya isn’t seen (sans one scene) outside of Rin’s route, but I decided to include him because he’s so vastly different from most of the other adult side characters and because he’s essentially the root of the conflict with Rin’s route. He’s intriguing because, on the surface, he seems like a lax, humorous old man with a love for subjective interpretation. I suppose most art teachers would be like this. Although, he’s also incredibly thick-headed and expectant to a vast degree, putting a lot of difficulty on Rin and her work. Some may see him as the “bad guy” of Rin’s story because of this, but I see it more as a complex situation. He wants to do what’s best for her by giving her art career a kick-start, and slacking off and being reclusive simply won’t cut it. At the same time, he doesn’t seem to understand the meaning of moderation. One could make the argument that he’s living his dream through her, but I feel the little background revealed of him paints a moderately successful picture, so it’s debatable. He’s one of the lesser side characters, but he’s integral enough to Rin’s story that it’s hard not to associate him with her.


Finally, I’d like to discuss Akira, Lilly’s sister. Seeing her for the first time, I figured she was female, but one can’t help but wonder with how androgynous she appears. Cliché as the “girl who looks like boy or vice versa” is in Japanese or Japanese-inspired stories, she doesn’t make it incredibly obvious that her character is simply “the androgynous one.” I find it a tad alarming that she’s so carefree as to buy alcohol for… minors? The player mentions this briefly, but they’re supposedly all eighteen, so are they really considered minors? In any case, she doesn’t get a ton of development outside of Lilly’s route, though that doesn’t stop her from being an entertaining addition to the party. I particularly like her sprite’s facial expressions. And her red eyes, brazen as rubies can be. One can tell she cares a lot about Lilly, which is a big plus.

Overall, Katawa Shoujo has a number of memorable side characters. Is that enough to enhance the game’s quality? I’d say so. Yuuko, Kenji and The Nurse alone are enough to show that the game cares about its side characters enough to give them more prominent roles depending on the situation. They even have a few side characters tied together by a matter of coincidence. These subtle nudges are delightful, along with the oodles of different conversations one can have with them at a moment’s notice. Most have a wide variety of things to say and means of saying it, though a few admittedly leave much to be desired (Shizune’s family members, the hand-less track member, etc.). Thankfully, It does a hell of a lot more than most.

With that, this edition of Traveling Thoughts comes to a close. Thanks for keeping up with it and for reading my content. Take care!


Traveling Thoughts on Katawa Shoujo (Shizune Route)


A few disclaimers before we move forward:

  • Traveling Thoughts is a means of putting down my thoughts in a bit-by-bit process that will eventually lead up to a formal review of the overall subject. These posts will be more personal than objective, though one should expect a good amount of both as is my personality of habit.
  • These posts will absolutely contain spoilers. Read at your own risk.

For the few that may have followed along with these posts in order of when I’d written them, you may have noticed a trend within the continuation of these thoughts. It seems that with each passing girl, I become less and less attached to their particular story. Assuming anyone had noticed, I would say that you were both right and wrong. The order I chose to write about these five girls in is the order I chose to pursue them while playing the game. It just so happens that the quality and enjoyment I had with each of the girls coincided with the order of best to worst, and based on this choosing, one can assume that Shizune is the least favorite of mine among the choices. One would be right and not wrong.

The biggest, most deflating part about Shizune’s story as a whole is that it feels incomplete. By the end, the player only feels so close to Shizune while having to deal with a number of other conflicts that arise within her story that doesn’t even physically involve her. “Physically” involving her meaning that the issues revolve around her, but she isn’t there to offer feedback or any sense of clarity. You literally spend half of her story talking about her rather than to her. Part of this problem is due to Shizune’s translator: Misha.


What’s almost sad about Shizune’s route is I find myself more emotionally attached to Misha, someone who is not romanceable, than the main target of the route. While her upbeat, loud personality isn’t exactly alluring me into a blissful state of catharsis, she at least shows some relatable and semi-developed conflict that directly plays into the story of her relationship with both the player and Shizune. It provides some meaning to the amount of time she spends with Shizune and gives her more depth as a character rather than being subjected to the role of “Translator.” While I also believe her moodiness near the end of the route comes out of left field, she at least explains her situation in a grounded enough manner to keep her credibility afloat.

