Review: NEKOPARA Vol.1

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Developer: NEKO WORKs
Publisher: Sekai Project
Platform: PC (STEAM and Non-Steam)
Price: $9.99 USD
Release Date: December 29th, 2014

Released late last year, NEKOPARA is a Visual Novel released on Steam that sparked quite a bit of discussion. The reasons for so much fuss over this game are quite diverse, including those who believe NEKOPARA doesn’t even qualify as a Video Game.

Despite the controversy, it’s undeniable that NEKOPARA became a highly acclaimed game on STEAM. A quick glance at the game’s page:

nekopara01According to Steam’s page, the game received 97% positive reviews out of 1797 total reviews.

Story

The story begins with Kashou Minaduki moving out of his home with the intention of starting a new business of his own, a p√Ętisserie. While unboxing, he finds two extra packages which he didn’t recall. Inside them he finds two of his sister’s catgirls who secretly sneaked in and moved out with him.

What exactly is a Catgirl? In this game’s context, Catgirls are pet-people. Anthropomorphs with both human and cat traits, average-low intelligence, and mostly considered to be animals rather than people.

At first, protagonist-kun is reluctant towards keeping the two girls, named Chocola and Vanilla, as his own pets. After all, the one who had always cared for them had been his sister, not him. After much pestering from his feline companions, Kashou decides to keep them, becoming a family, as both of them help him in his new business as Maid Catgirls.

Not too long into gameplay, I took notice of one thing: I had played this game before. NEKOPARA’s plot and story progression are almost exactly the same as another Visual Novel from 2006, Wanko to Kurasou, with the remark that the characters from that game were dog-people instead, and a lot less intelligent.

Not surprisingly, the central plot point from both games is something that bothers me profoundly: It’s socially acceptable, and widely practiced, to keep self-aware and intelligent individuals as pets and work them as slave labour. My mind understands that it’s just standard, Nukige-tier writing, but it still bothers me to no end.

nekopara04Setting aside moral and ethical implications of this game, perhaps the best word to describe the overall feeling and story direction in NEKOPARA Vol.1 is indeed Wish-Fulfillment. The plot is all about having a carefree life playing with your nekomimi waifus while baking cakes and receiving visits from your little sister, that just happens to have a huge brother complex.

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Gameplay

The game has no choices. Some Steam users have argued that a Visual Novel without choices is not a video game, and by extension shouldn’t belong on Steam. While it’s indeed difficult to argue that a game in which you have no control over the character at any point during the story is a video game, I firmly believe this sort of content has space in a platform such as Steam. Considering the large number of Visual Novels that have been featured on Steam over the last two years, it seems like Valve isn’t particularly concerned over VNs’ status as video games at this point, and the only restriction is that they still do not accept adult content to be published on Steam.

The original version of the game is a Nukige, with R-18 content. Purchasing it from a non-Steam source will contain the game with the adult content, while that Steam is the only platform publishing the All Ages version of NEKOPARA.

The game’s user interface is nicely finished and polished. There are more save slots than you’ll ever need for a game with no branching paths, the menus are responsive and feature about everything you’d expect from a Visual Novel. And there’s also the Boob Bounciness option.

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How absolutely marvelous. Truly something to set this game apart from every other Visual Novel. You can actually adjust the boob physics from the options menu. Perhaps in the future we’ll be able to adjust the boob size of each girl individually to suit our own predilections. Hint: You can press P during the game to make the boob bounce.

Sound

Surprisingly good all-around quality on the audio aspects of the game. The game is fully voiced, with the exception of the protagonist. The voice acting is quite good, and has a lot of personality put into it. Each character feels unique from individual speech patterns.

The music was overall good. While not impressive, it was very memorable and fitting of the game’s atmosphere. I was positively surprised.

Graphics

Looking at NEKOPARA’s artstyle, you can’t help but be constantly remembered about how the outfits in this game are absolutely ridiculous.

Even by anime standards, clothing in this game is way overboard on the cutesy frills, ribbons, and flower accessories. Why would you wear that many ribbons on your hair if you’re dressing up to go to sleep?

Other than outfits, the artstyle isn’t all that impressive. Everything is very nicely, professionally done. The game uses super-deformed frames in order to deliver some comedic impact during certain scenes, but otherwise there’s nothing really outstanding on the art direction itself.

However, what really stands out in NEKOPARA’s graphical achievements is the sprite animation.

All the interactions are so lively and fluid because of this impressive animation. Complete with eyes blinking, mouth-movement, idle animation, and dynamically changing expressions on the character’s faces, you can tell that a lot of work and care went into making and polishing all this animation.

Overall, I was very pleased with the effort and quality put into the game’s art. It would be great if this were to become the norm in Visual Novel art direction.

Downsides

NEKOPARA Vol.1 is the first part of the game. There’s is more, but it seems like we won’t be seeing it for some time. NEKO WORKs seems to be a rather professional studio, meaning it would be rather unlikely for a sequel to not be released. However, I am still firmly against releasing Visual Novels as individual short parts. Hopefully this trend will not spread.

Other than that, it feel as if the game delivered everything I expected from it. It hasn’t performed badly in any area in particular.

Overall

The overall experience from playing NEKOPARA Vol.1 was good. The comedy was enjoyable for the most part, the music was interesting, the voice acting was superb, the animation felt truly alive. While certainly not among the best visual novels on Steam, it’s a great option for those who need some escapism from the ugly things in real life in order to forget all the troublesome stuff and have some fun with cute Catgirls.

Pros:
– Good Music
– Great Voice Acting
– Fluid Animation
– Available in English, Japanese, and Chinese
– Escapism

Cons:
– Artstyle is a bit bland
– Very Short
– Released in parts. Only the first part is available.

The Reviewer has given this game a Final Grade of 6/10 !!