Tag Archives: visual novel

Where Everybody Knows Your Name is “Bartender”

One of the most powerful — and underexplored — aspects of video games at large is that they allow us to put ourselves in the shoes of other people: to explore lives that are not our own.

In the case of most games, the “lives that are not our own” tend to be power fantasies: we take on the roles of heroic archetypes as they battle their way through epic conflicts via various means: punching things in the face, slicing them up with sharp implements or using a variety of heavy weaponry with which to inflict death and destruction.

That’s all very well and good — power fantasies are fun, which is why we’ve experienced so many of them over the years — but sometimes it’s interesting to explore something a little more… mundane. Like, say, being a bartender.

Enter VA-11 HALL-A, then, an upcoming game from Venezuelan (but heavily Japan-inspired) developer Sukeban Games and publisher Ysbryd Games

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Sexual Healing

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.

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In Pursuit of Several Truths

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?

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Artistic Temperament

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.

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Out of the Comfort Zone

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.

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Scars

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 EmiKatawa 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.

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There’s Not Always a Happy Ending

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.

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