Developer – Neko Works
Translator – Neko Works, Sekai Project, Denpasoft
Length – 2-10 Hours
Version Played – Steam Release (Censored)[Review copy kindly provided by Sekai Project] [Sekai Project have had no input into the content of this review]
NEKOPARA Vol.1 is the first in what I assume will be a series of short visual novels with the aim of making its readers melt with pleasure using a vast and varied array of female, feline, humanoid companions armed with cuteness and, well, catness. One of the first things I realized after starting the VN was that I was most definitely not the target audience for the title, which makes reviewing it a little difficult. While I personally didn’t enjoy the ride, it accomplishes everything it set out to do and does it reasonably well, so I’m going to attempt to cover both sides of the coin to give you an idea of whether this is a story that will appeal to you.
Minaduki Kashou has had enough of his family. Despite belonging to a long line of Japanese sweet makers, he would love nothing more than to open his own bakery, which is what he sets out to do. Just as he is about to complete his goal, he receives two unexpected guests in the form of his sister’s Catgirls, Chocola and Vanilla, couriered to him along with the rest of his luggage. Catgirls are, as they sound, female cats in humanoid form, with all of the cuteness you might expect from the mix. If taught well, they can speak and operate almost as well as a normal person, so in this day and age many people have taken them on as pets. They’re a massive responsibility, though, and Kashou just isn’t sure he can handle the two while opening his new store. However, the Catgirls aren’t going to give up without a fight and Kashou may soon find a place in his heart and his home for the young felines.
If any of that summary doesn’t sound like your sort of thing, it isn’t. NEKOPARA is a dedicated moege (game intended to be cute) catering to a specific audience and doesn’t aim to appeal to anyone outside of that field. It spends all its energy on the simple goal of displaying cute characters doing cute things, which it does well, so if that’s your cup of tea then it would probably be a fantastic experience. Even though I’m more of a fan of titles with heavy story components I still found myself smiling and laughing during the experience, and I have to acknowledge that the Catgirls are pretty darned cute, so you can be sure that it would be that much more enjoyable to someone who’s into the genre. Speaking of story, there’s really not much to NEKOPARA’s. It’s short, sharp, and doesn’t try to do a whole lot except at the very end in a chapter that seems rushed and anticlimactic. In short, if you don’t think that Catgirls doing cute things are enough to hold up a visual novel on their own, NEKOPARA isn’t for you.
Characterization is as shallow as you might expect it to be, with the heroines showcasing a single personality trait each in addition to the necessary devotion to their owner. That said, there are a range of both humans and Catgirls involved in the tale, with a greater role for the non-main heroines looking likely in future instalments, which is more than enough to accomplish what NEKOPARA sets out to do. I want to take a moment now to discuss the VN’s classification, because it will be important for some potential players. The Steam release that I played is “censored”, meaning that scenes considered R18 have been removed. The odd thing is that borderline nudity, explicit talk about sex and obviously skipped over sex scenes are all still included in the final package. Given that anyone purchasing the Steam version is going to get all that anyway, if you’re after a cute, all-ages moege then that’s just tough, and if you’re after that stuff then why the heck would you buy the Steam version?
One of NEKOPARA’s major selling points is its visuals and they’re worth all of the hype. Character design is great and sprites will talk, blink, tilt their heads, walk around the screen and more. Allowing the animations to complete was a reason in itself for letting each character finish talking rather than continuing on after reading each line, as it gave a depth to the characters that their personalities didn’t. While most of the dynamic sprite features run smoothly, I noticed a bit of lag when the sprites change to new positions or poses without using animation, which was jarring and a little disappointing considering the overall polish of the visual novel. The voice actors perform as well as is usual for Japanese productions and the BGM is also standard fare. One final feature that I find really cool is that you can choose to play in either English or Japanese, which makes the game a great resource for people wanting to practice either language.
Summary – NEKOPARA Vol.1 isn’t for me but for its target audience it could be a lot of fun. The technologically impressive visuals mix with cute, fun characters to deliver a solid moege. If it doesn’t sound like your sort of thing, however, it probably isn’t, as it lacks any sort of compelling story or character development. It’s worth noting that the Steam release isn’t really “all ages”, so if you’re after something innocent then you may want to look elsewhere also.
My Score: 6/10 – Average
Projected Score for Target Audience: 8/10 – Good