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How can visual novels improve and grow?:

 1 dorkatlarge, Sat, 5th Feb '11 6:17:22 PM from Parts Unknown Relationship Status: Maxing my social links
Brosuke wannabe
It's been a few weeks since the Katawa Shoujo writers criticized what they've seen in translated and originally-in-English visual novels: http://katawashoujo.blogspot.com/2011/01/reach-for-stars.html They made four points, which I will attempt to re-interpret...

1. The visual novel media form would benefit from new and different ideas. Not every story needs to center around love and/or sex. Different types of art couldn't hurt. Characters should not have to fit into common archetypes, or exist just to appeal to current fans.

2. Stories should not have to long or slow-paced. (I have seen this alleged problem in relatively recent translated professional visual novels. But I can't name many amateur visual novels, translated or originally in English, that could be criticized in this manner.)

3. Interactivity could be better. (It should be easy to avoid the extremes of But Thou Must... but I'm not sure *how* choices and gameplay could be improved.)

4. More integrated visuals. A lot of today's visual novels have fairly static "paper doll" sprites, a few full screen pictures, and maybe a few video sequences. I think the sprites may have evolved from vintage games which existed on hardware that could not display better graphics. Shouldn't something different be possible now?

I'm interested in the concept of an interactive comic. Recently Littlewitch's game Quartett! received a full fan translation, and as far as I know, it's fairly close to being an interactive comic. There may be other ways to rethink how to present visual art.

— So yeah, I admit I like moe games about relationships. And I admit that sometimes I find it tough to appreciate visual novels which are serious and/or experimental. But I believe that fans would be wise to create visual novels with different themes, art, pacing, etc.

Also, it's very easy to say something like "I'm gonna make the most deconstructionist, offbeat visual novel ever." But it's quite difficult to write it to completion. Especially if you can't make money from it. For every ten visual novels that get started on the Lemma Soft Forums games in development section, maybe one gets finished.

1. The visual novel media form would benefit from new and different ideas. Not every story needs to center around love and/or sex. Different types of art couldn't hurt. Characters should not have to fit into common archetypes, or exist just to appeal to current fans.

True enough. There are examples that aren't about such things at all or only include them as a bonus to the main story, but not enough. For example, Utawarerumono, Sharin No Kuni, Ever17 and stuff by the companies that made those three.

2. Stories should not have to long or slow-paced. (I have seen this alleged problem in relatively recent translated professional visual novels. But I can't name many amateur visual novels, translated or originally in English, that could be criticized in this manner.)

What are you referring to? I don't want to guess and make an elaborate argument only to be told you meant something else entirely.

3. Interactivity could be better. (It should be easy to avoid the extremes of But Thou Must... but I'm not sure *how* choices and gameplay could be improved.)

Well, there are RPG/VN hybrids out there. For example, Eien no Aselia, which I've been meaning to make an article for and it's ridiculously long due to how trope heavy it is. Utawarerumono, Tears to Tiara, Seinarukana, Sengoku Rance and Big Bang Age also spring to mind. There's even stuff out there like Men At Work 2 which may not be that great but are at least games as well.

4. More integrated visuals. A lot of today's visual novels have fairly static "paper doll" sprites, a few full screen pictures, and maybe a few video sequences. I think the sprites may have evolved from vintage games which existed on hardware that could not display better graphics. Shouldn't something different be possible now?

Perhaps, but not a great concern of mine. The art isn't that big of a deal for me so long as it isn't flat out awful.

Maelstrom
1. Honestly, I'm perfectly fine where V Ns are in this regard. It works, it's enjoyable, and unlike what the author of the blog post states, not all V Ns fall into these stereotypes. I think they're just feeling bitter for some reason.

2. I've enjoyed V Ns despite their length, and the most satisfying ones are generally longer.

3. Visual Novels are still Visual Novels. Too many choices, too much interactivity, and it just gets silly.

4. Stop asking for so much, really. Visual novels, for the most part, have a great amount of visualization. Again, they are still very much prose.

All in all, I think that the author of the post is just too picky, and maybe visual novels aren't the medium for them. Visual novels are more of just a mixture of prose and art, and while they definitely are unique, I don't think they need to change much.

However, I do think that more standard stories could work in the visual novel medium, and without just fully changing all stories that are made. The OEL VN scene could really help bring this about, as visual novels in the West are extremely obscure, and don't really have a reputation at all. Here they have a chance to be known as more than a fancy excuse for porn. I'm sure visual novels can do well, eventually.

