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Thriller – Genre Deep Dive



This is a condensed version of the full article which can be found on my Main Blog Here.


The Enemy Within


Sometimes we just need a little danger to add some excitement to our lives, but do not want to actually put ourselves in harms way so we turn to the Thriller. This genre has had a long history of fiction covering everything from spies to crime in order to keep the reader on their toes. In many ways it is similar to another genre visual novels thrive in, Horror, since both rely on invoking feelings of tension in the player although the Triller is more interested in the thrill than outright fear as an end result. Tension on an intimate level is by far the medium’s greatest strength so the Thriller fits nicely into what it has to offer and gives a sense of animated humanity to scenes where the tension is at its thickest. Thrillers are a flexible design space for games since they can easily assimilate aspects of other genres making it especially appealing to developer’s who want to add some spice to an otherwise simple experience. However, just like with anything it has to be handled properly or it can overwhelm all other flavours and turn people off completing the meal. So let’s uncover a conspiracy and discover how visual novels have utilised the Thriller.


Tension In The Smallest Movements


The threat of danger is often more effective at holding a player in suspense than open displays of violence. A simple everyday conversation takes on new life when we know one of the people involved could kill the other if they feel like it. This dance of masks and intentions is the main hallmark of the Thriller and requires a subtlety and deftness that visual novels find easy to accommodate. Their limited means of presenting narratives leads to them making the most out of every movement and turn of phrase which is exactly how a tense scene gets much of its mileage. When the player knows something violent might be about to happen they tend to start to comb every twitch of the eyebrow or the way something is described in order to avoid the potential negative outcome. Thrillers take advantage of this inherent fear of the consequences of conflict to generate excitement, obviously the player knows they are not really in danger but they are willing to put that aside and be pulled into the space of play established through the visual novel. 




For a good example of how this works in practice we can look to The Devil On G-String and any scene where Azai Gonzou is present. This yakuza boss is a constant source of danger for the protagonist, but it is never entirely clear if that is immediate or if he is just playing with them. Gonzou has a large presence any time he is on screen despite not being a man of many words and instead he makes his position of power clear through a no-nonsense approach where the violence of his occupation is implied in his every action. The player is made to jump at his subtle changes in expression and the way his words are presented on screen through the developer’s constant quiet shifting of how these elements come across. Sometimes the player does no need a single clear person to feel in danger and instead the idea that anybody the characters talk to could be a murder is often more powerful. Kara No Shoujo has a series of horrific killings and places a number of characters in front of the player who are just as likely to be responsible as they are to be next victim in order to make every interaction with them hold an underlying tension. While this is nowhere near as directly potent as the single person conversation, it does have a more continued presence in the mind of the player and subtly pulls on their thoughts. It also means the visual novel can provide a paced and even rising tension that overflows into a more direct type of thrill at the climax. This makes it the preferred type for games intending to have a longer duration or include mystery elements where relying on direct conflict may not be a reasonable narrative option.


Paranoia Is A Man’s Best Friend


Having an easy to pinpoint source of danger is not a requirement to create a sense of thrill, after all we can conjure up monster where none exist. Employing the sense that someone or something is out to get the characters but providing enough room to doubt the truth of those feelings and not giving the player anything too solid to grasp onto makes for an abstract sense of danger. The mind has a tendency of reaching the most negative conclusions from the information it is given and for the Thriller this is shaped into a palpable paranoia. Once in place the grasp it has on the player’s thoughts helps build a tension in every activity the characters perform. Is this going to be the moment when the shadows come for them? Questions like this circle the mind and the developer can use cues to get their desired reaction while guiding the story forward. An extension of this approach is the unreliable narrator who the player has no other choice but to work with as the point of view they have been given. This leads to an uneasy and distrustful relationship with a narrative force which is normally on the player’s side leading to another layer of paranoia. It also gives a good sense of catharsis when the truth about the protagonist lies comes out and the player is on the same level as them again.




Excitement In A Static Medium


Generating a sense of action and climax at the end of a Thriller when everything come together to pay off a game’s worth of setup is a sizeable challenge for the predominantly static medium of visual novels. In order to create these heart pumping moments they must instead look to what is at stake in this conflict and make sure it is brought to the front at every possible moment. This way each game can lean into their strengths and utilise other forms of climax that are more a battle of wits than a fist fight. Being focused around the thoughts in the characters heads as they try to outwit one another acts as a better source of resolution to a subtle tension or paranoia style of Thriller discussed above and this forms a more complete experience than any form of direct action scenes could hope to achieve. Despite visual novel’s static nature, they do have some tool for dynamic feeling actions through shifting character portraits, CG’s and backgrounds which allow them to fine-tune the work done by the narrative and sell this as the moment where everything is up for grabs.




Umineko provides us with an example of how a visual novel can achieve a thrilling finale even with its static nature. Mysteries and the examination of them is a the core of Umineko and as you would expect this means the climax of each episode is an exercise in problem solving and a battle of wits. In practice this is just two or more people standing opposite each other and debating the issue and on the surface this seems like it might not be exciting, but when placed in context it is one of the most trilling things in any game. This is achieved through a mixing of the high stakes riding on every word spoken and the interesting mysteries that appear to have two distinctly different but incompatible answer to them. The player is kept in suspense about the fate of the character they have grown to like and by their lack of knowledge about which truth is the correct one as all sides make some extremely compelling arguments. Umineko wrings every drop out this dynamic in order to compensate for its lack of visual quality and it worked wonders as the passionate playerbase has shown.




There is an undeniable parallel between the natural intensity and intimacy present in visual novels and a Thriller’s aim of creating an exciting and tense narrative. Crafting a feeling of danger from the tiny details of a scene is something visual novels have the ability to lean into due to the limited design space available to them and this gives the Thriller fertile ground to keep the heart racing even in what should be low stakes moments. The feeling of paranoia brought on by an unclear antagonistic force or an unreliable narrator provide the medium a means of forming a continuous tension within a Thriller. Through playing off the strong sense of high stakes and more battle of wits centric stories a text heavy game tends towards, a visual novel can lead its Thriller to an appropriate climax. Alongside Horror, the Thriller is perhaps the most compatible genre with the strengths of the medium.



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What I understand is that thriller genre mean the MC is always face the chance of his life in danger, which make the story is more exciting to the reader so much that some of highest rating VNs on VNDB have Thriller genre. For more VNs with thriller, there's Root Double in which it list Thriller as one of the genre, which make sense seeing the two MCs are in constant danger while at the same time they also need to find out on how they escape the nuclear facility within nine hours. Steins Gate can also count to be thriller, seeing Okabe need to move very carefully after his action was detected by mysterious organization that want to remove him.

That's all for what I can comment in regard of this topic.

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