Nekopara Vol. 2
Genre: Visual Novel
Developer: Neko Works
Publisher: Sekai Project
Release Date: 02/19/16
It’s hard to know what to make of Nekopara as a series. I played the first game, partly as livestream fodder to
torment amuse my regulars, and partly because it looked kind of cute in its own way, and I was at once equally captivated by the charming aspects of the story and the amazing animation quality and confused by specific aspects of the story that… seemed like a bad idea, let’s say. Still, if one could accept the world the characters live in as a trope-friendly world, and ignore some aspects of the plot, it’s honestly a really cute game on its own merits, and it features some of the most amazing technology in VNs today. As such, when Sekai Project announced they’d be publishing the sequel (as I’d missed Nekopara 0 for various reasons), I was all in with giving the world another shot, in hopes that the issues I’d had with the original would be swept aside. With the plot moving to focus on new characters and the establishing stuff already taken care of, I thought, it’d be pretty easy to write a tale that’s cute and amusing on its own, without the baggage the first game brought with it, featuring different core cast members in different situations. Well, the good news is, Nekopara Vol. 2 is as beautiful as ever, and the parts of the game that focus on anime silliness and some core touching elements are actually quite good. The bad news, though, is that the game is under far less pretense that it’s not a hentai game with the hentai removed, and it repeats the same problems of the first game that, frankly, cater to a very specific fetish I will never understand, but if you’re into it, more power to you.
On catgirls and relative complexes
The world of Nekopara is a world where humanity has somehow figured out how to genetically engineer catgirls as pets, and as such catgirls are the new cats of the world, acting as companions (“catpanions”), pets, free labor, and lovers, and so long as you don’t think about the social inequity too much it’s fine as anime-style premises go. Our story in this game specifically focuses around Kashou, a young man who has broken away from his candy-maker parents to live out his dream of opening a pastry shop, Patisserie La Soleil, which (aside from being bad French according to former staffer Guy Desmarias) is doing swimmingly as the game begins. This is partly due to the efforts of his two catpanions, Chocola and Vanilla, who moved in with him during the prior game, and partly due to his sister, Shigure, who basically funded a bunch of stuff and brought her own four catgirls to help out, making it into, basically, a catgirl maid café. The first game covered Chocola (a cheery, if ditzy, girl) and Vanilla (a serious but slightly deceptive girl) in depth, while as this game picks up, Kashou finds himself drawn into the conflict between two of his sister’s catgirls, Coconut, an Amazonian catgirl who thinks poorly of her own skills, and Azuki, whose tsundere tendencies get her into fights with Coconut even though she’s just worried, and he attempts to smooth over their conflicts and help the two get along. Also, he (implicitly) sleeps with them, as you do.
As long-time readers will know, I don’t have any issues with the idea of harem-style anime stuff (as this will inevitably be once Nekopara Vol. 3 comes out) as long as it’s amusing, and for a lot of the story, Nekopara Vol. 2 pulls that off. However, the plot still has this weird fixation with Kashou using familial descriptors for the girls (calling Azuki his daughter and Coconut his sister at various points) before they break that boundary, and it’s no less weird this time as it was the last time. I mean, let’s be real here: even if that’s not a problem for you, catgirls and maids are enough for one game, beyond that you’re just trying way too hard to appeal to too many demographics at once. Outside of that, while in the first game Chocola and Vanilla were clearly the stars, Coconut and Azuki feel more like guest stars stopping in for a quick “Problem of the Week” episode rather than stars of the episode, and that’s kind of disappointing. Also, while it’s possible Nekopara Vol. 0 fills in some of the familial stuff, it’s really weird going from the first game, where Coconut and Azuki are basically both “Whatever, we’ll work here if Shigure says we have to,” to this game, where they’re both pretty into Kashou from jump, and a little more character building would’ve been nice. Still, if you can look past those points, the plot is cute enough to carry the game along, especially if you like anime-style comedy or catgirls in general; if you couldn’t get into Monster Musume this might not work for you, but if you could, you’ll like this plenty.
Visually, as with its predecessor, Nekopara Vol. 2 is one of the most beautiful visual novels available on the market, partly due to its well done artwork, but mostly due to the amazing engine the developers have made for this game. Character models are, except in full-screen art shots, entirely animated and constantly moving and changing expressions, giving them a really anime-style appearance that makes the game just come alive with personality. That said, a not-insignificant amount of the assets from the first game are clearly being reused here (though plenty are also brand new), so it’s slightly less special this time around, but for the most part there’s enough new content visually to make the game feel like a proper sequel for fans of the first game. Aurally, the game reuses a lot of the music from the prior game (almost all of it, save the intro and ending tracks, in fact), which is all perfectly fine in a “it works for the game but I’d never listen to it on its own” sort of way; it’s cute and fits the game well, and it works, but that’s as far as it goes. The voice work for the game is all brand new this go-round, though, and it’s mostly quite nice, as the various voice actresses give a unique voice to their characters that fits the experience. There are some moments where it doesn’t work great (there’s an entire section with reoccurring character Milk that’s painful to get through) and the voice actress for Azuki is clearly more committed to pretending to be a cat than anyone else here, but it’s all cute and it all fits, so no complaints overall.
On visual novels with straight paths
Nekopara Vol. 2 is a visual novel in thought and deed, so if you’ve read my reviews for games like Fruit of Grisaia or No One But You, you know what you’re getting here. The characters talk one section of dialogue at a time, and you either click the left mouse button or press Space to advance the dialogue forward as needed, which advances the plot of the story each time you do so. That said, Nekopara Vol. 2 falls into an odd sub-category of visual novels called Kinetic Novels, which are essentially VNs with no choices to make throughout the game. What this means, in simple terms, is you’re only here to see the story through from beginning to end, and there are no choices to make, so you’ll only need to play it through one time to get all of the content out of it, narratively speaking. As the game is as much about its style as it is its storyline, for ten bucks this isn’t a big deal, but if you’re the sort of person who prefers traditional choice-oriented VNs, you should know going in that this is not that thing.
That said, there’s a lot of functionality here to make navigating through the game a fun enough time for everyone who gives it a shot. The game has your standard Automatic and Skip functions for easy progression, as well as Quick Save and Quick Load in addition to normal saving and loading, so picking the game up and putting it down is a snap. It also has all sorts of more granular settings you don’t normally see, like window transparency (in case you want to see the full images more clearly), the option to vary skipping between clicking the button and holding down the Control key, choosing the dialogue options from a few choices, and even setting the individual volumes for each voice in the game. There’s also a “chest bounciness” slider for those who want a bit more bounce in their female protagonists, and even a key you can press (it’s “P” for reference) to make the on-screen characters bounce at will. Finally, there’s a hand in the upper-right corner that you can click on which allows you to pet every character in the game, complete with purring, that’s amusing to see if nothing else. You can also… sigh… grope the girls if such a thing appeals to you, and I’m not too proud to admit I laughed out loud when I realized this was so, so if you wanna do this thing, rock out.
On long term play and bang for the buck
Nekopara Vol. 2 is really the sort of game you buy for the novelty above all else, as it’s really a “one and done” experience; for ten dollars you’re getting a straightforward Kinetic Novel that’s about three to four hours long, so it doesn’t really offer up a lot of replay value the way a branching VN might. That said, for its price point, it’s a fully voice acted VN featuring amazing animation, so it’s honestly worth the price if you like what it does, and there are things to draw you back to it if you’re inclined. The game fills out a full CG gallery with all the scenes you encounter through the story if you’d like to come back and look at the artwork at any point, and it also offers a movie player for the intro and ending movies, which are cute if you’re so inclined. There’s also a music player for listening to the game’s tracks outside of play, as well as a full complement of Achievements to unlock and trading cards to earn through play. Further, outside of its narrative concerns and the fact that it’s a Kinetic Novel, there’s nothing honestly bad to say about the game; it’s technically sound, easy to play and amusing if you’re into what it’s doing, so if you like catgirl maids, it’s the best possible option available to you as a fan of such things.
Honestly, Nekopara Vol. 2 is clearly a niche product, and within that niche it’s a mighty fine one that’s visually stunning and funny at points; while it’d be better if the narrative had given Coconut and Azuki a little more time to themselves and laid off the familial relations, and while some might not prefer Kinetic Novels, it does what it does well for its price. The plot is amusing more often than not and tries to focus on developing Coconut and Azuki fine enough, and between the generally solid aural work and the fantastic animation and artwork, the presentation is a hit overall. The game is a Visual Novel in thought and deed, and offers most of the features one would expect from such a thing, as well as fanservice novelties that likely play to its strengths, especially within its own niche. The game could really stand to focus on its two niches (catgirls and maids) instead of dipping into a third (familial romance) that just comes off as weird, and it could also stand to focus more on its focal point characters given Chocola and Vanilla got their own entire game and hog a lot of the time in this one too. The game is also a Kinetic Novel, meaning there’s no real choices to be made from beginning to end, which is fine for the price point, but may not be for everyone. Honestly though, if you find harem anime or catgirls amusing, Nekopara Vol. 2 is almost certainly for you, as its ten dollar price tag is just right for what it does, and it’s cute enough most of the time that it’s worth checking out. If nothing else, hopefully the series will iron out its focus a bit by the time the third game comes around, if only because Cinnamon, being a gross pervert, is hilarious, and any game that isn’t focusing on her being horrible for three hours is a failure on the part of the writers.
Short Attention Span Summary:
Nekopara Vol. 2 is a fun Visual Novel if you’re into catgirls, harem anime, maid costumes or all of the above, and while it could do with a little story restructuring, and might not appeal to those who don’t like Kinetic Novels (VNs with no choices), it’s easily worth its ten bucks if you don’t mind that. The plot focuses on side characters Coconut and Azuki well enough this time around with some funny and touching moments that work, as well as a solid aural presentation and the outstanding animations and art style the series is known for. The game is your standard Visual Novel in most respects, and plays exactly how you’d anticipate, so you’ll be able to get into it pretty easily and enjoy what it does, especially since it includes some fanservice novelties to cater to niche fans. The plot could stand a little more focus on Coconut and Azuki as characters instead of making it feel like they’re sharing time with Chocola and Vanilla (who already had their own game), as well as a bit more focus on the two niches (catgirl and maids) it goes for instead of incorporating familial relations into the mix, which just come off weird more than anything. The game is also a Kinetic Novel, meaning it’s a straight shot from beginning to end, and it’s about three to four hours long, which might not be great for everyone. For the price, though, Nekopara Vol. 2 is a good time if you’re into its niche on some level, and it’s honestly worth the cost if you’re a fan of maid catgirl harem stories on some level or another.