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In-Game Encyclopedia – An Anatomy Of Visual Novels


Pallas_Raven

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

 

Knowledge Is Power

 

When exploring complicated ideas it can difficult to make sure the player understands what is going on while still making the dialogue and events believable and not an exposition dump, even more so if it uses a lot of in universe concepts. The answer which visual novels have come to is the inclusion of an in-game encyclopedia that unlocks new entries as the player encounters new aspects of the narrative. Also sometimes referred to as Tips or a Glossary, they act as a place to point a confused player towards and helps them break down ideas into manageable chunks so they grasp proceedings, but it can just as easily be ignored by those who do not need assistance. Beyond this there is space here to expand on the world of the game into aspects the story will never tread in order to add texture to what is shown. A more playful or mystery focused visual novel might even drop subtle hints for people to pick up on and feel clever for piecing together. While visual novels are not the only types of games to have in-game encyclopedias, they are certainly the ones which know how to make the most out of them to sell their core identity. Let’s look up key information and consider how and why in-game encyclopedias manifest in visual novels.

 

Breaking Down Complicated Concepts

 

Presenting ideas within a narrative while keep the pacing from slowing down and creating believable characters to express them is a balancing act most visual novels have to tread. The temptation is to showcase all of the key information in a series of exposition dump in order to get it out of the way and move into the more interesting implications of these ideas. However, this is a sure-fire way bore the player to tears as they become overloaded and fail to process what is being said to them resulting in an unpleasant and counterproductive experience. In-game encyclopedias severely lessen the need for these dumps by providing the player with an easy to access source of entries on all the key concepts when they appear and gives them a means to refer back to what a word or idea means long after it has been brought up. Doing this allows the remaining exposition to focus in on the interesting and dramatic knowledge it makes sense for the characters to discover at the same time as the player to heighten the tension. It can also be completely ignored on a second playthrough since it does not interrupt the flow of the game and makes it a less tedious experience with nobody explaining basic concepts the player already knows. 

 

A Sense Of The World Beyond

 

Stories can only ever be a snapshot of the world they belong to and the people who live there as a result it can be difficult to provide a sense that it exist beyond being a contrivance for the plot to take place in. The method open to those games which use in-game encyclopedias to combat this shallow feeling is having extra world building or character snippets. These are all superfluous to the main narrative and provide information on the greater cultural, technological or geographic considerations those in universe would already be aware of in their day to day lives. Putting this into the narrative proper would only cause bloat and pacing issues where everything grinds to a halt for something too mundane to be worth the player’s time. However, inside the in-game encyclopedia it is an exciting bonus the player can engage with how and when they want in order to give a much needed sense of place and context to a gripping visual novel. Having such a rich background at their fingertips gives people a reason to care about the harm posed by the central threat beyond simply how it effects the main cast. It also lends a lightness to the encyclopedia through how it provides minor details instead of just complex concepts in order to make it appear more approachable. 

 

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Take for example fault - StP – LIGHTKRAVTE, this prequel to the main games exists in a very narrow and focused section of the world in order to tell a deeply personal tale. As such it does not provide a greater sense of place in its narrative and instead only directly brings up the concepts it needs such as the society the characters live in or the nature of their magic, but nothing beyond what is absolutely necessary. The in-game encyclopedia is how LIGHTKRAVTE prevents itself from feeling irrelevant to the main games through the intriguing morsels connecting what happens to future events. This not only promotes the idea of continuous and connected setting but also legitimises the existence of this prequel in the eyes of the player.

 

Dropping Hints

 

Not all uses of the in-game encyclopedia need to be overt and immediately meaningful, hiding clues in plain sight can do a lot to spice up the entries and make people pay attention. These are generally inserted into important information so as to be seen easily, but disguised enough that it is unlikely they will be noticed until the necessary context is provided later on. When it the time comes to unveil the truth, these hints allow for the game to appear clever in its set up with the multiple angles it took presenting its clues both in the main narrative and in the encyclopedia. The punch of the Aha moment is key for a mystery focused story, in particular those in a fantasy or sci-fi setting where the other benefits of the encyclopedia can be leveraged while also preventing the clues from being too overt, and handing out clues gives the feeling that the player could have solved the mystery beforehand had they only been paying attention. Should the hints be notice before the big reveal then the player gets to feel clever for having discovered some hidden truth, but no single hint is enough to spoil the fun so a balance can be maintained between information and ignorance.

 

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I/0 makes extensive use of this technique to keep the flow the narrative going even in the down time. The way the real and the digital world interact with each other and themselves requires a lot of background explanation in the encyclopedia while also being key to unveiling the truth which makes it the perfect place to put in a hint or two. In doing this the game is able to alleviate any possible confusion due to the multi-layered nature of the mystery by having the hints slowly make sense over the course of the narrative to clue the player into the fact that there is still more to be unveiled and they are not misunderstanding what is going on.

 

Conclusion

 

Keeping the player informed while also entertaining them is no easy task, but the in-game encyclopedia helps bridge the gap between the two aims as it removes the burden from the main game. It takes the complicated ideas presented in the story and breaks them into manageable entries which can be referred to if the player becomes confused and works to keep a good sense of pace by removing unnecessary exposition. Among the information it provides can be entries about the world the game its set in that are not directly related to the narrative in order to allow it to appear to be a vibrate and living place. From a narrative design perspective, the most useful part of the encyclopedia is its ability to conceal hints about upcoming plot reveals and makes the player feel cleaver if they notice them. There is a lot of flexibility offered to visual novels through this system, but the game in question needs complicated enough ideas to be able to fill it with entries in the first place, a slice of life romance would struggle to do anything meaningful with it. For those titles its is compatible with the benefits justify the investment.

 

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This feature is definitely would be a lot of help if it applied in the game that need many explanation. Technically speaking, Fate/Stay Night also has one, although it's more like RPG status which make sense seeing the casts involve in a battle royale involving summoning the servants who can use their best moves and ultimately made player more like playing RPG. Other than that, Science Adventure like to make full use of this feature to do the info dump on their stories. As for dropping hints function, I recall how FF8 has that one in the encyclopedia, although in this case it's more like the staff decided to write the plot point based on the entry.

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

PS - Forgot to mention that Utawarerumono also has this feature as well, which is really help seeing there's a number of words from Ainu tribe with said language is not exactly common one to put it simply. Obviously the developer is also intend to use the dictionary as the way to build the world, seeing Utawarerumono world is fictional one.

Edited by littleshogun
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