NEKOPARA Vol. 1 (PC) - ReviewJared Katz , posted on 22 January 2015 / 11,337 Views
Visual novels (VN) have been going through a recent popularity boom in the West. This rise in popularity can be attributed to both new publishers being willing to invest in the genre as well as Steam’s ability to help raise the genre’s profile. Now the day we have all been either yearning for or dreading has arrived; a catgirl-centric visual novel is upon us. The title in question is a Kinetic VN brought over by Sekai Project, called NEKOPARA Vol. 1.
Before going any deeper I’ll address some important lingering questions for those new to the genre and/or those unaware of this particular game. First of all there are a number of different types of visual novel. A Kinetic VN like NEKOPARA is linear; there are no choices to be made and there is no means of influencing the storyline, instead it’s like reading a book and you’re just along for the ride. There are two versions of NEKOPARA Vol. 1: the Steam version and an R-18 version. The difference between them is that the Steam version removes two sex scenes and visually censors another with fog/lighting. The two removed scenes have little impact on the game, though, and subsequent scenes make it clear what's happened.
The game follows Kashou Minaduki, a young man who has a passion for baking. Unfortunately, because of his father’s disapproval, he is forced to bake in secrecy. After months of planning Kashou secretly moves away from home to run his own bakery, La Soleil. When he arrives there are two unexpected packages inside his otherwise empty store. A catgirl pops out of each box, thus marking the beginning of Kashou’s wacky but surprisingly emotional journey in NEKOPARA Vol. 1.
So how did non-cosplaying catgirls come to be, you ask? Well, humanity decided that the best thing to use genetic engineering on was the creation of catgirls (but not catboys, that'd be just silly). Thanks to the power of science these hybrids have become a normal part of everyday life. Catgirls have ingratiated themselves into human society by essentially becoming either pets, workers, or romantic partners. Almost the entirety of society has accepted this odd situation as normal, and while catgirls visually seem more human-looking then cat-like, they have still retained a number of feline habits, such as pawing at toys, meowing/nyaning, sitting in boxes, and going into heat.
What helps separates a great visual novel from a decent one is the quality and likeability of its characters. While there are eight regular characters in NEKOPARA Vol. 1, the game mostly follows Kashou, catgirl Chocola, and her sister Vanilla. But while Kashou is a decent character in his own right, the catgirl sisters Chocola and Vanilla are the real stars of the game thanks to their uncanny ability to easily put a smile on your face at any time.
Chocola is the more childish and naïve of the two, oftentimes acting how you expect a grade-schooler would. She tries her hardest at any task she takes on, though she expects praise in return. She also has an interesting speech quirk of talking in the third person. On the other hand Vanilla is much more calm and collected. She’s the type to work just hard enough but never put in any unnecessary effort, unless it's to help her sister. Vanilla also has quite the sadistic tongue, knowing when and where to strike Kashou to deal the most damage. When together, the sisters make for both an endearing and adorable set of characters that can play you like a fiddle.
What allows the sisters and the other characters in NEKOPARA Vol. 1 to create such an enjoyable experience is the quality of the voice acting involved. Each character in the game (excluding Kashou) is fully voiced. This voicework shines the brightest during the novel's more serious segments, allowing the game to effectively play on your emotions. NEKOPARA Vol. 1 also features a simple but fitting soundtrack, full of generally upbeat instrumental music.
The one thing that newcomers to the visual novel genre often have trouble getting past is their visually stale nature. Characters are often represented by simple portraits that change expression, but everything else on display is static. NEKOPARA Vol. 1 avoids that issue by using a new system called E-Mote. While you can’t tell from the screenshots accompanying this review, the system does a great job of animating characters, which makes them seem much more alive. This does come at a cost, though, as it causes characters to constantly move around like children who can’t sit still for even a minute. As you would expect the CG scenes are beautiful to look at, but the background images are merely decent.
NEKOPARA Vol. 1 is filled with a variety of options and features. You can use the Japanese, English or Chinese translations. You can also control the speed of the text and whether the game uses auto-text or not. A slightly more offbeat and random feature is inspired by the Dead or Alive series - Chest Bounciness levels. This allows you to control... well, how bouncy character's breasts are. While there are general sound settings, of more interest is the ability to control how loudly the seven main characters speak in relation to the others. This is especially helpful when it comes to Chocola, whose voice is very loud compared to the rest of the cast. Finally, the following extras are included: the game's CG art, a dialog backlog, a music player that includes all 15 songs, and a movie player. The only notable omission is that you can't access individual chapters and must instead go back through your game saves.
Depending on whether or not you have auto-skip on and how quickly you read, NEKOPARA Vol. 1 will last you between three and five hours, which for a $10 visual novel is fairly standard. Since the story is linear there is very little point of going through the game twice unless you just want to relive the story once again.
Visual novels are hard to review, especially Kinetic ones, which by their very nature lack gameplay. Because of this, the gameplay score you see below does not affect the overall score for the title. NEKOPARA Vol. 1 does what it sets out to do, which is tell a sweet but slightly bitter story about two adorable catgirls. It’s not the most accomplished visual novel out there, but it most definitely is one of the best ones to make it to the West. As long as you don’t hate catgirls and you’re willing to keep an open mind, NEKOPARA Vol. 1 should offer both a pleasant and soothing ride.
This review is based on a digital copy of NEKOPARA Vol. 1 for the PC
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