Visual Novels and Games: The Same, But Different

Every time I settle down to play — or even to write about — a visual novel, I’m reminded of how much I love the medium.

I use the word “medium” when referring to visual novels rather than “genre” because in many cases, it’s not entirely accurate to call them “games”, despite the fact that they tend to be festooned in the trappings of video games. Most tend to include some sort of metagame element, be it a simple checklist of endings, a CG gallery with a completion percentage or, in the case of more complex games like the recently localised Steins;Gate, even achievements. Most of them are presented in a distinctly game-like fashion, with console-style main menus that make pleasing noises when you click on them, colourful but clear text boxes with a little spinny thing in the corner that tells you when you’ve reached the end of the current paragraph, and all manner of other things.

And yet they’re not games. Not really. They’re interactive stories — some having no more than one or two meaningful choices over the course of the entire narrative, and some even eschewing the element of choice whatsoever — that make use of multimedia presentation to distinguish themselves from, you know, reading a book. The combination of static background images, static or lightly animated characters, music, voice acting, sound effects and text all combine to create a very distinctive effect — and one that can be a powerful poke to the imagination.

Continue reading Visual Novels and Games: The Same, But Different

Advertisements

I Lost My Heart to a Starship

Ell, or Starship Ezekiel to give her her full name — yes, she really is a starship — is the resident “cute” character amid the cast of Alcot’s comedy visual novel My Girlfriend is the President.

My Girlfriend is the President tells an eminently silly story about how the protagonist Junichiro’s childhood friend Yukino becomes, through a series of unfortunate and hilarious circumstances, the president of Japan. But, like most visual novels, it doesn’t just tell that story; it also tells three more, and by far my favorite of them all was the romance between Junichiro and Ell, so it’s that which we’re going to explore today, with a delve into the other routes coming later.

Even more so than the overflowing moe of Yukino, Ell-chan is the character that you’re supposed to want to protect, hug and snuggle up under a kotatsu with. She’s also the resident Robot Girl — after a fashion anyway, given her true nature. And, for many people who indulge in the peculiar pleasures of My Girlfriend is the President, she’s a fascinating character whom you can’t help but want to find out more about.

Continue reading I Lost My Heart to a Starship

We Need to Talk About Your Sister

The definition of a “classic” varies from person to person in any medium, but if ever there were a visual novel that deserves to be branded with this label, it would be Kana Little Sister from D.O.

It’s a title that most enthusiasts of the medium have at least heard of if not played, and one which has gained some notoriety even outside of the core fanbase — though not necessarily for the right reasons, it has to be said.

Kana Little Sister, you see, makes people uncomfortable. Rather than this aspect making it something to shy away from, however, it’s one of the more interesting things about it. Considering why it makes people uncomfortable and whether or not those reasons are justified make up a big part of any discussion surrounding this remarkable work — and that alone makes it a fascinating title to study.

Continue reading We Need to Talk About Your Sister

Goddesses of Gaming

The time I finished Compile Heart’s moe PlayStation 3 RPG Hyperdimension Neptunia was the time I proved beyond a doubt that review scores were completely and utterly useless to me.

I kind of suspected this already, but the fact that I devoured and loved a game that Eurogamer gave a 2/10 spoke volumes about how far my tastes had drifted from the mainstream at that point.

With that in mind, here are some facts about it that may help you reach a decision as to whether or not you would find it an enjoyable experience. Not everyone will like it, and that’s fine — I really enjoyed it, but I recognise its flaws.

So here we go then.

Continue reading Goddesses of Gaming

The Fastest Thing on No Legs

Emi is the first path most players end up on when playing Katawa Shoujo for the first time, so it’s fitting that we begin an in-depth exploration of the game with a look at her story.

Katawa Shoujo, lest you’re unfamiliar, is a Western-developed visual novel that was inspired by a Japanese doujinshi artist’s sketches of girls with a variety of disabilities. It attracted controversy due to its subject matter — plus the fact that its title translates from Japanese as “cripple girls”, which was understandably considered somewhat offensive —  but those who took the time to play it discovered a game that was surprisingly sensitive with its subject matter, and which told some very moving stories.

The nature of the cast (and, for that matter, the protagonist’s personal journey) in Katawa Shoujo pushes the player into initially identifying characters by their disabilities, meaning that at the outset Emi’s distinguishing characteristic is that she doesn’t have any legs. Progress through the narrative, however, and certainly in Emi’s case, her disability becomes arguably the least important aspect of her whole.

Continue reading The Fastest Thing on No Legs

Welcome to MoeGamer!

Hello, welcome and thanks for stopping by. This is MoeGamer, a little corner of the Internet carved out as a safe haven for those who enjoy and are passionate about Japanese interactive entertainment.

Those of you who have followed me here from other sites will already know I’m a strong believer in the hidden depths of games that are often misunderstood, maligned or outright neglected by the mainstream press. It’s a balance I attempted to redress with my regular JPgamer column at USgamer, but since, at the time of writing, I am currently counting down the days until my stint on that site comes to a close, I wanted to ensure I had a dedicated place to write about this aspect of gaming I derive such enjoyment from, even if wherever I end up next doesn’t provide me with such an opportunity.

It’s more than that, though; I wanted to ensure I could continue to provide interesting content for those people who expressed their support for me and my work after I announced my impending departure from USgamer. Somewhere along the line, I had picked up the reputation as someone who treated Japanese games with respect, and who understood the “otaku gamer” mindset rather than dismissing it out of hand. Otaku gamers may be but a small niche in the games business as a whole, but it’s a niche ill catered to by the mainstream press in 2014.

And so we come to MoeGamer. As a completely independent site, MoeGamer is not beholden to any specific editorial or commercial agenda. I’m not chasing hits, nor am I trying to produce content that goes viral, nor any other such considerations of the modern, socially connected era. I’m simply trying to provide compelling, interesting content about Japanese games — new and old — that those who share a similar interest in this side of video games might enjoy. And if someone who doesn’t know much about Japanese games stumbles across this site and finds out something they didn’t know before? So much the better.

So what can you expect to find on this site? Well, don’t expect the typical games site mix of news, reviews, previews and features. Instead, you can expect to see more in-depth readings of games, explorations and celebrations of trends in the medium, and my personal take on various aspects of Japanese gaming. The content already on the site at the time of writing will hopefully give you an idea of what to expect; more to come going forward.

One thing to note, though: at the time of writing, this is very much a “side project” for me as I attempt to secure a new full-time position for my post-USgamer time. You’ll also notice it’s currently hosted on a WordPress site rather than its own domain. (Edit: No longer! Welcome to moegamer.net, with thanks to my partner Andie for the birthday present domain name!) This is because I want to gauge interest in and response to the project before committing more time and resources to it. As such, at present I’m not going to make any brash promises about regularity of content or a posting schedule, though I will do my best to keep a reasonably steady flow of new stuff coming each week.

So here’s where you come in. If you like what you see, please leave comments, click the Like button and share your favourite posts. Every bit of engagement I get on the work I do helps show me that there is an audience for this type of content, and that they want to see more of it. Should that audience prove sizeable enough, I’ll look into making MoeGamer more ambitious in scope. I have a few things in mind, but we’ll save discussion of that for another day.

For now, I hope you enjoy what MoeGamer has to offer. Thanks for your support.

– Pete Davison

The best of overlooked and underappreciated Japanese and Japanese-inspired games