Disclaimer: the game(s) reviewed here contain adult content, but my review is safe for work. However, this post does feature catgirls in French maid uniforms and one instance of explicit tail-brushing. On second thought, maybe it isn’t really safe for work.
I have no excuses this time. I’ve written in the past about a few visual novels, but they were either not pornographic at all (Umineko no Naku Koro ni, Our World Is Ended, Doki Doki Literature Club!) or had sex scenes that contributed to a psychological horror story plot and that didn’t seem intended for the purpose those scenes usually are (Saya no Uta, Saya no Uta again.) Nekopara, however, is without a doubt an h-game series. Yes, there are all-ages versions of the games that cut out all the sex scenes, but naturally I got the 18+ DLC that unlocks those scenes again. I could defend my purchase by telling you I bought Nekopara Complete Edition during a Steam sale when it and the DLC were both heavily discounted, but the fact is that I bought it. I bought these games about creating a catgirl harem and now I’m writing about them here. If you needed any more proof that I’ve given up on the possibility of living a normal life, here it is.
Okay, I’m just kidding. I did actually have to think a bit about whether to write about Nekopara, since I haven’t reviewed a straight up h-game in the six years since I started this blog. But then I got back on Twitter after some time away and saw a lot of complaining about how immoral, dirty anime and comics and games are destroying society, and if those people are going to keep spewing such nonsense, why should I hold myself back?
Nekopara Complete Edition is a package containing four volumes in the Nekopara series of visual novels by developer NEKO WORKs. More accurately, these games are kinetic novels, or visual novels that don’t involve any player input to move the plot along. So these are really more like regular novels with character portraits, backgrounds, sound effects, and music than even your standard VN is. Also, aside from the very short prequel Vol. 0, all of these games have sex scenes unless you only buy the base all-ages versions. Until recently, Valve didn’t allow pornographic content on its platform, so for the longest time Nekopara was only available there as a series of nice, cute VNs about a guy running a French bakery with catgirl waitresses in which the boning was merely implied.
Protagonist Kashou Minaduki is a young pastry chef from a long line of traditional Japanese confectioners who sets off to open his own western-style bakery against the wishes of his parents. While unpacking his cooking equipment at the beginning of Vol. 1, Kashou hears cat noises coming from his pile of boxes and discovers two of his family’s catgirls, Chocola and Vanilla, hiding inside. These twin catgirls insisted upon moving in with Kashou and stowed away with the help of their master, Kashou’s younger sister Shigure, who still lives at the Minaduki family home but who will show up later and who figures prominently in every volume of Nekopara.
Together, the twins convince Kashou to let them live with him in his apartment above the bakery and to help him run the place as waitresses and apprentice bakers. Throughout the course of Vol. 1, the protagonist gets closer to Chocola and Vanilla, who eventually choose to become his “catpanions”, or catgirl girlfriends. (Speaking of, if you hate puns, and especially if you hate puns based on the word “cat” and Japanese cat sounds, you will truly hate these games.) Vol. 2 and Vol. 3 each pick up the story from where the previous game left off and involve Kashou developing similar relationships with Coconut, Azuki,1 Cinnamon, and Maple, the other four catgirls in the Minaduki family.
You might need more background on these catgirls to understand why this is happening. They’re a sort of genetically engineered human with cat features. Not that different from your typical anime-style catgirl. But they have a weird legal status in this world. While catgirls all seem to basically have human intelligence, they also have all the standard feline instincts. They play with cat toys, love tuna, get fucked up on cat nip, react violently to loud noises, and go into heat (and yeah, of course that last part comes up during the games, especially if you get the 18+ versions.)
As a result, catgirls have to be trained to conform with human laws and practices and must pass an exam to prove that they can go out on their own without running around in the streets and causing chaos. And just like normal pets, catgirls in this world have “masters” that they’re generally expected to obey, though there are a whole lot of conditions involved in those relationships (as any cat owner will tell you, the cat often seems to be more the human’s master than the other way around, and the same is true in Nekopara.) So while a catgirl in this world isn’t exactly treated as a human, she can earn the right to be considered more or less human if she passes her exam and gets her bell, the mark of a licensed catgirl.
You might have already guessed that some other reviewers have found the Nekopara games troublesome for this reason, especially since each game involves the protagonist having romantic relationships with all six of his family’s catgirls. However weird that might sound, though, all these relationships are socially acceptable in the world of Nekopara. This is despite the fact that catgirls can’t have children with humans, even though they’re almost completely human in their physical makeup and their intellect aside from all the feline instinct stuff. (Or maybe because? Sounds like an effective form of nationwide birth control. In fact, it sounds like the potential cause of a disastrous crash in birth rates, but that never comes up in these games.) They also all take the initiative in their relationships with Kashou, who just seems to be along for the ride most of the time.