A lot of what I praise about Misha is something I can’t say for Shizune. As mentioned before, there isn’t really much the player can do in terms of interacting with Shizune at first before teaching himself sign language, and even then he seems to get more dialogue from Shizune’s family than anyone else (L-O-L! Shizune’s dad is, like, so random! XD). I previously criticized the player for supposedly “falling in love” with a girl even though there isn’t even any reason for him to be, but here it’s on both sides of the spectrum. Not only does the player’s infatuation feel rushed, but so does Shizune’s. If there was chemistry to be had between these characters, I didn’t really notice it, try as it might during a school festival. Being alone together for one night and looking at fireworks doesn’t really constitute a believable jump from friends to lovers. Physical attraction, perhaps?

Can I say something really vulgar for a moment? Shizune’s h-scenes tried really hard for the “lusty teenage sexiness” vibe, something only really matched by Lilly’s route. Even more so than Lilly, Shizune’s h-scenes were on par with “Fucking for the sake of fucking,” and damn was that some hot fucking. Her second one in particular had numerous camera angles (one of which I found hilariously misaligned) and just the perfect ratio of female to male for fapping material. It almost felt too naughty for a game like this. Compensating for the lackluster story? Who’s to say? Shizune may be boring, but she’s got, er, moves like Jagger?


The h-scenes are only accentuated by the lovely art direction this time around. That “lovely” is about 60% sarcastic, as the more detailed pictures seem to have a tinge of inconsistency to them. Aside from the weird misalignment during the second h-scene, I don’t really like the way Shizune appears in a lot of the pictures shown. Something about her head being too sharp or the appearance of her (and the player) being too… uncanny valley? It’s somewhat hard to describe, but the artwork during these scenes feel a little off, almost in the sense that they hired a new artist halfway through the production of the game and they tried to cover it up by making them draw in the previous artist’s style. One could say that this is metaphorical of how her route feels altogether: a little off. However, I thought Misha looked a lot better than Shizune in these shots. Whether it be in normal or steamy situations (You can fuck Misha), she has this glimmer to her appearance that makes her visually pleasing. Strangely enough, her sprite work makes her look a tad chunky, although naked she seems to be not that much thicker than Shizune. Lots of inconsistency and illusions present.

What of Shizune herself, though? How is she as a character at first base rather than how she develops? This is probably where I found the most enjoyment out of her route. Despite not spending a lot of time with her, she’s a perfectly playful girl with a competitive edge that is only slightly overplayed for the sake of it. She has a bite to her that none of the other girls have that makes her more appealing to those looking for girls who take charge. She’s serious about what she does and seriously wants others to take things as seriously as she does. Seriously. On the surface, she’s a likable girl with a lot to like, but she’s inhibited greatly by the way her story progresses and the inclusion of Misha, who steals the spotlight from her more times than she should. There are many “If only” remarks that can be made with Shizune’s route, something that makes her being crowned “Worst girl” by my standards as predictable, as a character shines brighter when a story exerts its pressure.

What may be the biggest slap in the face is the way it all ends. Not only is it implied that Shizune and the player are no longer in contact with one another, but nothing really feels resolved. The problem (If one can really call it that) that Shizune faces throughout is the way her competitiveness rubs off the wrong way on other people, causing her to enter people’s lives and rope them into situations they may not really want to be a part of. She says a lot of pretty things about how she’ll work to change and that the future is bright. What she never does is show any of this, and the story ends without giving her any opportunity to. Instead, one is graced with a clumsy picture of the player, Misha, and Shizune pulling their best Haruhi squad pose to the camera in a “bittersweet” ending of farewell until the future. Everything’s fine and dandy and the player had an eventful high school life. And alone again. Zippity doo-dah.


Here’s another interesting tidbit: when firmly planted inside Shizune’s route, the player only has to make one choice all throughout. That choice is whether or not you want to fuck Misha. No joke. Hopefully anyone with a brain would know that accepting her invitation will lead to the bad end (So save your progress before accepting!), except I wish it wasn’t the only choice! It makes the essence of a visual novel feel more like an actual visual novel; something being read to you without any input whatsoever. You’re reading a book rather than playing a game at that point. It also makes the scenarios more boring, as the player doesn’t feel like they can really impact the things that are happening in front of them. And if comment sections are any indication, the player doesn’t make a lot of great choices on his own. On top of feeling rushed, incomplete, and devoid of a lot of emotional impact, Shizune’s story is structurally straightforward.

