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VNs are not books

Kaguya

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oBcYAde.png

 

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. 

So.

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:

Image result for visual novel

 

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

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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?

Spoilers for the latter two in the links, bu it's no accident that the top 3 VNs on VNDB are Steins Gate, Muv Luv Alternative and Baldr Skydive 2. 

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.

e77DSDc.png

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

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Peace.

 



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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.

I think it's easier, cheaper and makes more sense when making things.

When you have sprites and backgrounds you can reuse assets a lot more, so there you go. Less expenditure with art. And it's normally a fixed text box because it isolates writing and directing as two completely different processes - you have the huge chunk of text that is the story and no one has to worry about placement or flow or where the text will be at any given time. So you don't get more complicated scenes, which, again, is cheaper because you just reuse the assets to go with the text and organized by the text.

Not that I like it, but it's convenient.

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Honestly, while I've seen discussions on how VNs came to be originally (from some genre of games that had some actual gameplay, though not necessarily a whole lot of it), I don't know if I've seen anyone who shares my opinion on what all VNs, from classic to modern, pretty much are; They're games that you get if you made an RPG with only the dialog system in place. That may seem crazy (or maybe it entirely makes sense to you, I don't know), but there's a pretty easy way to back up what I'm saying there...

Look at just about any RPG made with RPG Maker (the specific program), and remove all non-dialog parts of the game from it, and replace those part with (minimal) descriptions of what happens if you do it right (perhaps even inserting choices at parts where things fork depending on how you do it, if you're generous). If you string together all the the dialog, without any other parts of the game, what do you get? Well, if you've got standing sprites (fairly common among such games), the classic dialog box at the bottom which holds all the words characters say, and probably some music, I think its safe to say you just "created" a Visual Novel. :P

Of course, said VN may be a little low quality. Especially if it's, say, an h-rpg (many of these are so much more blatantly similiar to VNs than their normal rpg counterparts). An h-rpg converted into a VN is literally just a nukige (hopefully I got that word right). H-rpgs tend to be even more prone to VN-alike elements, such as (H)CG, sprites of the sort normally found in VNs (as opposed to the sprites of the sort often used for representing where a character is on a RPG map), and "choices" leading to good/bad endings (a nukige formated like a certain common type of h-rpg would have choices that look something like "Lose battle" (leading to game over rape) and "Win battle" (leading onward into the game). Amusingly, this points out the weirdness of the conventions in those games pretty well).

Essentially, to sum it up, I consider VNs to either be RPGs themselves, or to at least be a direct sub-genre of them. This also means I see VNs as actual games, as well.

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5 hours ago, Odenvard said:

Honestly, while I've seen discussions on how VNs came to be originally (from some genre of games that had some actual gameplay, though not necessarily a whole lot of it), I don't know if I've seen anyone who shares my opinion on what all VNs, from classic to modern, pretty much are; They're games that you get if you made an RPG with only the dialog system in place. That may seem crazy (or maybe it entirely makes sense to you, I don't know), but there's a pretty easy way to back up what I'm saying there...

Look at just about any RPG made with RPG Maker (the specific program), and remove all non-dialog parts of the game from it, and replace those part with (minimal) descriptions of what happens if you do it right (perhaps even inserting choices at parts where things fork depending on how you do it, if you're generous). If you string together all the the dialog, without any other parts of the game, what do you get? Well, if you've got standing sprites (fairly common among such games), the classic dialog box at the bottom which holds all the words characters say, and probably some music, I think its safe to say you just "created" a Visual Novel. :P

Of course, said VN may be a little low quality. Especially if it's, say, an h-rpg (many of these are so much more blatantly similiar to VNs than their normal rpg counterparts). An h-rpg converted into a VN is literally just a nukige (hopefully I got that word right). H-rpgs tend to be even more prone to VN-alike elements, such as (H)CG, sprites of the sort normally found in VNs (as opposed to the sprites of the sort often used for representing where a character is on a RPG map), and "choices" leading to good/bad endings (a nukige formated like a certain common type of h-rpg would have choices that look something like "Lose battle" (leading to game over rape) and "Win battle" (leading onward into the game). Amusingly, this points out the weirdness of the conventions in those games pretty well).

Essentially, to sum it up, I consider VNs to either be RPGs themselves, or to at least be a direct sub-genre of them. This also means I see VNs as actual games, as well.

VNs are obviously games.

However, I don't think the systems of a VN are a reduction of some other system like you're saying. It's true presentation in VNs is similar to that in older games RPGs especially so. But you can't replace walking, exploring and generally controlling a character with text. They're not equivalent, even if there's only one place you're supposed to go.

The insertion of choices, for example, is a lot less fluid in a VN that stops everything you're doing to ask what you want to do and then proceeds to describe what's happening. If you're controlling a character, you just do things, choices being more of a subconscious process. This makes gameplay significantly different.

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20 hours ago, Palas said:

VNs are obviously games.

However, I don't think the systems of a VN are a reduction of some other system like you're saying. It's true presentation in VNs is similar to that in older games RPGs especially so. But you can't replace walking, exploring and generally controlling a character with text. They're not equivalent, even if there's only one place you're supposed to go.

The insertion of choices, for example, is a lot less fluid in a VN that stops everything you're doing to ask what you want to do and then proceeds to describe what's happening. If you're controlling a character, you just do things, choices being more of a subconscious process. This makes gameplay significantly different.

While I disagree that the differences between how the systems ultimately play out mean that VNs aren't a sort of subgenre made from certain parts of RPGs, I would certainly agree that the difference leads to the two having differences overall experiences. After all, if both ultimately lead to the same sort same experience, it would more than likely be the case that one would end up being nearly strictly better than the other. In the end, though, they end up having diffeent appeals to a very large degree, even when the systems at play are very similiar (I could probably make a simple RPG in Renpy without having to use the feature of actual Python code very much if I really desired to do so, and one could likely make a simple VN in RPG Maker just the same, perhaps not even having to work outside of the default feature set at all).

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45 minutes ago, Odenvard said:

While I disagree that the differences between how the systems ultimately play out mean that VNs aren't a sort of subgenre made from certain parts of RPGs, I would certainly agree that the difference leads to the two having differences overall experiences. After all, if both ultimately lead to the same sort same experience, it would more than likely be the case that one would end up being nearly strictly better than the other. In the end, though, they end up having diffeent appeals to a very large degree, even when the systems at play are very similiar (I could probably make a simple RPG in Renpy without having to use the feature of actual Python code very much if I really desired to do so, and one could likely make a simple VN in RPG Maker just the same, perhaps not even having to work outside of the default feature set at all).

RPGs core defining concept are player created stories, or stories that are controlled by the player. Unfortunately when it came time to imitate this genre of games on a computer the technology wasn't at an acceptable place to really include this aspect and so they settled for just importing over the combat sim aspect. That's why all CRPGs have a combat system -> make a cRPG without a combat system and you haven't made a cRPG at all but something which fits nicely in another genre.

VNs aren't always about player defined stories. Kinetic stories have no choices, and there are some VNs which require you to go through every route to get the true ending. 

Because of this RPGs and VNs emphasise two different kinds of stories. RPGs traditionally offered player freedom, "choice and consequence" is something you often hear with Western RPGs, which goes back to the genre's tabletop roots (JRPGs are doing their own thing at the moment.) VNs tend to offer more depth but a more linear story, although they certainly can focus on player freedom as well but it's never been a core aspect of the genre.

Adventure games are more similar to VNs than RPGs, imo. The three components needed to make up an adventure game are a narrative, exploration, and puzzles. Remove the gameplay aspects (exploration and puzzles) and you pretty much get what VNs are about (just look at Telltale).

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Sorry for responding now (as opposed to earlier), but I just now saw this comment, and feel it warrants a response.

On 2/14/2018 at 4:08 AM, Darklord Rooke said:

RPGs core defining concept are player created stories, or stories that are controlled by the player.

Actually, I would say that the core defining concept of an RPG is as one would expect from taking the full name literally; it's a game where you play a role of a character in the game world, as opposed to essentially "playing as yourself". Of course, this quite naturally explains why a lot of certain mechanics "feel" like a rpg, while at the same time just including a few "rpg elements" doesn't actually make something an rpg. For example, a non-rpg might have you accomplish something via pure mechanical skill, but you don't have to be good at something to do it in an rpg; it's your role's skill that matters, not your real world capabilities in that regard. "Character stats", such as numerical values for physical attributes (strength, reflexes, intelligence), are used to show how good your role is at something so the game can calculate whether you're able to do certain things, while "leveling up" is a basic way of expressing that your character is getting better at stuff. Simpler rpgs might use a levelup system that increases all capabilities simple by getting experience from anyways, while more complex ones tend to have ways to increasing certain capabilities*.

Under this definition, WRPGs and JRPGs both perfectly fit into the definition of an RPG, while games normally excluded for not actually having the "spirit" of an rpg tend to be excluded just the same here. Western RPGs often allow you to create your own role, so to speak, so you can be someone who's not you, but close to what you want to (pretend to) be, or at least be for a small time in a specific non-reality situation. Meanwhile, JRPGs tend not to let you choose what you want your role to be, but instead give you a role to play, which naturally means less choice, but you still have involvement in how that role plays out by choosing between the different actions a character might have taken on their own.

