Four Leaf Studios, a team consisting of community members of popular and oft-maligned imageboard site 4chan, yesterday released an "Act 1 Preview" for its free English "bishoujo-style visual novel", Katawa Shoujo, or Disabled Girls.

As you can surmise from the title, the group took a controversial approach with the project, succinctly describing it as "a cripple dating game". Players take on the role of Hisao Nakai, who suffers a congenital heart defect and is forced to attend a high school in Japan for disabled children, where he'll seek out friends and love.

The game features five main female characters which presumably one can seduce, each with their own storylines and ailments -- cheery and optimistic Emi Ibarazaki is the star of the school's track team with her prosthetic legs; caring and diligent student Lilly Satou has been blind since birth; philosophical and armless Rin Tezuka uses her feet and mouth to paint and complete everyday tasks; strong-willed and manipulative Shizune Hakamichi is the deaf and mute class representative; and reclusive Hanako Ikezawa is disfigured from a fire early in her childhood.

Despite its perverse and contemptible premise, the game so far is well-produced, and you can see the team's talent and earnest in Katawa Shoujo's music samples and opening movie:

The game was birthed from a sketch by Japanese doujin manga artist Raita summarizing the potential dating sim, scanned and posted onto 4chan in early 2007. "For reasons we will never know, someone's genius idea of actually realizing Raita's idea of the game caught on like wildfire and soon suggestions ranging from tender love stories to depraved sex fantasies were running amok in the thread," explains Four Leaf Studios on Katawa Shoujo's site.

"The insane idea of creating an actual original game, based on nothing but a single picture and the sparse ideas Raita had written in the margins titillated the imaginations of [4chan posters] so much that people became truly serious about the fledgling project," the team continues. "Soon, there were development forums and for the next months, ideas and suggestions were flying around, with people trying to flesh out their ideas, drawing sample art, writing sample text, trying to control the chaos of dozens of people arguing and bickering about the direction of the game."

You can see Raita's original concept sketch here (with translated text):

The reactions from those in Japan who noticed the project last year is interesting (machine translated):

"For them you might be one small step For GAIJIN is a major step HENTAI GAIJIN the way it is now only beginning"

"I do not know the nerve of those who think of this plan."

"The foreigners are good."

"Buyer is a would-be criminals, the police must monitor.

Whether you think that police must monitor or that hentai gaijin is only beginning, you can learn more about Katawa Shoujo and download the "Act 1 Preview" from the game's official site.

[Via Sankaku Complex (NSFW)]