It was an unpleasant end to a rather enjoyable journey through Yamaku High. The feeling of obligation to finish the whole thing was overwhelmed by the already-formed nostalgic reminiscing of past girls. These Traveling Thoughts aren’t quite finished yet, as I have one more post left to write out dealing with the side characters, as I feel they deserve a lot of praise for their efforts as well. In terms of the main course, the meal had a variety of different flavors and choices. It had treats that I filled up on too quickly, and side dishes with multiple kicks that tingled my dazzled senses. Unfortunately, it left the less desirable meals waiting with anticipation. A balanced diet is the right kind of diet, even if you don’t like it.

Traveling Thoughts on Katawa Shoujo (Rin Route)


A few disclaimers before we move forward:

  • Traveling Thoughts is a means of putting down my thoughts in a bit-by-bit process that will eventually lead up to a formal review of the overall subject. These posts will be more personal than objective, though one should expect a good amount of both as is my personality of habit.
  • These posts will absolutely contain spoilers. Read at your own risk.

Apologies for not writing this sooner. Work and the election dragged me down considerably.

Rin is an interesting case, interesting in the sense that I would willingly capture her and put her into different environments to observe her behavior. The relationship I had with Rin whether in or out of her specific route was one of scientific intrigue, a desire to know more about her not because I think she’d be a suitable partner, but because she’s an unpredictable nutcase. This feeling I have towards her is both a strength and a flaw to her story, though in the end, it did little to make me empathize with her conflicts.

An artist (or not, if you asked her) at heart, her pastime consists of being a lazy goof and painting, lots and lots of painting. Her paintings are usually obscure and hard to analyze, something of a continuing topic within her route. An underlying theme cements itself at the very beginning when Rin tells you next to nothing (or trivial things bluntly) of relative importance, whether about herself or others. Rin is a hard nut to crack, which is a lot like her story and the mood of her route.


I can appreciate the effort put into making her character verbally appealing to speak with. Her manner of speech is almost like one could find on dialogue-heavy “not-what-you-would-expect” games such as Undertale. Constantly challenging dialogue norms and spinning popular phrases on their heads for good measure. The level of interactivity with her text is a treat in non-serious, humorous situations. This is the core strength and appeal to the character of Rin, one that is easy to discourse with, who is relatable in the sense that she’s different from most others and herself in her own way. Fans seem to be most comfortable with her as a character based on these circumstances.

Unfortunately, there’s another thing about her character that makes her, along with the story attached, frustrating to go through. She is, as I said, a tough nut to crack, a nut that can’t even crack itself. As charming as her dialogue is, she’s also prone to clamming up and unable to really put her feelings into words, something both the player and the player’s character struggles with as time goes by. There’s some debate as to whether or not this inability to speak her mind is based on a mental condition, which would seem likely as the manner at which she can’t describe things is frustratingly apparent. This, in turn, makes the drama elongated and irritating to keep up with, as it’s the only genuine issue Rin and the player’s relationship faces. She wants to be understood, but can’t relay that info in a coherent manner. The player wants to understand her, but can’t because he doesn’t have the same mindset. This continues on forever. Her story seems to be the longest, though I never timed it properly to be sure. It certainly drags on.

There’s also the conflict of other characters outside of the player not understanding what Rin wants, either. While I feel it goes along better with the story of Rin’s isolation, the inner Libertarian in me keeps telling the player to leave Rin alone and let her do what she wants. I don’t like that everyone pushed her into showcasing her art for the exhibit, though I can understand the thought process of doing so. Still, it becomes somewhat of a waiting game from the point where Rin starts “living” in the art studio. There are some great scenes within that studio, but the slow pace of her story makes the whole situation lose a little of its intrigue. That, and Rin’s continuing lack of being able to communicate her feelings. It causes many of the same exact scene to play out, as the player gets mad/frustrated that she can’t tell him anything and Rin getting irritated with the player for misunderstanding.


On a more subjective note, I just never felt a genuine romantic interest for Rin. Perhaps it is the fact that she’s so out there and charmingly unemotional. Perhaps it’s that she shows very little of her own affection to the player. Perhaps it’s because she reminds me of Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory. Regardless, that intrigue of her on an unemotional level persisted within me going along with her story, never changing for a good majority of her route. It almost felt like a doctor falling in love with their patient, a teacher with their student. Forbidden relationships aside, it felt strictly business with no real means of emotional connection. I’m not even sure why the player fell in love with her in the first place. If I recall correctly, he wasn’t even sure. That’s not to say she doesn’t have appeal, but she isn’t someone I think has appeal to the majority. I believe love is an emotional commitment, something I didn’t think was present between the player and Rin.

