By William Haderlie / February 26th, 2016
|Title||NEKOPARA Vol. 2|
|Release Date||February 19, 2016|
|Age Rating||All Ages Steam Version Reviewed|
What hijinks will ensue in a world where the existence of catgirls is a given, ownership and licensing them a bureaucratic reality, and a little sister with a serious brother complex can use her harem of catgirls to manipulate her poor, unassuming brother? These are the thrilling questions that the developers at NEKO WORK’s are seeking the answers to with their new title NEKOPARA Vol.2. Really, this is an extremely lighthearted situational comedy about a maître pâtissier (pastry chef) running a pâtisserie (pastry bakery) in Japan with his harem of catgirls. He is the owner of two of them, Vanilla and Chocola, and his little sister, Shigure, is the owner of four more. There is not much else to say about the protagonist. Like many other VNs of this nature, he is entirely unvoiced, mostly silent, and basically a tabula rasa.
Where this Visual Novel truly shines is in its portrayal of the various cat girls that surround him. They each have their own distinct personality and traits, but all of them are overwhelmingly cute. In fact, this game being set in a pastry shop is quite apt, as it’s a bit of a sugar rush. But for me, that is not a criticism at all: if I wanted something a bit darker and less saccharine, I could easily find it. Volume 2 seems to pick up right where Volume 1 left off, as there is little to no filling in of backstory. I actually rather like that aspect of it, as it gets a little old to always have to rehash previous events with subsequent stories. It is quite easy to pick up on the threads of the previous story, which apparently led to Vanilla and Chocola being not only owned by but also catpanions to their Master. In this series, the word catpanions is particularly important, as it seems to mean not only an emotional relationship with a catgirl but fully lovers.
One very interesting aspect of this premise is that the writers use the actual behavior of cats to not only behave in extremely cute ways but to also provide some of the set up for the harem situation to develop. Almost all cats on earth are notoriously non-monogamous, so the potential emotional backlash of using all human entrants is artfully dodged. Many other visual novels of the harem nature, such as the classic Shuffle, have explored this territory already. So I found it nice to just enjoy a bit of sweet bliss without going into potential negative ramifications. That said, there are several scenes that are rather emotional between the sisters, just not over the harem tropes. This story is both about them growing their filial relationships and also their romantic ones. Early on in the story, Chocola and Vanilla are temporarily removed from the picture long enough for separate character growth to exist between the protagonist and the two main characters of this volume, Coconut and Azuki.
Coconut is the monochromatic eyed blonde cat girl and is the youngest in the family. She also happens to be the largest of them, which leads to some drama. A lot of people see her as an adult, especially compared to her much smaller older sister Azuki, but she is really still a kitten. She is older than Chocola and Vanilla, but only barely. The combination of her size and having adopted two younger sisters has led her to be very insecure about her maturity. She is trying to force herself to grow up fast, which is leading to some serious growing pains. It is up to you and her big sis to help her see the error of her ways and to support her efforts.
Azuki is a tiny thing, but she is actually the oldest sibling. She takes this role and responsibility very seriously but, being rather young herself, she tends to make errors in judgement that she ends up regretting later. She is the manager of the pâtisserie, so a lot rests on her shoulders. During the events of the story, she receives the rather dubious “promotion” from manager to cook. When the protagonist sees her out of her element, he starts to see new sides of her: less certain and more vulnerable. And Azuki also starts to see a new side to him as well, with the burgeoning of his relationship with her sister Coconut. During the events of the story, the relationship between the two sisters will grow, but they will always be a bit contentious due to their personalities.
There are many types of visual novels that offer choices to varying degrees, such as the light choices of another Sekai Project title The Fruit of Grisia, or the extremely nested choices of FATE/Stay Night. This is a visual novel that has no decisions or choices: there are no branches or alternative paths to be had. But that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It does reduce the replay value of the title some, but really, not every visual novel has to be “choose your own adventure.” And you do get the opportunity for romantic conclusions with both of the female leads. So I did not feel particularly constrained by this creator decision. Unfortunately, however, the catgirls that are not a large part of the story, Cinnamon and Maple, do get the short shift a bit. This is commented upon by Cinnamon towards the end in a bit of a lighthearted fourth wall breaking statement. I’m glad that the creators added that in there to ensure that you knew this was an artistic choice. This title is also a bit short, at 5 hours (auto-scroll standard speed), but I consider it well priced for this length.
Let’s talk about the pricing structure for this title and by way of that go into my few complaints about it. The version that I reviewed is the Steam All Ages version which is MSRP for $9.99. Really, that is quite a good value for 5 hours of entertainment. However, there is one issue I have with that: During the story, there are very obvious breaks that happen when the story delves into the eroge content. The cuts are rather sudden and noticeable, and the events that happened during the girl’s catpanion accomplishment are referenced but not seen. You can buy the full version of this title from Denpasoft for $19.99 or buy the patch to make the Steam version uncensored (with mosaics still) for an additional $9.99 to restore this content. A friend of mine indignantly called this a “porn tax”, and I can’t exactly disagree with that. However, I must say that $19.99 for this title in full I would consider worth the price. I do have a hard time imagining the person out there that would be playing a visual novel like this, and not want the erotic content. So I would suspect that it has more to do with Steam policies and getting your product out there in front of the millions of eyes viewing the Steam store. I cannot begrudge the company much for that. But I can unequivocally say for my review that I would recommend getting the full version. The cuts are noticeable, and I consider the extra content worth having as long as you are of the appropriate age and not offended by sex with catgirls.
But, really, that is my only quibble with this title. It is truly a good Visual Novel, one that makes me happy that we are getting these experiences in the West now. The translation is spot on, and you won’t have to roll your eyes at spelling or grammar errors. They also went through the work to produce dialects for each character and make use of Western colloquialisms like that above. The menu choices are quite diverse, even if I can’t imagine the person that would lower the boob physics down to nothing. And you even have the ability to use the window toolbar menu choices, which is a nice thing to have instead of always going into the nested menus. When you have played as many visual novels as I have at this point, you can get used to a bit of archaic technology. But this title is definitely well developed and technically sound, even the little things such as changing the mouse cursor when you mouse over an option that is currently unavailable.
Lastly, we must talk about the artwork and voice work. This is where the development team shines the most. All of the artwork, from normal to chibi, is all extremely detailed and well drawn. The faces are very emotive, and the transition animation is very smooth. This is also one of the most 3D of the 2D VNs that I have ever played. The way the characters move is very believable, as they can turn their heads and bodies within the frame of a scene. They also have many cases of layered perspective between the girls to give an even more 3D feel to it. Overall, you will be pleasantly surprised at how alive all the girls feel on the screen, especially compared to the static sprites that most VNs still trade in.
This is a release that I highly recommend. My quibbles with the version I reviewed taken into context are quite minor and would be entirely solved by choosing to purchase the full version. This is an extremely well made Visual Novel, and I hope the exposure on Steam leads many more people to become fans of the genre. As long as they keep on releasing titles like this, I will keep on buying them. For more information on future titles from this developer, crossing our fingers for a Volume 3, keep checking back here at Operation Rainfall.
Review Copy Provided By Publisher
DenpasoftNEKO WORK'sPCReviewsekai projectSteamvisual novel