Any fan of Japanese popular entertainment has doubtless run into someone calling one of their favourite titles a “sex game” or “porn game” at some point. Usually, this is a massive oversimplification of the situation, as most Japanese games with erotic content are more than just sexuality.
However, it just so happens that Japanese developers also make the absolute best games that can, quite reasonably, be described as “sex games” — and I don’t think anyone would argue with that descriptor.
For some time now, the absolute pinnacle of interactive Japanese erotica has come in the form of Illusion’s titles Honey Select Unlimited and Koikatsu. So let’s look at why these titles remain so fondly regarded — because as you might expect, it is once again about much more than just the porn.
Honey Select first appeared in 2016 and has had several upgrades and rereleases over the years; after two years of an extremely enthusiastic fan-patching community working on the game, prolific localisers FAKKU! eventually got their hands on the license for the official product, and finally brought it to the west in 2018.
Koikatsu, meanwhile, first released in Japan in 2018 and came west through developer Illusion themselves — though the version that released on Steam, known as Koikatsu Party, stripped out the main game mode to avoid Valve’s inconsistently applied but oft-ruthless content restrictions on games with school settings. Rather pleasingly, Illusion just went ahead and released an externally hosted patch for the game to restore the missing content from the Steam version, and the community who had previously been working on fan translations have been supplementing that “restored” release with additional features and mods.
At heart, the two games have the same basic function: to provide the player the ability to create custom characters, and then engage in virtual sex acts with them. The main difference is that Honey Select Unlimited features visuals with a more realistic look to them, while Koikatsu uses stylised and cel-shaded visuals for a more “anime” look.
By the time Honey Select was first released, Illusion had been making this sort of game for a while — though they were mostly known in the west due to the fact that some of their older releases featured a strong focus on non-consensual sex. The most commonly cited example of this is the notorious RapeLay from 2006, in which players take on the role of a pervert with designs on three young women, but they also released a fighting game called Battle Raper in 2002 in which the consequences for characters losing a bout are probably obvious. (Interestingly, Battle Raper II actually featured no rape scenes whatsoever, however.)
Both Honey Select Unlimited and Koikatsu have a slightly more wholesome — if obviously unbelievable — setup, however. In Honey Select Unlimited, you find yourself in a mysterious hotel that seems to be full of beautiful women; in Koikatsu, you have been transferred to an all-girls’ school by your aunt in the hopes that you will teach the young women there about the ways of romance. In both games, pretty much all sexual encounters are consensual; in fact, the only non-consensual ones come when a girl assaults the player character.
While both games offer an array of options for sexual encounters, the primary appeal of both games for most players comes in the form of the character creator. This is one of the most astonishingly in-depth character creators you’ll ever see outside of specialist software like VRoid Studio — in fact, there are a number of areas where both Honey Select Unlimited and Koikatsu are considerably more intuitive and user-friendly than Pixiv’s offering.
To create a character in both games, you start from a default figure and then use a variety of sliders to mould both their head and their body to your desired shape. Pretty much every aspect of both can be customised, and taking the values to the extremes can produce some exceedingly strange results. At any time, you can choose to view your character clothed or unclothed to see how your settings look “in context”, and a variety of face and pose options also allow you to confirm that the finer details of your creation look exactly how you’d hoped they would.
Once you’ve got the basic model for your character down, you can create their hairstyle using separate parts for the back “body” of the hair, the fringe at the front, side hanging pieces and extensions such as ahoge. Each part can be individually coloured if you so desire, or you can automatically coordinate. Using the included materials, you can produce a wide variety of different hairstyles, and if you delve into the extensive modding community for both games, the possibilities are pretty much limitless.
After your character is created, you can either create more — and you probably will, since it’s a highly addictive process — or jump into the “game” side of things proper. This is where the two games diverge to the strongest degree.
In Honey Select Unlimited, the gameplay is, despite that suffix, fairly limited. You call a girl, you have a brief conversation with her, you have sex with her. During your sexual encounter, the specific things you do will affect her mental state in various ways, which will affect the way she interacts with you on future meetings. There’s actually the hint of an interesting game about psychological manipulation in these mechanics, but the game as a whole doesn’t explore it in great detail; there’s no real long-term goal.
Koikatsu, meanwhile, is more of a game — assuming you patch Koikatsu Party to put the actual “game” bit back in there. When you start a new game, you can create a male character for yourself, and also assign any or all of your created female characters to roles in the school, making for a completely custom cast if you so desire. The game comes with a large selection of default characters, so you don’t have to spend hours creating characters to get a decent population in the school, but if you want the full experience you’ll want to spend at least a little time filling out the roster somewhat.
As you walk around the school as your custom character, you’ll encounter the girls you brought into the cast, who are all going about their business. You can chat with each girl once per main “time period” on each in-game day, and during your conversation you have a limited number of “actions” to expend in order to improve your relationship with her. You can gossip, talk about romance, attempt to whisper some sexy sweet nothings at her — or you can listen to what she has to say, which usually results in her asking you a question of some sort.
Picking the right choices improves your relationship with the girl, which means you can spend more time with her and eventually get intimate with her — though there’s no obligation to do the latter if you don’t want to. In this way, Koikatsu offers a surprisingly immersive “life sim” to enjoy, with a wide variety of personality types giving each girl a decent sense of individuality.
This is all very well, and Koikatsu in particular has the potential to keep you busy for quite some time as you get to know all the girls and enjoy your virtual school life. But for many fans of both Honey Select Unlimited and Koikatsu, the character creator and the game side of things is just the beginning. Because there’s also the Character Studio to explore… and this is where things get really fun… and really creative.
The Character Studio, available as part of both Honey Select Unlimited and Koikatsu with the content restoration patch, essentially allows you to play virtual doll’s house with all of your creations and any of the settings in the game.
There’s a spectacular amount of flexibility in this software, allowing you to not only make use of predefined animations, but also create your own poses using both inverse kinematics (moving the end point of joints to affect everything attached to them) and forward kinematics (directly rotating the joints). By taking advantage of these features, you can get the characters to do pretty much anything — and I don’t just mean sexual things, either; the ability to pose them however you see fit allows you to create perfectly natural scenes and virtual photographs with relative ease.
There’s a bit of a learning curve with the Character Studio application, because it’s a complex piece of software. Those who are familiar with other 3D modelling software will likely be familiar with some of the conventions of how it does things, but if it’s your first time playing with software like this, be prepared for your results to not quite come out how you intended first of all. This is a creative tool — perhaps even a creative medium — and mastery over such things takes time and effort. You can’t just pick up a pencil and sketch an incredible drawing, after all — at least, I can’t.
The imagination really is your limit, though. Both Honey Select Unlimited and Koikatsu will quite happily take all the characters you can throw at them until you physically don’t have any more space in the scene, or your graphics card melts. And if the built-in backgrounds aren’t enough for your needs, you can always put your creations against a coloured background and chroma key them out. You could even mix and match Koikatsu and Honey Select Unlimited creations in this way.
Both games are pricey and rarely go on sale — and as such, some may baulk at shelling out that much in one go for “porn”. But as we’ve hopefully established pretty well by this point, neither of these games is just “porn”. In fact, I’d probably go so far as to argue that the sexual side of things is actually the least interesting and important side of both titles — though it is nice to have the option to enjoy it when you’re, you know, in the mood.
Both games are going to take a lot of beating, so to speak. So in the meantime, we might as well enjoy them both to their fullest!
Honey Select Unlimited is available via FAKKU (NSFW link!)
Koikatsu Party is available on Steam. (NSFW link!) Check out the Steam discussion forums and Guide pages for information on how to apply the content restoration patch.
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