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Focus on the Frightful: Visual Novels

When I was younger I used to really love Choose-Your-Own-Adventure novels. I probably don’t need to explain them but just in case here’s a quick rundown. You’d start the story in chapter one and every so often in the story’s progression, there would be a choice and a page number for each choice. You would puck your choice, flip to that page, and find out what happens. It can either continue the story or meet an untimely end. Then you can flip back to your previous page and choose again.

Since they were geared for kids the ‘horror’ ones were usually a mix of fantasy/spookiness. And they were fun. I was really surprised what with e-books able to carry hyper-links that they would become popular again. Admittedly, they might be since I’m not exactly up on what the kids are reading these days.

As everyone within shouting and tweeting distance knows by now, I love games. Visual Novels sit on the line between game and, well, visual novel. In spirit, they are closer to the CYOA books but a lot of times with a markedly more mature aim in mind.

I really enjoy playing visual novels from time to time. When done well the story can be really well done and the interactive elements are engaging. One of my favourite games of all time is Doki Doki: Literature Club (if you’d like to check out my Focus on the Frightful about it you can check it out here) which is technically a visual novel style of game but it also had enough interactivity to make it feel like I was involved. It also has one mind-bender of a story to it.

However, I have run across some that are very low effort. Generic art style, low effort story, and choices at random intervals that don’t have much bearing on the story. Such as one called Summer Nightmare. Which I thought I reviewed here but I probably decided it wasn’t worth the time, ultimately. It feels kind of mean picking on a free game but…Doki Doki was free, too.

The title looks pretty cool but the story wasn’t translated very well which led to some unnecessarily confusing moments. The art style felt like it was trying to copy Corpse Party but the characters were bland so you don’t really care if your choices affect them or not. Some screens were obviously just recolored slightly to fit a choice. Such as one with a girl who’s eyes have been cut out by the Medusa. You can literally see the open, bloody eyes underneath the red splashed over them.

Another visual novel that I’ve finished recently is Death Mark (review to come!). I enjoyed it quite a lot. Interactivity is key when it comes to visual novels. If there’s too much then it’s no longer relaxing enough to read/play at your leisure. On he other hand, too little and it’s just a novel with pretty pictures. There are no stakes, no choices and no consequences to your choices which makes for a pretty dull time.

Until Dawn and Supermassive’s follow-up The Dark Pictures Anthology: Man of Medan balance this quite nicely. The games are very story heavy and choice base but there are also QTEs and areas where you have to make fast choices and hope you did the right thing. There’s no going back or reloading to give it another try. You’re stuck with your mistakes.

That’s why I think visual novels are underrated quite a bit. Yes, if you’re looking for a more involved game then you’re not going to like it but since most of them are clearly marked as visual novels it seems really odd that you would complain about it after knowing what it was tagged as. Of course, there will be the off one that stuffs its tags with as many of the popular genre tags to get it noticed more. Which really does not work in the creator’s favour. Yes, you might get a lot of notice at first but it will work against you since you’re essentially tricking the player into playing something they weren’t looking for. Fortunately, this is fairly rare and a quick look at the reviews will generally give you a good idea.

What are your thoughts on visual novels? Do you like them? Hate them? Never think of them? Let me know!

Published inFocus on the Frightful

One Comment

  1. Back in my wargaming days, there was a sci-fi adventure game called “Voyage of the B.M.S. Pandora,” about being a member of a xenobiological survey expedition, in which much of the action depending on which of 100+ paragraphs you ended up picking. Similar idea.

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