La Soleil e youkoso!
"Do you know about cats? They have fluffy cute ears, express their feelings with their tail, and walk like humans on two legs. If you like this type of cat, then come visit us at La Soleil!"
Brazenly translate-quoting the beginning of the anime created for the very same franchise, this is how you could describe NekoPara as a whole best. Having come a long way from a small doujin project, well-known and loved artist and creator Sayori turned NekoPara into one of the biggest and best Adult Visual Novel franchises around. Boasting 6 individual games on several platforms, a successfully crowdfunded anime OVA featuring the first and bonus volume in fully animated glory, and an entire 12 episode anime series, as well as a seventh final farewell game currently in the making and a mobile game which - sadly - to this very day is still nothing but an undying myth people like me are waiting for.
It's a Neko Paradise!
The world of NekoPara is the perfect dreamworld for any cat lover. Or rather, catgirl lover. Instead of four-pawed feline fellas, this world is inhabited by what could only be considered the perfect crossover between anime Waifu and cat. Cute, humanoid girls with the added bonus of fluffy ears, a fluffy tail, and very cat-esque personality traits and behaviour tropes. On top of that, catgirls follow the growth rate of a normal cat, growing from a silly little kitten to a full grown adult within a year. And the very best and utopian thing about all this, resembling demi-humans, catgirls have been fully accepted as part of society. A simple licensing test is all it takes for catgirls to get the same, non-pet-like freedom as a human. Following this, it is a common occurance for cagirls to neither be seen nor treated as a pet, but as a family member. If you keep them as your adoptive child, a sibling-in-heart, a household helper or worker, or even as a "catpanion" - no one judges as it is perfectly normal.
The only downside to this perfect utopia? The very scary and never officially answered question of if the catgirls' feline growth rate comes paired with a feline's limited lifespan.
Within this paradise lives Kashou Minaduki, protagonist of the NekoPara franchise. The Minaduki household does not hold only one or two, but a total of six catgirls to their name - Kashou and especially his little sister Shigure just have a sweetspot for catgirls and couldn't leave an abandoned stray to their fate even when their own life depended on it. And so, over time, adopting Azuki, Maple, Cinnamon, Coconut and finally Chocola and Vanilla, the Minaduki household became the big, loving, and cat-centered family they are today.
Until they day Kashou moves out of the house in order to pursue his own dream and start his new life as a patissier.
What's in the box?
All the goods and then some more!
The NekoPara games deliver in terms of quality what you will otherwise scarcely see anywhere else. In fact, the only notable flaw those games have is that all their stunning beauty is limited to 720p source assets until the newest game, Vol.4. The artstyle in general is very detailed and high quality and - altough that is my personal taste - not really rivaled by any other VN I know.
But the artworks aren't even the biggest thing - animation is. Some VNs out there have blinking eyes on the character sprites, or might even feature moving mouths during voiceline playback. NekoPara goes one step beyond, and is fully animated. Fully meaning everything but the CGs, which are still but nonetheless beautiful images. The rest is - instead of character sprites NekoPara utilizes Emote 2D animated character models. During later games you even get the ability to interact with them, but more on that later in detail. And if having the most lively atmosphere a VN could possibly have isn't enough, I know what else you are probably here for - and yes, the H-scenes too are (GIF-loop) animated.
In terms of technical quality and features, every NekoPara game is mostly consistent with later games fixing minor detail bugs of the prior ones - but overall we get a solid higher mid-tier usage of the well known and versatile KiriKiri engine. Silky smooth performance with finetuning in the hidden advanced settings menu, enough save-slots to last you several playthroughs over, averagely comfortable customization options (including a slider for the breast bounciness of the character models) and normal auto, skip mode and backlog jumping options. Everything you need to turn your brain off and enjoy the "DIY diabetes kit" to it's fullest.
The music is great for an average background soundtrack and mostly stays the same throughout all games, plus minus changing opening and ending songs as well as a few additions in later games. The translation too is solid and increasing in quality in later releases.
In the following, separated per game, you can find details on the differences, contents and benefits of each individual game compared to this established average and the prior games. The order listed is the chronological order according to the ingame story, not the order of release or recommended playing order.
