NekoParaGenericKana Moe (pronounced “mo-eh”): Feelings of strong affection…mainly toward characters in anime, manga, and video games.
Manga: Comics and cartoons conforming to a style developed in Japan in the late 19th century.
Madness: Insanity; perhaps brought on by long, tedious storylines.

Nekopara ネコぱら (Cat Paradise) is a Japanese adult visual novel series developed by Neko Works and published by Sekai Project. The stories take place in a world where humans live alongside catgirls, or nekomimi (literally “cat ears”) in Japanese, and are able to keep them as pets…wait…WHAAAAA?? People actually own other people…and there must be added sexual innuendo because that’s practically a regulation in all moe manga titles? That’s it…I’m covering my eyes (but peeking through my fingers).

I know. The thought of people acquiring others as chattel may seem really off-base to most, but let’s remember: ours is a world of many cultures. For instance, I have Steam friends in Europe who were horrified to learn that some North Americans paint dogs and cats with watercolor and ink. Another example is the field of genetic testing; completely outlawed in some countries, while performed regularly in others. You get the idea.

NekoParaLarryHeartAnyway, the disclaimer is over now. Let’s get us some nekomimi!

In Nekopara Vol. 1, our protagonist is the aspiring chef Kashou Minaduki, who moves away from home to open a bakery. While unpacking boxes, he discovers that two of his family’s cat girls, Chocola and Vanilla have stowed away to join him. After convincing Kashou to let them stay, the three work together to run the shop. This is where the player comes in to see the story through.

The gameplay is very simple. Whenever a “paw” icon appears at the bottom-right corner, the game is “pawsed” to let you read the on-screen dialog. To advance the story, just click your mouse anywhere on the screen. The story itself can become a grind at times, so occasionally a “tickle” icon will appear near one of the characters to mix things up. This is Nekopara‘s attempt at a QTE (Quick Time Event), and you have about half a second to notice the icon and click on it. So far, I’ve discovered tickles that look like a heart, a teardrop, a music note and a “recycle bin” circular arrow thingy. There’s no special benefit from a successful tickle-click, other than seeing the character’s reaction…usually, a giggle, laugh, or cutesy outburst.

The game’s voice acting is good, especially for Chocola and Vanilla. For some reason though, our protagonist Kashou is unvoiced. While curious, it does add an element of mystery. Considering I’m two hours in and still reading Chapter 1 of 8, I’m grateful for an element of anything! The story proceeds as you’d expect for a graphic novel of this genre; wholly cute at first until the bombs start dropping:
NekoParaHarassIf you are a hardcore manga fan, you’ll likely enjoy the Nekopara series. Much attention is given to unique aspects of Japanese life, such as street vendors selling takoyaki topped with dried bonito flakes…Google that at your peril. If you’re just starting out with manga, you may opt for games a little less racy. Steam search words like Naruto and Dragonball come to mind.

A subtle, but interesting note about the game’s title. Take a moment to look at the picture at the top of this review…go ahead, I’ll wait. If you read Japanese at all, you’ll notice it immediately. If not, bear with me as we try a very short (I promise) Japanese language lesson!

Native Japanese words like “neko” use characters with soft curves and loops, such as:
HiraganaBoldForeign words like “paradise” (or “para”) use characters with straighter, sharper strokes, such as:
KatakanaBoldBut as you can see, the writing systems have been reversed for Neko and para respectively, in the title! This is a highly cultural phenomenon; usually done by young adults as a form of cheeky rebellion over the powers that be. Such acts in other languages may be deemed disrespectful, but in Japanese, it’s seen as harmless adolescent creativity.

Well done, devs!

NekoParaVolume2Nekopara Vol. 1, was released in two versions: an uncensored adult version that includes explicit sex and nudity, and a censored version where such explicit content is removed. Both versions were released in December 2014. Although Steam offers the latter version by default, there’s an adult-version patch available for players at least 18 years of age. A new “fan disc” called Nekopara Vol. 0 is also available on Steam. This one is censored, and there are no current plans to add adult content. A third installment, Nekopara Vol. 2 is due in December 2015.

This brings us to our final point. Is Nekopara worth it? The answer for me is yes, as long as players are fans of the manga formula.  Currently, Volume 1 is selling on Steam for $10 (US) and Volume 0 is selling for $3. As a game completionist (fancy term for achievement hunter), I’ll be finishing both volumes, as well as Volume 2 when it drops next year. Until then, have fun…and as always: Ikimasu-yo!

-Chris Roberts-

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