Even the harem element isn’t a big deal in the context of the game. As Vanilla tells Kashou in Vol. 2, catgirls don’t have a problem with polygamy as long as he loves them all equally. Because catgirls are capable of feeling jealousy, as we learn in Vol. 1 when Vanilla threatens to hide a mix of wasabi and hot sauce in Kashou’s underwear because he very briefly and innocently talked to another woman who approached him while she, Chocola, and Kashou were all out on a date. God damn, that Vanilla is one scary woman. Or catgirl, or whatever.
If all this sounds like a lot of fantastic wish fulfillment to you, I think that’s just the point. Nekopara feels like it’s meant to be a romantic comedy for people who are into the whole 2D and anime and girls who could never exist in real life thing. Each game does feature some conflict in which Kashou has to navigate the complicated feelings of the women around him (including Shigure, who has a weird sibling-Oedipus-complex obsession with her brother and who works behind the scenes the entire series to set up Kashou’s relationships with her catgirls.) But all the conflicts are resolved by the end of Vol. 3, when Kashou has built his catgirl harem/patisserie empire.
I don’t mean any of that as a negative criticism of Nekopara, because there’s a lot of craft and attention to detail in these games. The art, character portraits, and voice acting are excellent.2 The music is mostly light and fluffy but meshes with the tone of the games perfectly. And the six catgirl characters aren’t the kind of cardboard cutouts you might expect from a series like this — they all have distinct and more or less believable personalities (though some of them are a little exaggerated.) The fact that all this talent was used in the service of an escapist fantasy isn’t a waste as I see it. I’m often up for playing a game with heavy, serious content, but sometimes I just want some pure fantasy, and Nekopara provides that. The real world can be a miserable grind, and games like these provide some much-needed relief for their fans. As long as you don’t forget that you ultimately live in that shitty real world and that you’ll have to return to it eventually, there’s nothing wrong with losing yourself in that intoxicating haze for a while.3
If I have one serious criticism of the Nekopara games, it’s that they’re quite short for what you pay if you get them at full price (about 30 dollars for all the base games together and another 30 for all the 18+ patches.) While “wait for a Steam sale before you buy” is generally good advice, I really recommend it this time. I paid half price for the whole package, which felt about right, but that doesn’t change the fact that it usually sells for $60, and that’s for maybe 15-20 hours of content. Quality content, sure, but quantity still matters. Those looking for serious dramatic content will probably also be disappointed, because Nekopara doesn’t have much of that. The relationships and conflicts do get a little more complicated as you move through the three main volumes of Nekopara, though, so if you find Vol. 1 too light, you may like the second and third volumes more. They still don’t rise above the level of slice-of-life comedy plus a little soap opera-style drama and some stuff about following your dreams (especially in Vol. 3 with the Maple and Cinnamon becoming musicians plotline, which I liked) but it’s worth a note.
It’s also worth mentioning that unlike many of his visual novel protagonist counterparts, Kashou isn’t an average guy with absolutely no skills and nothing interesting about him — he’s an accomplished pastry chef and a successful business owner. So maybe this game will motivate you to try harder to be successful if you’re unhappy with your lot in life. So you can, uh… have your own catgirl harem one day? Okay, maybe not.
This is usually where I sum up the review and assign the game a score. But this time the score doesn’t really matter. I’ll give Nekopara Complete Edition a strong 5, but that only applies if you’re into light, fluffy visual novels full of cute girls, sappy romance, and sex scenes (or if you’re not into sex scenes and get the all-ages version; most of the games’ content will still be there for you to play.) While the writing in these games isn’t anything amazing, it’s good enough to tell the story the games want to tell. And from all the care and attention put into the games’ character designs, animations, and voice acting, I get the impression that the creators poured a lot of time and love into this project. And yeah, I’m including the 18+ content in that assessment. I’ll keep it non-X-rated here, but if you’re curious, the full CG sets are just a Google search away.
Nekopara is obviously not for everyone, and I certainly understand why some people are skeeved out by it, but it worked for me. In fact, I’d gladly give Complete Edition a 6 — the actual contents of the games on their own deserve that score, but I really don’t like the fact that you have to essentially buy each volume twice to get the full experience with the 18+ DLC. Feel free to add that extra point on if you can also buy these games at or around half price. Though the fact that the sex scenes are still censored with those stupid mosaics does bother me, and as far as I know there’s no uncensor patch available. I wish Japan would repeal that dumbass law.
And now that I’ve admitted to being a horny pastry puffer, I’m done with my review. Next time I’ll probably take on a weightier game, both in terms of themes and having gameplay beyond clicking the mouse, but Nekopara was a nice break for me. Now it’s back to the miserable grind of the real world. 𒀭
1 The catgirls in Nekopara are all named after different sweets or flavors used in baking. I wasn’t familiar with azuki before playing these games — it’s a sort of bean used to make a sweet paste that’s a common ingredient in Japanese confections.
2 All in Japanese. As far as I know, there are no plans for an English dub.
3 When you approach Nekopara the way it’s meant to be taken, the answer to the question “Why are all these cat-human hybrids female?” is obvious: because the target audience isn’t interested in males. At least I don’t think they are. I’m sure there’s a male cat-human-hybrid waiter visual novel out there somewhere if that’s more to your taste.