Nekopara – Catboys Paradise could be the beginning of something wonderful

Nekopara – Catboys Paradise released on July 15, 2021, and was a pleasant surprise for every single otome fanatic and catboy diehard everywhere — after all, it was originally teased back in 2019 as an April Fool. It could not have come at a better time, either; it looked set to be a great filler game for otome fans to tide themselves over with before PQube’s release of BUSTAFELLOWS.

And that’s exactly why I spent a bit too much time with Nekopara – Catboys Paradise over the course of well over two weeks, dipping in and out of its short runtime. The game is easy to completely play through in a mere two hours or even less depending on your reading speed, and is a blessing for providing a less commonly seen twist on a popular character trope eroge and romance visual novels tend to be well versed in — the catgirl. The twist being, of course, that there are no catgirls at all here; as the name suggests, this is all about the catboys.

Nekopara - Catboys Paradise

In the past, we have seen ventures into the catboy tag within the visual novel medium, with a few standout examples remaining without official translations, such as the boys’ love classic Lamento and the well-known otome series, Black Wolves Saga. Other offerings that are available on Steam today include indie title Anicon – Animal Complex, otome giant Cheritz’s first ever release Dandelion -Wishes brought to you-, and the regrettably poor but well-known My Secret Pets!. When we have been given such a tasty looking serving of such an underrepresented part of the otome market, how could we not appreciate it to the fullest extent possible?

Nekopara – Catboys Paradise sees our heroine take over her grandfather’s café after his death, which feels bizarrely reminiscent of my personal favourite otome game of 2020, Café Enchanté. But while Café Enchanté was a well-disguised tragedy filled with angst — and a game that repeatedly demonstrated its seemingly cute premise was anything but sunshine and rainbows — Nekopara – Catboys Paradise never steps too far outside its core premise: a slice-of-life, cute and wholesome time with four very attractive catboys.

While the entire premise is self-explanatory — it’s about a café which technically runs as a “cat café” of sorts due to the titular catboys — the entire plot never goes deeper than looking at how our heroine learns to manage the café and grow attached to her “harem”. We witness each of the main catboys vying for her attention, displaying complete devotion and affection in the hope that one of them will be considered her one and only “house cat”. That’s what the whole game is all about.

Is that a bad point? Maybe yes, maybe no, because it will depend on the player. It is a game most will probably want to unwind with during a single evening, and as a free game, we shouldn’t really expect anything more than that. However, that does not mean that the game is perfect, especially in regards to its presentation and some questionable design choices.

It’s all about those catboys

Nekopara - Catboys Paradise

So firstly, a run-down on the all-important catboys.

Fennel (voiced by Komada Wataru – Yagumo Rintarou from Root Film, and Katsura Kogorou from Ikemen Bakumatsu) is the megane type, but his behaviour can sometimes see him acting somewhat deredere, despite how well-reserved and stoic he may initially appear, making for some adorable moments.

Dill (voiced by Enoki Jun’ya – Tachibana Chisato from Collar x Malice -Unlimited-, Keisaiin F Ryuki from Cupid Parasite, and Hansel from Ozmafia!!) is the shota type who has the tropey personality of a happy-go-lucky, energetic and excitable young love interest.

Sage (voiced by Umehara Yuuichirou – Demento from Period Cube -Shackles of Amadeus-, Canus Espada from Café Enchanté and Ginnojou from Ayakashi Koimeguri) is the closest to the ojisan type of the game for being the oldest catboy available – although his trope is playing up the big brother role, even in regards to his relationship with the main character. What a tragedy for the best boy; mature catboys are exactly our cup of tea.

And finally, Laurier (voiced by Ishikawa Kaito – Hikage from Psychedelica of the Black Butterfly, Dante Falzone from Piofiore: Fated Memories, Il Fado de Rie from Cafe Enchanté, and Marius von Hagen from Tears of Themis), is the lazy feline who enjoys taking advantage of the main character because he’s a cat. He can get away with it, right? I mean, as far as problematic love interests go, he fits nicely (or more uncomfortably so) into that bracket.

Nekopara - Catboys Paradise

The catboys themselves are where the title’s entertainment value lies. It’s a delight to see how they function as a group dynamic, particularly as the harem party when they are all vying for the attention of the MC and coming to blows with one another due to the rivalries.

And in typical otome fashion, we have a few takes on half of the catboys’ personality type traits that some might take issue with — some of the more questionable moments include Sage’s fixation on viewing the main character as a sister, and Laurier’s tendency to revert into a kitten-like behaviour. Other than that, the game is predominantly a wholesome and fun time, meant to be a cosy and comforting experience that plays as a visual drama CD, as described by its producer, Sayori.

