Skip to main content

What Even Is?

Art by blackjack

Looking back, it certainly has been a wild, wild couple of months since we all started making this VN. Development has been progressing pretty well over this summer, despite most of us being busy with real-life work. Scenes are being edited as we speak. We're also busy working on the user interface that will be used in-game, and making sure the scenes flow correctly. As far as art is progressing, we're getting sprites made, and they're looking incredible!

With all this talk about sprites and scenes, what exactly are we making? A game? A novel?

The true answer is hard to determine. The 'select choice, get next scene' element of most visual novels isn't really 'gameplay' in a sense - the player merely follows a path. Many game experts would indeed be hesitant to call a visual novel a 'game', as there are no real challenges (aside from the dilemma of what option to choose) that directly affect gameplay.

But what happens when you start to add actual game elements? VNs like Policenauts or Kara no Shoujo (A VN that I have just started playing, thanks to alabaster) have interactive sequences where you have to investigate a scene or object that provide clues or insight for the player. This alone vastly changes the VN, as 'game play' becomes a vital part of the story. Succeeding in these sequences directly changes the end result, and vice versa. 

So, what exactly am I attempting to say here? Is a visual novel really a game, or is it closer to a novel?

The answer is yes.

Visual novels share elements from both games and from novels, creating a final product that meets the requirements for both, but doesn't really fit into either category. Most game experts would hesitate to call it a 'game', seeing as it just barely meets the actual requirements to call it one. Novelists would also be on the fence, seeing as a good chunk of the story is told through the visual expression of the characters, and not through the text itself.

I would like to think that visual novels exist on a spectrum. This spectrum has increasing amounts of gameplay elements until you reach the line between the medium of Visual Novels and full fledged games. On one end, you have VNs with few or no choices, such as Dischan's recent title Juniper's Knot (sometimes called a Kinetic Novel). Then, as you start moving on the spectrum, you have the additions of choices - such as Katawa Shoujo - that branch out into their own predetermined paths depending on the player. Next you can see the addition of direct player interaction, such as choosing to head somewhere on a map or do a certain activity. This could result in an event that increases your favor with a certain girl, for example. This falls into the category of a 'dating sim', where choices are king. Events are triggered by the choice of the player, instead of the story continuing on a set path with a choice along the way.

As we head further, you can see the addition of more player interaction, such as puzzles or minigames. Ace Attorney is a classic example of this - investigating scenes for clues, cross-examining witnesses - it all leads to you trying to solve the case. Granted, some of the puzzles take a big leap in logic for some players, but can feel so rewarding when finally solved. 

At the very edge of the spectrum, it becomes difficult to determine if this piece of software you call a 'visual novel' is still a visual novel. Here, gameplay elements actually make it into, well, a game. Games like Persona 4 have elements of a dating sim, one that renders the relationships you make with your friends into an actual gameplay mechanic. Powerful Personas are made available as you deepen the bonds you have with your friends, and your party members will perform special techniques in order to help you and the team.

It's this point on the spectrum that I like to see most of all. When does a visual novel become a real game? Does it have to be when a certain element is added to the game? At what point does the visual novel become a mere mechanic of the game it's a part of?

Regardless of spectrum placement or definition, the visual novel is a fantastic medium to work in and play with. Seeing how Analogue: A Hate Story differs from 9 Hours, 9 Persons, 9 Doors makes me think a lot about my studies in game theory and development. So much has changed in the gaming world since the development of the home console and personal computer, and I'm glad to play my part in all of it.


Discuss this post on the forums.