A Guide To Visual Novels: Or, Just Teaching What Many Of You Already Know

Let’s say you like an anime, and feel like looking it up. What’s this? It was originally a visual novel? Whatever could that be? And what are these “eroge”? Forgive me if I am insulting anyone’s intelligence; rather, I am trying to empathize with the lowest common denominator, which is a tall order for me.  I shall try my best to explain what visual novels are and what is their relationship to eroge and dating sims.

Whether Visual Novels are real video games or not is a debate I am not going to get into here. But for the most part, Visual Novels are text scrolling games that tell a narrative while paper cutouts of characters talk and interact with the main character or other characters, usually with accompanying voice acting. A common approach is to have you, the player, look at things from the eyes of the protagonist in an attempt to have you become the protagonist.  This sometimes extends to leaving the protagonist’s face blank on images they show up in. The faceless protagonist is so pervasive in visual novels that it often becomes a good thing to check whether the protagonist even has a face or voice acting. It shows the protagonist is important enough to the narrative to warrant the efforts of fleshing them out as actual characters. Outside of the faceless protagonist constancy, visual novels are too busy trying different character archetypes, plot twists, art styles, etc. so the only constant in visual novels is that you will be doing a lot of clicking and reading.

Maybe Japanese women like their men faceless…?

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Hakuoki-Demon of the Fleeting Blossom Review: All the Pretty Sashes

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I like to test different game genres whenever I can, with the only caveat being most of the genre’s not part of my mainstays: RPGs, Action, FPSs, and Adventure, tend to thrive on ramped up player challenges. For example, dungeon crawlers and especially their masochist off-shoot brother (little sister?) roguelikes; are difficult because of features like permanent death and random enemy wave spikes that; intimidate me far more than the looking at any monster at the end of a cave hallway. Hell, the recent Etrian Odyssey 4 with its rocking soundtrack had a casual mild mode specifically made for people like me. I am also dreadful at strategy games; owning almost every post GBA Advance Wars game but have yet to beat even one. Visual Novels on the other hand, specifically the young women-targeted otome games, focus less on the skill and execution. How about I start with the most recently popular one, 2008’s Hakuoki: Demon of the Fleeting Blossom?

Hakuoki, developed by Idea Factory and released in the U.S. by Aksys Games, is a huge franchise in Japan branching into both manga and anime adaptions from its original Play Station 2 release. Like a big fish in a small pond, Hakuoki’s has a swath of ports, Play Station 3, PSP, DS, 3DS, to its various amounts of cell-phone charms and wall scroll merchandise, painting the series as a samurai-filled media juggernaut. Fitting I guess, since Hakuoki is marketed as the first big example of an American release of an otome game.

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