I know this may sound incredibly patronizing but bear with me for a second.
VNs are not books.
I understand you are all well aware of it.
Why does everyone, me included, talk, review and seem to generally think of them as such?
In our modern world, this is how most the vast majority of VN screens tend to look like:
A semi-transparent window with text and a few menus on the bottom, with the vast majority of the screen being taken by character sprites, backgrounds and the occasional CG. There are other ways to go about it, but this is what I'm sure is most common for everyone.
As it's very easy to see, only a small portion of the screen is dedicated to the text at any given point. There's also music and voice acting, and overall, you're taking in a lot more information than you are with a book.
Some might reasonably argue that a VN is still primarily a novel and as such we should first look at its writing. That may be true, but the amount of reviews I've both read and written that completely ignore the other aspects of a visual novel with the blanket statements of "music is adequate, good artwork" and moving on to extensively talk about only about the writing of the work is so big that I have to argue back "but we shouldn't ignore them either."
Aesthethic is narrative. These girls are in the same pose doing the same thing and even conveying the same emotions, but you know these are vastly different games by just looking at it, with no words needed at all
And here's the bizarre thing, I don't think we actually ignore artwork at all. In fact, how many times have we turned away from a well-regarded VN or have seen someone turn away from one because it kinda looked like shit?
It's common sense that any great work will utilize its medium to its fullest potential. There's definitely a measure of some of that in all of them, be it via unique artstyles coupled with interaction, an actual fun game with real gameplay that the VN utilizes as its backbone or even pure visual trickery being used to make a tragic scene all that much more heart-wrenching and unexpected.
And how could we forget the king of recent releases in the western community, doki doki? Regardless of whether it's completely mediocre, total garbage or the greatest VN of all time, we all know exactly what made it such a hit.
The impact that game had on the community that enjoys it would be greatly diminished if not for very careful visual presentation.
It's probably in part due to reviewers being people who care about writing by nature of being reviewers, but that wouldn't really explain why the pivotal visual aspect of a visual novel is so oten ignored and thrown aside.
In my latest meme post, "to be honest, story-focused VNs mostly really suck" I say "Not like anime where you can just leave it on the background and listen to what's going on either, because autoplay won't read all the critical lines that have no voice, so you better get cozy and glue your eyes to that screen, where the game will of course (not) use the opportunities the medium provides to its fullest with interesting, unique visual effects or actually well-done music that doesn't sound like some shitty freeware stock template. "
Now, the purpose of that post as a whole was parodying two members I loved that have been gone from the website for a long long time and to make a comment on a certain type of VN fan, but that phrase in particular is something that holds true to my thinking - VNs are significantly harder to get into than most other media. You cannot engage it passively like anime or movies, and unlike inherently interactive media like video games, you are not particularly rewarded for engaging it actively, but you must do so as a cost of entry anyway. Good, professional visual presentation is by far the most effective and natural way to reward those who read VNs for having to pay attention for what they're doing, and that's a big reason for why these games thrive in the first place, and without it, VNs suffer as they fall into the pit of "kinda looks like shit" that the vast majority of the medium is buried over.
It's already being done to some extent, but in my opinion, what we have is not really enough. Why are the vast majority of VN screens that boring text box under sprites and backgrounds? I sure dunno since I don't make VNs.
But I think the way for them to evolve as an art form and reach greater popularity in the west is to fully embrace being not only written, but also a visual medium.
Now go. Hopefully some of you also have this opinion and you'll start talking about it enough that some lazy dev decides to get out of his ass and actually do something I want to see done in a VN ww