I think the blogger might be a little bitter, really. They should step away from the visual novel medium and take a better, less whiny and (fundamentally) idealistic look at it.
 4 Clarste, Sat, 5th Feb '11 6:51:31 PM Relationship Status: Non-Canon
Three Steps
1. The visual novel media form would benefit from new and different ideas. Not every story needs to center around love and/or sex. Different types of art couldn't hurt. Characters should not have to fit into common archetypes, or exist just to appeal to current fans.

Frankly, I've never played any of the generic ones in the first place, so I wouldn't know. Also, the most popular ones among the English speaking fandom seem to be the ones like Ever17, Fate/stay night, Umineko no Naku Koro ni, and Ace Attorney. It seems we like action and mysteries, as well as characters being more than what they seem. Archetypes are the starting places for characters. They should grow beyond them, but avoiding them entirely is not necessary or recommended. Tropes Are Not Bad.

2. Stories should not have to long or slow-paced. (I have seen this alleged problem in relatively recent translated professional visual novels. But I can't name many amateur visual novels, translated or originally in English, that could be criticized in this manner.)

This is the most subjective complaint, I suppose. Some people don't like wordiness, fine. In general though, I think the Japanese standards for what good writing is have a much higher tolerance for it, or even encourage it. Personally I like it, even though I can see how it might be considered Purple Prose. A picture can tell a thousand words, but a hundred words can choose which words to put in bold.

3. Interactivity could be better. (It should be easy to avoid the extremes of But Thou Must... but I'm not sure *how* choices and gameplay could be improved.)

Interactivity is overrated. I just don't care that much. A lot of visual novels like to play around with the concept of alternate timelines and such anyway, at least in the sense of developing characters more fully by showing how they'd act in wildly different scenarios. My one wish is that it make some kind of sense though. Characters shouldn't be derailed by early game choices unless there's actually a reason that the choice would have this effect.

4. More integrated visuals. A lot of today's visual novels have fairly static "paper doll" sprites, a few full screen pictures, and maybe a few video sequences. I think the sprites may have evolved from vintage games which existed on hardware that could not display better graphics. Shouldn't something different be possible now?

This strongly ties into the writing, I believe. Excessive descriptions are necessary precisely because the backgrounds and sprites are so generic. People seem to think they shouldn't overlap, but honestly I enjoy the overlap. We get two sides of the same picture, one in text and the other in art. Much like the multiple routes give us multiple sides of the same story, multiple deliveries of the same message gives us a more three dimensional picture. This is in fact the entire point of visual novels, and should be emphasized rather than diminished. The "ideal" of a constant video game cutscene that is mentioned in the article seems like it'd make a pretty terrible experience.

edited 5th Feb '11 6:54:05 PM by Clarste

 5 Tzetze, Sat, 5th Feb '11 6:56:33 PM from a converted church in Venice, Italy
DUMB
3. Visual Novels are still Visual Novels. Too many choices, too much interactivity, and it just gets silly.

Hey, Pale Fire was cool. :(
 6 Radical Taoist, Sun, 6th Feb '11 7:16:08 PM from the #GUniverse
scratching at .8, just hopin'
I actually thought, after seeing how Sengoku Rance managed to mix strategy into VNs, that someone should do the same with fighting games. It would be nice to see fighters drop the Excuse Plot for a real story and attaching a VN to one would work. In addition to branching at character decisions, it would also be cool to have the story branch depending on fight outcomes - getting a Perfect on a specific match could humiliate a character in a manner that affected their behaviour later.
 7 Clarste, Sun, 6th Feb '11 8:07:38 PM Relationship Status: Non-Canon
Three Steps
Um... that's perfectly describing what BlazBlue did for its story mode.

[up][up][up][up]"Archetypes are the starting places for characters. They should grow beyond them, but avoiding them entirely is not necessary or recommended. Tropes Are Not Bad."

Yeah, the article itself even went as far to say that: "tropes, I suppose I should say, are the cancer that are killing visual novels"

Being original for the sake of being original doesn't work. And it's not really an achievement either. For example now I just went to the TV Tropes story generator, wishing for a visual novel's plot, and I got one that takes place in a Garden of Evil, with an Eigen Plot, and the villain is A Pirate 400 Years Too Late.

See? How much more "original" that would be than high school Slice of Life?

... Though it still gave the Hero character as a Harem Hero, so yeah...

Anyways, the point is, that the above scenario could be written badly, and High School slice of life can be written well. At least, for the latter, it might even give an advantage that the audience relates to it easier.

edited 7th Feb '11 4:19:53 AM by EternalSeptember

scratching at .8, just hopin'
[up][up]Then, since BlazBlue kicked ass, we should clearly be DOING IT MORE. QED.

What other genres besides strategy and fighting games could we wrap V Ns around?
 10 Riotous Rascal, Tue, 8th Mar '11 6:29:58 AM from AUSTRALIAAAAAAAAAAA
Well played, old chap!
Ideas, eh?

