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The Sad Fact about Replaying VNs

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Clephas

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The sad fact about replaying VNs... is that VNs don't have replay value.

That's not to say it isn't possible to replay a VN and enjoy it.  With many of the more complex VNs, it is impossible to take in the entire thing on your first playthrough, so it is usually worth a second one.  Others are so well-written or have such great characters that they are worth reading again and again.  Yet others are just so much fun or are so funny (games made by Rosebleu, Lamunation, etc) that they are worth playing again and again.  Last of all, there are those that are so unique that no other experience quite equals them.

However, even amongst the best VNs, there are ones I've found that pale immensely after the second playthrough.  In particular, games that are heavy on mysteries and rely on their hidden aspects for at least some of their attraction become much weaker on later playthroughs.

As an example, one of my favorite VNs of all time is Hapymaher (VN of the Year 2013).  This game has an emotional, psychedelic story, a unique style, and the single best VN soundtrack out there.  However, whenever I attempt a third playthrough, my knowledge of certain aspects that come to light in the end and the fandisc ruins it for me.  Oh, Keiko is still unreasonably sexy for a chippai character, Yayoi is still funny, and Saki's sadism+jealousy thing with the protagonist is still just as hilarious... but I always stumble at two-thirds of the way through the common route (otherwise known as the 'Week towards Christmas' chapter by some fanboys).  This part is immensely funny and interesting the first time you play it through... but without being able to share in the mystery and surprise of the characters, it is unbearably dull, sadly.  Every single time I go back into this game, I stop here.

Another example would be charage, in general.  Understand, as you know, I am not terribly fond of charage in and of themselves.  I won't go so far as to say I hate them, because I don't.  However, if it is the choice between a nakige, an utsuge, a chuunige, and a charage... I'll always pick the charage last.  In a good charage, the slice of life and character interactions and development are the best parts of the game... but when it comes to replaying a VN, this tripod of specialties is a poor substitute for an interesting story.  I have managed to enjoy replaying a few charage... but most I drop after one path (usually the one of the heroine I liked the most), simply because I feel fatigue from having to slog through the same slice of life scenes a second time.

The Light at the end of the Tunnel

However, there are some games that survive multiple replays well.  Nakige, utsuge, and games that go for the emotions in general are the most obvious genres (that are mainstream).  I can still go back to moldy-oldies like Haruka ni Aogi, Uruwashi no for a good cry, and I can still devour games like Houkago no Futekikakusha without any trouble at all. 

Another type that survives well are well-designed comedic games... for example, Lamunation, with its endless humor (ranging from sex jokes to penguins enjoying Mexican beer), endures multiple playthroughs quite nicely, without paling much as long as you space them out.  Comedy is comedy, and as long as you don't overdo it, it is possible to enjoy a good comedy VN multiple times without much fear of boredom.

Games that have a strong protagonist.  Perhaps the biggest reason many Japanese VNs are almost unreplayable is because of the 'average protagonist'.  A strong, well-developed protagonist with his own unique flaws and personality can carry a game on his back through numerous playthroughs.  Good examples of this are Asagiri Kaito from the Akagoei series, Shirasagi Hime from the Tiny Dungeon series, and Narita Shinri from Hello, Lady.

Games that have an overwhelmingly unique cast of characters or setting.  A unique setting or a cast of characters can be the difference between a boring failed attempt at a second playthrough and four or five enjoyable playthroughs.  Some examples of these are Evolimit; Devils Devel Concept; and the Silverio series.  (note: Chuunige are the most likely to fit this type, but the Majikoi games and the Shin Koihime series also fit into this).

Conclusion

In the end though, taste matters.  If you didn't enjoy the VN the first time, you won't enjoy it a second time (with rare exceptions).  If you don't like chuunige, you most likely won't enjoy DDC or Silverio no matter how many times you attempt to play them, and if you don't like horrible things to happen to your characters, you will never enjoy Houkago no Futekikakusha.  I've known people who enjoyed all these games on a first playthrough, were able to enjoy a charage on a second playthrough, but couldn't enjoy these on a second one.  So, while this is my analysis, it is not absolute, lol.

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Isn't it like that with most books though, and most kind of narrative fiction in general? I rarely feel the need to re-read/re-watch books or movies and the more they rely on mysteries and try to surprise you with plot twists, the less appealing they usually become by the second approach (unless you focus on re-reading certain plot points with new knowledge and look for the various details foreshadowing the twists - I think my experience with Grisaia no Kajitsu, which I started reading after watching the anime, was just as interesting if I was going in blind, because I've noticed a lot of details that I would normally ignore but were made meaningful thanks to the fact I knew the rough outline of character routes and endings). It's pretty much unavoidable.

Also, I have so many VNs to read so the lack of replayability is not a thing I would really be sad about. It's actually a positive for me - when I'm done with a VN I can move it to appropriate folder in my Steam library, write a review and can move, highly replayable games ate like 1/3 of my life. :P

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For me, it's all about conditions. Even with the best anime I've ever watched, I usually won't retain information about them for very long. When I read or watch anything, I can only retain enough information to argue over it for a year. It takes somewhere between 8 to 10 years for me to forget something entirely. And see, that's the problem I had with re-reading Little Busters. Because the story is still so fresh in my memory from the 2013 anime adaption, I'm having some difficulty re-reading the whole thing from the beginning to get to the EX routes. I did want to learn the differences between the version I read way back and what I'm reading now, but I think I'll just take a pass.

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I like to compare this to movies/tv shows/anime, sometimes you just happen to be reminded (through conversations or discussions) about a particular scene which will cause you to go and rewatch it in say an evening as the commitment there is only around a few hours - with tv shows and anime there's the big temptation to fast forward to the interesting scenes on rewatches.

With VNs it's much harder as I find that a majority of plot/interesting scenes seem to stick and other trivial/unimportant/uninteresting scenes fade. I definitely wouldn't want to re-read 20hours of boring stuff just to refresh myself on 2 hours of interesting scenes.

I also seem to find enjoyment in remembering the plot points/awesome scenes of how a VN went vs actually reading it again. The Engrish from Baldr sky - impression sublimes to memories - is actually pretty true as I can still clearly remember my first few VNs quite well.

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Around four years is about how long after I find I'm able to comfortably replay VN's. After that long, even the trite portions I probably will experience in a different way to how I remembered.

Besides replaying for interesting scenes and details, one could also replay to enjoy the atmosphere of the VN. That'd be something I'd replay a charage for. There's also catharsis like Clephas mentioned.

Charage's lose a lot on the replay because you can never have that feeling of warm anticipation wondering what will happen next. Unconventional stories might actually gain on the replay, because you aren't disappointed when the story ended up going in different direction. Any story with lots to analyze would be a natural replay target... though those kinds of stories are more common in books than VN's.

At it is I'm barely able to finish all the routes of a VN on the first play (unless required for the true end) . And so, whatever I'm replaying for, I only go through a couple sections, which is far short of the full VN.

Edited by Chronopolis

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