A visual novel is a medium of storytelling that uses the narrative style of a Choose Your Own in a digital format. VNs as a medium fit snugly between manga, games and anime with detailed storytelling, great graphics and multiple endings. It could technically be called a video game but the graphics are often static and more emphasis is laid on the plot rather than the action scenes. Available on multiple consoles, the most popular ones have been adapted into manga, anime or light novels.
Most VNs have multiple storylines called ‘paths’ and multiple endings depending on the choices a player makes during the game. Each path reveals only a certain aspect of the story line and a game is only considered complete if all the paths are uncovered in multiple playthroughs. Gameplay is generally long for Japanese VNs, the shorter ones like Fate/Stay Night averaging around 50 hours but a large number of save slots and the ability to skip through the game hastens the process of gameplay and enables the player to explore the entire storyline.
There is a small but growing number of English Visual Novels usually developed by independent developers. They are generally shorter than the Japanese ones, but there are several critically acclaimed ones like Analouge: A Hate story.
Dating Sims are a sub-genre of Visual Novels wherein each path is tied to a specific character that the player can try to win over. Though they are often confused for Romance games, dating sims are completely different with several technical elements and statistics like an attraction meter. They are marketed towards a specific gender, with a male-oriented game having a host of female love interests and vice versa.
Most Japanese Visual Novels never get an official release outside Japan but this is slowly beginning to change with companies such as MangaGamer and JAST licensing more and more visual novels. There is also a small but dedicated army of fan translators bringing these hidden gems to fans worldwide.
Though complicated in the beginning, Visual Novels provide an enriching experience through brilliant graphics, memorable characters and a well-thought out storyline.
Steins;Gate Set in Akihabara, Tokyo, the story follows self proclaimed mad scientist Okabe Rintarou who ends up creating a time machine using a mobile phone and a microwave and must travel back and forth in time to foil the plans of a worldwide nexus to take over the world. Was originally released as a manga while the game was in development, and subsequently was adapted into an anime series as well.
Don’t take it personally babe, it just ain’t your story is a critically acclaimed English visual novel. It is the story of a substitute school teacher set sometime in the future. Best of all, it is free to play!
One of the most popular Japanese Visual Novels, Fate Stay Night is the story of a young, untalented Magus, Shirou Emiya must fight against six other Magi in the Holy Grail War. The epic animation and storyline make it worth it. But be warned the game has some H-scenes. FSN has been adapted into multiple anime and a manga too.
Spanning over eleven different paths and with over 300 hundred hours of gameplay, Clannad can seem intimidating to some. But it is truly a masterpiece that will stand the test of time with its emotional storyline and wonderfully fleshed out characters. Clannad has been adapted into various media, including drama CDs, internet radio shows, manga and anime.