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.
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.
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.
Did you like this post? Tell us