An ode to the sound novel. The once-popular medium for Japanese adventure games has sadly fallen into obscurity after being mostly replaced by the contemporary visual novel, with its character sprites and dating sims. While sound novels never really took off among English-speakers (07th Expansion’s works aside), there are a few significant sound novels that have ties to otherwise fairly popular/well-known works.
So, first off, what the heck are sound novels? Early in the 90’s, game developer Chunsoft (well before merging with company Spike and being here fore known as Spike Chunsoft since 2012) pioneered sound novels with their title Otogiriso. Sound novels are technically a precursor to visual novels and are characterized by the usage of text fully overlaying still backgrounds with emphasis on sound design through music and effects. Sound novels also employ the typical visual novel gameplay by means of multiple choices with branching story routes and multiple endings. Many sound novels were mystery or horror-flavored, though according to this Giant Bomb list, there was also a period of anime-spinoff sound novels landing on the Nintendo DS. Nowadays, sound novels are a rarity and visual novels have largely overtaken them as a medium.
With that intro out of the way, let’s get to the focus of this article: weird sound novel spin-offs (and one that isn’t a spin-off but led to one more well known than the parent game). The games I’ll be covering include Radical Dreamers, Play Novel: Silent Hill, and 428: Shibuya Scramble.
Radical Dreamers filled the time gap following Chrono Trigger’s release, adding on to Trigger’s story and acting as a spin-off game. The story of Radical Dreamers follows chipper thief Kid, cheerful adventurer Serge and mysterious mage Magil, as they make their way through the mansion of the evil aristocrat Lynx. The group’s heist targets the Frozen Flame, an artifact that can grant wishes, but as they progress deeper within the mansion they end up in the ruins of the kingdom of Zeal, a significant location from Trigger. A fight with Lynx leads to Kid activating the eponymous Chrono Trigger, which reveals her and Magil’s connections to Princess Schala and Magus from Trigger, respectively.
If the basis of Radical Dreamers sounds familiar, much of its story was later reworked and expanded within the plot of Chrono Trigger’s sequel, Chrono Cross. Cross even reuses the ‘heist on the mansion’ sequence and kept Kid’s ties to Schala (albeit in a much more ambiguous way). However, Magil was altered into the masked magician Guile, and the DS port of Trigger would later confirm his identity as Magus. Despite Radical Dreamer’s position as a spin-off game, the developers insist that Chrono Cross is not a remake of Radical Dreamers; instead Radical Dreamers canonically exists as an ‘alternate universe’ entry. While excusing things as an ‘alternate universe’ would probably sound absurd in most other contexts, Cross heavily deals with parallel universe traveling in its plot so this conceit is not that unreasonable.
Play Novel: Silent Hill
If it wasn’t apparent from previous articles, we here at OGS kinda like Silent Hill. So, it’s only natural that we’d discuss the Silent Hill spinoff that isn’t the rail shooter or the Diablo clone. Play Novel: Silent Hill’s existence is utterly fascinating. It’s a sound novel adaptation of the first Silent Hill game for the Gameboy Advance that was released before Silent Hill 2 came out in September of the same year. Konami never attempted to make sound novels for any other Silent Hill game, at best making a point-and-click series of mobile phone spinoffs called Silent Hill: Orphan. Which gets one thinking: why did Konami make a sound novel adaptation of Silent Hill 1? Did they think people would need a refresher of 1 before going into 2 despite the plots and characters being entirely separate? Was it a weird experiment to expand to players not fond of tank controls and low-poly graphics? We may never know.
Anyway, Play Novel: Silent Hill has multiple character scenarios that retell Silent Hill 1’s plot, with the bonus of different endings and the ability to collect trading cards as a marker of progress. The two main scenarios are focused on dad in town on vacation Harry Mason and the resident hot cop caught up in weird shit Cybil Bennett, respectively. BUT there’s also a third scenario that was available through a now-defunct download service that added a story focused on a boy named Andy, a character exclusive to Play Novel. Andy is a neighbor of Harry and Cheryl, and his scenario involves him stowing away in Harry’s car and getting caught up in fun shenanigans in Silent Hill, like tussling with Cheryl and almost drowning. Sadly, because the downloaded data could not be permanently saved to the GBA’s cartridge, Andy’s scenario was not archived and only bits of information about it were recovered to this day. Despite this, Andy is considered a canon Silent Hill character since Play Novel: Silent Hill is also considered canon.
428: Shibuya Scramble
In 2009, girls-with-guns action anime series Canaan premiered to fairly positive acclaim. Conceptualized by Type-Moon veterans Kinoko Nasu and Takeshi Takeuchi, Canaan focuses on the mishaps of the titular middle eastern assassin girl Canaan and her conflict with a terrorist rival. Unbeknownst to most English-speakers at the time who weren’t reviewers, Canaan (the anime itself, not the girl) is a stealth sequel/spin-off to a certain Wii sound novel called 428, which was released the year before. While it took nearly a decade for 428 to get an official English localization (with the addition of the Shibuya Scramble sub-title), Canaan largely functioned as a solid stand-alone separate from its parent media. Be warned, though, that Canaan spoils some major plot reveals from 428’s story.
Without getting too deep into potential spoiler territory for 428’s story, the sound novel’s connection to Canaan is surprisingly flimsy. The actual connections to the anime aren’t really established in 428 until the stinger in the game’s true end route AND the extra Canaan route unlocked after completing the main story. The Canaan route is notorious for eschewing 428’s usage of live-action stills, instead using illustrated CG’s courtesy of Takeuchi. Additionally, the Canaan route is pretty separate from the events happening in the bulk of 428’s story; instead it manages to set up for the Canaan anime. The route itself is also tonally different, focusing on an action-heavy heist sequence in contrast to the crime-thriller terrorist plot of 428. While the presence of a certain two Canaan characters in 428 is significant to the sound novel’s plot, the noticeable contrast between 428 and the Canaan route and subsequent anime makes one question why Nasu and Takeuchi didn’t just make a separate property.
With more visual novels being licensed for the English-speaking market today and fan-translators filling in the gaps for past-gen or extremely niche titles, weird sound novel or VN spin-offs flying under the radar is less of an issue in these modern times. Still, some of the bizarre canonicity connections with a few of these games is tough to ignore but fun to explore.