Visual Novels are a relatively new medium. They are sometimes categorized as a genre of Video Games, as they are software-based, but given that the relationship ends here, they could also be considered another, independent medium of interactive fiction.
Some of their tropes are shared with Anime, mostly because Visual Novels are one of the three main adaptation sources for them, next to Manga and Light Novels. See also Interactive Storytelling Tropes.
Plot Tropes:These are the unique cornerstones of Visual Novel storytelling that could theoretically happen in any medium, but for certain reasons, this format especially encourages them:
- All Anime Is Naughty Tentacles
A lot of people who aren't VN fans tend to assume that all visual novels are eroge. This was the case in the '00s, but more all-ages games and Bleached Underpants versions of adult games are more widely available in official versions.
- Bottle Episode
Because VNs often lack the budget for a large number of sprites and backdrops, they tend to be contained to a relatively small geographic area, where the same places and characters can show up repeatedly.
It is common for these games to be very long and complex. Normal time for these games are around a full day or two, but several games can go upwards of three days of straight playing.
- Earn Your Happy Ending
The more grimdark some Bad Ends can be, the more W.A.F.F. you can expect from the True End.
The genre of Visual Novels that have graphic sex scenes (regardless of their amount or significance in the work.)
- Faux Symbolism
A common feature of VNs labelled as chuunige (Chuunibyou games).
- Featureless Plane of Disembodied Dialogue
Often done deliberately, with passages displayed without context and/or background graphics in order to add mystery or emphasise that a character is thinking deeply.
- Featureless Protagonist
Not showing the protagonist's face is an old tradition in the medium, even in cases, where, unlike the rest of the trope's examples, he does have a personality.
- For Want of a Nail
Usually, totally different routes can be started by picking up a slightly different choice in the same decision.
- Golden Ending
From the Multiple Endings tradition. Usually known as 'Good End' or 'True End'. Many times it can only be achieved after going through many Bad Ends.
- "Groundhog Day" Loop
With Story Branching and For Want of a Nail being such common aspects of gameplay, a number of visual novels integrate it into the narrative by having events literally repeat themselves.
- Harem Genre
This setup commonly happens, but it's less prominent than in Harem Anime, because you can focus on one girl early on. It has a higher chance of showing up in a Golden Ending (to avoid Fridge Horror), or in sequels and adaptations (as a consequence of Merging the Branches).
- How We Got Here
An extremely common way of starting the story, a few days into the future.
- Jigsaw Puzzle Plot
Known in the fandom as Multiple Route Mystery
- Ordinary High-School Student
The most common protagonist type.
- Porn Without Plot
This subgenre of trashy, plotless eroge exists, but they are less likely to get English fan translations.
- Porn with Plot
These sort of eroge are more likely to get an English translation and get known outside Japan.
- Prolonged Prologue
Many visual novels have a sedate first act which simply establishes the protagonist's life before the main plot kicks off. Sometimes this also ties into a front-loaded version of Story Branching, where innocuous choices during the prologue determine which route the player is placed on. On a larger scale, it's common for early routes (or even entire entries in a series) to double as a way of setting the scene before a Genre Shift.
- Renai Game
Romantic stories, one of the main genres.
- Romantic Wingman
A Stock Character in romance VNs - a (usually male) Extraverted Nerd classmate who befriends the protagonist at the start of the story and exposits about the various girls in school. May or may not be actually trying to help the protagonist find love, and even when described as a Best Friend will usually fade into the background once they run out of information to offer.
A genre name, meaning "Depressing game", usually based on romantic plots.
Interactivity Tropes:These are the tropes that the medium shares with video games, originating from the choices that the player can make during the story:
- But Thou Must!
Things that look like choices but actually enforce a certain direction.
- Cruelty Is the Only Option
A side effect of the Utsuge Harem genre, where you must ignore the tragedies of every other heroine to solve the chosen route.
- Cutting Off the Branches
Usually sequels follow the True End of the original story (see below).
- Dialogue Tree
It's practically a staple, except for minor subversions and aversions.
- Earn Your Bad Ending
The Bad End requires a surprising amount of extra effort to reach.
- Event Flag
Without this, the game would be a Kinetic Novel. Many decisions are supposed to affect the outcome, but it is so infamous in the games that it is a Memetic Mutation ("Whoops, he made the wrong choice! He set off a Death Flag!)
- Guide Dang It!
In some VNs, reaching certain routes may require strange actions such as switching focus between two characters to catch the attention of a third, or playing through an already-completed route in order to access a choice which wasn't there the first time.
- Multiple Endings
Bad End, Good End, True End, and Normal End are most commonly used names for them.
- Optional Sexual Encounter
The entire point of Eroge routes
- Story Branching
The story changes depending on the player's choices in a given playthrough. Usually this takes the form of a shared prologue followed by a split into three or more "routes" with completely divergent stories, some of which may even act as sequels to others. Most VNs allow the player to fast-forward or skip parts of the story they've already seen, in order to get to the branching points more quickly.
- Story Branch Favoritism
There are multiple story branches but one is better developed by the creator than others.
- Story Branch Favoritism
Multimedia Tropes:These are common aspects of a visual novel's art and music:
- Art Shift
While regular scenes are created by placing sprites on top of a background, Money-Making Shots receive "event CGs" which are drawn (or often painted) as a single unit.
- Battle of the Still Frames
Still images are used to depict action scenes with the aid of dramatic camera effects.
- Blinding Bangs
When the story features a male Featureless Protagonist, he will usually have bangs which obscure his face in shadow. Sometimes Played With by introducing the protagonist as a forgettable person with an obscured face, and switching to a visible face when their Hidden Depths are revealed.
- Clip-Art Animation
Prominent characters usually have portrait sprites placed on top of a background - these may be moved around to suggest actions, particularly in humorous scenes.
- Concept Art Gallery
Many visual novels feature a gallery that fills up with event CGs (and videos, if present) as you view them in-game, doubling as an indicator of the player's progress through the available content.
- Full Motion Video
Higher-budget visual novels sometimes include animated cutscenes at important moments or as opening sequences when the player enters a route.
- The Ghost
Due to time and budget limitations, minor characters tend not to show up in artwork. They may sometimes receive a proper character design in an Updated Re-release.
- GIS Syndrome
Low-budget visual novels (which is a lot of them) often use blurred photos as backgrounds.
- Hit Flash
Impacts are often depicted by making the screen flash.
- Impairment Shot
Using corrupted text or fading the screen in and out to indicate that the protagonist's consciousness is slipping.
- Real-Place Background
When the backgrounds in a visual novel aren't just blurred photos, they'll often be based on a real place.
- Screen Shake
One of the ways visual novels can make a scene more dynamic - either shaking the whole screen for a moment, or shaking the background while keeping the text static.
Adaptation Tropes:Due to their unique narrative structure, plot, and interactive nature, the adaptions of Visual Novels also have their recognizable quirks:
- Anime of the Game
Usually adaptions are focusing on one route, and importing minor parts of other routes into it.
- Bleached Underpants
Many anime adaptions can cut out not just the graphical sex scenes, but even the implication of sex, without heavily changing the plot. Also applies to many localized versions of the VNs themselves.
- Visual Novel Shot
A visual clue about the nature of the original source, in an anime adaptation.