For a section of a game more dedicated to art, there’s very little showcasing of different art styles. I would’ve liked to have seen more of Rin’s art at her state near the beginning, though what I saw from the exhibit was more than interesting enough. I wish it was more focused on, more present in backgrounds and situations. The player hardly makes an attempt to analyze any of it! For what was shown of the more dramatic scenes, I think the art was fairly good, though I feel Rin’s sprite model looks too different from her drawn caricatures. I liked the detail in some pictures, while scoffed at the varying length and style of her hair in others. It’s never really consistent aside from color. However, there’s something impactful about the stranger scenes that aren’t apparent from dialogue alone. The smoking scene, the exhibit opening, and her h-scene are all good indicators of actions speaking louder than words, and I feel the art did a great job of containing the weight of those scenes.


Speaking of h-scenes, if there’s one thing I think Rin does better than all others is h-scenes. Something to note about me is that I believe sex should mean something. I don’t care for sex for the sake of sex. I like when it has impact, meaning; almost in an artistic sense. Similar to Hanako’s only h-scene, Rin’s first h-scene isn’t meant to be erotic or stimulating, but more an indicator of where Rin is emotionally: broken. A pitiful attempt at pleasing her in a way he only knows how, the player’s assistance afterwards is bittersweet, though considerably more miserable knowing what’s to come afterwards. Her second h-scene is probably the most erotic of the bunch, and has a beautiful amount of build-up and emotional impact. After all the emotional constipation and lack of genuine understanding, actions fill in what words can’t. I think that’s fantastic.

Not a lot of real emotion present in this route, and if it is, it’s hidden quite nicely. I can understand Rin not being able to communicate and her actions are supposed to make up for her loss for words, but I don’t think the main character handled it well. There’s an immaturity to his decisions that is both obvious for his age and immensely frustrating as someone older than that. A lot of my indifferent feelings for Rin and her route are somewhat subjective, along with disagreeing with the method of telling a story about a girl like her. It all accumulated into an inevitable realization when her ending line had me feel next to nothing, a feeling I felt quite often while on her route. If not for some great scenes in-between, her route may have been a dud. At least she’s funny.

Traveling Thoughts on Katawa Shoujo (Lilly Route)


A few disclaimers before we move forward:

  • Traveling Thoughts is a means of putting down my thoughts in a bit-by-bit process that will eventually lead up to a formal review of the overall subject. These posts will be more personal than objective, though one should expect a good amount of both as is my personality of habit.
  • These posts will absolutely contain spoilers. Read at your own risk.

Ohoho! I see. Yep. I got’cha. Token foreign girl in an anime-styled visual novel. Even more, she’s proper, well-spoken, and mild mannered. The elegance that is typical of characters of her architecture has broken into the world of Katawa Shoujo. Real subtle way of bringing in some variety to the dinner table, eh?

Whether stereotypical or not, Lilly is a character that flaunts her high order calmness to everyone who appears before her (even her nemesis: Shizune). Her manner of speaking, posture, charisma, and grace far exceed those of the other girls around her, making her a more suitably “mature” choice of interest, which is what attracted me to her upon meeting. I told myself I would go through with Hanako after Emi, but Lilly made it difficult for me to keep my word, as the option to go for either her or Hanako made me hesitate for a moment. The order aside, Lilly would be my next pursuit, seeing as her competition didn’t intrigue me enough to look back on it.

I see a lot of fan appreciation for Lilly’s route. Many remarks of “Lilly best girl” and “Her story had the most feels” litter the comment sections of anything remotely pertaining to her character. It seems she may be the most popular of the characters, if not for Rin. Playing through the game in its entirety, Lilly and Hanako (perhaps even now) duked it out for the number two spot in my ranking of best girl. While I found Lilly more attractive, I feel Hanako’s story had more depth to it. While many were fond of Lilly’s romantic, passionate story of coming together and breaking apart, I find myself more hesitant to consider it a masterpiece of storytelling. While I found nothing wrong with Lilly or her behavior during it, the story and its influence felt a little… how should I put it? Antagonistic?


Lilly as a character is immensely likable. She’s playful, cares deeply for the player, not a prude, and handles everything with a subtle determination. I’ve been using a lot of sentences listing things. She is, perhaps, too likable. Lilly doesn’t really seem to struggle with any inner conflict or make any drama on accord of her own insecurities. One can see that she hesitates talking of certain things and her concern for the player’s heart condition upsets her when the player shoves the topic aside. Still, that’s hardly enough to warrant any further dimension to her character. It almost makes her feel too perfect, too far ahead in her own quality to make her feel reachable on a personal level. All the player can really go off on is her clear commitment to you, despite whether or not you truly deserve her.

This is only accentuated by the story of Lilly’s route, one that is laced with secrets and following through on one’s own independence. Put in a nutshell, most of the dramatics don’t happen until much later on, but subtle foreshadowing can be felt as soon as immediately after she confesses to you. As Lilly is half-foreign, it’s easy to assume that her moving back to her other half’s country would be a suitable plot point, and it is. Lilly is given the opportunity to go teach English in her native Scotland (Scotland? Blonde hair?), leaving the player alone to pursue her dreams. More damning than this, she was supposedly aware of the opportunity from before she confessed to the player, forming the idea that she managed the courage to confess based on avoiding regretting not doing so before moving. This could be the one thing that can be used to break her perfect image, the selfish desire to use the player to fulfill her life to its fullest than toss him aside when she’s ready to move on. I understand the reasoning, but it’s a pretty shitty thing to do to another person, especially when you know it won’t last. This decision on her part genuinely made me angry with her—I could honestly empathize with the player’s feelings on the whole situation. I wouldn’t have done what she did in her shoes.


Even so, the decision to leave was her own. In all honesty, I almost prefer her departure as the final scene to her route as opposed to the true good ending. It tied up her entire route well enough and left enough of an impression as a bittersweet farewell. It almost felt right to see her go off and fulfill the goal she made for herself, though she stated that she could be an English teacher whether in Japan or Scotland, so it’s excusable. What makes me feel stronger about the neutral ending is the way the good ending follows through with the story. It is, putting it bluntly, horribly overdramatic. The player develops the courage to chase after her, nearly stopping her before reaching the airport when he has another heart attack outside the building. It cuts to a hospital room where he drowns in his own self-pity and misery, only to find out that Lilly stayed behind to care for him after his latest attack. They then lived happily ever after.

It all felt… wrong. Images of Shuffle‘s ending came to my head, but it wasn’t as heinous. It almost seemed like Lilly decided to stay behind because she knew that if she didn’t, the player would likely die alone and unhappy. The mood tries to portray a blissful, it-was-meant-to-be-this-way atmosphere, but my head only sees a scenario that played out because the player is a fragile being that needs to be cared for. It’s like the player is dragging Lilly down. It doesn’t feel like a happy ending of determined spontaneity, rather an incomplete and rushed slip and slide for the sake of a “good” ending. This bothered me for a long time, and is part of the reason why I feel Hanako’s story felt so much more developed in comparison. There’s also the fact that Lilly’s confession felt entirely out of nowhere, but with the circumstances of her moving, it makes more sense.

As flawed as I find it, Lilly’s route is still laced with a lot of emotional triumph. It’s been a long while since I had experienced such a wide variety of emotions as I did going through her story. Good, bad, and conflicting are a few terms to use for it. If it managed to do this to me, that’s got to mean something for as apathetic as I can be at times. It’s one of questionable execution, but the aspects it gets right, it really nails down without any second-guessing. Lilly is as charming as I make her sound above, and the way she shows her compassion spans from both a platonic and non-platonic sense. She’s almost like a best of all worlds kind of girl, as she’s (debatably) as responsible as Shizune, as playful as Emi, and as kind-hearted as Hanako. All wrapped into a “Western” style of cutie-patootie.


There’s a certain distinctness to the art style of Lilly’s route. Not only does she have the most alternative outfits, tied for as many h-scenes with Emi, and biggest variety of places visited, but the traditional style of drawings for her route is a little varied, too. There are some drawings I like while others are a tad too avant-garde for my taste. Even so, I like the different settings and moods present. Her h-scenes are pretty passionate and almost on a lewdness level unfit for a visual novel this playfully innocent, but it goes to show that Lilly has a side that contrasts wonderfully from her uptight persona. I personally really like the drawing of Lilly touching the player’s face. So full of intimacy… another one of my favorite moments in the entire game.

It still stirs some debate within myself to decide whether Hanako wins through her story or Lilly wins through her cozy personality. Despite who’s better, Lilly was a tremendously draining satisfying girl to place within the Katawa Shoujo universe. Another example of delicate pacing and good character interaction for a majority of her journey. Unfortunately, this is where my time with Katawa Shoujo begins to skid into a place where it can’t maintain my expectations. Whether by fate or a good measure of quality control, the first three girls selected gave me little more than a memorably pleasing experience. The final two, however, have hurdles too high for them to possibly overcome.

Traveling Thoughts on Katawa Shoujo (Hanako Route)


A few disclaimers before we move forward:

  • Traveling Thoughts is a means of putting down my thoughts in a bit-by-bit process that will eventually lead up to a formal review of the overall subject. These posts will be more personal than objective, though one should expect a good amount of both as is my personality of habit.
  • These posts will absolutely contain spoilers. Read at your own risk.

With my heart aflutter after Emi’s route, I was then deathly determined to go through with the route I wanted to do the first time: Hanako. With some now careful maneuvering, I managed to sneak my way around Lilly and straight to the darkened path set before me. When her animated cutscene played, I saved the game and shut my laptop. I had been playing the game for nearly seven hours straight.

It’s funny in hindsight the amount of time I spent dedicated to getting these routes completely finished. I always tell myself “I’ll play until Act 3,” only to have it come to pass and think “Well, I’m too far in now! I have to finish it!” If there’s one thing I can give Katawa Shoujo credit for is that it keeps you coming back for more. After all, that break in-between seven-hour playing spans was a measly thirty minutes. My heart thanked me, even if my eyes didn’t.


I’ll say this here and now: Hanako’s route didn’t really impress me. It lacked the overall flavor of Emi’s route and treated Hanako more as a placement of pity than a romantic partner. I’m fully aware that this was intentional, as Hanako is more shy than Fluttershy crossed with Booker from Animal Crossing. I only hoped that the player would come around and look at her gestures as a sign of romantic interest rather than progress towards curing her phobia of people. Again, this is brought up in her bad ending, which is a very emotionally-charged bad ending, but I wish they would’ve addressed it more during the good route. I suppose you could say that her route is that of a necessary evil, where everything that could be flawed with it was intentional to further develop the personality/calamity involving the girl. It does a good enough job keeping up my interest, but falters when it comes to the more dramatic, overbearingly emotional scenes.

That in mind, I wasn’t too fond of her good ending. She reveals all that was bothering her and more to a player too dense to pick it up earlier, while said player simply listens then hugs her while on the ground. Melodramatic, to a degree. Cliché? Absolutely. Having sex with her and all, it was bound to all fall out of place in one fell swoop, making the second to last scene all the more painfully trite. With as unemotionally attached as I was to Hanako, it didn’t bring to me the same type of “feels” that Emi’s route did. In fact, by the time I finished up her route, I almost felt nothing at all, except the base fascination I had with her extreme timidness (which might be a fetish of mine). That and I think Hanako has the most appealing physical design.

I see a few comments around places discussing Katawa Shoujo that her sex scene was “disgusting,” “repulsive,” and “rape.” In a sense, there are arguments that prove these comments true, as the sex scene was anything but romantic. Her only reason with having sex with the player was in hopes that it would show her in a more womanly light, rather than a pitying one. This alone made the entire scene more fascinating to me, so rather than being turned off by the entire thing (I slightly was, admittedly), I was also curious as to the timing of it all. There was no huge confession beforehand, nor any indication of closeness between the two (if one isn’t counting showing each other their scars). It wasn’t until later when she explained her position that it dawned on me the importance of such a scene. The “necessary evil” quip rears its ugly head yet again and makes the character all the more multi-dimensional. Rather than put the questionable scene out of my mind, I can appreciate it for the layers of context it places within the story and between the characters.


Hanako’s story fortunately doesn’t have the same sporadic issues with her sprite model as Emi’s does. The direction of the art scenes tend to embellish the more dramatic moments of the route, such as Hanako freezing up in class or dealing with the subject of her birthday. They have some effect, to be sure, but nothing to the point where I can go to any one picture and remember exactly how I felt gazing upon it for the first time. There are a few pictures that I felt were a little off, perhaps due to some sort of rushed strokes here and there, but nothing substantially off-putting. If there’s one major complaint to be had, it’s the attention of Hanako’s scars. I’m not entirely sure to what degree her scars are meant to portray, but I’ve seen plenty of pictures of surviving burn victims, and her wounds are very light in comparison. Simply making “~” all across her face and body doesn’t really constitute a heartbreaking disability. I can definitely acknowledge that she’d be singled out for it, but it’s not something I feel was exemplified enough. It looks even more arbitrary in drawn portraits. The scene where she shows her entire body to the player, all I could think was, “Wow, your skin’s a little darker and has more creases. Cool.”

