If you are craving a warm beverage and a light snack cafes cannot be beat. It must however be said that the catering establishments in my town are rather dull when compared to their Japanese counterparts. Over in the land of the rising sun there are maid cafes (where patrons are attended to by cute servants) and even cat cafes (where kitty lovers can pet a feline whilst enjoying their cuppa.) Now what would happen if we combined those two things together? We’d get Nekopara of course – a PC visual novel set in a cafe that is staffed by maids who happen to be cat girls. Excuse my geyser strength nosebleed, but it appears that I am suffering from a bad case of fetish overload.
Nekopara takes place in an alternate Japan where human beings live side by side with a race of humanoid cat girls. The female moggies in question are kept as pets and in some cases have been known to get romantically involved with their owners (so you can get a pussy in more ways than one by visiting a pet store.) Dating your pet isn’t as weird as it may sound because the aforementioned cat girls possess both the intellect and appearance of a regular lady (well aside from them sporting kitty ears and a tail.) Hmmm, is it just me or does the idea of keeping a person as a pet seem wrong? Not to mention that cat girls are forbidden from leaving their homes unaccompanied, unless they pass a “bell test” which forces graduates to wear a flea collar. Gripes, I haven’t seen so much female discrimination since that time I visited the Middle East.
Moving back on topic, Nekopara stars a young pastry chef who has left home to pursue his dream of opening up a bakery (not quite as exciting as wanting to become a fireman, but whatever.) On the eve of opening his bread selling store the protagonist discovers that Chocola and Vanilla (the cat girls he raised when he was a young lad) have moved into his new place by craftily squeezing themselves into a package that was delivered to his current address. Initially our hero wants the pair to return home, but he soon changes his tune when he discovers how demanding it can be to run a fledgling business. Chocola and Vanilla are employed as maids to assist with chores and to attract customers with their adorable good looks. What a masterstroke! Where else can you find staff that is willing to work for a cheap can of Whiskers?
When I first loaded up Nekopara I was gobsmacked by the title’s production values. It blows the other visual novels, I have purchased off Steam, right out of the water. The graphics are vastly superior to other titles sold on Valve’s digital service (many of which do not originate from Japan and are in fact drawn by subpar western artists mimicking the anime aesthetic style.) Instead of relying solely on still pictures, to tell its tale, Nekopara’s characters are animated and the whole game is fully voiced. That’s most impressive when you consider that the game’s asking price is a darn sight cheaper than other Japanese visual novels on the market. The adult games found on the MangaGamer website for example are far more expensive… um or so I am told.
In terms of gameplay this is a pure visual novel so you can earn all the Steam achievements on offer simply by reading. There are no branching paths that alter the outcome of the story and interactivity is limited to tapping the keyboard, which commands the onscreen characters to jump. What does the random leaping accomplish? Very little, aside from excessive jiggling if you happen to crank up the breast-bouncing meter to maximum… and before anyone asks, no I am not making that up. Story wise I found Nekopara’s chapters to be a cute and funny series of skits covering the opening of the cafe, Chocola and Vanilla’s efforts to pass the bell exam and the main character interacting with his little sister who seems to be up for some inappropriate incest.
My rating for Nekopara is five stars. It was an entertaining read for the few hours it lasted me and I have to commend the translators on doing a superb job localising the title. Unlike the vast majority of visual novels I have read, Nekopara is free of grammatical errors. It is also devoid of smut as the Steam edition is an all ages version of the original game. Perverts lusting after some hot cat girl loving, which occurs whenever Chocola and Vanilla are in heat, will have to buy the novel from another store. Although Steam has no qualms about selling violent games they will not tolerate sex in their gaming library. Well if you are a niche Japanese game. Mass Effect and The Witcher can be bought from Steam so I guess the rules don’t apply to bigger companies who can grease Gabe Newell’s chubby palms.