Distinguishing Visual Novels: Part I – Introduction to Visual Novels

Something had been on my mind ever since I had been playing visual novels. There are some games where people called a “visual novel”, but for other people, they may not think it is. In VNDB, games such as the Ace Attorney series, 999 and even Blazblue are counted as visual novels, but are they really visual novels?

Before we dive into the question, a fundamental level of understanding on the medium is needed.

A visual novel is an interactive fiction game, featuring mostly static graphics, most often using anime-style art or occasionally live-action stills (and sometimes video footage).

The above is taken from wiki, and I believe it perfectly explains what visual novels are in a nutshell. Visual novels, mostly contain static anime artworks, with static backgrounds and the characters as a foreground. Stories are progressed mainly via text, with some CGs in between, and each of the character sprites had a multitude of character models, each model detailing different emotions accordingly to the plot. All the text; be it narration or dialogues, are all mostly shown on the bottom, though they are a few exceptions.

More on the term “interactive fiction”, some of these genre of games have the pure typical text interactive elements, yet some of them are purely graphical games, (mostly known as graphic adventure games) and they are even some which mixed both the text and graphical elements in one game. All these are known as “interactive fiction”, but for easier reference, I like to distinguish these types of games into “text adventure games” (for the purely text) and “graphical text adventure games” (for the text/graphics). The pure graphical games will be excluded as it is not relevant to the post, but if you want to know more, they are basically games without text, and is meant for players to immerse into the game’s world and settings through graphics alone. The PC game, Myst is a main example and you can check it out if you want.

For text adventure games, it is as it is, just pure text. Stories are delivered through text alone, and after reading the settings, you can control what you want your character to do by keying in the command. If you did some roleplaying before, chances are, that might be the closest similarity to it. As for the graphical text adventure games, these are the most common ones as of now, and some mainstream examples of this includes Ace Attorney, 999, Virtue: Last Reward and so on.

Back to the main topic at hand, how do we distinguish visual novels? It is indeed a difficult question. With the release of newer visual novels with certain “uniqueness” to them, it gets incredibly hard as a majority of these are visual novels/gameplays hybrids like Sengoku Rance, Utawarerumono, or even Kamidori Alchemy Meister. Even if they had gameplay elements, I can say without a doubt that all these are visual novels, yet I had a tough time trying to categorize games such as Ace Attorney or 999 as “visual novels”.

Visual novels had a much longer history then most originally thought and back then, the term “visual novel” didn’t even exist. I will end this post for now but in the next part, I will be sharing everyone the history of visual novels, to further understand these seemingly vague “games”, and in hope that we can better distinguish them.

Distinguishing Visual Novels
Distinguishing Visual Novels: Part I – Introduction to Visual Novels
Distinguishing Visual Novels: Part II – Origin of Visual Novels
Distinguishing Visual Novels: Part III – Deconstruction of Visual Novels
Distinguishing Visual Novels: Part IV – Differentiating Visual Novels from Games
Distinguishing Visual Novels: Bonus Part – Interviews

This entry was posted by Kai.

10 thoughts on “Distinguishing Visual Novels: Part I – Introduction to Visual Novels

  1. I’ll be interested to see where you go with this. I can’t say much here, since i’ve already shared my opinion, though I will agree that it’s incredibly difficult to classify some titles. At what point does it stop being a “Visual Novel with Gameplay Elements” and start being a “Video Game with Visual Novel Elements”? Maybe i’ll just borrow one of the lines I get from my course a lot: It’s all on a spectrum; there are some times where you can be certain, but everything else just blends together in the middle.

  2. Pingback: Distinguishing Visual Novels: Part II – Origin of Visual Novels | deluscar

  3. I guess I already shared my opinions by email, but if I have one thing to add it is that I think it’s best to focus on defining things in the way they will be most easily understood. If a gamer asks me about visual novels I won’t try to sell them as games I’ll sell them as novels. If an RPG gamer asks me about visual novels I’ll show them Ar Tonelico. If someone new to visual novels who doesn’t like all the sex asks me for a visual novel I won’t make any distinction between 999, Ever17 and say Clannad aside from the genre of their stories.

    Is it a visual novel? If you are looking for a visual novel and the title in question tells it’s story through a visual novel interface, I would call that a visual novel.

    • Sometimes, fans love to be technical, but indeed, it’s also good to have a loose enough definition for it to be easily understood. It depends on how intensifying one intends to categorize them, and honestly speaking, whether or not you are strict or loose on the categorizations, there are no right or wrong ways of going at it as well. Especially if you’re recommending such media to someone who isn’t even familiar with them, then indeed, having a loose outlook is indeed important.. or else you will be driving away potential VN fans.

  4. Pingback: Distinguishing Visual Novels: Part III – Deconstruction of Visual Novels | deluscar

  5. Pingback: Distinguishing Visual Novels: Part IV – Differentiating Visual Novels from Games | deluscar

  6. Pingback: Distinguishing Visual Novels | gareblogs

  7. Pingback: Visual Novel | Haochizuki (葉落ち月)

  8. Pingback: Visual Novel dla początkujących | Własny pokój

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