Many visual novels contain sophisticated plots that require readers to pay careful attention. The Nekopara series, on the other hand, is analogous to a televised situation comedy. Three main entries and a prequel have each rebuffed classic narrative structure to focus on the lively interaction between a group of six nekomimi (catgirls) working at a French-style bakery. For those accustomed to the traditional sequence of exposition, conflict, and resolution, Nekopara’s spirited and loosely connected sketches might be off-putting. But spend enough time with these felines, and they’ll exhibit the charm of a sociable stray, all too eager to hop into a warm lap.
The recent Steam release of Nekopara Extra, offers another look into Chocola and Vanilla’s early years, a period set immediately before 2015’s Nekopara Vol. 0. Here, the focus is on the two twin kitties becoming part of the Minaduki home, joining Kashou and his sister, Shigure. Series regulars Azuki, Cinnamon, Coconut, and Maple are younger but have already established their roles within the family, compelling Chocola and Vanilla to figure out where they fit in.
As with any prequel, we are aware of the outcome. Chocola and Vanilla eventually develop a relationship with Kashou. Fearing separation when he leaves to open the La Soleil, they hide in boxes and subsequently take on apprentice roles at the bakery. We know that Chocola is perpetually cheery, while Vanilla is more reserved and stoic. Nekopara Extra doesn’t offer any events that would have a hand in influencing their personalities, making readers feel that nature, rather than nurture, was the contributing factor in the development the twins. Ideally, we would have been privy to an event that shaped them, potentially strengthening the relationship between reader and character.
Extra’s storytelling can be described as a series of anecdotes. Some, like Chocola and Vanilla referring to Kashou as ‘Master’ can be rather endearing. Others bit that focus on bedwetting or depict a domestic gathering in an onsen, are both fun and flirty. And while the release obviously sidesteps the type of depictions that Steam has traditionally subverted, there’s a wealth of fan-pleasing innuendo across Extra.
Like previous Nekopara outings, what you won’t find are any dialog options. This is a kinetic novel, requiring no input from readers. As such, you can opt to have to the whole novel play out at an adjustable rate, which is great if you’re enjoying a solitary meal or a train ride. Even if you do opt for a line by line delivery, Extra should take between thirty-five and fifty minutes to get through, depending on your reading speed.
While Extra’s narrative-based ambitions are muted, it’s technological ones soar. While previous entries used employed animation making the nekomimi come alive with ear twitches and heaving chests, Extra escalates the visual quality. Here, Sayori’s art comes alive, with characters showing emotional range. Expressions change with sinuous quality, whether it’s eye movement or the look of sudden surprise. Quite possibly, you’ll take a break from the banter to admire the quality of the cast. As always you can put the physics to the test with a press of the “P” key, inducing a coquettish jiggle from the kittens.
Extra interweaves its polygonal portraits with traditional CGs fair well, although you might notice the occasional shift in fidelity. And while some might not notice Extra’s backdrops, visual novel fans might admire the clarity. While each strives for minimalism, there’s no shortage of details, which helps sell the setting and set-up. Other delicate details, like the translucent paw prints in the text box, help Extra achieve maximum moe status. Save for some spotty localization on the splash screens, the novel’s translation is near flawless while its voice acting captures the temperaments of young cat-girls rather well.
Let’s face it, most Kickstarter stretch goals are incidentals, rarely contributing to a property. And while Extra’s storytelling might not provide the plotline that Nekopara enthusiasts want to see, it’s still a worthwhile experience. Visual novels are rarely as stunningly animated or as delightful to look at, making Extra ultimately live up to its moniker.
Nekopara Extra was played on PC with review code provided by the publisher