What exactly is a Visual Novel? Why should I care, and why are you talking about them? The Visual Novel Genre is a confusing genre, especially if you have no idea what it’s about. I’m here to try to help through my Beginner’s Guide to one of my favorite genres in gaming, Visual Novels.
Before we actually get started, there is one thing I need to clarify; I’m talking about Visual Novels as a genre, not about dating sims. NOT ALL VISUAL NOVELS ARE DATING SIMS. Dating sims are a Sub-Genre of Visual Novels, if that. A lot of them aren’t even VN’s. Get it? Ok, good. Let’s move on.
What is a Visual Novel?
A Visual Novel is genre of video games (I like to think of it as an interactive storytelling medium, as there isn’t really much gameplay), that’s similar to Choose Your Own Adventure books and Adventure games from the 90’s. As the name implies, Visual Novels are text heavy, but they usually have music, voice acting and stills of characters to help you get absorbed into the story. The biggest gameplay aspect of a Visual novel is choices; The player has to decide what the protagonist does in the form of options. The options can lead you to different story plotlines called routes, or they could just lead you to a bad end and you’ll have to try again. Visual Novels without choices are usually referred to as Sound Novels or Kinetic Novels.
Why should I care?
Visual novels are a very flexible genre, storytelling wise. Visual novels have very little restrictions, story wise, as they can go on and have a ton of exposition without making a book HUGE, they have the flexibility of multiple routes, they don’t have to comply with arbitrary rules set by TV companies and using the genre to mess with you. The Fate/ stay night Visual novel is a good example of this, as it’s 50+ hours, had 3 separate routes, and having Shirou as a narrator can skew your viewpoint. The flexibility leads to many visual novels to have amazing stories. Because of the excellent stories from this genre, many popular visual novels get anime adaptations. Some of the most well known adaptations are Clannad, Fate/stay night, Steins;Gate, and Higurashi. Some of you may be asking, why would I play Visual Novels if I could watch the anime? There are many parts of the visual novels that do not get adapted, and sometimes the adaptation is kinda bad. Also, there are some great visual novels that have not been adapted, like Phoenix Wright, G-Senjou no Maou, 999: Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors, and Tsukihimethat I’d recommend you check out.
What is it like to play a Visual Novel?
How exactly do Visual Novels play? It’s like watching a really long anime, or reading a book that’s kinda animated. It’s easiest to describe as a mix between a book and an anime. On average, they are usually much longer than the anime counterparts, which give them time to flesh out the characters and the world. Usually, Visual Novels have branching routes, where stories have some similarities (known as a common route), but overall could be considered their own stories (ex: Heaven’s feel in Fate/stay night). In any Visual Novel, usually you have to go on a path and stick with it. When you stray away from the route you are in, you’ll probably run into what’s known as a BAD END, where something horrible or pointless happens. Also, i’ll insert the OBLIGITORY EROGE WARNING here; Many Visual Novels are Eroges, meaning they have NSFW content. Many have censorship patches, or none of this content at all, but if type of content is not up your alley, be prepared.
How would I get my hands on a Visual Novel?
The fact that Visual Novels are not popular in the west means that most of them are kinda hard to get over here. Many companies do not translate and make English versions, so you are pretty much have to rely on fan translations. In the past, most VNs never got English versions, but as of late, there’s been a trend to localize VNs, so if you know that the game has an official US release, I’d go and support the publisher on their site, or places like rightstuf. Also, if the Visual Novel doesn’t have sexual content or has a Non-H version, there’s a good chance you can get the game over at Steam. If not, you’ll have to torrent them, and the best selection of VNs I’ve found is Mofumoe, after Fuwanovel stopped hosting torrents. It’s important to note that many Visual Novels do not find their way outside of Japan, which can be depressing if you found game or series really like.