In fact, I cannot stress enough how much of attention and care was given to its four primary cat boys over its very few other characters — with a bizarre shunting aside of any and all female characters, who receive no lines at all throughout the game.

The most flawed and disappointing aspect of this is how it affects our heroine. She also has no lines, and is instead expressed by emoticons, with the catboys deciphering what she is saying by their own voiced responses. With the game already having no choices as a kinetic visual novel, it gives the feeling that our main character has no agency, feels awkward and unnatural, and acts as the worst example of a heroine where her non-existent personality is the definition of a blank-slate player character. Although the shaking of the screen when she becomes flustered is a nice touch.

A polished free product with some expected caveats

Nekopara - Catboys Paradise

The strong production values of Nekopara – Catboys Paradise are evident with a single look at its appearance and style. Artist G Yuusuke, known for Dies irae in the west, adds a certain polish to the title with their exceptional artistic skills seen in both the sprite work and CGs, while the music composed by POPHOLIC, previously heard on the soundtrack to the excellent Love³ -Love Cube-, excels at reinforcing the cosy and sweet atmosphere for the whole of the runtime.

The game is also fully voiced, with the aforementioned popular and well-known VAs portraying the catboys, and a highlight of the character design choices was making one of the catboys a darker skinned love interest — something we still don’t see all that often in the market.

Because the game is so short and free, we can perhaps forgive a few technical issues such as the lack of a fast forward option. The scrolling speed of the automatic mode is a bit more of a problem, however, since it has no option to speed up or slow down. For a game Sayori said is supposed to be emulating a drama CD — namely, something you can kick back and watch without requiring any interaction — this seems like a bit of an oversight.

But this is not the greatest of problems with the product; as the team’s first otome title, there are a fair few issues with how they tackled the formula. The most egregious of these is the aforementioned fact that our heroine is unvoiced and faceless, with the game having no narration whatsoever. It effectively puts our narrative perspective not as that of the main character (even despite her actually appearing in CGs), but that of a mere camera. Our heroine may as well not be present in the game at all, as it would change very little about the final product.

Nekopara - Catboys Paradise

It instead provides another reminder of how the game could have been better. The game is, after all, kinetic, with no choices in it other than selecting the specific route you want to see. During this choice, you’re unable to save the game, making it a necessity to replay from the beginning if you did not save in time beforehand. There is also no skip option even after a playthrough is cleared.

And once again, Nekopara – Catboys Paradise is selling itself as an otome. While the fact we did not get the same 18+ content of the male-orientated titles in the mainline Nekopara series is one thing, the fact that there is no romance whatsoever in any of the routes is disappointing and feels a bit cheap.

And sure, what can we expect from a free game? But as yet another title labelled as an otome, we seem to be running into quite a few of these examples recently that feel wrongly marketed. It does, however, solidify the thought that the game might be a prologue or demo for something bigger and better to follow up from — or simply a means of gauging the community response to such a possibility.

And due to its nature as a free download, players should know not to expect a load of content. There are only two CGs per catboy and one group CG across the entire game, and no Live2D or E-Mote animation on the sprites as seen in the mainline games.

Finally, on a last note, the scenario was provided by Yuki Yoshino, who has been credited for multiple other otome titles including Kyoukai no Shirayuki and Clock Zero; these titles are thrilling and engrossing in their story and plotlines. It is evident at this point that the talent is already on board to make Nekopara – Catboys Paradise reach its full potential with future development. It could easily become just as engaging and enjoyable as the mainline titles of Nekopara — if not more so.


Nekopara - Catboys Paradise

Ultimately, the game feels like a sort of unofficial demo. Nekopara – Catboys Paradise currently holds an average score of 5.5/10 on vndb as of writing this, and it probably deserves this as of now. The title will not be many players’ top otome game of 2021, but that was clearly never the intention; it was most likely released to test the waters and see who might be interested in seeing more of these good boys. And hopefully the player count reinforces the fact that this is a highly worthwhile project to expand upon.

Because the potential most certainly is there, and seeing a proper game aimed at catboy enthusiasts would be a dream come true for plenty of us. The market is there after all, and we’re eager for so much more.

In the end, Nekopara Catboys Paradise is free, has plenty of catboy antics and puns to keep any player entertained and smiling, and has no bad endings to reinforce the happy and positive feel of the title.

While I’ve been mostly critical here, the game is an absolute treat to play through when taken on its own terms — but ultimately, it lays down the groundwork for something even greater. Fingers crossed this IP makes a return at some point in the future!

But in any case, a big thank-you to Sekai Project and NEKO WORKs for making this former April Fools Day prank a reality! The otome community won’t forget this in a hurry.

Nekopara – Catboys Paradise is available on Steam, iOS and Android.

Main image illustration can be found on the Twitter of the game’s artist: gyuusuke.

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Lilia Hellal
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