Personally, I think V Ns need to work somewhat to break out of the 'eroge prison'. In a lot of anime/manga communities, V Ns have something of a stigma about them (IMO) due to the fact that a huge, huge majority of them are eroge. And in a lot of cases that content is just there to get customers, it doesn't add anything to the story whatsoever. Thank god for fast-forward functions. Anyway, the point I'm trying to make is that we need some high-profile V Ns to show people that you can do more with the medium than romance. Case in point: Ever 17. That was shit hot.

What you also might see is hybridization. VN elements are becoming hybridized with other genres to produce new and unique games. Exhibit A: Persona 4. And 3 as well, I guess. If you strip out the JRPG aspect of Persona 4, you are left with a rather well-written (and much shorter *heh*) murder mystery VN. But instead of sprites (well there are sprites too but you get my point) the background is rendered in full 3D. Imagine a VN with a full 3D background, using a next-gen engine to render characters. After all, look at how realistic realtime rendering has become in the past few years. There's no rule saying Visual Novels have to use 2D graphics, after all.

Really, though, I think where V Ns should go is in the direction of more choices. And I mean a truly ridiculous amount of choices. As in, getting a dialogue choice for every single line in the game. See, a lot of the frustration some people feel with Visual Novels (and I feel it too) is that you are sometimes given a couple of choices, none of which you really want to pick. I believe that the player should never be forced into making a stupid choice. Give the player more control. The developers need to remember that they're not writing a book. It's a game. It's software. It can change as you play. Not taking advantage of that is just wasteful.

I mean, think about it. Most (read: 99.99%) of all V Ns are Japanese. This is generally accepted. The Japanese language lets you communicate a HUGE amount of subtext through written dialogue alone, with things like different pronouns, honorifics, preferential use of family name to given name, et cetera. Suppose that, to the left of the dialogue window, you had a slider which controls what personal pronoun your character uses. Suppose you have a configuration menu in the options menu which controls how you address different characters, allowing you to select family name/given name, honorific choice, and so on. BOOM. You've suddenly got a huge, huge, huge amount of options for fine-tuning and subtly influencing how your character behaves towards other people. Go around addressing everyone you meet as '-sama' for no reason whatsoever. Use 'atashi' even if you're a guy. Play your character like a complete retard, or not, because it's your mistake to make, not because the writers wanted it that way.

Just something to think about.
Did I ever tell you...the definition of insanity?
There are hybridized VNS. I can think of at least five that are mixed with rpgs. Graphics wise there are fewer, but that seems like it's really unnecessary almost all the time.

The thing about having that many choices is that it actually tends to annoy players because it becomes hard to figure out what choice had what effect. Especially when a lot of the time all those choices don't do anything at all.

I also disagree about the "More interactivity" thing. That would just turn Visual Novels into a particular Video Game interface that shows up in various genres.

There are enough video game genres, and all games have their unique gameplay, we don't need to turn a whole medium into yet another one.

Kinetic Novels are the way to go, visual novels are interesting as a literary medium.

 13 Kayeka, Tue, 8th Mar '11 1:44:24 PM from Amsterdam Relationship Status: Brony
World's biggest wannabe
[up][up][up]That idea (the one about more options to the player) can be filed under 'easier said than done'. Writers are only human, and for any given visual novel they already have to write 5 different stories using the same characters and setting. Adding your idea to that would create a workload no one could ever carry. It would result in either a whole lot of instances of You Can't Get Ye Flask or character not reacting appropriately.

I'm all for breaking out of the eroge prison, however. In fact, breaking out of the whole Dating Sim thing would be nice. For a bit, that is. I'm a huge sucker for romance stories, and I don't want those to disappear.

You know, I would be really, really happy if they'd deviate more often from the standard 'High school' setting. College would already be a step in the right direction. 20-something jobless dude trying to survive in the city (and meeting people along the way) would be awesome. Late elementary school would be hilarious.

edited 8th Mar '11 1:44:36 PM by Kayeka

I agree with the deerogefication of VNs; not in that they shouldn't have porn, but in that if they do, it should add something to the story. However, I don't think the Dating Sim elements should disappear just yet, I think there are lots of interesting ways of executing, exploiting or subverting them yet to be used.

Also, as Kakeya said, the "more choices" idea would be, while not impossible, very hard to implement correctly, because of the enormous amounts of work and writing associated with it. And even if they managed to write that much, it would be very difficult to make a good plot with good dialogue with such length.

