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Visual Novel
aka: Visual Novels

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The term "Visual Novel" refers to a Video Game genre that is characterized by a very strong emphasis on a text-based story over gameplay, to the degree that most-to-all of the game is simply the player pressing a button or clicking to advance the text. This can make playing the game feel like reading a book, hence the term "visual novel". As a result of their text-heavy nature (as opposed to real-time cutscenes), they use the narrative style of Literature. note  They strongly emphasize plot, writing and characterization, rather than gameplay, like Interactive Fiction and more so than Adventure Games.

The majority of visual novels tend to focus on non-linear Story Branching plots with Multiple Endings and often a Choice-and-Consequence System. Because of this, they can be seen as a digital evolution of Gamebooks (think CYOA); however, because they are digital and don't suffer from physical limitations, they are free to make use of things you can't find in novels or Gamebooks. These can include a plethora of visuals (such as sprites, 3D models, a HUD and background art), an OST (many visual novels have critically acclaimed ones), voice acting (which has become the norm in recent times), and in some cases, a lot of story branching influence (which Gamebooks were limited in due to them being tangible).

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It's difficult to draw boundaries for the genre, as there's no real consensus on exactly how much gameplay a visual novel can have before it is no longer considered one. 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 which often gives the player interactive puzzles, the Zero Escape series which often gives the player playable escape rooms, and the Danganronpa series which has playable rhythm game-like minigames.note  On the other side of the scale are Kinetic Novels; visual novels with no choices and no gameplay at all (besides simply clicking to advance the text), such as the When They Cry series.

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Because they are still video games, the fact that many of them tell well-written, compelling stories that some liken to the quality of actual literature can be easily overlooked. Many visual novels are restricted to Japanese markets, but games such as Hotel Dusk: Room 215 and Jake Hunter, as well as the Zero Escape, Danganronpa and Ace Attorney series, have popularized the genre internationally. 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 that have been ignored by official localizers get translated by dedicated fans. Many of the ones 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. In fact, many professional translators started out as fan translators over the past 10 years.

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.

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. The reverse is also true; acclaimed visual novels have been made into anime, as is the case with Ace Attorney and Danganronpa for instance.

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". 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 as virtually all visual novels have their own soundtracks anyway (and use it to augment their storytelling).

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 contain 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 Western games that seem to be strongly influenced by visual novels (with the main distinction being that they tell their story via real-time cutscenes instead of text you click to advance), 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, though many developers are shifting towards the use of Unity's Naninovel.

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 from 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.

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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