Well, what do you know? This is a first. “First” as in-this is the first visual novel released in multiple languages in one day, namely-Japanese, Chinese and English, fully voiced, and released on Steam too.
Neko Para puts you in the shoes of Kashou Minaduki-a young man with the dream to be a confectioner. Because his family had been generally unsupportive of his dream, one day, he moved out and open his own bakery, La Soleil. The gung-ho Kashou was already ready to run the bakery and wrestle for his dream all alone, until he found two abnormally huge shipping boxes. On closer inspection, the boxes sneeze, meow and even talk; and out pop two catgirls-Chocola and Vanilla!
NekoPara is slice-of-life, cute, and pleasantly relaxed in nature. In order to achieve such atmosphere though, everything seemingly “out-of-place” elements were regarded as common sense in NekoPara’s world. For one, we definitely won’t see how catgirls even came about, other than the very basic explanation of “genetically-modified humanoid cats”. There is also no social discrepancies between the humans and the catgirls as well-they get along with the humans so well they can be your worker, family or even lovers, and the society won’t even find it weird. This is not an issue though, of cause, since NekoPara is obviously a visual novel not aimed for such a serious direction. Aforementioned, it aims for cuteness and a relaxed atmosphere, an objective where it accomplished with flying colors. That being said, NekoPara’s fanservice-y nature is obviously not for those looking for something with a little more depth, but despite that, NekoPara is still an endearing attraction.
There is not a lot to say about the characters, as expected from such a genre. They are fun and cute, but lacks a lot of depth and can sometimes look very one-dimensional. Because, of that, while their interactions are sometimes comedic, it can feel repetitive very quickly, though this is saved by the visual novel’s very short length-which took just a little less than 10 hours to finish. Because, NekoPara isn’t a visual novel aiming for depth, this also transition to their characters; predominantly the two main catgirls of this volume-Chocola and Vanilla. In a way, the characters did set out what their roles needed them to accomplish, which is just being extremely darn cute-despite lacking depth throughout the visual novel. There is a little drama inserted here and there involving our characters, most of the time, they are basically just there to move the story, or whatever classifies as “story” in it, forward-the prologue of the visual novel is a clear example, until the story finally settled and the slice-of-life nature sinks in.
I was actually a close follower of Sayori’s works-NekoPara’s illustrator before this. I love Sayori’s works, and was always staring at her illustrations at image boards whenever I stumbled upon them. Before the release of this visual novel, I had already seen tons of Chocola and Vanilla illustrations in various artbooks-it’s one of the reason why I was also incredibly hyped the moment I found out they will be featured in a visual novel as main characters. Because of that, I have high praise for NekoPara’s art as well, as you would had probably already noticed by the vibrant, colorful CGs. I’m particularly hooked in her character artworks, mostly, but she also did a good job with the background. If you take the time to survey, they are incredibly detailed, although ironically, they were spent most of the time blurred, which is another aesthetic direction I would actually applaud on-since I don’t think I ever played a visual novel before which blur it’s own background before. The blurring helps with contrast and provide more focus on the sprites. Despite the backgrounds becoming less of a focus, this is more of a plus since Sayori’s character designs-Chocola and Vanilla especially, are just so endearing.
Other than having sprite/background with CGs as most standard visual novels do, NekoPara also introduced a lot of visual gimmicks which I would love to see in other visual novels. The “Emote” is definitely a noteworthy system. To be specific, it basically animates the sprites by giving them movements-mouth movements when they talk, eye blinking, pupil movements, ears/tails movements, breathing and even body rotations. Basically, the whole sprite actually moves. Sometimes, the sprites will zoom in and zoom out too to give an illusion that the character is walking close to you, or walking away from you (they are even added footsteps sound). These are actually visual features that were done before-I had seen visual novels like Aoi Shiro animating eyes blinking/mouth movements, and visual novels like Muv-luv making the zoom in/out visual illusion. But none, at least from the ones I had played and remembered off the top of my head, were as developed to an extent NekoPara did. I think the most fairest comparison as far as the Emote system goes, is more alike the “visual novel segments” of Hyperdimension Neptunia. Despite being developed from a doujin company, it is an extremely high quality production.
Besides, with the ability to control chest bounciness, the visual department deserves a full 10/10 in my honest opinion.
Despite the visual novel being released on Steam, I’m one of those rare guys who didn’t get it on Steam, but rather someplace else. Incidentally, the version I got is with H-content, so I can shed some light to those who played the non 18+ Steam version. To be frank, the H-scenes are of even top-tier quality as far as visuals go. If you had played and saw ef’s H-scenes before, it’s almost similar to that. NekoPara’s H-scenes also have animations for it’s CGs to give an impression of the characters literally moving, just like a gif. Some more, the characters’ eyes are also animated a bit watery-like. Hilariously, it’s one of those things where I don’t know if I should give praise or not for the developers actually putting focus on such an aspect of a visual novel.
As far as system goes, I think NekoPara’s can even compete with most modern visual novels. It doesn’t try anything unique, like Grisaia’s character voice files, for one, but it has a lot of save slots for you to save in, and you can freely delete any of them whenever needed. The interface is also extremely simple too, so it only just takes a little while to get used to the menu. Other than basic configurations found in most simple visual novels, you can also configure character’s volumes manually for each of them, the ability to switch languages midway at will, and also, the ability to toggle H-animations on or off and aforementioned chest bounciness (yes, I’m talking about this with a straight face, I’m good).
Most of the music fit right into the background, but I can’t say any of them are very memorable at any means. Some of the tracks sound a lot like a lullaby, so they are soothing and very nice to hear. Although most of the tracks overall use a very similar music style, and with it being such a short visual novel, the music section didn’t shine as much as it needed to. The OP and ED sounds nice though!
In the end, NekoPara isn’t an ambitious visual novel by any means. It is a heartfelt visual novel which aims to be cute, relaxing and sincere; and did a very great job at accomplishing those means. It has a surprisingly high-quality production despite being developed by a doujin company’s first attempt into the medium-mostly evidenced by it’s high-quality visuals. Do I recommend this visual novel? If you’re a sucker for nice visuals and… cute catgirls, this visual novel is great. In fact, I personally enjoyed it thoroughly myself. It also has an advantage of being short, so the slice-of-life nature doesn’t expand itself any longer than is necessary.
For the record, this is me playing NekoPara:-