They talk about being a big fish in a small pond. Kana Little Sister is a whale imprisoned in a raindrop. In 1999, the hentai/eroge industry (“Do You Like Horny Bunnies”, “Battle Raper”, etc) released this very sad and emotional game, which is unlike any other h-title I’ve played or heard about. It has sexual content, but it could be deleted off the disc without affecting the experience. Kana exists to exposit one of gaming’s most tragic love stories, and tissues will now absorb other bodily fluids.
The game is about the coming of age of siblings Taka and Kana. Kana suffers from chronic renal failure. The expectation is that she will die at some point. Taka is initially resentful of Kana, but their relationship soon changes into friendship and then sexual intimacy. The game explores a lot of deep themes, like forbidden love and acceptance of death. I enjoyed the story, as well as Taka and Kana’s relationship, which is given beautiful frisson by the fact that it will not last.
The word “game” keeps coming up but Kana deserves it no more than the word “hentai”. This is the least interactive “game” I’ve ever seen, you just click dialogue options and get railroaded to one of six endings. Even though you play it less than you “play” an ink and paper RL Stine “Give Yourself Goosebumps” book, the minimalistic gameplay actually works to keep your attention on the story.
The art is nice. The music is repetitive and distracting. There’s no voice acting. The whole thing takes about five hours to complete. Kana’s an embodiment of function over form. It has little to offer if you want production values, it relies on content to woo the player. But honestly, I still have reservations about the whole “player” thing. Know what you’re getting into with this one: it’s not a game, it’s a vaguely interactive novel. And that might be a problem. Kana has one of the most emotionally affecting stories ever seen in a videogame, but if you judge “Kana” as a book…well, there’s a bit more competition there, no?
Kana is not great literature. It draws an emotional reaction in the same way a soap opera does. Sometimes the story’s twists and turns feel organic and natural. Sometimes they come across as phony and manipulative. And that’s a shame. Kana is too great to be a hentai game…but not good enough to cut it as a book. It’s stuck somewhere between worlds. Someone looking for porn won’t find it here, and it probably won’t win over highbrow lit fans. I’m reminded of a chrysalis. One one end a caterpillar, on the other end a butterfly…and in between there’s this really odd thing that doesn’t seem to belong.
Kana Little Sister is an interesting game, and certainly worth checking out. It will probably draw a “that’s it?” reaction from many players. It’s short, it’s crude, and it’s barely interactive. But when the story gets going, you will forget about all of that. In the tale of Taka and Kana there’s something very rare in a game storyline: inspiration.