I am running out of what I can write about with regards to Nekopara. This series isn’t that interested in “innovation” or new ideas, so everything I’ve written about the previous three games applies to this one; Nekopara Vol. 4 is likewise a lighthearted comedy visual novel about catgirls and their “master” with a healthy dose of fan service.
In fact, Volume 4’s very opening scene is, on the PC, a sex scene. That has been “censored” for the Nintendo Switch release, but as you play through it, you just know that in the adult version what you’ll see in that scene is very different. I’ve written about this a couple of times in the past, but I actually think that Nekopara benefits from the less explicit imagery. Without it, the art and sense of humour combine to give players something silly and charming, in a naive kind of way. The various catgirls are all adorable, bubbly dolts in their own way, and the overall impression that the narrative leaves is light and irreverent. That texture of the entire experience changes when explicit sex is part of the mix. It’s well-drawn art, as anime erotica goes. It’s just at odds with the rest of the narrative, and so my feeling is that the Switch version isn’t any the lesser without that element.
The narrative itself is good fun. Despite all the success that he’s enjoyed from events of the previous three games in setting up and managing a respected patisserie, protagonist Kashou is still without his father’s approval, and after being on the receiving end of an aggressive lecture and put-down when Kashou returns home for his mother’s birthday (some husband, Kashou’s dad), he decides to head on over to France to further master his craft. There, in addition to chasing his dreams, he’ll meet a new catgirl, learn more about himself and the harem of catgirls that he has following him everywhere.
Like most harem stories, there are clunky elements to Nekopara’s writing. Because each and every character needs to have equal treatment and their own little moment to shine, there are times where the pacing grinds to a halt, as the narrative takes the opportunity to give every single character a moment to share their thoughts. Because Nekopara is also slice-of-life stuff, the meandering nature of the story means that it will often feel like nothing at all is happening. It’s fun writing, and of course the point of the game is all about making you laugh along with these catgirls rather than enjoy some kind of meaningful plot, but it’s also undeniable that there’s something vapid to the Nekopara series, and the expanded cast by now contributes to making this one feel like the most meaningless of them all.
It is a gorgeous game for what it is though. The character models are highly detailed and beautiful, and perhaps this is just my perception talking here, but there does seem to be more animation in this one than in games past. Characters move around, angle themselves and bounce up and down (jiggle physics and all) as the situation demands. There were a couple of moments where there was so much movement going on that I wasn’t sure whether there was a slight graphics engine bug going on, but on balance it’s a great effect, and a big step above what most visual novels offer. The key CGs are also all masterpieces of fanservice art.
As with previous chapters in Nekopara, there aren’t any branching paths to deal with, no dialogue trees, and no minigames or other such distractions. It’s a purely linear narrative. The one example of interactivity is the ability to pull up a virtual hand at any point. In principle, you’re meant to use it to pat the heads of the catgirls, and they’ll positively purr with delight when you do that. Of course, you can use it to play with their chests instead. Which will cause their faces to go a bit red and demure, but of course they all seem to like that you’re doing that just fine too. This interactivity does nothing for the game but for the demographic that the series is developed for, it is a great addition, you’d expect.
Nekopara is what it is. As a highly fanservicey, comedy-themed visual novel, it’s hugely entertaining and delivers on all of its promises. The fan service is excellent thanks to the superb art, and the humour is there – it’s silly, but you won’t be able to help yourself but giggle along with it. If the pornographic scenes that are available on the PC version of the game are of interest to you, then the Switch port’s going to feel like it’s missing something. It’s still more than fanservicey enough, however, and I actually think the narrative and thematic elements are strengthed in the restraint. Couple that with the portability of the Switch form factor, and I think this is the best way to go for Nekopara Vol. 4.