What are Visual Novels?
Visual novels are like choose-your-own-adventure books in video game format. The emphasis is on reading through the story from the protagonist’s point of view, occasionally making choices that influence the type of ending you get. They can be any genre, and usually include art of the characters (a.k.a. ‘sprites’) and background art, as well as background music.
How did I do? Hope that was clear enough a description for you to get a basic idea.
“Okay, Leah, you’ve piqued my interest, too,” you might be saying. “So what visual novels do you recommend I check out to start with?”
I’m glad you asked! Here are two recommendations that immediately come to mind.
2 Short (and free!) Visual Novels to Try:
With only one possible ending, no choices for players to make, and clocking in at only around 10 minutes to play through, you wouldn’t think that this visual novel would have much time to make any sort of impact. You would be wrong. This is one of my favorite short/free visual novels EVER, and is responsible for getting me hooked on the visual novel as a medium. Besides a short-but-memorable story, this VN also boasts charming art and even voice acting. This game is playable online in your browser.
Here’s my own personal summary of it:
Koda is a jaded young man whose only interest in life is photography. A chance meeting with a girl named Kuu, his polar opposite in personality, is the unlikely catalyst that slowly starts him on the path to place his trust in other people.
a2 ~a due~
This falls into the “otome” (romance) genre of visual novels, but is less fluffy than other otome games out there. Not that it doesn’t end up tugging at the heartstrings regardless. It also happens to be one of my favorite shorter visual novels, and employs an interesting twist with how it works with the themes of music and foreign languages. This game is downloadable and playable on Windows, Mac, Linux, Android, or through the iTunes app store.
My personal summary:
Sona, a tough-as-nails rocker, has some thugs breathing down her neck to repay a loan. In a last-ditch effort to scrounge up enough money to get them off her back for good, she turns to the only gig she thought she’d never take: becoming the director of her father’s classical orchestra. She ends up butting heads with an extremely strict conductor (who just flew into the States from China and doesn’t speak a word of English), but he and the orchestra might become more to her than just an escape from debt—depending on the choices you, as the player, make.
Commercial Visual Novels (a.k.a. visual novels that you buy)
Again, with these I have a couple of favorites that I’ll link you to. These are both otome games, as that’s my favorite visual novel genre and the one I’m most familiar with. However, that’s not the only genre of visual novel out there, so I encourage you to try searching around and see if other genres interest you, as well!
This is a mystery/otome visual novel. This is the first visual novel I ever bought, and as such it’s close to my heart. That aside, it’s also one of my favorites because of its own merits as a game. It was developed by an indie group called Zeiva Inc, and is available for download. There’s also a demo version if you want to try-before-you-buy.
This is what is known as a “stat-raising” otome game. Besides the visual novel elements, you also have to raise certain stats and “affection points” with certain characters in order to advance the story. It’s developed by Cheritz, a South Korean company, and the translated English version is available to purchase through the Steam client. It does have voice acting, but only in Korean (text is in English). There’s also a demo version so you can see if you like it before buying it.
So what do you think?
What I’ve written in this post is just the tip of the iceberg where visual novels are concerned. There are many other visual novels out there; at the moment most English-language visual novels are developed by indie groups.
If you’re interested in looking more into visual novels, and even making your own, then I’d definitely recommend checking out Ren’py, a site that not only showcases different visual novels, but has a program that you can use to code them.
By day, Leah Waig likes to drink coffee, listen to/make music, write, and crochet. By night, she likes to sleep. She is a freelance audio editor/e-book formatter and you can follow her on Twitter @leahkmw. You can see/listen to some of the results of her labors through the online fiction magazine Sparkler Monthly.