All-time Favorite Visual Novels
1. Ef – A fairy tale of the two
Before modern visual novels evolved and grew with such colorful, vibrant and breathtaking visuals, older visual novels haven’t been, for a lack of better word… pretty. However, there was Ef, which was amazingly beautiful for a product of it’s time. Ef also tells a linear, but heartwarming story, matched with the beautiful visuals and music-gives an almost fairy tale-like feel. It’s an all-around incredibly therapeutic visual novel with touching romance stories.
2. Fate/Stay Night
Ah, Fate/Stay Night. One of the most recognized visual novels of all time, thanks to it’s popular adaptions. Intriguing system and concept, amazing fight scenes are among some finer points of the title. But the best highlights of Fate/Stay Night is definitely the knee-deep level of character focus-characterizations which would grow strong even today; with the overarching Holy Grail War progressing on the forefront. Some may argue it’s pretty much a chuuni story, but even if that’s so, it’s one damn fine chuuni story if you ask me.
3. G-Senjou no Maou
Nothing short of a masterpiece. G-Senjou no Maou is a visual novel written by Looseboy of Akabeisoft2. Battle of wits, mind-blowing twists and adrenaline-pumping excitement; G-Senjou no Maou is everything you want out of a mystery-thriller, hell, it has everything you want out of a plot-driven story. Once it starts picking up, G-Senjou no Maou is among one of the most engaging story you will ever find in visual novels with it’s high tension and drama.
An emotionally-gripping tale of a soldier fighting in an unfamiliar, insane world. There are three parts of Muv-luv – Extra, Unlimited and Alternative, and it is recommended to play all three of them to get properly invested. Although quite lengthy, it is incredibly hard not to find something you like in the Muv-luv trilogy-Takeru’s character development, camaraderie with the squad, the intense battles with the BETA; it’s just such a great series. Alternative especially, is just so amazing that it makes all those time you invested into the trilogy worth it.
Steins;Gate is an excellent time-travel story-a tale depicting a man fighting against fate. I’m actually hard-pressed to find anything to complain about. While it is slightly less ambitious as far as time travel stories are concerned, it has the advantage of coherence and meticulous planning when developing ideas and concepts-and they actually had initially great ones to work with. Naotaka Hayashi just seems to have a good idea how subsequent events should unfold-resulting in a smooth pacing, naturally flowing plot and an extremely satisfying, conclusive end. All in all, despite the seemingly overabundance of time travel stories, Steins;Gate is definitely one to look out for.
6. Sharin no Kuni
Likewise with G-Senjou no Maou, Sharin no Kuni was produced by Akabesoft2 and written by Looseboy. The visual novel depicts on how law and systems effect a country and focuses on themes like conspiracies, criminology and political struggles. Sharin no Kuni introduces a really unique government system which aims to rehab certain “criminals.” It’s more interesting, character-driven and less over-the-top than G-Senjou no Maou so if some of you aren’t too fond of G-Senjou for some reason, then Sharin no Kuni is an excellent alternative pick.
7. Ever 17: The Out of Infinity
At the time, Ever 17 was one of the most original titles localized, and it turned into one of the top titles among Western visual novel audiences in no time flat. In any case, Ever 17 proved one thing — that it’s formula is an almost guaranteed-masterpiece. There’s clearly a reason why the series’s writer, Kotaro Uchikoshi, even goes so far as to use the same tried-and-true formula in some of his later games, predominantly the Zero Escape series which is also as popular.
8. Key Visual Novels
Speaking of tried-and-true formula, you can never go wrong with Key’s — the master of nakige. Key’s penchant for writing high school dramas have never once felt stale, even after all these years. Anything made from Key is bound to give you a laugh and a cry by the end of the game. It’s slice of life, portrayed in extreme simplicity and with a teeny-weeny bit of magic, fantasy and idealized relationships are what spiced up Key’s top visual novels. While there are definitely exceptions as Key has worked on titles that are different from what I described here, I have a personal fondness for Key’s slice of life stories myself. In my opinion, Key and slice of life goes hand-in-hand like peas in a pod.
