Distinguishing Visual Novels: Part IV – Differentiating Visual Novels from Games

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Visual novels are incredibly vast, and we had talked about this vastness in detail in the last post; a breakdown of all the different terms that are related to visual novels. We will finally get to the main point mentioned from the very first post, distinguishing “genuine visual novels” from “games that resemble visual novels”.

Indeed, heavy dialogue is one of the few feature of visual novels, but I feel it is wrong to just assume every seemingly heavy text games as visual novels. Although difficult to do so, we can still distinguish them using certain elements, and in my case, it is the presence of sex, the studio which develop them, and last but not least, the context.


As mentioned here, visuals novels were literally sex games back in the day and still rings true in the present day with the presence of nukiges. Sex plays a big part in visual novels and even for the “tamer” and more standard visual novels, there will still be sex scenes anyway, although lesser compared to the more hardcore nukiges. Even all-ages visual novels like Little Busters and Kanon had their own separate adult editions respectively.

Either way, despite the very few collection of all-ages visual novels, the ones with erotic scenes made up of the majority of all the visual novels. It’s almost unthinkable for new visual novels to go without such scenes in them. I guess it just goes to show that sex sells, and is ironically one unique feature which can be found in most visual novels.


Another way we can distinguish visual novels is, aforementioned, to check the developer behind the games. It is important to see whether or not a studio is a genuine “adult” video game developer. Capcom for example, who developed the Ace Attorney games are akin to visual novels due to it’s dialogue-heavy element, but Capcom isn’t even an eroge developer. They are more of a mainstream games developer, and one of their popular mainstream series, Ace Attorney, just ended up resembling visual novels.

VNDB even listed games like Blazblue as a visual novel, which in my opinion, although a great fighting game, I can’t see it as a visual novel. However, there are also lot of visual novels which implement elements of gameplays, and this makes it especially hard to separate them from normal video games. Kamidori Alchemy Meister, is an excellent example of a visual novel + SRPG hybrid, while visual novels like the Rance and Big Bang Age by Alicesoft are other few great examples of visual novels + games hybrid. They have one thing in common however, sex, so the previous argument comes into play as well. Having sexual and erotic scenes is a good visual novel identification and evidently, Blazblue doesn’t has any of such scenes.


Context of the said visual novel plays a big role in the identification process as well. Visual novels *mostly* contain sex scenes, this means a certain element is mostly present as well – romance. It can be any forms of love, ranging from pure love to forbidden love, from forbidden love to twisted love – love will be present, in one way or the other. The focus of the story will thus shift to the heroine, and the gradually-changing relationship between the protagonist and the heroine. Most games tend to be more plot-focused, shifting the focus on the plot while the romance side will usually take a step back into the background – even if they are present, they will usually only be present as subtext. Although this doesn’t technically apply to all games, it’s still a method to be considered when distinguishing visual novels from games.

Multiple routes focusing on different heroines is also a key element. I’m not just talking about a story with different endings, similar to some games like 999 and Dangan Ronpa possessing multiple endings and outcomes, but with different branching points in the plot which may allow the player to end up with different heroines depending on the choice. Different branching points also mean the visual novel will start to heavily focus on both the characterization and romance progression on that particular heroine you had chosen. Sometimes, depending on the choice, it will not only effect the heroine but even effect the ideals and beliefs of the main character. This, in my opinion, is another very defining point, as with the case of most standard visual novels, but again, it is also a bit in the gray area, since not all visual novels follow the same structure – several visual novels can be found to possess only a linear route, with only one heroine.


Of cause, these methods aren’t surefire way to distinguish them – there should be a few titles which aren’t even relevant to any of the facts I conjured up. The prospect of distinguishing visual novels is a very broad, yet subjective matter, and I’m sure a lot of you will possess your own different ways and ideals towards 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.

6 thoughts on “Distinguishing Visual Novels: Part IV – Differentiating Visual Novels from Games

  1. For me the only question I really have to ask is how the story is told. Is it a program that tells it’s story through one of the two visual novel interfaces? If it does then I would call that a visual novel. I see the distinction you are trying to make, but it’s a genre distinction and I think the term “visual novel” already belongs to those two interfaces. We could use it for both I guess, but it is confusing to try and think of it as a genre and an interface.(and because people can be so awful at context on the internet)

    Adult only visual novels are the majority of the market, but they are not the entire market. There are visual novels that still created without any adult elements, see Steins;Gate or any other 5pb VN. Go back a few years and look at something like Ever17 which doesn’t have adult content either. Even things like Higurashi are best classified as visual novels at this point and your definition would cut those out.

    In my opinion the contents of a visual novel should not be used to define what it means to be a visual novel. I think it’s important to make that distinction because while the interfaces don’t change very much, the contents those interfaces can support are constantly changing and evolving.

    RPGs have this same problem in reverse. Fans try to use the term RPG to define an interface when it belongs to a genre. We have terms like “JRPG”, “SRPG” and then all the various western RPGs all with their own interfaces to appease fans and more importantly, to market the games to the right people. Perhaps the best answer to your definition would be to use “adult only visual novel”, or something similar. Personally I think that would be far less confusing.

    In the end I don’t think you are wrong for trying to make this distinction, I just think you are trying to use a word that already belongs to another meaning.

    • Thanks for your comment, this certainly gives me some things to think about^^”

      Your definition isn’t wrong either, in fact, I don’t think there is any right or wrong definition in this matter. Some people may call games like Ace Attorney.. games, but if some describe it as VN, I think they can get away with it just fine, unless one is really, really stubborn with his own ideal…

      Indeed, I never did said they are made up of the whole market, but it’s no doubt they are made up of a majority of the market. If you try to make a list of all-ages commercial visual novels, I think one could barely even list down 10. If I were to be extreme about it, that’s a sound novel, but you’re right that it’s best classify as visual novel at this point to avoid even further confusion, lol.

      They are constantly evolving indeed, but I think even if they did, you can still see their very root foundation. In my previous
      post, I stated that visual novel can be used as a general term that we think it is at least within the medium itself; that means all galge, eroge, nukige, moege, utsuge, nakige – all these are visual novels, and the context of their content’s foundation can be related to most of them. Common route, branching route, character resolution, etc… There’s some variations along the way however, like in the case with linear single-heroine visual novel, so I can definitely see where you’re getting at too.

      You made a good point. The reason why there are so many seemingly different kinds of genres, terms and the likes – one of those reason could be the developers themselves, with their aim of targeting specific demographic groups. Nakige would appeal to fans who love bittersweet stories, utsuge would appeal to those fans who love their stories dark and gloomy, nukige would appeal to…

      Mission failed then :p I do admit that my distinguishing method is far from satisfactory – perhaps a bit too specific, yet, lots of gray areas and inconsistencies left to cover, which is why I did a…… [stay tune to the next post]

  2. “similar to some games like 999 and Dangan Ronpa possessing multiple endings and outcomes”

    Dangan Ronpa has only one proper ending. You can only succeed or get Game Over (potential different Bad End is handwaved as a sort of a dream).

    • You’re right that it’s more of an alternative end rather than a true end, then again, I can’t really see any other “good, canon” ways they could end it other then what they did. Precisely why I added “multiple endings and outcomes“. Perhaps a poor choice of wording on my part, I admit.

  3. Pingback: Distinguishing Visual Novels: Bonus Part – Interviews | deluscar

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

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