With increasing technological advances, video games became a part of life. Everyone played a video game at least once in their life and some play them every day. Most video games have elements of storytelling in them, but what about a game that entirely involves the plot? Look no further than visual novels, the video game version of books!
What are visual novels?
Visual novels, or VNs, are defined as semi-interactive fiction stories in role-playing or simulation video games. They often have multiple branching paths with different endings depending on the choices the user made within the game.
Rather than games like Dark Souls, VNs are completely dependent upon the story. This means there is no high-action button-mashing: rather, the player essentially steps into the world of the game as another character. There may be some maps or small moveable areas but for the most part, the player interacts with various characters in order to unlock more pieces of the puzzle.
This does not mean the game is not high-stakes. In certain mystery games, missing a clue may mean the fatal end of a beloved person. In others, making bad choices could create a rift between the player character and their favorite quirky friend. Visual novels are meant to revolve around plot and relationships, much like a book brought to life.
VNs began to appear in the 1980s as a subgenre in the adventure category. Early 80s video games were notorious for rather poor graphics and minimal frames, so using a book-like format was an ingenious way to tell a story within the medium.
VNs picked up popularity close to the early 2000s when games began exploring other genres. Specifically, many catered to female audiences with romantic otome games. Japan believed there was a gap in the market for female gamers and thought focusing on empathy and emotional gameplay was the solution. Still, they broadened their beliefs and included other genres in the VN game space. Many writers did not want to limit their works to dating sims, and it was for the better.
Today, VNs receive high popularity in both Western and Eastern gaming. All genders and ages enjoy playing them, because they essentially add a third dimension to reading. Writers still tell an impactful story but allow the player to be a part of it: plus, there is audio and visual bonuses too!
Popular visual novels
Visual novels come in all genre types, here are just the most popular to get started with:
A demented anthropomorphic teddy bear named Monokuma locks 16 genius students away in Hope’s Peak Academy. The only way out? They have to murder another student and not get caught. In this game, the player not only has to find out who killed each character but who is controlling this whole scheme. This is a creepy murder mystery full of twists and turns, no wonder it’s popular.
Horror: Doki Doki Literature Club
Do not let the cute atmosphere of this game fool you. Presenting itself as another dating sim with a bunch of cute high school girls, this horror game will lead you into a false sense of security. The player joins an innocent-looking poetry club to try and woo one of the girls, but what is lurking beneath the seemingly harmless surface?
Romance: Dream Daddy: A Dad Dating Simulator
Made as a joke by the gaming youtubers Game Grumps, this dating sim is full of laughs and precious characters. The player gets to go down routes of one of seven different dads and fall in love. There is everything from a gothic vampire to a perfect good Christian to pick. So, why not try and get them all? This game is perfect for light gameplay and a quick boost of serotonin.
Science Fiction: Steins;Gate
The player enters the game as mad scientist Rintaro Okabe. He works in his apartment laboratory with his two best friends. Amazingly, they discover that they may have created a machine able to send messages back in time. While working on their discovery, they stumble upon a secret organization and a worldwide conspiracy. What could go wrong?
Adventure: Zero Escape
A group of masked individuals who go by the name “Zero” kidnap nine people. Locked inside a secret facility, they have to play death games and solve puzzles in order to escape. Think Saw, but with more interesting characters and designs (and less terrible acting.) The player has to find a way out of the escape rooms by exploring, picking up and combining items and solving puzzles.
If you love reading and video games, celebrate National Video Games Day by trying out a visual novel. We love using our imagination to create visuals and voices in books, but now we can enter the novel ourselves. To read opinions on visual novels, see our article The Best Visual Novel Out There.