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Visual Novel

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Visual novels are a medium using the narrative style of Literature, but in a digital format that could technically be considered a Video Game. note  They tend to put more emphasis on the plot and on characterization, rather than on action scenes, like Interactive Fiction and more so than Adventure Games. Visual novels are effectively seen as a digital evolution of Gamebooks, with music, pictures, and occasionally even voice acting or movies. However, unlike most Gamebooks, 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 often embedded within the plot in order to advance the storyline(s).


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.note  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 focus on non-linear Story Branching plots with Multiple Endings and often a Choice-and-Consequence System.


Because they are treated as games, the fact that many of them tell well-written, compelling stories can be easily overlooked. Many visual novels are restricted to Japanese markets, but games such as Hotel Dusk: Room 215, Jake Hunter, the Zero Escape series, the Ace Attorney series and the Danganronpa series have popularized the genre internationally.

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.

Visual novels that are also eroge tend to tie every storyline to a specific romanceable character, a habit which has carried over to much of the rest of the medium. Visual novels that are 95% porn to 5% plot fall under the sub-genre of "nukige".

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, JAST, Sekai Project, and Neko Nyan licensing more and more visual novels. Some 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. That being said, a majority of visual novels being translated and released now tend to have a professional translation, as more dedicated translation companies appear. Many famous fan translators have also become professionals over the past 10 years.

Before The New '10s, most visual novels that did get localized suffered from the same problems that anime in the early '90s did: the localizers seemed to prefer to import the most sexual and/or violent titles. However, with the advent of Steam, its Greenlight program, and crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter (all of which have also aided the revival of Western adventure gaming), the number and availability of visual novels outside Japan have been steadily expanding. Since Steam disallowed explicit sexual content till 2018, the games available there were mostly either "clean" versions of explicit games or games without any explicit content in the first place.

Within Japan, visual novels make up around 70 percent of the PC gaming market, according to The Other Wiki, but are divided into two different categories: the VN (Visual Novel) proper, which contains little to no gameplay other than decision-making, and the ADV (Adventure) game, which contain puzzles or other forms of gameplay (the form most Western tropers are familiar with, such as Ace Attorney or Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors).

There is also a small but growing number of English-developed visual novels, generally created by indie developers and not distributed 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; many of these have come to be classified as Environmental Narrative Games. A lot of Western-produced VNs are developed in the popular Ren'Py Game Maker.

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. A lot of people also think that all VNs are eroge, similar in many ways to the belief that all anime is Hentai. Some of the games that do make it across the border, like Time Hollow, have been decried by reviewers for having "no gameplay", which to a fan of VNs is Comically Missing the Point.

VNDB is a database dedicated to visual novels, in the vein of IMDB. It also lists any existing translation a novel may have.

A related term to visual novel is "sound novel", which was originally used by Chunsoft for their visual novels, as they relied on sound in order to help convey the story. Today, however, the two terms are considered to be readily interchangeable.

See Visual Novel Tropes. If you want to take a crack at creating one of your own, we've got you covered.

Visual Novels are not to be confused with Light Novels (see page for more information).

Games in this medium:

Other examples of Visual Novels:

  • LemmaSoft is an English community dedicated to making visual novels, mostly freeware.
  • Morph E is designed to be a regularly updated Visual Novel with promises of playable installments later.

Alternative Title(s): Visual Novels


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