So, recently I’ve realized how lucky I’ve been as a reviewer over the past four years.
I’m not going to pretend like it’s been an endless stream of great games. We’ve had to deal with a range bad visual novels as well but as bad as they have been, it’s never been outside of my ability to critique. From the insult that isNowhere Safe to the embarrassment that is Sakura Spirit, I’ve never had trouble explaining what went wrong. In fact, I’d almost argue that it’s easier to right a review on a bad visual novel than a good one because bad writing, characters, etc. have a special way of standing out while explaining the ‘good’ in a story requires context and appreciation: things that aren’t always easy to relay in a review. Either way, it’s been an incredible stroke of luck that I’ve never had to struggle when it has come to a review. Good, bad or otherwise; the evidence is always there for me to use in my opinions.
Today, however, might not be so easy. In fact, the minute I stopped playing Nekopara Volume 0 the first thought that crossed my mind after the BSOD faded was, ‘How in the Hell am I going to review this?!’ To be honest, even as I am typing these words from the luxurious confines of the auspicious VNs Now HQ, I’m still not completely sure how this is going to go. My notes have been reduced to total gibberish and my opinions all seem lacking in capturing the essentials points for why this game sucks. Make no mistake, Nekopara Volume 0 is not good: not even close. But every time I try to piece together a cogent argument for why it is not good, I feel another corner of my mind shattering into something resembling a Salvador Dali painting.
But before we get into that, a little backstory is in order. Nekopara Volume 1 is a game I intentionally avoided last year and researched to know the basics. In this world catgirls are real and can be owned by humans like a normal cat would be, or as a house servant, or as something more fitting to its 18+ label. Anyway, the story centers on a young man in this world who wants to start his own bakery and is joined by two catgirls owned by his family: Chocola and Vanilla. Hijinks and fanservice ensues: securing the game enough of a following to ensure a sequel. However, it was announced earlier this year that before the eventual Volume 2, the developers decided to give the fans a ‘fandisk’ prequel on the events leading up to Volume 1. Hence why we are here today! So get your helmets strapped on nice and tight, your mind bleach ready and pray to whatever God you think will listen because there is no turning back now!
- Genre: Fantasy, Slice-Of-Life
- Developer: NekoWorks
- Publisher: Sekai Project
- Language: English
- Platform: Steam
- Website: Steam
Nekopara Volume 0 follows the girls of Volume 1’s protagonist on a day of their lives caring for their master’s household and waiting for him to come back home. The game takes on a quasi-episodic format as Chocola, Vanilla and the other girls do such exciting things as COOK BREAKFAST! GO TO A COFFEE SHOP! ROLL AROUND KASHOU’S BED! WOO!
Okay, here’s the part that pretty much broke me with this game: there really isn’t a story here to critique. There are a series of things that happen, but it never actually creates a narrative. I understand that this is the way the game was designed, but that design means I really have nothing to analyze. Well, there is one scene that has overall relevance to the Nekopara series, but other than that the game hinges on whether or not you enjoy the girls and their antics. So, did I enjoy the girls and their antics? No. The answer is no.
Poor, poor catigrls. Calling them ‘clichés’ would be a kindness at this point, because it would mean we got enough of their personalities to fit into a cliché. With the exception of the perverted one who gets turned on if so much as a breeze blows past her, everyone reacts to the day’s events along the same lines but with different degrees: those degrees being their feelings for their master. Outside of that it’s more or less a pick your catgirl flavor and everything else is left in the wind and without even quasi-baked characters, it’s kind of hard to care about their day-to-day lives.
The only time this game actually approaches telling a story it goes from mindless pap to cringe-worthy in six seconds flat. Kashou returns home late and is distant with the rest of the girls. The audience knows that he’s wrapped up in his plans to move out and live his own life hence the events of Volume 1, but it is suggested by one of the balls of fur that it might be because he has a girlfriend he’s not telling them about.
This makes his little sister go ballistic. It starts off bad enough with her angry that he would consider another women when he has her (eww) and a bunch of catgirls running around his house, but then it gets downright creepy when she begins to plot ways to break them up, which includes planting pictures of Kashou’s phone of one of the catgirls so that this potential girlfriend would think that he’s a pedophile. I’m sure whoever wrote it thought it would either be funny or endearing, but considering that this is a sanitized version of an adult visual novel that has no issues with showing the same characters nude, you’ll have to forgive me if I’m a little put-off that the game has no issue with joking that artwork of some of its characters could be construed as pedophilic.
