Visual Novel: An Interactive Approach To Storytelling

Today, I want to talk about something lighter. I could’ve picked another heavy subject with everything going on in the book world but I won’t. Let’s talk stories. I game a lot in spare time and have do since I was little. My dream job, if I ever want to work for/with someone else again, is narrative design. Stories are told through more than just text and it’s usually the smallest things that make a story believable. Much like the on-screen media — film, television, and animation — a game uses visual assets to tell the story the characters aren’t saying out loud. That’s what I love about narrative design and one of the reasons I started this blog. To talk about all kinds of stories, even the ones not told through words.

That’s why today, I want to talk about the visual novel. A visual novel is different from a graphic novel in that it’s an interactive medium, usually with gaming elements. They’re a subgenre of games although hardcore gamers don’t see it as a game. The genre is big in Japan and slowly crossing over to the western world. Story driven games have found their western fan base and more game developers take the chance to tell a new type of story.

Why pick the visual novel as a way to tell your story

Some stories need a little more, and a visual novel can do that. The visual style adds another layer and the interactivity allows the reader to create their own story. There is a paper version of this too: the Choose Your Own Adventure books. You get to pick your own path through the story and reread it for a different adventure.

A visual novel often incorporates gaming elements as well. The interaction with the environment to find new clues in a murder mystery, or buy specific gifts for the people you meet. Some games focus heavily on romance and are called dating sims. While you choose the person you end of with, or be alone, there is usually a major plotline you follow. If you decide not to romance anyone, you can still reach the conclusion of the general story. Think about reverse harem novels and being able to pick the partner you want.

Examples of well known visual novels


A visual novel turned anime. Also one of my favourite animes. It’s a slice of life story with a serious undertone as one the main characters is seriously ill. The story is told through changing, static scenes, and character art changing depending on their moods. It’s what most gamers would expect to see when you talk about a visual novel. There aren’t more gaming elements beyond making certain decisions which influence the reaction of the support characters. Sometimes your decision lead to a key scene necessary for an specific ending and picking the other option in another playthrough might be worthwhile.

The visual novel has been turned into an anime, something that happens often with visual novels. The anime follows the main storyline, picking a certain route. This might be different from the on you chose when playing the game. I like how they reach a wider audience this way.

The Nonary Games

The Nonary Games consists of two games: 999 and Virtue’s Last Reward. Both are murder mystery stories where you have to solve the puzzles laid out in front of you. If you don’t, you die. These games have multiple bad endings and you have to see them before you can unlock the true ending. The puzzles are usually part of the overall story, to give you a better idea of why this is happening to the main character.

This is one of those games where everything you see matters. There are a lot of visual clues hidden throughout the game, and only by connecting all the dots, you’ll find out the truth. The puzzles in the game are another way to keep you immersed in the story. You can’t play this game half-hearted, watching Netflix on your second screen. You’ll miss a lot the story, information you’ll need later one to answer questions correctly.

Have you ever played a visual novel? Would you play one? Share your thoughts below!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *