Base Game (Steam Edition) Review
Cats love boxes. It is a universal truth that if you leave a box open in a room with a cat, the cat will be in the box when you come back. The question is though, does this apply to catgirls?
Nekopara, Cat’s Paradise, begins with a pâtisserie about to open. Its owner, our male protagonist, is a classically trained pastry chef who is beginning a new life by himself, away from the influences of his over-bearing family. As he receives his deliveries to help him open his new store, two large boxes arrive. Inspecting the boxes closely, he hears a muffled “meow” from one of them, and discovers that two of his family’s young catgirls have stowed away inside, the aptly named twin sisters Chocola and Vanilla.
Let it be known that his family has a veritable harem of catgirls at home, all of whom answer to his bro-con sister, and to satisfy the needs of the gaming audience all of the catgirls are of various breeds, body sizes, personalities etc. Just what you would expect from a visual novel. I am personally quite interested in the Scottish Fold and the Mainecoon, just for the record!
So, I think a bit of background is needed here to explain a bit more about the world Nekopara is set in. In this world, humanoid cats are commonplace. They are treated as pets in some cases, family members in others, and for some people, as “catpanions”. There are laws governing the behaviour of humanoid cats, catgirls, and their treatment, requiring them to be controlled, looked after and offering catgirls the ability to become independent by taking the “Bell Test”. This is a test by which catgirls can prove that they can co-exist with humans in society; by gaining the bell around their necks they can go out into the world, unescorted.
As Chocola and Vanilla enter their “master’s” life, they begin working for him in the pâtisserie as his “poster catgirls”, fulfilling the task of highly professional waiting and serving staff. As you can expect, business booms, especially once his little sister gets involved. As the game progresses Chocola and Vanilla grow from being quite immature girls into women, and with it the relationship between them and their master also progresses from familial into a more amorous relationship.
The game spends a lot of time initially building up the characters and the universe in the first two to three chapters, but I found that the story was lacking in some of the other scenes. I wanted to have more story around the girls’ studying for the Bell Test and running the café, and also a bit more time with the other catgirls under the ownership of his little sister, but with this game being volume one I imagine more development may come in later games.
One of the important things to note is that this is originally an adult game. However, the Steam edition, in order to comply with the platform's Terms and Conditions, is not an adult game. All of the adult content has been removed, essentially making the game - except for a scene involving ear licking - completely safe for work. Well, almost.
One of the key features of the game is the high quality graphics and animations of the girls. Not only does the game support high resolution graphics and upscaling, but the girls are fully animated, albeit not interactive except for a unique feature to disrupt the pull of gravity. If you press the “P” key during the game, you will see what I mean. Boing… This feature was abused a bit by me, mostly out of amusement when I discovered that the co-efficient of boingy-ness (yes, it is a thing) could be changed in the settings to levels that would surely give someone a black eye if they were too close to the girls during one of these "mishaps" with gravity.
Otherwise, the game plays as per any other visual novel. The control system is intuitive, allowing for multiple saves and loading at any point during the narrative and allowing for unlimited replays of the same scene, over and over again. It also features a very useful “autoplay” feature, which scrolls through the text and scenes, without any clicking of the mouse. Very useful for when you wish to be “hands-free”.
The game is fully Steam integrated, which means that you will benefit from it being auto-updated, cloud saves, and the lovely embarrassment when your friends see you putting in loads of time into a visual novel about catgirls via the "Friends online" page.
As a visual novel, the writing and voice acting is very sweet. You can clearly tell that the actresses (and it is only female roles who are voiced) had a hilarious time when doing some of the more... "catty" scenes (fun with a feather comes to mind) and I always consider it to be a good sign when I get a tear in my eye due to the performances in some of the later more touching scenes. The story is very sweet indeed, if a little truncated. To put it into perspective, on fast auto-play mode, I clock the game in at approximately four hours long through all eight chapters in the Steam version, with approximately 20% of the content removed to make the game non-adult. With respect to the content removed, I have reviewed this as a footnote as I have procured the full version separately, but although it was evident where the content was removed (scene with horny catgirl, black screen for 2 seconds, scene with satisfied catgirl), its removal has very little impact on the way the story flows and the game is perfectly enjoyable as a story without it.
After playing the game through and achieving 100% of the achievements (it’s very easy), I am happy to say that Nekopara's first volume has an excellent translation and those at NekoWorks and Sekai Project who were involved in the release and translation should be proud of themselves. I only hope on behalf of myself and those other catgirl aficionados out there that the other volumes arrive, post haste!
Opening and Closing movies, Game Soundtrack and CG Gallery
NEKOPARA Vol. 1 can be purchased digitally via Steam
Non-Steam Edition Addendum
The differences between the Steam and non-Steam editions of the game is one hour of adult content and some additional CG extras. This one hour is split into scenes in chapters five to eight, where the protagonist has his way with his catpanions... or should it be that they have their way with him? The scenes themselves are quite graphic, fully acted and in my opinion, over-reliant on the old trick of making sound effects via the use of two fingers and a tub of putty. For those who are interested in buying the game for its adult content, I don’t think you will be disappointed as the scenes are quite "effective", to put it mildly. In terms of story content, the adult scenes do not add anything which is not in the base game.
To access this adult content, a separate edition of the game will need to be purchased outside of Steam direct from the publisher’s website or from another digital retailer. At the time of writing, the licence codes were not transferable between the different editions and no official means of converting the Steam game into the adult content was available due to the Steam Terms and Conditions. Be aware that although the save game files are compatible between the two editions, you do need to ensure you retrieve your save game files from the Steam Cloud before loading the non-Steam edition and saving them in the game folder, as all of the cloud features are stripped from that edition. Other than that, and the additional scenes and CG extras, the two versions of the game are identical.
As to which version I prefer... well, obviously the fully featured one!