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MayoeruHitori last won the day on October 21 2021

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  1. I love the Arifureta web novel too; nice to see someone talk about it on Fuwanovel. I'm not caught up on all the after stories, though. For those who shy away from pure novels, the Arifureta manga is also a very solid adaptation, popular on sites like MangaDex. https://mangadex.org/title/248525ed-ad1c-4ddc-a834-5d6ce66a3ad2/arifureta-shokugyou-de-sekai-saikyou Also, those who want to read this novel in English should make sure to read the official J-Novel translation, which are really good and reads so much better than the mediocre half-MTL'ed fan translations. https://j-novel.club/read/arifureta-from-commonplace-to-world-s-strongest-volume-1-part-1 I agree that the connections Hajime has with the heroines are one of the best parts of this novel. I always try to find good harems like this, but it's hard. Campione is another great example. P.S. On the subject of web novels, Kumo desu ga and Yondome wa Iya na Shi Zokusei Majutsushi are two other top-tier ones with antihero protagonists, which are (relatively) lesser-known. And I assume you've heard of Re-Zero, Overlord, and Mushoku Tensei... those are three other deeply unique web novels (well, Overlord at least abandoned its web novel version) with nice prose and amazing worldbuilding.
  2. Key's history is a deep topic. That review of Little Busters is on point. Even before Little Busters, Clannad's After Story route was criticized by some for being too similar to YU-NO. When I watched one HBR trailer in slow motion, I could even see which character is the first to be sacrificed by Maeda... and it's the type of character he often chooses. He's actually self-aware that his ideas aren't all fresh: the story concept for Summer Pockets came from him, but he had hesitated to put it forward because he said it felt derivative of his earlier works. Still, Key wanted to use it, and SP sold well anyway. I liked SP too; a story doesn't need to be completely original to be enjoyed, and if HBR ends up anywhere near SP's level that would still put it in a league of its own among social games. Above all, Maeda still has strengths as a comedy writer and as a character writer; Kyousuke from Little Busters and Kanade from Angel Beats in particular are timeless fan favorites. At the core, I guess VNs inherit the advantages and disadvantages of books. Most people just don't want to read books, unless there is something abnormally good there which they can't find elsewhere, or everyone around them is reading a particular book too, like Harry Potter (or Kanon, Tsukihime, Ever17). They prefer movie (or anime) adaptations of books. The English-based VN community never had a bubble, and so like you said, relatively speaking it's done well for itself in recent years, with DDLC even on Famitsu's cover the other day. But in contrast, the Japanese VN industry is expected to financially sustain a good number of companies that aren't just indies and localizers, and sales aren't what they used to be...
  3. Thanks! It's cool to hear that you found my posts interesting. Your views make sense, and I'm broadly aligned with them, except maybe in what I choose to emphasize. I respect your cynicism toward social games, and even toward these two social games. TBF, we don't have any clear info about them yet. And my views are that VNs could improve social games, rather than the other way around, so this subject isn't immediately relevant to pure VN fans. Even then, I only put the chance of "revolution" at like... 20%? I'd say it's 60% that people look back at these games a couple years from now and say "oh yeah, that was a weird and cool design decision! too bad nobody played these games and they were shut down months later" and 20% that the producers just cut out what make these 2 games unique in beta tests to try to salvage the low-attention-span player base. So the prospect of an "intensely integrated experience" I mentioned is just a far-off possibility with that first 20% chance as a precondition. When it comes to labors of love versus profit-oriented works, I find it hard to draw the line between them sometimes, but agree that uninspired writers produce poor works. Tribe Nine is a bit of an unknown, with the way Kodaka described their writers as having the freedom to create stories in any genre they want, yet they still take place in a very specific "extreme baseball" setting that Too Kyo came up with, so Kodaka's supervision counts for a lot... and HBR in particular feels less inspired that I'd like, but Maeda has been mostly out of inspiration for a while now anyway, and at least his humor and eloquence of prose is extremely consistent. I agree that the medium of VNs (particularly eroge and doujinshi, but I don't want to slight CERO-regulated works) will always be suitable for works that are idiosyncratic and push the boundaries of creative expression. Especially DLsite VNs which aren't directly subject to Sofurin's behind-the-scenes regulation. Web novels (some of the Chinese and Korean ones are excellent too) and doujin RPGs are also powerful avenues for unrestrained creative expression. But due to the way VN engines fuse audiovisual elements and literature in a scaleable way, I still consider VNs the most ideally expressive medium. I'm like you in that I'd also not want to see VNs become lucrative again, if it meant that the already shrunken market for niche/inspired