Visual novels have a bad rap as these Japanese, gameplay-less dating fests where the goal is to have sex with the girl of your choice. However, this just isn’t true. Visual novels not only have a deep history in dating sims, but also from horror titles to games that poke fun at the origin of the genre. There’s a lot of variety to enjoy. More importantly, just like different genres of entertainment, it’s okay to play and enjoy them, especially if you call yourself a core gamer.
Visual novels were born on the PC but only recently have they started becoming prolific on Steam. From Christine Love’s Analogue: A Hate Story and its sequel, Hate Plus, to a game that turns all of the targets of your affection into pigeons, Hatoful Boyfriend. If you have a portable system, Nine Hours Nine Persons Nine Doors or 999 for short, which was originally released on the 3DS and has been released on iOS as of recent, is one of the finest gaming experiences ever crafted by human hands and everyone should play it. There’s also a sequel on 3DS and Vita called Virtue’s Last Reward. Then there’s the delightfully wicked Danganronpa on Vita, whose sequel comes out on September 2. Even BlazBlue has a visual novel called Xblaze available on PS3 and Vita. If you’re rocking an old PSP, there’s the Corpse Party series. There’s a lot to play on a variety of platforms.
So what’s so special about visual novels? I am guilty of believing that no game could tell a better story than a book. Surely the masters like Dickens can’t be bested by game writers. Indeed, with amazing narratives like Gears of War 2 to compare to, I never thought we’d see anything special /sarcasm. Quite frankly, modern game writing sucks for the most part.
It was 999 that changed my mind. First of all, the brutal nature of the narrative, with no punches pulled, intrigued me. Raw depictions of violence interested me, as someone who notes that the consequences from violence tend to be muted. Without spoiling anything, it was the fact that the nature of the story was that it was a game, that I was in control, and the narrative could be played in the context of a game. Also, the nature of the fact that I was playing this game on a game console. If you have beaten 999, you know what I mean. This was an experience I cannot get from a book.
Visual novels succeed because they leverage their medium to break through the linear nature of stories. Books only go from beginning to end. Simply put, visual novels tell more kinds of stories; more broader stories. If you play games, you are likely interested in all kinds of media and experiences. Maybe visual novels don’t have the kind of skill-testing challenges that you may be used to, but I can tell you that are definitely worth your time, and certainly worth your money. Try one.