And, honesty? The twisted thing about all of this is that if they would’ve went with that it would’ve at least been palatable. Let’s say all of the girls started the day realizing that Kashou was barely around anymore, which leads to the comment of a potential girlfriend, which leads to the sister’s crazed, slightly incestuous rage, and from there all of the girls decided to undertake different tasks around the house to try and convince him to stay put. Boom: done. It’s still a bit trite, but it makes the most out of the mush. As is, the only potential storyline in this thing gets scuttled pretty quickly in order to have a censored bath scene…because with this many anime girls in one place, of course we get a censored bath scene.
And that’s it. If you somehow like these girls then maybe you can squeeze a little enjoyment out of this thing. But even then there is a lot for even the hardest of the hardcore fan to ignore if they want that small bit of enjoyment.
PRESENTATION & TECHNICAL
God help us all, because this is where the game gets decent.
While the story of Nekopara Volume 0 goes over and beyond to earn my aimless rage, the overall presentation is okay. The character sprites are cel-shaded and three dimensional to take advantage of the ‘E-Mote’ system; which I guess is the in-house Live2D for Neko Works? It looks slick, however there are a few moments of pause and awkward moments that just makes them look off. The sprite artwork also doesn’t blend in well with the game’s backgrounds, which are pretty stock standard to begin with. The voice acting is a nice touch though and, despite being completely Japanese, sounded enthusiastic. So, if nothing else, someone was having fun with this.
The Presentation isn’t flawless though. The music is far too familiar and, because of that, quickly because forgettable. Also the Event Graphics are just as saccharine as the story itself and don’t really serve any particular purpose other than to highlight the sugary fluff. Ironically, several CGs could be considered a step down from the sprite work in the main game; especially several bits of chibi-fied artwork that just makes me want to introduce them to a real cat. But other than that a lot of work was made into making even this volume of Nekopara stand apart from other visual novels and give it its own distinct look. Despite my feelings on the rest of the game, I do appreciate that. It just won’t save it from the score it deserves because, as pretty as the game can be, all that makes it is a well-polished turd.
On the technical side, the game is the equivalent of putting a Hemi engine into a Smart car. The text comes in Japanese, English or Chinese depending on your preference. There is a gauge for how bouncy you want the character’s breasts to be, so Mai Shiranui continues to impact your everyday life. And there is a gameplay feature that allows you to stop the game and pet the girls on screen: including the little sister character. While this game is Kinetic, so there are no branching options, the bulk of the Steam achievements tied to this game depends on if you actually pet the girls.
And I might as well point out that the translation is actually pretty decent as well. In a few days I’ll finally have my World End Economica Episode 2 review out and one of the few gripes I have with the game is the fact that its translation isn’t up to par. So, if I’m following the logic here right, Sekai Project is putting forward all of its efforts to ensure that we perfectly understand these idiotic catgirls, but we’ll be lucky if they ever string two sentences together competently in a good Japanese VN?
My mind cannot wrap itself around this reality, so we’re just going to move on.
A-Are you serious? Fine.
Nekopara Volume 0 currently retails at $2.99 and dragging my ass, I knocked it out in an hour. As far as any replay value goes, even the hardest of the hardcore fan of catgirls would be hard to find it. If you just need a Nekopara fix, either replay or buy Volume 1. While I’m sure from the outside looking in that this humble reviewer wouldn’t have a taste for it, at least you’ll actually something more than the aimless wanderings of attempted cuteness.
Wow. I actually got a lot more out of this review than I thought I would.
Nekoworks made it clear in the lead up to this release that there wasn’t a lot of creative muscle going into it and that it was supposed to serve as strictly fanservice to tide fans over until they finish Volume 2. And that was a decent little excuse. But, once you get past that, it’s hard to deny that this is the ragged, half-dead remains of an empty experience. Again, even if you are a fan of this series, what do you got out of this other than a bunch of bath CGs that (let’s all be honest for a second here) you know you could probably find somewhere on the Internet free? Hell, if they really wanted to do this for the fans, why not just have it as free DLC for the fans who brought Volume One? Nope, you have the pay for the privilege of watching the fur balls screw around. Great.
This is pap: inane, candy-colored pap that, when you really think about it, becomes more and more of a slap to the face to anyone who spent money on it and an even bigger slap to the face of fans whose wait for the next volume has to feel longer after trudging through this wreck. Avoid. Avoid. Avoid.