works disappeared completely. (I have no words for people who unironically say they think ero "holds back" VNs; with current economic forces in the industry, it's the opposite if anything. In the first place, the VN industry has enough room for both kinds; it's not a zero-sum game.) Honestly though, I don't expect that social games having better stories will directly impact the market for that, or drain much talent from the VN industry that hasn't already been drained. I know that Kodaka is someone who always seeks new challenges for himself, and Tribe Nine is just another one of them. In the end, I'm just guessing though. It's not so much about bigger being better for script size, as the bigger the script size, the less likely they've constrained themselves by social game standards. Even early FGO's story, before Nasu reformed it, consisted mostly of 30-second ADV segments separated by dialogue-less battles. Later on, FGO (and other story-oriented social games) ditched this "constant battles" requirement, and had more consecutive ADV segments. That's what made early arcs of FGO expand from around 2K lines for the entire arc, to several times that. Even then, something like Babylonia is still just 7K lines for a plot that deserves much more than that and feels awkward when adapted into a 2-cour anime, so there is still a gap before it in any way resembles a VN story-wise. So yeah, when I heard that Tribe Nine's script size would be so huge before it's even launched, and in the absence of indications that they'll have multiple monthly events, I just hope that this means each event or main story arc within the game is slowed down to a literary pace that's at least comparable to Danganronpa. But the proof is in the pudding, so I'll be playing these games myself to find out. Again, it's fantastic to have such thoughtful feedback on this post; I absolutely appreciate it. Oh, and you didn't particularly come off as a curmudgeon to me.
  4. Welcome back to my blog. Introduction You might have seen a few headlines about Heaven Burns Red and Tribe Nine, two upcoming mobile games from writers Maeda Jun and Kodaka Kazutaka. These aren't just your average games. They're ambitious ventures that blur the line between visual novel and social (AKA gacha) game. So I'm here today to talk about exactly why VNs fans should pay close attention to the potential of these two upcoming games, given both how unique their stories could turn out to be and their implications for the VN industry as a whole. As an important disclaimer, like almost all social games, these two titles will probably be a bad fit for anyone who has a predisposition to gambling addiction. If you think that label could apply to you, my recommendation is: don't even consider playing them (or any other social game). Just stick with VNs, and watch these games' stories on YouTube or elsewhere later. The Worn Soil of the Visual Novel Industry, and Social Game Money Trees There's no question that Japanese visual novels have declined relative to their peak. (International VNs are very much on the rise, but that's another subject, and they have yet to reach Japan's heights anyway.) The golden age is far behind us, and there are no more VNs that turn into famous multi-industry franchises. The otaku community as a whole has shifted its interest away from VNs and back to anime and manga, or onward to the likes of isekai novels, doujin eroge, and social games. If you can't accept this and want to understand exactly when and why visual novels declined, check out this post's prequel, Notes on the past and hope of Japanese visual novels. Back in the heyday of VNs, CEOs of eroge companies were buying sports cars, and there was no lack of investors. When the decline happened, there were a variety of causes/symptoms, but the one that produced the most tremors in the industry is that the cash flow dried up. Somebody moved Baba's cheese. So where did the cheese go, then? The best answer is that it went to social games. In fact, the year that the sales decline of eroge leveled out (you might say that people finished evacuating) was the same year that there was a broad movement by the Japanese game industry to take their social games off of SNS and onto independent platforms like GREE to boost profits. No social game born from a visual novel IP has drawn more attention than Fate/Grand Order. True, Fate was already a massive franchise even before FGO, and that certainly helped the game succeed financially. However, the all-time revenue from console Fate/stay night is infamously less than a week's worth for FGO. FSN sold less than a million copies on all platforms, but the same core Type-Moon artist, writer, and pair of composers have built the creative foundation of a mobile spin-off with more than a million active users, and vast revenue thanks to whales. Bad Stories: An Inevitable Problem with Social Games? Visual novels have a reputation for deep and powerful stories. Social games don't, despite the fact that they share so many elements with VNs: they often have an ADV presentation style that's similar to VNs, talents from the VN industry often work on them, the plot can end up quite lengthy and complicated just like VNs, the player meets hero(in)es and builds relationships with them like in VNs, and so on. Instead, what social games have a reputation for is waifus/husbandos and fanservice. There's a reason for that reputation: developers' attitudes. As a genre, social games weren't developed with the goal of telling