Thursday, November 15, 2018

Nekopara Vol. 1 Review (PS4)

Let's just get this out of the way first - Nekopara is a visual novel about banging catgirls. However, while the PC version is pretty explicit (especially with mods), the console versions on PS4 and Nintendo Switch are greatly toned down to focus more on the characters and story than the ecchi stuff. It's still rated "M" for Mature on both consoles - and the PS4 version is actually more censored than the Switch(!) version - but it is honestly less lewd than a lot of ecchi fanservice anime I've watched. So, is a sexy game with most of the sexy stuff taken out still worth playing? Find out in our full PS4 Nekopara Vol. 1 review.

Game Details

  • Publisher: CFK Co. Ltd.
  • Developer: Neko Works
  • ESRB Rating: "M" for Mature
  • Genre: Visual Novel
  • Pros: Great presentation; cute catgirls
  • Cons: Kind of super creepy
  • Price: $15

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Note: Despite early reports that Nekopara Vol. 1 was ESRB rated "E" for Everyone PS4, that is incorrect. It is "M" for Mature.

Nekopara takes place in a world where catgirls are an every day thing. They have cat ears and tails, and still have cat-like tendencies and personalities, but are mostly just like normal human girls (including their naughty bits). Catgirls are pets but can also become romantic companions and life partners. They can think and talk and have emotions and make their own decisions, so they aren't just mindless sex objects. Basically, it's every otaku's dream scenario.

The story here is about a young man who strikes out on his own to open up a bakery. Two of his family's catgirls tag along - by stowing away in shipping boxes - and he reluctantly agrees to let them stay first as just their master / owner but they eventually become romantic. The catgirls help in the bakery and the family's four other catgirls, along with the MC's little sister, occasionally show up during the story as well.

Considering some of the anime I watch, this is all pretty normal. It also has a bit of a creepy side, though. Super creepy, in fact. These creatures that can go from pets to romantic lovers at the drop of a hat are just a weird concept. The fact that they do go from pets that get trained to function in human society, and the MC even says several times they feel as much like daughters or sisters to him than anything else, to lovers is weird and gross. The story could have just been about cute busty catgirls helping out in a cafe and it would have been just as appealing, but Japan had to go and make it weird.

Thankfully, the lewd stuff is always just implied and not shown in this version, so you're free to come to your own conclusions about what is actually happening. There are only a couple of scenes with nudity, and everything is covered up with steam clouds so you don't actually see anything. Like I said, it's actually less lewd than something like "Highschool DxD" or many other ecchi anime. The Switch version has slightly less steam covering things up. The Switch version also has a breast jiggle slider so you can adjust how bouncy the catgirls are, which is not available in the PS4 version.

Gameplay is ... virtually nonexistent here. This is purely a visual novel where you just read the story. There aren't any alternate paths and you don't get to make any decisions like some VNs or dating sims - you just read the story The main character is not voiced at all, but everyone else does have Japanese voice over. There are some interactive bits, though. By pressing the touch pad on the PS4 controller you can re-play the current voice clip and I have to admit I've used it quite a bit when the catgirls make a particularly cute or funny noise or something. You can also enter a "pet" mode where you can pat the catgirls on the head (or elsewhere ...) to see their reaction. It's pretty tame, though. Only one of the catgirls is actually bouncy at all, and I have to admit (again) I gave the character Coconut a few extra pats compared to the others. Heh.

What sets Nekopara apart from most other ecchi visual novels is that the presentation is pretty fantastic. The artwork is polished, the art style is very appealing, and the voice work and music is extremely well done. This is not just a half-assed smut delivery device with little effort put in. The images are mostly static but the mouths are animated and there is some other movement as well. Most importantly, these catgirls are cute, ya'll.

Nekopara's 18+ reputation on PC will certainly cloud its reception on consoles, but aside from a sort of creepy story component, it's pretty tame all things considered. It's an experience that I honestly enjoyed, but feel kind of embarrassed and uncomfortable about at the same time. In the end, though, the presentation is great, there are some genuinely funny / fantastic / heartwarming moments, and the creepy naughty stuff is mostly left to your interpretation. It's a little expensive considering that it's just a visual novel and not really a game, but if you're into super cute catgirls and don't mind the story implications, Nekopara Vol. 1 is worth a look. As an aside I can say that it has opened my eyes to visual novels in general so I'm looking forward to playing other VNs available on PS4. Nekopara won't be for everyone, and the battle lines are pretty distinctly drawn at this point, but if you're into this sort of thing you'll dig it.