Literature, but in a digital format that could technically be considered a Video Game. note Like their ancestors, Adventure Games and Interactive Fiction, visual novels put emphasis on the plot and on characterization, rather than on action scenes. They are effectively a digital version of the Choose Your Own Adventure books, with music, pictures, and occasionally even voice acting or movies. However, unlike most Choose Your Own Adventure books, they usually branch off into distinct storylines early on, and can have a lot more choice points (since they're digital and therefore don't suffer from physical limitations). Puzzles, quests, and escape games are usually embedded within the plot in order to advance the storyline. The level of gameplay can vary, leading to difficulty in defining the boundaries of the medium. On the far video game end of the scale we have games that adhere closer to the Adventure Game model such as the Ace Attorney series and Zero Escape: 9 Hours, 9 Persons, 9 Doors. Kinetic Novels (visual novels completely devoid of interaction) and Linear Visual Novels exist on the other end of the scale, such as When They Cry. The majority of Visual Novels, however, tend to offer non-linear Story Branching plots and Multiple Endings. Because they are treated as games, the fact that many of them tell well-written, compelling stories can be easily overlooked. Games like Hotel Dusk: Room 215, Jake Hunter, Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors, Virtues Last Reward, Professor Layton and the Ace Attorney series are bringing this style of gameplay into markets outside of Japan, where they are much more recognized. It is also not uncommon for acclaimed Anime to be based on Visual Novels, such as Kanon, AIR, Clannad, Fate/stay night, and Steins;Gate, for example. Visual novels that are also eroge tend to tie every storyline to a specific romanceable character, a habit which has carried over to most of the rest of the medium. Because the market for Dating Sims is virtually non-existent outside of Japan, people tend to assume that any Visual Novel that is a Romance Game should be called a Dating Sim, when they are actually quite different. (It doesn't help that most Visual Novel-style eroge are marketed as "Dating Sims" when they are translated for the US market.) Using well-known examples, the Ace Attorney series has very much a Visual Novel style of gameplay, while the DOA Xtreme series is probably the game closest to a true Dating Sim with mass-market appeal in the US. Most Japanese visual novels never get an official release outside of Japan, though this is beginning to change with companies such as MangaGamer and JAST licensing more and more visual novels. Still, the bulk of visual novels are translated by dedicated fans if they are translated at all. Many of the novels on this list have an existing Fan Translation, partial or full. Within Japan, Visual Novels make up 70 percent of the gaming market, according to The Other Wiki, but are divided into two separate categories: the "novel proper" (or light novel), which contains little to no gameplay, and the action game (the form most Western tropers are familiar with, such as Ace Attorney or Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors). See the Light Novels page for more information. There are also a small but growing number of English-developed visual novels, generally created by indies and not sold through mainstream channels. Some of these have garnered critical acclaim, such as Katawa Shoujo and Analogue A Hate Story. In recent years, there have also been some acclaimed Visual Novel influenced Western Adventure Games, such as Dear Esther, The Stanley Parable, Heavy Rain, and The Walking Dead. Whether or not "visual novel" is a genre, a sub-genre/modifier for other genres, or a pejorative term is unclear, as connotations differ by community. Public Medium Ignorance, particularly the Animation Age Ghetto and Girl Show Ghetto, may be responsible for quite a bit of the confusion. VNDB is a database dedicated to visual novels, in the vein of IMDB. It also lists any existing fan translation a novel may have. See Visual Novel Tropes. If you want to take a crack at creating one of your own, we've got you covered.
Games in this medium:
Other examples of Visual Novels: