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Visual novels are having a Moment

We’ve written before about visual novels here before, but in the year since that last post the genre has been in a renaissance. Games like Doki Doki Literature Club have been playing with the structure of the genre, developers like Aether Interactive have been pushing the standards of writing forward, and The Worst Girls and Pillow Fight teamed up to master presentation. Now more than ever is visual novel community’s time to shine.

Historically visual novels were niche products rarely officially released outside of Japan. The scene was bolstered by fan translation and piracy, but with the rise of digital storefronts legitimate copies became available and customers responded with huge piles of cash. The demographics of visual novel development are also shifting. While Japanese developers still produce a huge number of entries in the genre each year, western developers are showing up in force. In fact, all of the games I mentioned above are developed in the west.

Doki Doki Literature Club

But what do the demographics of game development have to do with the rising tide of visual novels? Visual novels have comparatively simple creation tools, which allows for a more diverse developer pool and by extension: more diverse and interesting games. One of the highest rated visual novels of all time is the IGF Award winning queer sex comedy Ladykiller in a Bind, and some of our favorite VNs that we’ve featured on our blog are unflinchingly queer. What was once a genre centered around erotica has expanded to include more people than ever.

With this democratization of visual novels has come more thoughtful design. Sure there are still games where you click to advance text along a set path but outside mechanical influences are starting to crop up inside of VNs to great effect. The aforementioned Doki Doki Literature Club is [spoilers] advanced by accessing and deleting files on your pc, and Ladykiller in a Bind has a Metal Gear Solid inspired detection system for conversation.

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The future of visual novels is also bright. With the genre’s explosion in popularity over the past few years there are more people working with visual novels than ever before. Budgets are expanding, developers are taking more risks, and critical respect for the form is improving. Recent years have felt like the beginnings of a new world for visual novels and I can’t wait to see where things grow from here.

Interested in catching up on visual novels? Check out every game tagged as a visual novel here.

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(+3)

About a decade ago, there was basically no such thing as "English visual novels", much less the notion that they could make money and even become successful. Now, thankfully, it seems every year we step closer and closer to becoming much more recognizable rather than the tiny niche we started from, and I also can't wait to see the field grow.

(+1)

I like the fact that now I can get decent/official translations of VNs on legitimate store fronts on top of the fact that we have western written ones as well.

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A bit over a decade ago there was Sprung (Ubisoft, 2004), which was intended to be a "western dating sim." It was a huge commercial failure, but it did at least get some people interested in the genre who otherwise wouldn't have been.

This was, incidentally, the first commercial game I worked on, so while I have very mixed feelings about it as a game, it holds a soft spot in my heart.

(+1)

This trend has made me feel much more secure on working on my current gamedev project, which is an Interactive Fiction/Visual Novel game made in Twine. Until recently, I did not think such games would be successful in the modern game space.

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