An Intermediate Guide to Visual Novels

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When you get past the entry point of visual novels through one way or another (such as using Francisco’s helpful guide here), it’s easy to get a little overwhelmed by many of the available games now legally available for English-readers. Nonetheless if you prefer a “pure” visual novel experience or want to try out something different, this guide covers a variety of titles to help you branch out into some fresh titles.

(Note: This article summarizes many of the visual novels featured in our Not ALL H-Games! panel. This article will also be amended in the future as we add and remove different games to our panel line-up.)

saya

Standard VNs – The classic “click through dialogue and sometimes make choices to progress” titles.

  • The House in Fata Morgana
    • A gothic drama VN that eschews the typical otaku-centric writing tropes in order to tell a unique story about a seemingly cursed mansion and its tragic denizens. Gorgeous art and a beautiful soundtrack give this title a distinctive flair compared to other Japanese-made titles.
    • Available for PC through Steam and Mangagamer; PS Vita release coming soon!
  • Song of Saya
    • One of Gen Urobuchi’s early works, published by NitroPlus. Saya is a disturbing Lovecraftian horror story about sanity slippage and morality loss. Not for the faint of heart.
    • Available for PC through JAST USA.
  • Cho Dengeki Stryker
    • A classic example of an ero-game that would be a shounen anime if it had the budget. Focuses on lampooning superhero tropes, but occasionally gets distracted but its sexual antics.
    • Available for PC through Mangagamer (18+ version) and Steam (all ages version)
  • Steins;Gate
    • “I am mad scientist!” When a chunnibyou-addled college student accidentally creates a time machine, he’s torn between fulfilling his friends’ dreams and saving their lives from a government organization. Yes, it is better than the anime adaptation and worth playing even if you’ve watched it already.
    • Available for PC and PS Vita.
  • Planetarian
    • A short kinetic novel by the ever-cheerful Key. A dystopian story about a nameless vagabond, a perky robot, and a worn-down planetarium. Easy to read in a couple of hours.
    • Available for PC through Steam.

Hatoful-Boyfriend-Kazuaki-washing-machine

Otome – Dating sims aimed at a female audience. These games often have great world building and surprisingly deep characters.

  • Hakuoki
    • Late 1800’s Japan is terrorized by vampire-zombies, and only the shinsengumi can stop them. Protagonist’s initial simple goal to find her father gets her involved in more than she bargained for. Franklin’s review here.
    • Available for PSP, PS3, PS Vita and PC.
  • Code Realize: Guardian of Rebirth
    • Our protagonist wakes up in an abandoned mansion to find her skin is poisonous. Seeking out her father, she joins up with some fellows modeled after characters from Western literature.
    • Available for PS Vita
  • Collar x Malice
    • When a terrorist group takes over part of Japan, a specialized group formed from ex-police members steps in to investigate. Find romance and shoot things.
    • Available for PS Vita.
  • Hatoful Boyfriend
    • Yes it’s the pigeon dating sim. Yes it’s actually good. A parody of of otome games (and many dating sim tropes in general) that completely embraces how bizarre it is.
    • Available for PC, PS Vita and PS4.

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Western & Non-Japanese-Originating titles – Games from devs who aren’t from Japan. These titles often turn typical VN writing and tropes on their head.

  • Katawa Shoujo
    • After coming down with a heart condition, our hapless protagonist transfers to a school for students with physical disabilities. Created as a freeware title by a non-Japanese dev team over the course of several years.
    • Available on PC for free.
  • Christine Love’s games
    • Love’s games frequently focus on recurring themes of technology, romance, sexuality and cosplay. My detailed review of two of her games can be found here.
    • Her early games are freeware PC games, others are on Steam and her website.
  • Butterfly Soup
    • From the creator of Pom Gets WiFi comes a shitpost-y (and heartfelt) short VN about Asian-American girls playing baseball, dealing with personal drama and falling in love.
    • Available through itch.io for free.
  • Ghosts of Miami
    • In late 80’s Miami, a freelance detective investigate missing people cases that slip by the local police. Like Carmen Sandiego with a retrowave aesthetic and a focus on subjects like immigration, drug cartels and drag clubs.
    • Available for PC through Steam.
  • The Confines of the Crown
    • An otome game by a UK-based dev team. The bodyguard of a prince gets wrapped up in a mysterious plot surrounding the local to-be-wed princess. Shorter than the average JP-based otome.
    • Available for PC through Steam.

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VN Hybrids – VN’s crossed with other genres, such as puzzle or point-and-click.

  • Ace Attorney
    • Lawyers doing lawyer things. Featuring puns, logic puzzles, and exceedingly good writing that will have you laughing in one scene and crying the next.
    • Available on DS, 3DS and iOS.
  • Hotel Dusk Room 215
    • A former cop turned delivery man investigates a mysterious hotel in hopes of tracking down his former partner. Feels surprisingly Western and has gorgeous rotoscoped character portraits.
    • Available for DS (be warned that this game has been out of print for a while).
  • Zero Escape
    • Psychological drama-focused puzzle visual novel games. Primarily focus on groups of 9 people who are trapped by an individual named “Zero”. 3rd game almost didn’t exist without Western fans’ support.
    • Available for DS, 3DS, PS Vita, PS4 and Steam.
  • Danganronpa
    • High school prodigies are forced into a bizarre killing game by a robotic bear. Gameplay is similar to Ace Attorney but in real time with extra mini-games. Upupupu~
    • Available for PS Vita, PS4 and PC.
  • The Silver Case
    • Early Suda51 title from the PS1 era, now remastered. A police district’s investigation into a notorious serial killer brings up more questions about the district itself. Uses a 3D first person view with point and click mechanics.
    • Available for PS4 and PC.
  • Snatcher
    • Early game (and one of the first English-translated VN-style games) from the mind of Hideo Kojima. Cyberpunk as fuck with a plot about bodysnatching cyborgs. Point and click with some railshooter mechanics.
    • Available for Sega CD (but we recommend you just emulate it at this point).

 

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