Visual Novels are a type of video game that originated from Japan. Since then they have become a global phenomenon, with writers in just about every country of the world that now create these writing masterpieces. For the purposes of this website, however, we will automatically assume that visual novels are all Japanese unless otherwise stated.
The easiest way to explain what a visual novel: a novella with visuals and sound. There are many different varieties and are as expansive as written books, sprawling across different mediums and platforms. They are commonly released for the computer, but they have expanded to often be released on major consoles, primarily Playstation. The current popular device for visual novels is the Playstation Vita, but this is hardly inclusive.
While they are best describes as novellas, many of them possess video game like aspects. There are two main types of visual novels. Those that are straight novels, and the second are those that play similar to “choose-your-path” novellas. Throughout the game you are presented with choices that will impact the ending of the game. Many visual novels have at least two endings, but the most expansive games can include more than four (I’ve once played a game that had twenty different endings). These endings can be failures and are called “Bad Ends”, while there are also “Good Ends” and “Best Ends.”
Visual Novels span across genres and as varied as books themselves. The most popular Visual Novels tend to be dating simulations, and the storyline paths reflect getting the girl or not getting the girl. And within this category, hentai, or “erotica” for us non-Japanese, is the most popular (yes, complete with full visuals).
Game lengths vary. Like video games there is no standard on the amount of hours of gameplay. Many Visual Novels can be as short as a few hours, while many of the larger varieties span anywhere from fifty to sixty hours.
The market for these Visual Novels currently is growing, I’m very happy to report. Eight years ago it was all-but-impossible to get these fantastic games. You would have to purchase the game from Japan, and hope that someone had created a translation patch that you would then have to install. And these translation patches were often done by fans. Fortunately many of these translation-parties have grouped together and have become official companies, such as Sekai Project. Other video game companies, such as Aksys Games, have taken up the initiative to bring these games over. There is a small selection of Visual Novels available in gaming stores, while most exist on Steam. For the more Adult material there are other companies such as MangaGamer.com (seriously, 18+ only!!).
Sadly, the industry is still not where I would like it to be for this wonderful medium. Many translation projects are forced to campaign on Kickstarter. But I will personally celebrate the enormous strides that have been accomplished over the last handful of years.
I fully intend to do Visual Novel reviews on this blog. I will always do everything I can to post “how/where to purchase.” I will also post links to any Kickstarter projects. I have been a contributor in the past, and am an active campaigner for one particular visual novel (and even know the Project Lead). So, it seems only fitting that I will lead with it as my first review. Please look forward to my upcoming visual novel review for Narcissu, available on Steam for FREE.