Perhaps one of the most frustrating things might be ranting about something that you are really excited about and really ‘into’, but everyone else seemingly staring at you from afar with deadpan looks and not really understanding what you’re talking about or what you’re all excited about…
It’s really amazing how much people don’t seem to know about Visual Novels despite how amazingly comedic they are, soothing they are, catching they are, and of course how many hours they are.
Of course, people be asking: What is a Visual Novel?
A Novel, is well… A novel. A visual novel, is a novel with visuals, i.e. graphics. Just slap some shoddy texts, character sprites and done! Visual novel.
Anyone could make one, just whether it’ll be worth reading…
Of course, I can see you over there, fist to your chin, scowing at me. What’s the point of visuals in a novel, when you can watch it animated. In HD pixel perfect HIGH QUALITY with your favourite seiyuus slash voice actresses/actors.
Surely, it’s not for the R18 hentai content? Reader squints accusingly.
The thing is, not all the anime you see produced and released are all the awesome Japanese products you have. No, Fate Stay Night is an anime. But it was also a visual novel for the longest time. And the popular anime Grisaia that you’re seeing the top list? Yes, that was also from a visual novel. What about the emotional works of Clannad? Yes, that was from a visual novel as well. That sci-fi classic Steins;Gate that everyone’s rocking on about? Yes, a visual novel too.
You see, the thing is, most of the products that the anime community knows about is Anime, or Manga. Rare are the few that seek out more wordy, more text-filled, visual novels or light novels that would take up more book-reading skills and time.
I guess it’s only if you’re as bookwormish (as me) or if you have that intense passion for that anime product that you might look into the source of the anime. And realise that it came from either a visual novel or light novel. Then enter a certain famous popular bookstore from Japan and start looting all the light novels/manga related to it. Or fly to Japan and start throwing money at anime merchandise stores.
Perhaps Persona 5 released in English might have introduced some people to the Visual Novel genre. Or the late Fuwanovel as it was for me…
Whichever the case, let’s dwelve into what makes a Visual Novel so Visual Novelish.
With Visual Novels, we are presented with chocies to select. Of course, in some cases the choices don’t do anything. But in other cases, the choices are everything.
I can see your 0w0 face right there.
Example: Rewrite. The anime shows a mismash of routes, but in actuality you are offered one crucial crossroad, two which become three choices. Side with this side, or the other side, or cannot decide. Each decides on the story you see for that playthrough. To read the other routes, select a different choice.
This is a choice common in almost all visual novels, and definitely all romance visual novels. Select: Girl A, Girl B, Girl C. In some visual novels, you choose who to spend time with by clicking on the girl’s location in the minimap.
Example: Da Capo III. During break time, you choose which part of the school to go and you will meet the girl and boost your ‘points’ with that character. At the end, there will be a checkpoint that calculates which girl you have highest affection points with, and you enter that character’s route.
Now, there are also exceptions. Visual Novels with text and graphics but without choices are called Kinetic Novels. These are the ones that have only one storyline and one path. No choice for you but to play it through single-directionally.
Example: Umineko: When They Cry. Umineko adopts an episode by episode playthrough approach. The story plays out, and there are no choices for you.
More exceptions – when the choices mean nothing.
Sometimes choices do nothing… but give you a false impression that you have the autonomy of choice. Whichever you choose doesn’t change a thing, so choose whichever you think you would say.
Example: Toram Online. Since the game has to proceed it about the same way, the texts may change slightly but the game story still goes in the same direction.
If you think that the Japanese give you to many choices, just close your eyes and pick. Sometimes, it’s just for flavor, since different people may say different things to each situation. There’s no one correct choice, or is there?
Of course with all that, seems like fun to click and choose whether you want to insult people or praise them. But choices are not the make all or end all of visual novels. Another common aspect is minigame.
So, visual novels are just text and character images slapped together! That’s all right?
Some visual novels add minigames. Dungeon crawlers, battle, shooting, or of these add additional interactivity to an otherwise monotous or boring story.
Example: Little Busters EX. Saya’s Route uses gunshooting, a simple aim and shoot within a time limit game. Also, it is a dungeon crawler as you get to explore the dungeon floors in search for Saya’s treasure.
So, choices, minigames, what else? Well of course, as you, reader have accused me of, and what Visual Novels are most well known for, are their Hentai content! R18 content! Embarrassingly nude scenes! Scandolous intertwined bodies!
The main draw for Visual Novel fans. For those who want to eat up cute 2D characters.
If Anime is known for its fanservice, beware, cause Visual Novels take it up a notch.
Sex scenes, to put it bluntly.
In fact, there’s a type of Visual Novels that specialise in sex content and the story is just a convenient one thrown in. It’s called Nukige. If Eroge means a visual novel with sex content, Nukige means a sex content visual novel with a story as a side. See the difference?
Example: Ultimate Boob Wars! A nukige and the title says it all too! Usually I don’t expect much from Nukiges of this kind since they are meant to get you off is all, but this one surprised me a little with a relatively okay story.
So plot aside, there are also other things.
And Other Things
A Visual Novel is a genre that rarely goes appreciated. As mentioned before, most of the time it is more convenient to watch an animated show rather then click throught text and read a story with added graphics. Another aspect of this is time. Some visual novels are very very long, such as Clannad, which could span more than 50 hours, while others can be very short, such as most Nukige which they manufacture in large quanities but short play time because there isn’t much story and to maximise their buck. Indie visual novels are also known for being relatively short because good content is difficult to create without funding.
To know a Visual Novel is to know its CG. CG, or Computer Graphics is a graphic that fills the screen. Most of the time while playing a visual novel you will notice that there is a textbox that fills the bottom of the screen, and a character sprite, an image of the character only from the waist up. This character sprite changes in expressions, but mostly remains the same few expressions. This saves artist budget for the producer and makes making a Visual Novel more cost effective than making an anime.
However, along the way, the reader may become bored of reading. Visual Novels show a full-screen computer graphic or CG to ‘change it up’ a little and add greater detail to the story. In most cases, the background graphic remains the same for that location, and character sprites remain about the same, so a CG could show a change in angle and make the scene look more 3D, or introduce greater detail of the room or situation.
Of course, this is also where Indie VN developers are stumped and need to scramble together a budget for artistst to draw CG, or draw them themselves.
Example: Death Note Doujin: Poisoned. Akane does a good job drawing, coding and writing a good story all by herself. What love for a fandom can drive you to do. UwU
Whether visual novels become a thing in the West is as good a guess for anyone, since visual novels are hard to procure, and although there are official English translations of VNs through Mangagamer, a vast majority of VNs are fan-translated, if not, not translated at all. Visual Novels are also an extra hassle of reading a story over watching an anime, so may not draw most anime fans.
However, for the anime fan who also loves to read, I really recommend checking the sources of your favourite anime, and discovering these ‘hidden’ gems. What may have been adapted to an anime may have scenes cut out, parts stitched together to fit into the anime budget. But the story that unfolds in a visual novel or light novel is unabridged, and sets a proper atmosphere and mood as with any other story book.
I wish you the greatest enjoyment in visual novels!