It really seems that every few months, the same game discourse pops back up. Well, there’s a lot of video game discourses that keep popping up because we live in a hell where no problem is truly solved, but I’m specifically talking about the visual novel discourse.
Every few months, some joker makes a parody visual novel game that shows little respect for the genre. In some cases, there are a few sincere western visual novels but they’re made under this shitty white savior complex, believing that all visual novels are straight high school dating sims and that they’re being subversive. This has ultimately culminated in the late capitalism nightmare of KFC making a joke visual novel; while it has serious production values, the subject matter adds to the public perception of visual novels being a joke genre.
The problem is that when it comes to the games media, only a few sincere visual novels are uplifted while a lot of coverage focuses on weird parodies. The more mainstream stuff like Ace Attorney and Danganronpa are likely to be covered, but non-weird indie stuff that doesn’t make light of the genre or carry a bizarre white savior complex are rarely in the spotlight.
Ana Valens of the Daily Dot actually hopped on to discuss the problem. As the Daily Dot details, the state of visual novel coverage is due to the state of media being the way it is. Gotta get that ad revenue, and sincere stuff is less likely to pull in the views unless it’s proven to be good and true in the eyes of the public. Unfortunately, even though it’s good for the bottom line, I feel that uplifting weird visual novels just furthers the idea of visual novels being a joke genre.
As a site that primarily covers indie stuff and doesn’t use ads (cough support me on Patreon though cough), I don’t really run into that problem, so I can holler about supporting smaller sincere visual novels as much as I want. In a gaming community that doesn’t take visual novels seriously, I think it’s important to counter that image by spreading the word on these games, both for the sake of public reception and to give these games and their creators the support they deserve.
So, you may be wondering: where do I find some visual novels?
So, the obvious place to check out is itch.io. Sure, you can definitely find some lousy joke stuff, but the most popular stuff leans toward the more sincere. Doki Doki Literature Club is definitely one of those “wow subversive” visual novels as if its concept wasn’t already done by Kimi to Kanojo to Kanojo no Koi, but whatever. Oh, and look, some of them aren’t entirely dating sims as the visual novel stereotype would lead you to believe, because I guess people that parody visual novels never played Ace Attorney or Danganronpa.
With how easy it is to publish a game, itch.io’s a good place to find a lot of visual novels by fledgling creators. Keep an eye out for visual novel themed game jams like NaNoRenO; the magic of game jams is that their nature encourages developers to get into gear and put out something they might never have done otherwise.
“But ah, there’s so many, where do I start?” Luckily, I’ve played a few games for the site, so here are some suggestions:
Pillowfight is a company dedicated to making diverse games. In collaboration with Aevee Bee, their most notable works are We Know the Devil and Heaven Will Be Mine. The former is a group relationship horror visual novel while the latter has a science fiction focus with girls dating and fighting each other in mechs. I played We Know the Devil and thought it was good and tense time that doesn’t overstay its welcome.
nomnomnami, or just Nami, is a visual novel creator that mainly focuses on wlw relationships with a nice cute art style. Of the things I personally played, I only played her Romance Detective games, but they’re a goofy and cute time that I feel is reflective of the rest of her work. She also has the Lonely Wolf Treat series, which is a series of narrative focused RPG Maker games about nice animal girls; it’s kinda visual novel adjacent, I guess?
Npckc is generally an LGBTQ visual novel maker, mostly about girls, sometimes boys. I played One Night, Hot Springs and Last Day of Spring, which is about a trans woman’s experiences in Japan – they’re heavy games, but good ones.
Extreme Meatpunks Forever, by Heather Flowers, combines visual novels with top-down brawler segments to create an antifascist narrative with a writing style that feels like the distillation of Leftist Twitter. I had a good time with that and I’m eagerly looking forward to its upcoming season, which had a successful Kickstarter!
Untitled Dating Sim, by Nilson, was a strange one I played. It’s a dating sim, but the actual goal isn’t to date someone, but rather, to see yourself in how you approach your dates. It’s one of those games that’s goofy, yet sincere and doesn’t carry a patronizing attitude.
There’s a huge variety of visual novels to experience out there. It is not a genre of ironic dating sims, nor is it always about dating sims. It is a vibrant storytelling medium that has lots of potential and it is something that deserves more respect in the gaming community.