Going by the story's time progression, NekoPara Extra plays roughly one year prior to the events of the newest game, NekoPara Vol.4. Back in the time, where the catgirls were still young, Coconut still smaller than Azuki and Chocola and Vanilla have just joined the family, after Kashou and Shigure found the two of them cuddled up inside a box, abandoned at the side of the road, in the pouring rain. Long before any of the events of the main games happened, before Kashou even started planning his new career as a standalone patissier going against his father.
This game, as the name suggests, is an extra bonus to the main events - one that's not necessary to witness but recommended anyway, as it is a perfectly beautiful addition to the series. Furthermore, NekoPara Extra features some scenes that become all the more important when looking back on them after the story came full circle with the originally intended conclusion that NekoPara Vol.4 should bring. Other than that, it's a roughly 2h long addition showcasing the beginning of it all, how Chocola and Vanilla first joined the Minaduki family, grew accustomed to their new life and experienced their first adventures.
The Good, the Bad & the Difference
NekoPara Extra was released as the second to last game, after Vol.3. With that in mind, it is to be expected that it has the same if not an even better standard in terms of quality, both graphical and technical. The Emote 2D animations are already rather refined and detailed, the headpatting minigame first introduced after Vol.1 is present with the same level of detail seen in Vol.3, and the minor bugs from the earlier games are all gone. The artwork may still only be delivered in native 720p, though the source files for the game already contain higher resolution versions of all CGs (most likely used for zoomed in scenes) which later, in Vol.4, resulted in NekoPara officially becoming 1080p.
For obvious reasons this game does not have any adult content, because even in this universe you have to draw the line somewhere. Not only would it enter very, very questionable territory, it wouldn't make any sense story-wise either.
A minor verdict
NekoPara Extra is, as mentioned before, bonus content. If you take the smartest option and buy the entire NekoPara bundle on Steam during a discounted time you will get it anyway, in which case playing it after Vol.3 for maximum impact and minimum quality inconsistencies is my suggestion. If you do decide to manually manage your purchases and start out slow to test if this even is for you - waiting until you may or may not have finished up until Vol.3 in order to decide if this is worth it for you or not is a viable strategy. After all, kinetic novels are usually more expensive with a full NekoPara main game costing 20$ for 10h of content, and this extra costs 1/4 of that while delivering 1/5 of the content, albeit high quality one.
NekoPara Vol.0 is a FanDisc - i.e. an appended bonus scene, like an after story in other VNs - to Vol.1. It features short scene exerpts from a single normal everyday day at the Minaduki household, in 1h or less. The game is so short that there isn't even the space to put story anywhere, so the only relevant thing to know is it showcases the very day right before Kashou moves out and starts his new life in Vol.1, hence containing talk and information pieces about the recent events, such as him recently returning from his oversea patissier studies and him behaving strange - all information that should not be surprising considering you should have played Vol.1 before.
A really quick rundown
As NekoPara Vol.0 was released shortly after Vol.1, it has a similar quality. The artwork - what little there is of it - is great as always albeit nothing as fancy as in later games, the 2D animations are as simple as they were in Vol.1. The only notable change is the first introduction of the headpatting minigame - an interaction mode you can turn on whenever there is at least one character model on screen, to then click different areas and get different reactions from them. Being the first version of this minigame, it is rather simple and minor detail bugs regarding the sudden abortion of running animations due to interaction or dialogue skipping are present. That's honestly all there is to say.
This game, too, does not have any adult content, as there primarily wouldn't be the space for it and furthermore it still wouldn't make any sense to have it.
An even quicker verdict
Even more so than with NekoPara Extra, this is a viable hard pass. NekoPara Vol.0 may deliver one more hour of adorable catgirls to play around with, but that's literally it. It adds no value to the whole story, has no standalone features and is just a FanDics for Vol.1. If you take the smartest option and buy the entire NekoPara bundle on Steam with a little discount, you will get this game anyway - in which case looking over it right after Vol.1 won't hurt too much. If not, however, completely ignoring it is nothing to blame you for. With only 1/10 of a normal volume's content yet 1/6 of its price, only the most fanatic catgirl lovers will find this justified.
