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
One common aspect of modern Japanese narrative-centric games and visual novels that we tend not to see quite so much in contemporary Western titles is the matter of multiple endings.
In some cases — visual novels being the prime example — seeing another ending is a relatively straightforward matter of picking different choices throughout the course of the story. In some cases, there will be a simple branching point towards the end that determines which ending you get; in other, more complex offerings, there will be completely divergent narrative paths down which to proceed.
In other cases — primarily more complex games such as role-playing games — seeing different endings is often dependent on a variety of other factors, some of which may not necessarily be entirely obvious at first glance, and some of which may be all but impossible to figure out yourself without the help of a guide.
Multiple endings provide replayability, sure, but are they a good thing?
Continue reading In Pursuit of Several Truths
Having explored the narrative paths of all the other girls in the Western-developed, Japanese-inspired freeware visual novel Katawa Shoujo, it’s time to turn our attention to the final girl: Rin.
As I’ve noted in the previous explorations of Emi, Hanako, Lilly and Shizune, one of the interesting things about Katawa Shoujo is that while you initially — for better or worse — recognise each of the cast members through their disabilities, all of the narrative paths throughout the game serve to show that people most certainly aren’t defined by their most obvious physical characteristic. In many cases, they can surprise you greatly.
Rin is one such example. Despite having no arms, Rin is an artist, and a great deal of her path explores the way she deals with having an artistic temperament — and how protagonist Hisao learns to appreciate the beauty in everything around him. Thematically and tonally, it’s one of the more complex, difficult paths in Katawa Shoujo, but it’s also one of the most rewarding to explore.
So let’s do just that.
Continue reading Artistic Temperament
Your average visual novel tends to have a number of different narrative paths to explore, each of which focuses on a different character from the main cast. The free visual novel Katawa Shoujo is no exception, with each of its routes focusing on one of five different girls — each of whom has a different disability — and what the protagonist Hisao learns from his relationship with them.
I found the path that centred around the deaf class president Shizune to be rather interesting, because I spent a lot of it not being entirely sure if I actually liked her or not. Her competitive, dominant, bossy nature is somewhat at odds with what I personally find attractive, and so I found myself wondering if pursuing her would have the same degree of emotional impact as the other girls Emi, Hanako, Lilly and — still to come — Rin.
I still haven’t quite made my mind up about it, as it happens, but it was certainly an interesting story, despite being the least interactive of all the paths through the game, with only one meaningful choice to make.
Continue reading Out of the Comfort Zone
Let’s talk about Hanako, one of the heroines from 4 Leaf Studios’ excellent free visual novel Katawa Shoujo.
As you’ll know if you’ve read the previous posts on Lilly and Emi, Katawa Shoujo is a bold, remarkable work that tackles a variety of difficult subject matter. The most obvious demonstration of this can’t be missed: it’s a game where the main characters all have disabilities.
But that’s not all there is to it. It becomes abundantly clear over the course of the five main narrative paths through the game — each focusing on one of the heroines — that all of the characters are dealing with deep-seated issues other than the outward signs of their disability.
Hanako, the character whom you first come to recognise as the shy girl with the burn scars all over one side of her body, is no exception. Understandably traumatised by the events that made her look the way she does, she’s a character riddled with mental health issues — many of which are highly relatable to a general audience.
Continue reading Scars
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
In this, the second part of our look at the free visual novel Katawa Shoujo, we delve into the narrative path that focuses on Lilly the blind girl.
If you missed the first part of our exploration of this fascinating game, take a moment to read The Fastest Thing on No Legs from the other day, which takes a close look at Emi, the athletic girl who lost her legs. And if you’re yet to play Katawa Shoujo for yourself, I’d encourage you to check it out for yourself; it really is an excellent, worthwhile experience — and for free, too.
Lilly, the subject of today’s piece and the character you initially know as “the mature-looking blind girl”, is an interesting character. From the moment the protagonist Hisao first meets her in the secluded abandoned classroom that she and her friend Hanako have been using as an improvised tearoom, it’s clear that she’s cut from a different cloth to many of the other students at Yamaku, the special school that is the setting for most of Katawa Shoujo’s narrative. Of course, the other students at Yamaku are also cut from a different cloth to the rest of society thanks to their various disabilities — including Hisao, who suffers from a debilitating heart condition — so for Lilly to set herself apart from such a group must make her pretty remarkable.
Continue reading A Misshapen Family
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