compelling stories; they were created in order to facilitate gameplay that leverages behavioral habits to encourage players' engagement and investment. And while the presence of VN-esque heroines can serve to boost players' engagement, lengthy VN-esque narratives are regarded by social game developers as an impediment to engagement, given the way consumers have trended away from VNs. As a result, social game scenarios are often short, and constrained by the gameplay's predetermined "plot" such as random monster attacks every 2 minutes. They even have silent protagonists, a convention that the story-driven JRPG and VN industries abandoned a long time ago. The truth is, developers' disregard for scenario quality actually isn't new at all. Leaders in VN and eroge companies have always had a pattern of naively thinking that the artist is the person who matters most in a VN's development, and that the writer is the person who matters least. In the early days, they would even hire absolutely anyone to be an eroge scenario writer, because they just didn't care. So it's a problem that many decision-makers in these companies are actually idiots whose presence does the social game industry a disservice. And so no, bad stories in social games aren't inevitable. In fact, many game development teams recognized their bad stories and belatedly tried to improve them. That's why you will often hear people say of social game stories "the later events at better" or "they didn't think it would be so popular early on..." Unfortunately, a bad story can't truly be fixed by additions to it; it should be at least rewritten, but that rarely happens. So what you have is an industry that's still full of bad stories, and producers who think that's perfectly natural. The Ambition to Create Deep Stories in Social Games: Enter Key and Too Kyo In December 2019, Key announced Heaven Burns Red. Key needs no introduction; their writer Maeda Jun's nakige Kanon was largely responsible for redefining VNs as emotional experiences in the first place. 1st beat was the last game he had direct involvement in. Pre-registrations are already open, and trailers and interviews have come out which show many indications that Heaven Burns Red has potential: The protagonist actually speaks, and forms clear emotional connections with other characters. Without a real protagonist, a social game story's prospects are much lower, because players can't self-insert as well; they wonder why an epic plot revolves around a character who has the expressiveness of an emoticon set. This is one of the major complaints people have toward social games with relatively good stories like Fate/Grand Order. Maeda Jun's humor is as spectacular as ever. Key's writer has once more created a world full of characters who are funny and distinct. Just a few lines spoken between them is enough to entertain or intrigue the player. Good comedy is one of the few things that can instantly grab a person and maintain their attention. Too few social games are actually fun to read early on. Baba, someone whose vision of visual novels' potential aligns with what I've talked about, is fully behind this. Baba Takahiro, a smart businessman who founded and still leads Visual Arts, has shared his views with the world in interviews. He had Key partner with WFS, a competent and experienced developer which has created some of the more story-oriented social games, like Another Eden and Shoumetsu Toshi. He has a realistic awareness that VNs are no longer as popular as they once were, but at the same time, as recognizes and wishes to continue to leverage the potential of VN-style stories to let players form deep attachments to characters. HBR is just one of many projects Baba has approved in order to help Key and its talents adapt to industry trends. You can count on there being nakige elements. This is clear from trailers, if it wasn't already clear from the fact that Baba will naturally leverage Maeda's talents. It's not like other social games haven't made many of their players cry before, via plot elements like tragic backstories and character deaths, but they don't be able to hold a candle to what Maeda can do. The scale is broad, as you'd expect from a social game that's been taken so seriously by its developers. There are already character designs and concepts for 48 main characters, Maeda involved in all of them, beyond the 12 who have been introduced so far. Even just as a social game, the production values and system look better than almost anything I've seen before. The 3D environments and models, special attack animations, character designs, music, and voice acting are all impressive. If you want more of a sense of what Heaven Burns Red is like, I recommend watching the first and second trailers. In February 2020, Too Kyo and Akatsuki announced a new social game called Tribe Nine. (For those who don't know, Too Kyo is a collaborative indie company established in 2017 which employs a number of creative talents, such as writer Kodaka Kazutaka the rest of the Danganronpa team, Zero Escape's writer Uchikoshi Koutarou, and Root Double's writer Nakazawa Takumi. They all left their former companies.) Anyway, at the time Tribe Nine was announced, it was a teaser that most people didn't pay much attention to. But in fact, half a year later, Too Kyo secretly went from an LLC to a corporation. Then earlier this year, they put out a call to recruit a number of new writers. While the scale of the changes at Too Kyo isn't clear yet, Nakazawa and Kodaka