Visual novels. What are they and what do you pair them with? In our space this genre is not very popular. Even in the West visual novels are also not a mass product, just a niche. Where they are a running product, though, is the East, where they actually hail from. So how are these visual novels different from the games we are all accustomed to?
In most visual novels all kinds of clichés are simply abound, and they have little more to them than a simple love story cut into pieces of Japanese schoolchildren everyday life. In recent years, more and more talented developers became part of this genre and are trying to develop new directions and put new challenges ahead of the genre. Visual novels finally become cool.
Mostly, with a few exceptions, they have more to do with adventure books than the games themselves. Story – this is what they are and why the novels exist. Some novels are, you could say, actual books, just accompanied by audio and visual means. Usually such novels are called “kinetic”. All other types are not as interactive, but have a selection system or specific selection points.
Other types of novels feature webs of flags and buttons that lead to different decisions and effects among several timeframes. And these flag decisions are the story: how it is built and what the game will be. Sometimes they pass a certain “path”, after which others open, which assumes that the player is already familiar with the state of things and knows what it does. There are also novels, in which there is substantially more “gaming” content, which includes management, various kinds of leveling, and the like. So what’s the problem, it would seem? Why is this genre of games that has captured the eastern market so small in the West? What is the obstacle? If you remove the typical “habit”, which has any eastern product taken with a bit of a warning, there are still “rules” of the game from the novels. And what hinders the dissemination of visual novels in our markets is nothing else but censorship.
Often visual novels contain romantic elements, but there are also such genres as science fiction, fantasy, or horror. But despite this, they all traditionally contain ettie scenes, even if the overall orientation of the work is far from erotic.
It would seem that, not so long ago, visual stories were launched on the Steam store, but very soon scandals rose up about erotica and pornography. And on Steam, where everything concerns the “Western” culture of sales, this is prohibited. The removal from the store and bans of developers began. This opportunity was seized by the guys from GOG, who took in the developers from MangaGamer and Sekai Project.
So is it worth plunging into this genre? If so, then where do you get started? Well, the recommendations would be as follows:
Clannad is one of the most popular visual novels in history. It is so successful that it has branched out into anime, cinema, manga and even an audio drama. This is the story of Tomoya Okazaki, who is experiencing an age-old crisis. He meets Nagisa Furukawa, and together they try to establish relationships and restart the school theater circle, recruiting a new cast for it.
Clannad is the very example of a game filled with stereotypes. The original was released in 2004 and it perfectly reflects all the peculiarities of the visual novels: a strong plot, interesting characters and an exciting style. The whole point is that it is a young man’s story trying to find his happiness. In order not to fall into depression with Tomoya, everything is beautifully diluted by colorful girls. Most events and story turns are a solid cliche. However, this is not because Clannad is unoriginal. But because all its successors practically only copied it. It turned out that the original solutions at one time became ordinary and cliche.
Clannad is a classic, which is worth playing practically for everyone. In order to get acquainted with every reason why visual novels are so loved.
Vrmnq’s verdict “What? Thought cartoons are not serious? BWA-HA-HA!”
2. The Nonary Games / Zero Time Dilemma (the Zero Escape series).
If you enjoy puzzles and puzzle games, then the Zero Escape series is the best you can find. This series has three games: Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors; Virtue’s Last Reward; Zero Time Dilemma. The first two were ported to PC only in 2017, while the third was there by itself. As for the games themselves, they are built around nine people locked in a room with a strange figure named Zero. Everyone has a clock indicating the number and an indication that they are “victims” and must flee from there, solving the puzzles hidden behind the nine doors. Not everything is so easy and errors here are expensive. Brutal deaths in the style of “Saw” are guaranteed.
And the game itself is not a solid text wall. Puzzles, riddles and mysteries need to be solved to open the door. Some of these tasks are quite complex and will require cleverness to properly figure everything out. The game holds tension and does not give time to be bored. Depending on the choice made by the player, the ending varies. The variation of endings in this series is large and different. To the extent that it is rarely possible to put a different product even in comparison.
Vrmnq’s verdict “What? Thought cartoons are to turn off the brain? BWA-HA-HA!”
Steins;Gateis a story about time travel, a web of events and the butterfly effect. Rinatro Okabe is a crazy scientist who created a time machine that can send messages to the past. With this invention, he and his companions begin to work hard to improve the future. The entangled and branched edges of the plot are the basis on which the genre of visual novels is constructed. And if the Zero Escape series proves it as an absolute, Steins; Gate adds dynamics, insanity and drama. The reasons are intertwined with the effects, and the actions of the future affect the past, confusing and mixing everything around to unpredictable states. Everything can change from just a press of a button on your phone. Answer the call? So? What will you say? No? You sure? Despite the swirling plot, the game, thank God, does not derive to complete insanity, where the player does not understand what is happening. Each solution has an impact and leads to a certain finiteness, logical and completed. Even if the player snapped up completely. And this game is captivating. A variety of approaches, methods and endings.
Vrmnq’s verdict “What? Thought cartoons are a one-time thing? BWA-HA-HA!”
4. Long Live The Queen
What would you do if you were entrusted a princess who was soon destined to undergo a coronation and become a leader of the nation? And what if this princess is just a child? Sounds nice? And if you take into account a bunch of other people who would take great pleasure in replacing her on the throne? But what about a personal killer maniac, who is also 14 years old and fixated on the idea of killing the princess? 40 weeks until coronation, and all this difficult way, without a doubt, you will have to spend together. Leading the girl by the hand, helping and obeying. Everything for the crown. The girl must survive and become queen. This game is quite colorful and vibrant, and at the same time deep and solid enough to compare it with monsters such as Crusader Kings 2 and Dwarf Fortress. It is as variative and creative in terms of its own story, the main thing in this game is not so much victory (that is, coronation), but the process itself, which generates a bunch of internal amusing and not really situations that you recall after with a smile. Something like: “There is something to remember, but there is nothing to tell the children.”
Vrmnq’s verdict “What? Thought that cartoons are just for children? BWA-HA-HA!”
5. VA-11 Hall-A
VA-11 Hall-A (a wonderful name, right?) shows us the life of a bartender in a simple dystopia, telling about the lives of people coming to the bar and sharing their ups and downs.
As in real life, here the bartender listens to people when they are not really “themselves.” Rumors, deep emotional experiences, intimate stories, fears, desires, dreams. All of these are shared with you by the visitors. And although it’s a cyberpunk scenery, you believe it. Believe in people and their stories. And you feel right upset by the fact that these people open their souls for a simple service in the form of a cyber cocktail or a vodka simulacrum.
And it’s a very interesting way of keeping a story. You never know what to do, what to add, what not to do. And you always think: will you come back here or not? Something to decide for yourself or dump at the bottom of the bottle? You really empathize here, but not every game succeeds in it. And even fewer tavern-like ones. But not VA-11 Hall-A. Everything seems real here. Almost a matrix.
Vrmnq’s verdict “What? Thought cartoons can’t get to you? BWA-HA-HA!”