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.
To say that eroge and visual novels go hand in hand like bread and butter, would be an understatement. Let me define what an “eroge” is; short for erotic game (or should I say, erotiko geimu?) eroge are any sort of game that has some type of sexual content, meaning that eroge could be anything from platformers like Eroico to action games like Duel Savior. By this loose definition, the American game God of War could count as an eroge. Eroge also come in varying range, they can run almost entirely on sex, like Cosplay Alien, to moderately (like in Shuffle!), or barely in comparison to the actual plot of the story, like in Muv-Luv. Just like how eroge are not exclusively visual novels, visual novels are not exclusively eroge; several visual novel series that have always been all ages, like the Higurashi series or Clannad. Others start out as eroge and get all-ages adaptations, such as Shuffle! And Deus Machina Demonbane. The reverse is also true, but rarer, as is the case with Da Capo III, and Little Busters!.
We also cannot forget about otome games, which are visual novels aimed at females, like Hakuoki and Yo-Jin-Bo. Though they share a similar demographic, but otome games should not be confused with boy’s love,. On the whole, they are not terribly different from those aimed at the male visual novel demo, though protagonists tend to have faces more often than not. And, of course, there are a few otome games that count as eroge, like Akazukin to Mayoi no Mori and Under The Moon.
Oh right, let us delve into a bit of the technical aspect of visual novels. When you download a visual novel, whether legal or not, it is a fairly large file that will require the program Winrar. Winrar is a program that decompresses large files, and if you get your hands on a Japanese one, you will need to change your locale to Japanese by going to the control panel (in Windows), clock language and region. Then in the administrative tab, change the language to Japanese. This will require you to restart your computer, where afterward, a few notices on your computer will be in Japanese, but nothing major. Take note that any visual novels you purchase already in the English language will not require this change.
Wait, wait, I almost forgot something important. While I did say I would not get into the debate over whether visual novels are games, there are visual novels that branch out with other game genre elements. This means, that aside from the visual novel format, they possess some additional form of gameplay. This is shown through RPG’s like the upcoming English release of Yumina The Ethereal, and Kanojo wa Sora ni Inoranai -quantum girlfriend-, or the strategy RPG’s Kamidori Alchemy Meister. There are also a couple of card games like Boob Wars and Princess Waltz.
Now, let me give you a few resources if I still have your interest. The Visual Novel Database, is an encyclopedia compiling a great deal of visual novels, over twelve thousand entries, in fact. The FAQ question also contains a lot of what I have gone over in case you want a second source. There is also erogedownload, which despite the name, contains every visual novel that has been translated into English. I am not a fan of piracy, but to be fair, the site does link the visual novels that are commercially available in the English language to its proper store site. In terms of digital retail, the two major translator and distributors of visual novels in the English language are Manga Gamer and the umbrella of companies that is JastUSA. And while there are a few others like MoeNovel and Hirameki International, the two I mentioned have enough deals with other companies to cover just about everything.
That should cover just about everything, but if you have any questions, feel free to ask anything in the comments.