[up][up] While I agree in that visual novels and Kinetic Novels in particular are interesting as a literary medium, I think that VNs with choices can sometimes do creative things like Ever17, that may make them an even more interesting narrative medium.
संसार
There are plenty of good V Ns out there that aren't dating sims. I see no point in killing them off. If something isn't good, then it isn't good. If it manages to rise to prominence despite being a dating sim, it's quite likely worth reading anyway. Clannad, Kanon, Shuffle... Hell, even stuff like Sharin No Kuni or Ef Fairy Tale have dating sim elements.

One of my favorite V Ns, Utawarerumono, has basically none at all. Linear story, no choices, no bad ends. I almost wish it did have focus or the multiple endings a dating sim would introduce. More stories! Not quite, though, since I don't think Utawarerumono would actually work like that, but the point is there.

Maelstrom
Visual novels need to be more like novels. 'Nuff said.
 17 Kayeka, Tue, 8th Mar '11 11:30:20 PM from Amsterdam Relationship Status: Brony
World's biggest wannabe
No, not enough said. What do you mean by that?

edited 8th Mar '11 11:30:35 PM by Kayeka

Novels only get a single ending. I like to see how things could have gone differently.

I thought about my previous comment in the past day, and I start to think that was another too extreme stance.

Now, I think that:

Visual Novels need to be more like visual novels.

Let's face it: Visual Novels will not turn into a truly mainstream medium. No matter how novel-like, or game-like they would be, it is too foreign for the wider audiences anyways. Even if we would be the executives of various VN publisher companies, there would be no new revolutionary direction to discover new customers.

A medium can't turn into another medium, just to become more popular. TV has been taking away readers from novels for the better part of a century, but the times when the publishing industy showed growth were only those when interesting books were released, even with the old styles and the old tropes, not when more movie-like books were released.

The net has been killing printing press for a decade, but the remaining popular newspapers are not the most website-like, but the most interesting for it's readers.

If visual novels want to compete with novels, or games, or whatever, and increase their audience step by step, they just need to be interesting. Not "original", or "discussing universal themes", or "clean", or "game-like", just... good.

More pretty than Ef, more touching than CLANNAD, more horrifying than Saya no Uta, more exciting than Fate/stay night, and more clever than Ever17.

Of course, probably they will fail, and in a decade, the whole medium will disappear or stagnate, but who knows, maybe not. smile

edited 9th Mar '11 7:04:44 AM by EternalSeptember

it is too foreign for the wider audiences anyways

What, specifically, do you mean by this?
Maelstrom
I do not enjoy voices in my visual novels I do not enjoy non-NVL format in my visual novels I do not enjoy more animation than necessary (don't blink, you stupid character sprites) and I do not enjoy non-text, medium-crossing hybridization in my visual novels.

I'm fine with lots of choices and endings, just not with the above. That's what I meant by "Visual novels need to be more like novels" statement.

I do like lots of pretty C Gs though.
[up][up] Nothing like "bakagaijins don't appreciate True Art", now that I re-read it, it came out a bit wrong.

I just meant what I described later, that a whole medium can't suddenly become more accepted with some sort of tricky change in design, but only if good works can first amaze the audiences who already liked it's traditional ways, then they can start turning casual audiences into hardcore audiences, and the newly converted hardcores can turn non-audiences into casual audiences, but there is a limit to that.

People won't just say "Hmm, it looks like V Ns have mainstream stories and absolutely no porn, so I should start reading them". There is an inherent barrier to reading something in a completely new form, and people won't jump that barrier just because there is an innovative way of interactivity, or because it's about an original theme.

They will simply read it because "it's good", there is nothing we can strategically plan about that thing, we don't know where that thing comes from, just hope that the medium will get it's Shakespeare, it's Spielberg, it's it's Tezuka or it's Miyamoto: A creator who can find that thing in the public's mind that others can't.

Ah, gotcha. I thought you might have meant that, but wanted to be sure before I agreed with you.

And yeah, the thing it'll really take is a single VN or author that really launches the medium into public view, not a general trend in storytelling style.

edited 10th Mar '11 12:33:53 PM by INUH

Meh, I think it's not a matter of having one brilliant author so much as it is time for people to accept a new medium. People just don't like sitting down and reading on their computer instead of with their comfortable old books. I don't think it's just because the storys are geared towards young people that the only people playing V Ns happen to be those same young people.

If V Ns are still around in thirty or fifty years or whatever I expect them to be more mainstream. Not to the level of movies or anything, but still more acceptable among the average person.

 25 neobowman, Thu, 10th Mar '11 1:04:15 PM from Unidentified Proxy Relationship Status: Tsundere'ing
つ ◕_◕ ༽つ HELIX
^^^^ I don't really agree with you. I very much enjoy those aspects of a VN and think it make it unique. I actually wish the protagonist would be voiced for V Ns instead of being mute.

I wish they would make more V Ns for portable systems. That would be more like a book.

Total posts: 33
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