Fantastic. Absolutely fantastic.
Katawa Shoujo is like nothing I have ever played: thanks to some intriguing Internet articles and friends' glowing recommendations, I've immersed myself in one of the most inspirational and meaningful stories I've ever experienced. The game has allowed me to look at love and life in many new ways, and it really has become my new standard for romantic fiction.
In terms of the story, the game takes the smartest approach to its characters' disabilities that I could imagine: it de-emphasizes them. They're important, without overshadowing the characters' own diverse and generally deep personalities. The player character, Hisao, has a very strong central personality for a player-controlled character, and his various contradictory personality traits, such as his compassion for others and his impatience, make many conflicting choices equally plausible (if not always wise). All of the stories earn the player's emotion in their own unique ways: some stories are simple but powerful (Hanako, Emi), while others rest on the overwhelming complexity of the characters and their struggles (Shizune, Rin). Shizune's plot deserves special praise for deconstructing basically everything about her life and relationships, and Rin's unique story demands unconditional compassion to the end.
In my view, Emi's story's success lies not in plot or character complexity but in the strength of individual moments. Emi's story, to me, was "great" overall, where everyone else's was fantastic, and yet her path is where Hisao makes what is my favorite heartwarming speech of anything he ever says—and this, I believe, must be earned by *botching* a certain critical decision anyway.
Lilly's path can seem suspiciously refreshing to those who have completed the others, as the story is much calmer and more reserved about conflict from the start—but the plot and its lead have plenty of reason for that. Her story, the last I finished and my favorite of the five (she's so sweet!), does an excellent job of calling back the start of the game, as well as pulling out a few tricks at the end that no one else's story does. (Stay through the happy-ending credits!)
All of the characters are as memorable as their stories, making for one of the best gaming experiences I've ever enjoyed. (The beautiful instrumental soundtrack is free to download. Use it in Audiosurf!)