Visual Novels — How on Earth is this a Thing?

Like all weird video games, it started in Japan

If I had to come up with a cool metaphor, “Visual Novels” are basically books trying to masquerade as video games. I don’t know what year it started exactly, but in the beginning, it was an esoteric subject, something that stayed within the boundaries of Japan. Of course, since they relish in an exotic culture, something like a video game where all you have to do is press the left mouse button to turn the pages. Why are you turning pages in a video game? That’s because it’s not a video game; it’s a book pretending to be a video game. But hey, at least it has pictures.

Basically, this is the whole premise of the weirdness of visual novels, in that you’re reading a book and nothing more. By the way, Pheonix Wright (AKA Ace Attorney) and all the others (too many names to mention) do not count because at least they require some puzzle-solving. And yes, those games are awesome… because they’re not visual novels.

I stated the problem already

And that’s how I see the problem: it is more than just localization issues, such as censoring material the West deems “offensive” or explaining to non-Japanese players what a tamagoyaki is. There are many cultural boundaries between what Eastern cultures would deem a phenomenal idea and how it would work in the West, and vice versa.

That’s why when these things first happened, it was hard for someone outside of Japan to acquire them since some could only be found on select websites, all of which were exclusively in Japanese. Of course, that’s how I remember it, way back in 2004. But considering how lenient the Internet became over the years, they became much easier to get, yet remain an esoteric genre despite more exposure, primarily because of how unconventional they are. But that’s ok because they’re still very popular in Japan.

So how to make them more popular?

Instead of that, I will just say that Ace Attorney is worth your time. There’s your solution right there.

But in all seriousness, I think if one wants to make visual novels more popular, they have to appeal to classic and traditional gamers in that they have to feature more elements of an actual game than a book. Still, it wouldn’t be a visual novel; it would be an actual video game, ultimately deconstructing the genre and subsequently repurposing it into a more popular genre. In other words, it’s not a visual novel anymore, so this solution is ineffective. But that’s still my poor attempt at a solution, so make of it what you will.

Obviously, I shouldn’t say anything

Secondly, maybe there can be someone in the West who would want to make a visual novel of Western origin. There are some already, but I don’t think they entirely capture the “authenticity” of a visual novel.

Maybe I should just call the Committee of Social Science and ask them how this thing became popular (up to a certain point, of course). There’s no such committee, but that definitely sounds like something a social scientist should answer.

In Conclusion…

As I stated before, I just think that what works in Japan won’t necessarily work outside of it, although some people in the West enjoy these games. But I still think that if it didn’t catch with the mainstream audience, most people probably could see through the façade that is a book pretending to be a video game.

In any case, watch YouTube for these things; you’ll get a better idea of what they are than reading this article. That’s one piece of advice I’m sure about.



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