It really is a shame that Hanako’s flaws had to override the player’s mindset throughout her route, because there are a number of great scenes along the way. My personal favorite (and among my favorite scenes in the entire game) is when the player, Hanako, Lilly, and her sister, Akira, all go to a jazz club. At first I was skeptical, thinking that some drunken spiel would await me, but was pleasantly surprised by the calming interaction between Hanako and the player, all while playing pool. Accompanied by Red Velvet, among my favorite tunes in the game, there was an atmosphere of romance and understanding that I felt was better than any other scene her route showed thus far. I loved seeing Hanako at peace, along with the daring statements made between her and the player. I finally had something to go on that made up for all the build-up and wall-climbing. The irony was not lost that a place like a jazz club, full of sultry music and swooning audiences, was the perfect environment for the shy Hanako and braindead player to be alone in. Ever since her route ended, I’ve had a hankering to play some pool. And chess.


Most of my complaints of Hanako’s route is through subjective qualms, ones that acknowledge that the sacrifice of emotional mirth was used to better the folds of the storybook’s final scenes. Looking back on it, Hanako’s route is probably, on an objective scale, better than Emi’s. However, the emotional stagnation keeps it from being something even more. Playing through other routes after Hanako’s, both her story and her character became more and more cherished in my mind. Hanako is the wildcard character of this game, where initially she seems quaint and without any emotional depth, but over time unveils herself as one of the more polished sculptures within the withered museum. The more I played the game, the more I came to appreciate her. And miss her.

While I was disappointed at first, Hanako proved later on to be a very fulfilling and engrossing character to embark a journey of love with. I struggled with what was missing with it upon completion, thinking that there was a puzzling factor that I never considered. I didn’t feel that sense of emotional finality that I had with Emi, that sort of exhaling after holding your breath for so long. Turns out, it’s just that I didn’t have that same empathy with her route that I had with Emi—as she was a more likable character overall and produced a more realistic and relatable relationship with the player. What it lacked in emotional feedback, it more than made up for with depth and an intriguing different glance at the way relationships are born (or torn apart).

Now a certain blonde has my eye.

Traveling Thoughts on Katawa Shoujo (Emi Route)


A few disclaimers before we move forward:

  • Traveling Thoughts is a means of putting down my thoughts in a bit-by-bit process that will eventually lead up to a formal review of the overall subject. These posts will be more personal than objective, though one should expect a good amount of both as is my personality of habit.
  • These posts will absolutely contain spoilers. Read at your own risk.

Playing through this game for the first time with relatively no experience of the visual novel medium (except for amateur ones I’ve played on Newgrounds and such), I was a bit flustered by all of the text and dialogue that awaited me. My only rest came from the intermissions that transitioned the end of one chapter to another, through which I had enough knowledge to save after every opening line. As the story progressed, I had already met most of the attainable girls in Shizune, Lilly, and Hanako, and had made the conscious decision to pursue Hanako on my first go. The story then introduced me to Emi, an energetic and almost childlike young woman without the benefit of legs. My first interaction with her painted an image that I would immediately brand as “unappealing,” and decided that at all costs, I would avoid going through her route until I went through the others I found more interesting, such as Rin, who I met soon after. When the time came where my character was coerced into joining Emi for a run for the second time, it gave me the choice to either run at her fast pace or take it easy. If there’s one thing about visual novels, it’s that my decision-making within them is very, very aggressive.

Imagine my confusion when I was suddenly shown an animated cut scene of Emi running and “Act 2” showing up on my screen. It seemed I had accidentally stumbled upon Emi’s route. I silently cursed myself.


I was originally going to complain that a single decision had led me into Emi’s route, but upon playing through the rest of the game, one decision could ultimately change the shape of history, so it’s understandable. Still, I felt the one incident shouldn’t have been enough to cement myself as Emi’s husbando. I would’ve preferred Hanako or Rin to Emi, but once I was running through her route, I decided to stick with it. Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad.

Emi’s dedication to running is deliciously ironic. She doesn’t have any legs, yet she’s the fastest member of the track team (Unfair handicap, perhaps?). Her dedication to running is almost to the point of obsession, as she’s constantly running even in the most uncomfortable of situations. It’s almost like it’s a set-up for a future plot device. This stubbornness and commitment to going all out reminded me a bit of myself, except without the part about exercising. In my case, it’d be more like gaming. Emi’s base personality is supposed to be one of naivety and airheadedness, a whimsical kid living her life without regret or hesitation. While that held me back from getting to know her at first, the more I spoke with her, the more I found myself enamored with my conversations with her.

