Apps & Games

The Visual Novel: An Overlooked Genre


Choose Your Own Adventure for Video Games

Remember the Choose-Your-Own-Adventure books of childhood?

The decision the reader makes affects the events of the story and how things eventually unfold. Imagine if someone took that concept, and applied it to a video game. That’s what a visual novel is: a video game where the decisions the player makes determines how the story plays out.

Visual novels are very popular in Asia, but the genre has yet to gain major popularity in the West, perhaps due to the limited range of visual novels that get translated and localized to other countries. However, here a number of fantastic visual novels that are relatively easy to find in English.

Zero Escape: 9 Hours, 9 Persons, 9 Doors and Virtue’s Last Reward

Video Game

The Zero Escape series is an example of a story that could only be told in the visual novel medium. For the sake of spoilers however, significant plot details won’t be discussed here.

In the first game, 9 Hours, 9 Persons, 9 Doors, released on the Nintendo DS in 2010, nine people awake on a mysterious cruise ship, and find themselves at the mercy of an unseen gamemaster calling himself “Zero” who is forcing them to play the “Nonary Game.” They have nine hours to work together and solve a series of puzzles if they want escape with their lives. At first, everyone seems to be clueless, but soon, people let on that they know more than what they first revealed.

The second game, Virtue’s Last Reward, was released for the Nintendo 3DS and Playstation Vita in 2012. It is very similar in basic plot to 999. Once again, nine people must play the Nonary Game to escape alive. However, this time the rules of the game are a little different, and cooperation is more important than ever before. At first they seem to be largely disconnected from one another, but as things develop, the events of the first game become significant. It’s highly recommended that you play 999 first.

The plots of both games are full of intrigue and twists and turns. If you like a mind-blowing suspense story, give both of these games a try.

Katawa Shoujo

Video Game Many popular visual novels feature romantic themes, and this one is a prime example. Katawa Shoujo is unique among visual novels in that it was originally created in English by a western indie game studio. However, the story’s events are still set in Japan.

Hisao Nakai, an average student, discovers he has a serious heart condition and spends several months in the hospital. His doctors and parents decide it would be best if he attend Yamaku, a school which specifically caters to students with disabilities. At his new school, Hisao becomes acquainted with new classes, friendships, and, hopefully, romance.

There is a cast of five characters Hisao can develop a romance with, each one with a different disability. The characters are all richly developed and feel like real people. Overall, Katawa Shoujo creates a moving, unforgettable experience that sticks with the reader for long after they play it.

However, be advised the game contains sexual content unsuitable for younger audiences. It’s available as a free download for Windows, Mac, and Linux PCs at

Ace Attorney

Video GameCapcom’s Ace Attorney series is probably the most successful visual novel range internationally, and with no less than five installments (not including spin-offs), it’s also one of the most prolific. The series puts the player in the shoes of a rookie defense attorney with only one goal: get your client a “Not Guilty” verdict.

The first three installments focus around up-and-coming attorney Phoenix Wright, the fourth centers around Phoenix’ protege Apollo Justice, and the fifth centers around both of them as well as a newcomer, Athena Cykes. The games were all originally released for the Nintendo DS, save for the fifth, Dual Destinies, which is available for download from the 3DS eShop and Apple App Store. Additionally, a remastered edition of the first trilogy is available for download on the eShop and for iOS devices.

The player investigates crime scenes and talks to witnesses and police to get the facts of the case, then enters the courtroom to do battle with rival prosecutors by cross-examining witnesses and finding contradictions in their testimony.

The series has an unparalleled blend of comedy and drama. One minute, it’s a hilarious back and forth between exaggerated characters, and the next it seamlessly becomes heart-pounding legal drama straight out of an episode of Law & Order or Perry Mason.


Steins Gate Video GameWhat happens when a bunch of impoverished college-aged geeks accidentally turn their microwave into a machine that can send text messages back in time? It turns their whole world upside down.

Steins;Gate does so many things well: Lovable characters, a well-defined yet still fantastical plot, and a serious look at the consequences of time travel that rivals Back to the Future.

It began as a visual novel, but got exposure in the west through its anime adaptation. It’s popularity grew enough to warrant an English translation of the original visual novel, which is available for PC through select online retailers. In addition, a port is coming to the Playstation 3 and Playstation Vita consoles this May.

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