I'm all about the disclaimers, so I should probably begin by letting you know that I have never played a Nekopara game before this one and thus am completely unfamiliar with any characters or previous backstory. I've seen screenshots around, but the only thing I know about the games themselves is that they involve cat girls and some kind of cafe. I also seem to recall that there are bounce physics. I suppose that there are flimsier concepts out there to base a game on, so we might as well just roll with it.
The story follows Kashou Minaduki and his continued adventures running a cafe with the help of his family's litter of catgirls. Each volume brings a different set of girls to the forefront, and this time the stars are haughty but ambitious Maple and impulsive but supportive Cinnamon. Maple begins recalling her ambitions to be a singer, while Cinnamon wants nothing more than to support Maple, while Kashou has to balance this situation with how he himself feels about both of the girls, as well as the daily struggles of running a cafe.
So you have Kashou, a featureless and rather generic protagonist, surrounded by six beautiful catgirls who all love him...for some reason. Chocola, Vanilla, Azuki, Coconut, Maple, and Cinnamon are apparently your family catgirls (I feel like this is a piece of backstory I'm missing as a new player), and while I don't really understand their affection for the main character, their interactions with each other are actually rather fun to watch, and they all have their own quirks that make them fun little characters. There's also your younger sister, Shigure, who runs a blog about the catgirls and is pretty transparent about wanting to get an incestuous relationship going, though she also seems to be perfectly fine with him dating six catgirls instead. One worries about the state of her mental health.
I'll admit that I wasn't expecting too much from the story here. As best as I could tell, this was a game about an average visual novel protagonist with a harem of catgirls, and I'm also aware that the series usually has 18+ content, so I didn't really think that the story would get much focus. While the content of the plot itself isn't much to fawn over, the game surprisingly spends a good amount of time on the characterization of Maple and Cinnamon, and that's where it earns a lot of its points. I wouldn't call it an overly deep or groundbreaking story, but it does a better job than most adult games of treating its girls like actual girls and not just like pieces in the player character's harem puzzle. I am slightly weirded out by the fact that they constantly meow and purr, and that the word “catpanion” is said by multiple characters with a straight face, but I guess that's par for the course with catgirls, so what can you do?
Speaking of adult games, like most other games in the Nekopara series, Volume 3 has two versions: an all-ages version on Steam and an adult version on Denpasoft. The all ages version has some rather terrible transitions that do a very clumsy job of bridging the gaps left by the removal of the sex scenes, and there are moments that make no sense because they allude to sexy times that we never actually got to see. Some of the sexual content is retained, but on the whole the removal isn't done very well. The 18+ version of the game, at the very least, ends up making more logical sense as a result, but it also boasts animated scenes that are done surprisingly well. There are mosaics in place as well, presumably for legal reasons, and they don't always pair perfectly with the animated bits in the scenes. I can't really call the writing in those scenes especially innovative or anything, but it's not overly painful to read, either.
The animation of the sex scenes isn't the only high production value here, and I have to admit I'm still bewildered by the fact that I'm praising so many of the technical aspects of a game about sex with catgirls. The sprites are animated as well, and they generally move fluidly, although it's perhaps to be expected that it does start to look really weird if you use the skip feature. The previously alluded to bounce physics feel a bit sketchy and the fact that there is a setting to adjust them in the game's options menu feels even sketchier, but I can't deny that it's implemented well, and more surprisingly than that, it didn't make my crusty old laptop crash, which is an impressive feat in and of itself. For a game with so much going on behind the scenes, it runs surprisingly well.
So overall, I've been paying a lot of compliments to a game that I was rather lukewarm about before starting. It's a surprising realization. I can't say that I love Nekopara; some aspects of it really weird me out, like some of the more animalistic mannerisms of the girls and most of the existence of Shigure. I'm also left wondering where the story is going to go now that Kashou seems to be dating all of the other girls except for his sister, and that of course makes me worry that Volume 4 is going to, you know, go there. But somehow, I don't hate this game either. The concept is a bit weird to me, but it's handled a lot better than I thought it would be; the technical aspects of the game are wonderfully implemented, and most of the characters are surprisingly fun to learn about.
I feel like fans of the series so far will definitely enjoy this installment; it seems to have taken everything it does well and continues to improve on it. As for newcomers like myself, I would probably recommend starting with the first episode; while the game is readable enough as a stand-alone title and you can play it without having played the previous episodes, I did feel at times like there was something I was really missing out on by not having known some of the backstory. Speaking of which, I haven't actually decided on whether or not I'm going to dive into the other episodes of Nekopara yet. But I have to say that against all odds, I'm happy I played this one. I don't think it will ever be called the best visual novel series in the world, but it knows what it is—a cute little romp with catgirls that doesn't take itself seriously in the slightest. Come in with your expectations clear and you might have a surprisingly good time.
Nekopara Volume 3 is available on Steam; an 18+ version is available on Denpasoft, as is a DLC patch to restore 18+ content to the Steam version.
Final verdict: This concept is absolutely not for everyone, the plot is relatively thin, and the game is best enjoyed by established fans of the series...however, Nekopara Volume 3 has a few charming characters, is surprisingly well-done on the technical side, and pokes enough fun at itself to overall be a charming experience if the concept doesn't bother you (or if you just don't think too much about it).
Nekopara Volume 3 is developed by Neko Works and published by Sekai Project. The opinions expressed in this review are my own. I was given a free copy of this game in exchange for my review. This review was originally written for Anime Backgrounds.