In all honesty, I started “playing” this out of laziness. The tiring, repetitious journey of thumbing my character to the other side of my television screen, the disorienting cuts of some lame action movie, or the seemingly endless paragraphs of a novel were all too much to handle. I wanted to simply lie back and let some form of media just happen to me. As what seemed to be some sort of minimalist trifecta of each of these mediums but requiring only a fraction of the labour, I figured I'd give the whole visual novel thing a try. And while all Katawa Shoujo asked of me was to scan its tidbits of dialogue and click through its screens without worry of precision or pace, its rewards were wholly disproportionate to the effort involved. I'd even go so far as to call my experience with it – and far this is; I hate myself for retreating to such a vague and cliched descriptor here, but it was – magical.
If you've romanced or been romanced by a girl, frozen up in the presence of that oh-so-unattainable beauty, or named the smokin' blonde in Secret of Mana after your current junior high school crush (Sad? No way!), this experience is going to resonate with you. Reclined across my couch, mouse in hand, I was mercilessly transported back through my many (no) romantic histories. The indescribable highs, the devastating and gut-wrenching lows, Katawa Shoujo's writing nailed the valley-ed nature of navigating through that first romance. And at no point did I feel like my emotions were being elicited cheaply. Due to the somewhat mature and more serious themes at work here there is simply no need to employ melodrama as a story device, and each character is so well-realized and singular their actions always feel like their own rather than forced upon them by some unseen, pencil-wielding divinity. In fact, the entire experience seemed very organic to me. Going in, I expected that at one point I would be overtly choosing which potential partner would be mine, and after gradually meeting them all I knew whose name it was that I would eventually click. But that point never came. Then halfway through the story, I realized it had already happened – somehow my inner desires had unconsciously come to fruition on the screen in front of me, and without the use of some jarring and unnatural choice mechanic I was amidst the blossoming of a relationship with my virtual crush. Her name is Emi, and she's awesome.
I'm still not sure how I feel about becoming so attached to a virtual character, but there was something that just felt right in slowly chipping away at Emi's armour of unrelenting cheerfulness and getting to her core, to the real Emi Ibarazaki. With each step in our relationship a new Emi stood (there's a joke here) in front of me, sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse, but always affecting me on a real-life level. After we almost broke up, I paused the story out of some ineffable mix of emotions and went away to play Xenoblade. I hunted a few beasts, grabbed some blue orbs, but I just couldn't get into it, not at a time like this. Fifteen minutes later I was back to Emi, to see if we couldn't work things through. Upper hand? What?
After seeing how intricately this courtship unfolded, I'm extremely interested to go about the other girls' storylines. I'm just not sure if I can do that to Emi... Not yet. My usual timeframe for getting over a girl is a month or two, at least, so I guess I'll see you then, Hanako.