But not too much, please.
Visual Novels are very certainly not everybody’s kind of game. Most of them do not even let you carry any choice making changes in the plot, explaining why some people do not consider these games at all. Of course, the first purpose is to tell a story. The name says it all : they are like illustrated books. Some may be very linear, while some others will heavily depend on the player’s decisions. I guess we could say different levels of free will exist. Also, the gameplay is mostly always the same : clicking, reading, more clicking, more reading. Not to mention the graphics are overall static. That does not mean Visual Novels are not games. They entertain in there own way anyhow. Your choices may not matter, but they still are here to make you believe you are in control. We could probably just sort VNs as ‘more linear’ or ‘more complex’, the first being more considered as reading medium, and the second ones as gaming medium.
The distinction between the two is actually made in Japan, but lost outside of it. There are very specific criteria – and I had to read through loads of kanjis to grasp it all in order to then report it. VNs are in fact regarded as the first genre of computer game there is, in term of numbers. Two main branches exist : adventure games & novels. The novels are not to be mixed with actual digital or paper printed texts – except for the story part, they have nothing to do with each other (at least, it is what is said…) – and are the one that require very little clicking, clicks letting the reader progress. Adventure games are the one I labeled as ‘complex’, also sometimes mixing small elements of gameplay different than plain pushing mouse’s left button.
So here comes the big question : what makes a Visual Novel a good game ?
Like I just said, to simply start acknowledging one, it has to be at least a tiny bit complex. It has to let you chose, impacting the story in a way. It needs to suggest several endings, depending on what you did. We call that ‘branching narratives’. It is not only found in VNs, but many other types of games, and it makes you want to play repeatedly to collect every piece of information you possibly can. The gameplay & graphics are usually kept quite simple, if you compare them to any… FPS game, let us say ! For the best, most of the time. But let me be very clear, there : I am not saying “VNs are ugly and super casual” – not saying they are the most beautiful & kind of hardcore either. It is necessary for the art to look good, being the second most important thing of the whole : the VISUAL part. The most important one being evidently the story. Now comes originality. The two other significant sections are the introduction of the story (conversation, diary entries, computer logs, a mix of a few…), and the alternate gameplay (puzzles, for instance).
All this leads me to one of the most fantastic Visual Novels I played : the Analogue series by Christine Love – her talent for writing will not cease to amaze.
The first game, called “Digital : a Love Story”, came out in February 2010. Absolutely linear when it comes to the story, the gameplay is one of a kind ! With the interface of an old 80’s computer, you try understanding the disapearance of many AIs around the internet through messages. The only parts you play are changing chat rooms, finding passwords to access them, and clicking the ‘respond’ button once you read a message. No need to play it to understand the two other games, it simply deals about the same subjects : Artificial Intelligence, love stories, and thrilling (
I will not say much about the games, hopefully just enough to drive them tempting ! Anyway, listen to the trailer’s song – sounds really good.
( X ) Also available on steam for ten bucks, Analogue was first released in February 2012. The story is set centuries after Digital, around year 4900, as an antisocial investigator (you) is charged with discovering what happened on board the Mugunghwa, an interstellar ship that disappeared for more than 600 years. As you get close to the ship and connect to its internal computer, you meet *Hyun-ae, an extra-lonely AI, who will help you find information. Along the way, you will also encounter *Mute, the security AI of the ship.
You basically read computer logs and mails, talk to the AIs through yes-or-no questions, as well as use a linux-like kind of console. While reading the logs, you will get to know the strange story of the ship that seemed to have lose all modernity – regressing to a society ruled by a totalitarian Emperor, where, among other things, women do not wear pants and stay in the kitchen -, and what lead to the annihilation of every living person on board.
For the love part : you have the possibility to take an AI with you – with romantic intentions or not -, after you are done. Or why not both… ?
( X ) Available on steam for the same price, Hate was released in August 2013 – and despite waiting for it desperately, I did not play until now ! The game was initially supposed to be a DLC, and became a stand-alone during development. It follows the story exactly where Analogue left it, on your three-days-trip back to Earth. You can pick your old saves with your adorable faithful sidekicks, with the sole purpose of discovering the terrible event that led to the return to the Middle Ages on the ship. How was the society before ? Why were *Mute’s memories wiped clean ? Who was actually to trust ? Maybe you will not even know that !
To read all the logs, you will have to wait for your ship’s energy to regenerate. A playthrough is over the course of 3 days – more or less (and more less than more). Twelve hours break between each. I continued my five save files in one go, and even put an alarm on my phone to notify myself when I could play again ! You can also just change your computer’s date.
I absolutely loved playing those games, and I can only hope you will too. The story is astonishingly well written ! Key information is always withhold for more suspense, and when you discover it all bit by bit, you cannot not be amazed. You become attached to the AIs and to some of the characters through the logs, learn about their lives and whatever happened to them. A must-play. Especially for passionate readers, history lovers – and otakus that are into cute AIs !
Someday I may write something about another one I really really enjoyed – and still need to finish ! -, but for now let me just encourage you to play the Jisei-Kansei-Yousei series by sakevisual. As a young teenage boy with the strange ability to live the last moments of a dead person, you have to uncover the truth behind several deaths, the biggest mystery of the whole actually being your own identity… Also involves some point-and-click elements and reasoning to solve the murders.
If you are not a big fan of reading, Visual Novels could actually be a very good start !
(But if it was the case, you probably would not have read this…
So. Hmm. Recommend it to friends, family, kids, etc.)