NekoPara Vol.1, being the first game ever created, is the beginning of the story. Kashou Minaduki, who recently returned from his studies abroad, left his family's house in order to start his new life as a western style patissier, own shop and all - leaving his sister, the family's six catgirls and his father's original plans to make him the heir of the family's long running tradional Japanese confectionery behind him. Only did he not anticipate to find, smuggled along within some of the moving boxes, that Chocola and Vanilla followed him regardless. These two catgirls, who are way more attached to Kashou as their master than his little sister Shigure for reasons explored in flashbacks and, in more detail, during the Extra, simply couldn't let him leave without them. Now the newfound shopowner has to juggle both the opening of his shop as well as tending to his loving tag-alongs. Though he will soon realize that those two cute and energetic bundles of joy might just be the help he needs - and maybe even something more.
Acting as a simple and slow yet cute and well-rounded introduction to the world, the setting and what may or may not be considered the "story" of NekoPara, Vol.1 not only focuses on but features just the two main catgirls - Chocola and Vanilla - for the vast majority of the game. Showcasing the relationship between the two catgirls and their master, now and in the future, as all of them need to grow acustomed to their new life. One full of sweets and fun, but also work and challenges.
In the beginning, it was great
As to be expected of the entry title to a long running franchise, NekoPara Vol.1 is the oldest and hence simplest of the games. It is the only one in the series that does not yet feature the headpatting minigame - a mode in which you can interact with the characters' head, chest and body areas to trigger different reactions - and has some minor detail issues. For example, the models aren't reseted between scenes, meaning that if you skip a dialogue while any animation is playing - mainly lip syncing - that part of the models stays that way until it is next animated. Also, naturally, the animations are (compared by modern standards) rather simplistic though lovely nonetheless.
Vol.1 features 22 CGs, 7 SD artworks and 15 unique soundtracks - that is with the R18 content, which makes up around half of the CGs.
Being an adult franchise, NekoPara Vol.1 heavily revolves around explicit content. The R18 DLCs for the first three volumes can still be found directly on Steam. That area too is where NekoPara shines with GIF-loop animated H-scenes and lots of content considering the generally shorter playtime of a 10h kinetic novel. With three whole scenes, complete with accompanying sound effects - those really common and really questionable ones that sound like mixing cement or breaking bones - you get a good first impression of what to expect: NekoPara features mainly pure, fetish-free action but in intensity ranges that make even the most over-done hentai look old. Also NekoPara, despite the global release, stayed true to its Japanese roots and is mosaic censored, together with screenshot auto-blurring and stream blocking on Steam for adult content.
The end is only the beginning
Although the smartest option would be to buy the entire NekoPara bundle on Steam with a little extra discount, people who are new and not yet fully commited to the perfect Neko harem will most likely want to only check out the first game and decide from there on out. Also keep in mind that the R18 DLCs are not included in the bundle, but are usually on discount at the same time.
As mentioned previously, NekoPara Vol.1 acts as a simple introduction to what is yet to come. And as, too, mentioned earlier, kinetic novels like these tend to be more expensive, with a full asking price of 20$ per main volume which feature around 10h of content each. So, with this game as "try out" reference, now is the best chance to make a decision: If you generally enjoy what you see it's time to cash in, as things will only get better from here on out. Though if you don't like anything about the general tone of the franchise, obviously you should leave it at that.
NekoPara Vol.2 starts where Vol.1 left off - directly after Kashou and his new Catpanions Chocola and Vanilla successfully opened their cake shop, and his little sister as well as the remaining four Minaduki catgirls started helping the little side street patisserie with its growing success. With all six (and sometimes Shigure herself) catgirls around most of the time, things expectedly get more hectic - and so old problems can't be hidden or ignored any longer. Can Kashou help with the troubles his catgirls are having, or is that something they have to figure out alone?
Despite all main characters of the franchise now being constantly around, just like its predecessor Vol.2 focusses on two of them and their personal struggles - and how they get slowly drawn into Kashou's growing Catpanion harem. While not forgetting about Chocola and Vanilla along the way, this games revolves around Coconut and Azuki, the most polar opposite sister duo possible, both trapped in the wrong body and mindset for who they truly are.
