By Marcus Estrada
If you’re a fan of Kickstarter, IndieGogo, or other forms of crowdfunding then you’ve likely come across a handful of games describing themselves as “visual novels” or “dating sims”. Unfortunately, many gamers outside of Japan have never even heard of these genres before! It isn’t our fault – the genre has blossomed in Japan and failed to attract publisher attention until recently. Most big companies are frightened that western gamers aren’t ready for visual novels, although a few have proven otherwise in the past few years.
But what exactly are these visual novels? Looking at the name reveals a lot about them. They are games that are focused primarily on telling a story, like a novel. As per most video games, visuals are also included in the experience. Where they diverge from more “standard” gaming experiences is that oftentimes there is only minimal gameplay included. After all, if someone is telling you a story, they don’t usually expect you to interject. Players become engrossed in the tales, sometimes selecting decisions at specified points, and then sit back to let the story continue.
Those who are familiar with Choose Your Own Adventure Books may already be familiar with the concept. Visual novels may offer anywhere from a single choice to hundreds while playing, much like these gamebooks let you test out different story paths. Unlike tangible books, visual novels can make much greater use of player choice. In fact, some games of the genre offer massive branching paths that easily lead players to different resolutions over repeated plays.
What kind of stories do visual novels tell? Basically, the genre encompasses all types of stories. Romances are common, especially in the dating sim sub-genre, but there are also sci-fi tales and dramas. There are stories written in present day, while others are period pieces. Horror stories, detective tales, and practically anything else have representation in the visual novel world. Unfortunately for non-Japanese speakers, most of it is only available in Japanese. Only a few western publishers like Aksys Games and NIS America are working to localize visual novels for consoles and handhelds. Indie developers, on the other hand, are turning towards crowdfunding to fill the void of visual novels in the west.
Even though there is only a small sampling of the visual novel library available officially in English, there is already a large and rapidly growing fanbase for them. After all, anyone who loves a good story would feel right at home with some of the games! Even those that prefer more gameplay in their games is covered, mostly by dating sims. Although dating sims have a huge swath of dialogue and exposition, they typically include elements such as stat-raising and other aspects of strategic decision-making. With such a wide variety of games to be created, many are doing exactly that instead of waiting on possibilities of localized titles.
Independent developers are showcasing their visual novel ideas which are both steeped in Japanese tradition as well as breaking the mold. It seems every month there is at least one new visual novel seeking funding. The next time you see one, don’t just skip by in a confused hurry. Take a look at their page and see if their story ideas intrigue you. Visual novels might seem odd but they’re an excellent and underappreciated genre. Hopefully as more people are exposed to visual novels we will see more indie developers creating their own stories.
Now that you know a thing or two about visual novels you might very well want to catch up on the projects that have already been funded, as well as upcoming ones. You’re in luck as this was just the first of a new series of articles devoted to the world of visual novels! Keep an eye on Cliqist for many more posts about games from this fantastic genre.
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