Overall, one can ultimately have an RPG where you don't really have any choice at all as to what your role does, but rather how it does what it was already going to do either way. An RPG which allows you do both of those fits into the "WRPG" category, while one with only allows the second fits as a "JRPG". This is, notably, how the terms are already used (but not necessarily codified). A game where you "play" the role of character, but have neither the ability to choose what OR how the character does, wouldn't really have much in the way of gameplay. It would mostly be just a bunch of reading. Of course, you could maybe throw in the occasional choice, perhaps even having the story split based on critical points. Perhaps, if you're playing the role of a dude who has a bunch of cute girls who might be interested in him, those choices could split into "routes" where the dude chooses a given girl. Maybe throw in some explicit lewdness, or maybe not, and you get... I hope you see where I'm going with this, at this point.

* See, say, Elona, which is sort of a roguelike (game like rogue), but it has clearer RPG elements. Skills in Elona are improved by actually using that particular skill, so killing rats with a stick does not make you a better archer, for example :P

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4 hours ago, Odenvard said:

Actually, I would say that the core defining concept of an RPG is as one would expect from taking the full name literally; it's a game where you play a role of a character in the game world, as opposed to essentially "playing as yourself".

That definition gets floated around for sure (a lot on the old Bethesda forums when I was there ... about a decade ago). The reason I don't like it is because it fits almost any game, and so when people said "you play a role in Halo" I turned away from that definition :P 

Tiger Woods golf would be RPG and not Sport Sim (you play the role of a golfer and level up your abilities with different clubs, which is why it's a sim but some say it has "RPG elements"). XCOM would be RPG and not strategy. Telltale games would be RPG and not adventure.

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To clarify on that definition, I'll point out why your examples don't fit (plus why one maybe fits).

8 hours ago, Darklord Rooke said:

"you play a role in Halo"

Halo is an FPS, and that type of game relies on the mechanical skill of the player to achieve better results, rather than the skill level of the role being played (presumably, playing the same Halo game multiple times would lead you to more easily getting better results each time, which makes no sense in the context of the role you're playing, it's your skill that's going up, after all, the character presumably gets reset to its starting form with each new game).

8 hours ago, Darklord Rooke said:

Tiger Woods golf

Never really heard of it, but it sounds like it has the same basic trait of relying on player mechanical skill, not character skill. If those clubs you get simply make the game easier in what is otherwise the same environment, it's basically just a modifier of what player skill is required, rather than marking an improvement of the character's skill.

8 hours ago, Darklord Rooke said:

XCOM would be RPG and not strategy.

You're not directly playing a role in XCOM, you're commanding soldiers. Maybe the individual soldiers have some of the traits that a RPG role would have, but you're not playing as them, but essentially as a commander of them. It is closer to being an RPG than any, say, FPS is, though. Note that how the story presents characters in a game matters to whether the game can be an RPG; In the absense of an actual (individual) character that serves to provide the role to be played, it simply can't be an RPG, for the most part.

8 hours ago, Darklord Rooke said:

Telltale games would be RPG and not adventure.

I would say this is the only one that holds any real weight. Adventure games and RPG games are not fundamentally dissimiliar. I would say that many adventure games are also RPG games; multi-genre games are a thing, and while most genres conflict with RPG, the traits that make something an adventure game don't neccesarily interfere with RPG elements, and can even match up well enough that making what would be an adventure game and not an RPG into an adenture game AND RPG could end up being pretty trivial, to the point that it could also be done unintentionally.

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5 minutes ago, Odenvard said:

To clarify on that definition, I'll point out why your examples don't fit (plus why one maybe fits).

Halo is an FPS, and that type of game relies on the mechanical skill of the player to achieve better results, rather than the skill level of the role being played (presumably, playing the same Halo game multiple times would lead you to more easily getting better results each time, which makes no sense in the context of the role you're playing, it's your skill that's going up, after all, the character presumably gets reset to its starting form with each new game).

This gets me pretty confused tbh. By that definition, would something like tera not count as an RPG? There are classes which require a lot of player skill with common fighting game techniques like animation cancelling and that stuff. 

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2 hours ago, Odenvard said:

To clarify on that definition, I'll point out why your examples don't fit (plus why one maybe fits).

Halo is an FPS, and that type of game relies on the mechanical skill of the player to achieve better results, rather than the skill level of the role being played (presumably, playing the same Halo game multiple times would lead you to more easily getting better results each time, which makes no sense in the context of the role you're playing, it's your skill that's going up, after all, the character presumably gets reset to its starting form with each new game).