And it only gets better
If you ignored the side games - or at least the overpriced Fandisc that is Vol.0 - this is now the first game to officially introduce the headpatting minigame. A feature where you can interact with the characters on screen at any time no CG is displayed by clicking on their head, their chest or their body. A rather useless and lewd but cute and silly gimmick to play around with and immerse yourself even more into the world. Furthermore, with the additional development experience of Vol.0 and two years worth of time, NekoPara Vol.2 upgrades its quality. Not from 720p, but the animations are a fair bit more lively. Sadly the lip sync skip error is still there, and the newly added headpatting minigame too does mix up the models until normally animated again.
Vol.2 features a total of 30 CGs - 8 more than before - 7 SD artworks and 2 new tracks (alongside a new opening and ending song) to the OST of Vol.1.
The R18 department delivers mostly the same content as before, with 3 H-scenes total, GIF-loop animated and with the typical hentai VN soundeffects. As mentioned before, the R18 DLC for the first three volumes can be found on Steam. The intensity and fluidity of the scenes is still as unreal as the existence of catgirls, but Vol.2 first introduces the most commonly utilized pure love hentai fetish and the second biggest flaw of the franchise: The peeing fetish. If you aren't a fan of your (or rather my) favorite digital Waifu feeling so good she can't help but wet herself (and maybe not only herself), well - at least be ready to smash that CTRL button when the heads-up dialogue drops.
Of course mosaic censorship and Steam censorship is still in place, as will it be in all the other games.
Ready for the next round?
At this point things should be pretty obvious. If you played Vol.2 yourself already that means you found enough of a liking to the franchise as a whole to keep you going beyond the first game. In that case you either already have the entire bundle, or probably nothing but even more reasons to get it now. If not, starting with Vol.2 is a stupid idea so you should look at Vol.1 instead. My point from earlier still stands, it only gets better with every new game. And the only addition that could be bad about Vol.2 is a certain sexual fetish that only happens once, and will only happen once more in Vol.3 - which in both instances you can easily skip and ignore.
NekoPara Vol.3 is settled a short while after the events of Vol.2. Kashou's shop is doing great and things have become a lot calmer, with everyone getting used to their work - and Coconut and Azuki not fighting 24/7 anymore. Though beyond this calm atmosphere hides another thing; a promise made between to catgirls long ago that is about to resurface now that everyone's minds have the spare time to wander about. When past meets present, how will they decide?
By now, things should be most obvious. Just as Vol.1 was about Chocola and Vanilla, and Vol.2 focussed on Coconut and Azuki, Vol.3 most expectably centers on the two remaining catgirls not yet part of Kashou's harem - Maple and Cinnamon. Another duo of very contradicting personalities yet also unseparable buddies ever since they joined this family. And actually, completely opposite to how immature and lewd Cinnamon has presented herself all this while, the story of Vol.3 is one of deep emotions, levels of seriousness nearly unbefitting for the silly, carefree and cute franchise that is NekoPara, flashbacks and character development. In fact, Vol.3 is the first part where I'd actually talk about a real story in the first place, one that doesn't even focus on Kashou or his cake shop.
Are we there yet?
Not only for the story, NekoPara Vol.3 steps up the game in the quality department too. The character animations have gotten even more love and detail, and this time the tiny issues that can happen when skipping too fast are gone. Furthermore, the headpatting minigame too does now work independently from the main animation, restoring scenes afterwards. And on top of that all, as a tiny but cute new gimmick NekoPara Vol.3 introduces a custom, cat-themed cursor.
On the other hand though, Vol.3 is running on a new engine, the CatEngine2 - a heavily modified KiriKiri version - which brings a different set of customization options. The hidden Advanced Settings menu looks a bit cooler, but lacks the fan-favorite ability to disable automatic cursor movement upon confirmation dialogues. Also, the mouth movent of the character models is more of a constant loop rather than lip syncing as in the previous titles.
Vol.3 bring 9 more CGs to the gallery, totalling 39 now, alongside the usual 7 SD artworks and the entire Vol.2 OST plus-minus new opening and ending song. Speaking of songs, two musical performances with actual singing by the VA are part of the game too, as it revolves around Maple's wish to become a singer.
The R18 section gets an upgrade too - now we have 5 H-scenes in total, of which 4 are GIF-loop animated, and on top of our beloved weird hentai soundeffects we get background moaning as well. Other than that we have the usual way-over-the-top pure love hentai together with the second only occurance of the peeing fetish. At least I can spoil that this is over now. Steam and mosaic censorship are a given, obviously.