While she does have a bubbly demeanor, she’s a lot more intelligent than she lets on. Her conversations are very playful, jabbing at the player at every chance while making the mood very lighthearted and fun. It is fairly ironic that as time went by, I found myself more and more glad I accidentally went through with her route. Her interactions with others is quite similar to how she interacts with the player, but there’s a very subtle emphasis on intimacy when around you. I also liked the dynamic that Emi has with the Nurse, as I find the Nurse to be a likable player as well. The progression of her story feels more realistic on the premise that she has a lot of older, wiser people in her life to give her comfort. The whole “I have no one to go to but you!” cliché is horribly overdone.

I’m not really sure if this was just my version of the game or if it was present all throughout, but Emi’s sprite artwork looked a tad sketchy. Incomplete, if you will, in the sense that it wasn’t completely polished for the game’s release, much like the other girls’ spritework was. There are times when her eyes, her mouth, and her hair would have incomplete lines sticking out like she was a rough sketch with paint on top. Something like this. Apart from that, I loved the outside sketches during pleasant moments of her route. She looks, for lack of a less-cheesy term, beautiful. I really appreciate the artwork she has during these scenes, which brilliantly captures her happiness and innocence. Even her h-scenes exude some manner of playfulness. Aside from her sketchy sprite expressions, I have no complaints whatsoever with the art direction.


Getting into the nitty-gritty, there are a couple of underlying themes to her story. One is her relationship with the track team captain, which is never accentuated to melodramatic levels, but highlighted enough to make the player suspicious. It leads the player to “interrogate” other track team members as well as Emi herself to find out more about their relationship. This, however, is ultimately scrapped after Emi confesses her feelings for you in the middle of Act 3. I feel they could’ve made it more into a thing, but I appreciate the desire to keep things easygoing, rather than make the player an overjealous psychopath.

The more serious of themes is the reason behind Emi’s desire to run at all possible moments. Laced in-between conversations with Emi and others who know her are subtle hints about the nature of her past and the origin story of how she lost her legs. Now, if you have a brain, you would pick up immediately that Emi was involved in an accident that paralyzed her from the knees down (not exactly, but assuming) and killed her father, as her mother flat out states that her father “is no longer around.” That was enough for me to predict it accurately, but it decided to go further by having Emi cry and whisper “Dad…” in her sleep. By that point, I would’ve expected your player to pick up on it, but he only dicks around and keeps second guessing the situation. Her running habit is a means of giving herself a distraction from thinking about the overwhelming guilt she feels about being a part of the incident. In essence, she is running away from her feelings.

Speaking of dicking around, the player seems very excitable during this route. The level of density with his conversations with Emi and the manner at which he keeps pushing the topic that Emi clearly doesn’t care to share with him made me question his level of intelligence. If not intelligence, then his level of trust with himself and his relationship with her. I can understand the lack of confidence on the player’s part, as the condition of his heart and the vulnerability he feels because of it would make him self-conscious, but I feel he’s a tad too selfish in the way he deals with conflict. You could say that he’s selfish, too concerned with unveiling every nook and cranny of a girl’s heart and mind to make himself feel important. It’s almost like he needs that information to validate himself as someone important to Emi, or else he may as well be expendable.

Personally, I don’t think Emi would ask just anyone to try out anal sex with her.


Most girls’ fourth Acts are pretty long, but Emi’s was fairly straightforward and painless. It was over in, what I felt like, the blink of an eye. The player is finally shown Emi’s father’s grave, then Emi resolutely unveils a lot of personal (and some arbitrary) information about herself to show that she trusts the player. It’s a cherry-on-top kind of sugary-sweet ending that is embellished with a titillating h-scene. It’s a lovely ending to an otherwise well-paced and realistic route for a girl I never even wanted to pursue. My only general complaint is that her dark secret is incredibly predictable, while the player pretends not to pick it up early on. That and the player is really forceful.

Seeing as I’ve completed the game at this point, I can declare that Emi’s route is my personal favorite, while also the most objectively sound. Emi is best girl. Emi has best route. Emi was a wonderful way to start out. I would’ve given this game an 8.5 should every girl’s route had been as well-developed as Emi’s, but alas, that’s for another day. For now, I’ll sit back and appreciate my delicately spontaneous, warmly playful, legless waifu.