Never really heard of it, but it sounds like it has the same basic trait of relying on player mechanical skill, not character skill. If those clubs you get simply make the game easier in what is otherwise the same environment, it's basically just a modifier of what player skill is required, rather than marking an improvement of the character's skill.

You're not directly playing a role in XCOM, you're commanding soldiers. Maybe the individual soldiers have some of the traits that a RPG role would have, but you're not playing as them, but essentially as a commander of them. It is closer to being an RPG than any, say, FPS is, though. Note that how the story presents characters in a game matters to whether the game can be an RPG; In the absense of an actual (individual) character that serves to provide the role to be played, it simply can't be an RPG, for the most part.

I would say this is the only one that holds any real weight. Adventure games and RPG games are not fundamentally dissimiliar. I would say that many adventure games are also RPG games; multi-genre games are a thing, and while most genres conflict with RPG, the traits that make something an adventure game don't neccesarily interfere with RPG elements, and can even match up well enough that making what would be an adventure game and not an RPG into an adenture game AND RPG could end up being pretty trivial, to the point that it could also be done unintentionally.

Actually in Tiger Woods you level up the ability to use clubs and it relies on a player's skill only as much as many action RPG relies on a player's skill. Oblivion from Bethesda, for example, had a lock pick skill which was borderline useless (I could pick many locks with a skill at 5). Skyrim relies on a player's skill to swing the blade and block,  so does Dark Souls, so does Mass Effect, and so does almost any RPG that isn't turn based. EA's golfing game is as much an RPG as any of the above if you go by your definition.

If action RPGs are still classified as RPGs solely because of characters stats reflecting character's skill, and the ability to play a role, then that would mean any game which includes players stats (which governs the success of characters in the game) and the ability to play a role will be an RPG.

This includes games like NBA2k the lovely basketball game. Top Spin tennis. Road to the Show the baseball sim. Madden. In fact try and succeed at Road to the Show with poor character stats -> almost impossible to hit the ball playing as a pitcher with 10 points in the batting skills[1]

All of these are actually sims because sims include games where the player plays a role and their success is governed by character skills (stats), like every dating sim we play, and also The Sims. Yet if we endorse your definition they will all be known as RPGs also. Some people call them that, but I don't believe them to be.

The reason you find VNs to be RPGs without the gameplay is because you endorse a definition where many games from many different genres could be classified as an RPG.

[1]

[1]MLB-The-Show-16-Spending.jpg

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Road to the Show is a blast for RPG fans who don't mind baseball btw. Mainly because success is reflected by character skills, it's similar to an action RPG without combat and focused on sport, but I won't ever call it that. Some people do, though. Like the following article:

https://blog.us.playstation.com/2017/03/14/mlb-the-show-17-goes-full-rpg-with-road-to-the-show/

And that sort of stuff leads to discussions like this one:

https://www.gamespot.com/forums/games-discussion-1000000/surely-nearly-every-game-is-an-rpg-31165367/

I like the term to retain some actual meaning, because with level progression leaking  into every game, as well as story content, if you regard action RPGs as RPGs then pretty soon you'll be regarding plenty of games as RPGs. Which has lead some people to go ultra-specific in their definition of RPGs in order to retain an actual RPG genre.

EDIT: The single player mode on Cycling Manager (which is pretty fun) would be considered a pure RPG mode. No action gameplay, character progression with stats, and you play the role of a cyclist complete with jobs given to you by the team. Although how they calculate the hill/mountain stats are pretty dodgy which means bizarre results ...

jB4T99H.jpg

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1 hour ago, Kaguya said:

This gets me pretty confused tbh. By that definition, would something like tera not count as an RPG? There are classes which require a lot of player skill with common fighting game techniques like animation cancelling and that stuff. 

Mass Effect 2 and 3 would probably be some of the first games that go. They're borderline pure action as it is, and ME2 had some pretty meaningless character progression. 

Heh, on Gamespot the first games chosen were Bethesda's even though they had plenty of stats. Shocked me because I would have sworn ME2 would have been the first suggested ... rather than the second suggested xD - https://www.gamespot.com/forums/games-discussion-1000000/rpg-s-that-aren-t-really-rpg-s-31186090/

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I'd say our definitions of "RPG" are incompatible, but, as a final comment, I would comment that "action RPGs" (aka "ARPGs") are indeed not entirely RPGs, as far as my definition goes. I consider them a hybrid genre, part RPG, part action game, but not an example of either genre to a full degree.

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