Visual novels or VN are primarily Japanese games. It has wide acclaim around the world and is a massive part of the anime culture. Since the last decade, they have become a significant segment of the Steam library. Is VN that attractive, and why? Let’s try to explain.
The closest genre is a graphic quest, and the main difference is the freedom of roaming. Quest is the game of interaction with objects. The visual novel is, oddly enough, a massive mess of text. It seems like an audiobook with rich visuals. That’s why there is almost no such thing as “gameplay” here. You can follow the plot arc.
Another feature of every VN is a lot of plot twists. Like every game with rich storytelling, a visual novel gives you an unexpected choice many times. Though, this is a matter of craft. The genre is one of the most “independent.” Still, there are franchises with many authors, like Ace Attorney. It is a typical Japanese school of game narrative, where the head creators and producers are rarely changed.
The biggest problem with visual novels is the repeating style. Anime is an unstoppable conveyor, and the common borders marked decades ago. Still, VN has a significant handicap: the game consists of backgrounds and seldom animated clips. It is vivid. Computer animation is faster than hand-drawn animation, but it is still expensive and takes a lot of effort. On the other side, small studios also can create visual novels. Such possibilities give us unique opportunities in narration.
So, the necessary parts of a good VN are:
- Interesting characters. You would better play some of the Blueprint slots online with great characters than listen to another dull puppet during hundreds of text scenes;
- A decent smooth and silky ambient sound. VN is lasting longer, and your ears deserve the best;
- Extremely modest system requirements. Almost all visual novels are made with simple 2D backgrounds and are lightweight. You can play on every cheap tablet;
- A lot of story arcs. Like every good book, visual novel has hooks for the enthusiastic reader;
- Sequels for biggest franchises. A book can be as thick as it wants. But even the biggest VN fan can’t play the game for months without a logical ending;
- The novels need a reliable system of saves or checkpoints.
The only massive flaw of these games is style. Yes, again. Anime faces and proportions are not for everyone. Unfortunately, you can’t fix it. Moreover, many famous anime series or manga become visual novels soon. Even if creators are from America or Europe, they probably will be mimicking the basis. If you are not part of the fandom or love traditional Western animation instead of Asian cartoon culture – this genre is not the best choice.
Also, mind the style. Japanese cartoons evolve constantly. There were so-called “rough realistic old-school” anime titles. They appeared in the eighties and nineties. Almost all modern VN franchises follow the mainstream and copy new styles. Still, this graphic literature can be heartwarming and dramatic. Let’s give it a chance!
The Recommended Titles
It is a hard choice. Just check the Steam chart with a relevant tag. Of course, indie VN usually is not on top hits. But the nitpicking player definitely will find something exciting.
VA-11 HALL-A: Cyberpunk Bartender Action
It is a specific and cozy title. You are playing as a melancholic lesbian bartender in a techno world. All your life goes between the little room with a laptop and the cocktail table. Make futuristic moonshine and listen to your visitors. They are in desperate need to heal their soul wounds. A bartender is a cheap version of a psychotherapist, you know.
It is an old and glorious brand of court games. The very conception of a trial is perfect for every single aspect of the visual novel. It is a battle of lawyers and prosecutors, with unexpected turns and exciting dynamics. The main hero of the saga is Phoenix Wright, the prosecutors are almost always different, but they all are strong persons with sheer minds.
The House in Fata Morgana
A mysterious maiden invites you into the house with thousands of doors. Well, doesn’t it sound like the safest offer of all times? No, you will not have corny jump scares and cheap boos. But the plot is magical, and you, dear protagonist, are trapped in your memories. It has a Gorgeous look, a strong narrative, a decent fusion of genres. You definitely should try it.
It is a cult and cute anime, but also a breathtaking visual novel. Little Japanese schoolgirl lost her mother and has a hard time in the family. The game is delinquent and melancholic, but Tomoya Okazaki has an unbent iron will to life!
Today it is the One Piece of the visual novels. Too popular to be a masterpiece, but this is only the first brief look. Just try this fascinating story about time travel, which happened in the Akihabara district. Steins; Gate is a good starter pack in VN’s world.
Aureliano Voltaire would be proud. It is a tale of a semi-ghost cafe for the dead and deceased. Like Grim Fandango, only without the Mexican aesthetic of Saint Death. But the game has practicing necromancers and all the troubles that come with them. A hybrid of Beetlejuice and modern horror stories within the colorful atmosphere, which seems original and groovy. You can trade any goods or services.