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.