Recently, I came across a new kind of game that is presented in a format called a “visual novel.” It combines artwork, sound, animation, and story all in one, and can be of any genre. Visual novels originated from Japan, and are not as popular in the Western world because of a lot of stigma associated with them — especially due to games that have questionable mature content.
Here’s a really good video I came across on YouTube that talks about what visual novels actually are. (My description isn’t very good!)
I also came across two interesting articles (one and two!) that talk about the possibility of bringing visual novels as a video game “genre” to the West, as well as an article about the history behind the visual novel phenomenon in Japan.
I felt the need to write about my thoughts regarding visual novels and share them here on this blog because I think I have found a means of expressing myself artistically that I wasn’t really able to do before. I have been drawing for quite some time, and I wasn’t really sure where I was going with it. All I knew was that I liked drawing and that was that. I know that’s what should matter most, of course, but I feel like I’m in a slump where my artistic abilities aren’t up to speed with what I want to be able to draw/create. I think this is a matter of determination, willingness to learn more skills, and time (mostly the latter).
I have played through 3 visual novels already, and found them to be a lot of fun. One of them in particular, called “Ripples,” really touched me emotionally. It doesn’t have much of a video game-aspect to it in the sense that you interact with the characters to advance the story or play mini-games — but it does have voiced characters, music, and a really sweet story! (Apparently, this kind of game is called a “kinetic novel,” which is made in the same format as a visual novel except that it has no in-game choices and consists of a linear story). Check it out, I highly recommend it! The second visual novel I played was also by the same group that produced “Ripples.” It’s called Re:Alistair, and it’s a classic otome game in which the protagonist — whom you play as — can pursue various love interests throughout the story. These kinds of games are obviously geared towards a female audience, and they are also part of the stigma associated with visual novels in the West (they’re commonly known as “dating sims”). I found the story in Re:Alistair really funny, but I’m not sure if I played through it all the way properly because I didn’t come across any character relationships…? I think I’ll play it again it some point… maybe I missed something!
And lastly, the third visual novel I played through (mostly reading, but there was some game interaction!) was based off of one of Arther Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories, called “The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton.” The appearances of Sherlock and Dr. Watson in the game look much like the BBC’s Sherlock cast, Benedict Cumberbatch (as Sherlock) and Martin Freeman (as Dr. Watson). Despite this, the artwork was beautifully done, as were the choices you could pick from in-game to influence the outcome of the story. I haven’t read the original story either, so it was quite exciting to play it! If you’re interested in this visual novel as well, check it out here! (To download the game, click on the blue link on the right hand side titled “Download File.” You’ll need a program like 7Zip to be able to extract it from the .rar file.)
Although I don’t really condone Wikipedia as a source for reliable information, I think the page about visual novels is actually quite informative and has various sources to books and articles about visual novels as well.
It turns out that it is indeed possible to make visual novel games without having extensive knowledge of programming (something that I really lack, haha!). There are pieces of software called visual novel engines you can install on your computer, learn how to use, and essentially make visual novel games with. I’ve done quite a bit of research on the best engines for beginners already. So far, I found two highly praised engines: Ren’py and Novelty. Other engines include Belle, BASSnovel, WebStory Engine, and StoryEngine. These engines are all in English; however, there are some that are in Japanese only, such as KiriKiri and TyranoScript. I did come across a translation group that was working on producing an English version of the KiriKiri engine, but I don’t know if they stopped working on it or not. (Their website hasn’t been updated recently.)
I would like to someday make my own visual novel with a story, characters, and game play. Finding “Ripples” was really inspiring!