9. Sono Hanabira
Of all the yuri franchises I came across, the Sono Hanabira series is to me one of the best, if not, truly the best — because Sono Hanabira is one among very few series that can satisfy my ideal yuri preferences. There are more than 10 titles in the series at the time of writing this list, and it can only keep growing which is really telling of the series’s popularity. Masterfully blending between concupiscence and innocence, people who like their yuri simple and cute, yet frisky and just a little bit lewd; would definitely come to like Sono Hanabira as well.
10. Kara no Shoujo
The Kara no Shoujo series is a psychological mystery by Innocent Grey, set just after World War 2 in Japan. Slower-paced with apprehensive twists in between, the story puts you in the shoes of detective and former police, Tokisaka Reiji-as he involved himself in a serial murder that would literally force him to investigate every nook and cranny, an investigation which would discover that everyone is not as unrelated as you may think. Kara no Shoujo is a story of sins, a story of religion, a story of truth-seeking; but more than anything, a story of obsession. It’s a type of mystery with a focused motif, and one which fans of mystery and suspense would definitely enjoy.
11. YU-NO: A Girl Who Chants Love at the Bound of this World
Visual novel is an unique medium as it’s unconventional structure has the ability to tell really special stories. However back in the old days, at a time when the medium was still trying to find it’s footing, unique visual novels like these are few and far in between — which makes it even more impressive that YU-NO is as prominent as it is. An influential masterpiece, YU-NO was an important milestone that would set the standard for future visual novels and games, especially in the way the routes are branched and the overarching narrative. Outside of that, YU-NO is an excellent visual novel on it’s own as well. I think it says a great deal about YU-NO that against it’s peers from the same era, it is the only one that has stood the test of time.
12. Root Double -Before Crime * After Days
Directed by Nakazawa Takumi, whom you may remember as a former KID staff member. Root Double may borrow some concepts from the Infinity series, but it reminded me more of the Zero Escape games; especially with it’s ability at hooking people in with it’s high-octane drama, action, twists, characters and intriguing mysteries. Root Double teases you at first, sprinkling meager bits of information here and there and before you know it, you already had your eyes peeled dying to know what happens next. Root Double is a visual novel that is super engaging for nearly the entire game. If Ever 17 is the prototype, then Root Double is the polished version that borrowed from the former, and refined to perfection.
13. Symphonic Rain
Judging from the cute character artworks and warm-colored palette, the fairy tale-esque atmosphere of Symphonic Rain anticipates a sweet, light-hearted story, only to delve into surprisingly solemn territory that tug your heartstrings, and only to return to it’s light-hearted roots just when you get used to it. A master of manipulating emotions, the visual novel will have you smiling and crying throughout the entirety of it’s story. A bittersweet game, just like a good cup of hot chocolate. In any case, Symphonic Rain is an excellent visual novel that will enthrall you through it’s marvelous story, it’s charming cast of characters and the ingenious use of it’s sublime music.
14. Subarashiki Hibi
Subarashiki Hibi is a roller-coaster ride full of off-putting twists and turns. The beauty of SubaHibi is it’s interpretative approach — you can look at the story at a thousand different ways that make for a truly enriching experience. Admittedly, SubaHibi isn’t perfect by any means. It’s super ambitious to a fault, and sometimes, perhaps a little bit inelegant; but even that lack of grace just seems to complement the story’s idiosyncratic, unpredictable charm. Reading SubaHibi was a memorable experience for me, and it’s unique and outlandish way of doing things will always be remembered for years to come.
15. Fata morgana no Yakata
Being a gothic suspense story, Fata Morgana is very different in it’s presentation, but extremely effective in what it’s going for. It’s distinctive look evokes an unpleasant feel, but is also exactly the reason why it still pulls you in, intrigued by the peculiarity and all. Just like the dark, dreary mansion and it’s abundance of secrets you can’t help but investigate the deeper you walk into the abode. Last but not least, Fata Morgana is just purely a masterful craftsmanship of story, music and art.
16. White Album 2
Romance is an especially salient aspect of visual novels due to it’s structure, and as far as romance visual novels are concerned, I believe White Album 2 to be the top among it’s competition. The characters are “earnest” in their pursuit of love, overzealous even, causing a complicated relationship between three good friends with excitement and happiness, yet bitterness and deception. It’s multi-faceted characters and thematic music will keep you enthralled throughout it’s lengthy 3-part story. White Album 2 is /the/ love story. Will you be able to seek your true love in this complex web of twists and turns?