School Days HQ is a visual novel/interactive movie from STACK and 0verflow, localised by Sekai Project and published by JAST USA.
It’s a remastered remake of an earlier title from 2005, simply called School Days, and is rather notorious for all the wrong reasons — specifically, its violent tragic bad endings, which I won’t spoil here.
This article isn’t going to describe or analyse the overall plot in depth; rather, I’d like to talk about what School Days shows us about the possibilities and challenges a branching narrative offers to content creators, and what other games might be able to learn from the visual novel genre in general in this regard.
This article was originally published on Games Are Evil in August 2012 as part of the site’s regular READ.ME column on visual novels. It has been republished here due to Games Are Evil no longer existing in its original form.
Continue reading From the Archives: School Days, Chaos Theory and Emotional Engagement
Visual novels have been around for a lot longer than some people realise — and, like any art form, they’ve changed noticeably over time.
An excellent example of the way they’ve changed — aesthetically, thematically and in terms of gameplay — comes in the form of Nocturnal Illusion, a title first brought to Western shores by localisation specialists JAST USA all the way back in 1997. It’s noteworthy in that, unlike many more recent visual novels, it’s not a “slice of life” affair focusing exclusively on romantic entanglements between the protagonist and the members of the cast who are love interests; while the game does explore the nature of love and sexuality in places, it’s actually much more of a surreal, fantastic, symbolic and at times horrific affair — and it’s hugely compelling as a result.
Regrettably, Nocturnal Illusion is extremely difficult to get running on modern machines owing to its age, though it is possible to get it going through a bit of fiddling around with ViLE — a “virtual machine” project for older visual novels that appears to have been dormant since 2011.
Alternatively, you could just read on and find out more about this unusual and remarkable game.
Continue reading Sexual Healing
The modern world is incredibly concerned with spoilers: the giving away of surprises before you, yourself, have reached that part in the narrative.
But some of the most effective stories out there are pretty up-front about their most surprising elements and still manage to forge a compelling, interesting narrative. D.O.’s Kana Little Sister is a good example of this — we know from the outset that Kana is likely to die at the end of the game, but that doesn’t stop it from being emotionally engaging throughout, and traumatic when the final moments of the story eventually roll around.
Another particularly effective example of this is in Nitroplus’ Saya no Uta (aka The Song of Saya), a horror-themed visual novel composed by Madoka Magica writer Gen Urobuchi.
Continue reading There’s Not Always a Happy Ending
In the strange and twisted world that forms the setting for Alcot’s comedy visual novel My Girlfriend is the President, Irina Putina is the Rusian [sic] president who shows up early in the game’s (fixed) first act and then sticks around for varying amounts of time in the remaining three, depending on which route you chose.
She’s a textbook tsundere in almost every respect, seeming abrasive, grumpy and quick to anger on the surface but regularly demonstrating that she has a soft centre beneath all the slapping. And to be fair to her, protagonist Junichiro generally deserves every single slap he gets from her.
Irina’s path is one of four different narrative routes you can branch the story of My Girlfriend is the President down in its first act, with the others being Starship Ezekiel, whom we’ve already discussed; the titular “girlfriend” (actually more accurately translated from the original Japanese as “childhood friend”) Yukino, who through a series of unfortunate happenstances finds herself the President of Japan-equivalent Nippon; and the resident older sister-type Ran-neechan. All four paths are markedly different, but the members of the main cast each have their own roles to play throughout this madcap adventure.
Continue reading The Rusian Fairy and the Chivalrous Pervert
Video games are a great means of immersing yourself in another culture. For years now, Western gamers have been enjoying titles like Yu Suzuki’s sadly unfinished Shenmue series and Atlus’ Persona titles not only for their enjoyable gameplay and overarching storylines, but for their ability to make you feel like you’re “living the Japanese life”.
There’s a huge amount of scope for interactive entertainment in general to promote and foster understanding between different cultures, whether you use the word “culture” to refer to national identity, socioeconomic groups, minorities of various descriptions or simply groups of people who have chosen to gather together under a particular banner for whatever reason. And it’s something of an underused aspect of interactive entertainment, too, though with the growing diversity of the games industry — particularly thanks to the indie scene and how easily we can access content from all over the world via the Internet these days — it’s something that more and more developers are starting to explore.
Nitroplus and 5pb.’s visual novel Steins;Gate is an interesting example of this practice in action, and it’s arguably only now that it’s been localised into English that it can be truly effective at one of the things it’s doing.
Continue reading Guidebook to Another Culture
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
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