have described the company's atmosphere as intensely busy and full of enthusiasm. The game's storytelling approach comes from Kodaka. Like Baba, he has strong views about the potential of emotionally moving stories to redefine our expectations for game narratives, and he has enough ambition for 3 Babas. The scenario size is already more than the original Danganronpa's, and they plan for it to be more than double that before the game's release. Not that they will release it all at once. Danganronpa was easily a medium-sized VN. Having twice that written before release is unprecedented for a social game. For comparison's sake, the entirety of FGO's Arc 1 (through Solomon) is just comparable to a medium-sized VN that's on the long size, 750K characters. Great value is placed in the writers for Tribe Nine. Look at what I just said about the scenario size; the implication is that Too Kyo will output maybe half a million characters in just the next few months. While it's too early to make any definitive judgments, the implication from recruitment notices and Kodaka's comments about them is that Too Kyo's new writers have been directly enabled to create the kind of stories they want to tell, that they can be passionate about, and fit those stories into the world of Tribe Nine's Neo Tokyo. Both Heaven Burns Red and Tribe Nine are mobile games, with no PC ports or localizations announced yet. But it's clear that both Key and Too Kyo want to release their works in the West, and I believe that WFS (partnered with Key for HBR) is particularly equipped to make that happen, since they also localized Another Eden. Historically, every Too Kyo project has also seen localization, even simultaneously. Conclusion: Exploration and Wandering in Search of Forgotten Beauty and Prestige Social games are one of the most lucrative genres of video games in existence, thanks largely to whales' wallets, but also due to their popularity among ordinary people. Yet ironically, they are the subject of constant ridicule, and not just for their gambling elements. Even the most popular ones are often criticized as having generic, snoozefest stories and vapid, grindy gameplay. But if you look closely, there's a subset of fans who actually rave positively about social games' stories. Stories that are objectively "okay" at best, even if you don't factor in the bad gameplay that accompanies them. And the reason they do that is actually the same reason people might also praise the potential for lengthy VNs to immerse players: the more time players spend with characters, the more they become attached to them. When you wake up every day and tap on an app icon and see your waifu say hello on your home screen, take her into battle constantly, watch as new side episodes and versions and skins of her are released multiple times a year, browse tons of fan art, and so on... you become attached to that character, and all her idiosyncrasies. So even if some new event's plot that involves her is bland by any objective measure, it's still directly about someone you're fond of, who you just love to see talk and act--so you enjoy it. Consider a certain tiny dragon who's a generic JRPG mascot character with the catchphrase "I'm not a lizard" voiced by Kugimiya Rie, and who has zero character depth or character development ever... After you've watched 100+ short slice-of-life scenes involving him over the course of 2+ years, he feels like an old friend with a bit of a silly personality, it comforts your heart a little to just be around him, and you'll even create memes about his love of apples to share on Reddit or Discord. That's what it's often like to become a fan of these games, as a cognitive process. Long-lived social games are, inherently, epics. They are expansive worlds with vast casts of characters, explored over the course of months and years. And yet, they're even more than that. They're epics where the gameplay is designed to make us feel emotionally engaged with their world, in spite of their poorly written and ambiguously connected stories which only have a few occasional good scenes. If social games that follow these two upcoming games' example were to become the norm, I believe we'd have a chance to see a game that is simultaneously objectively great--at the very least, one tier below VNs' top tier--and epic in scale, and viscerally engaging. That kind of intensively integrated experience, which simmers alongside one's daily life, is something that I hope to one day get a taste of. But in the meantime, I will have to wait for these creators' attempts to pan out--for them to crack the code that will successfully fuse the charm of both social games and VNs. And so my eyes are on Heaven Burns Red and Tribe Nine. Misc. Reference It occurred to me that I didn't link to many sources for much of the info I have, so to help remedy that a bit, I've edited in this section to add a few links. https://news.denfaminicogamer.jp/interview/210930f Tribe Nine, Denfaminico Gamer interview with Kodaka https://voice.aktsk.jp/6773/ Tribe Nine, Akatsuki's interview with their producer Yamaguchi https://twitter.com/kaibutsukantoku/status/1444452237108039682 Tribe Nine translated info from above 2 articles https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZNQNZiy7K2I Tribe Nine game promo movie (no gameplay shown) https://www.reddit.com/r/gachagaming/comments/poc3oo/what_we_know_about_heaven_burns_red_so_far/ HBR, good summary of info https://www.reddit.com/r/grandorder/comments/k31fxx/jp_script_size_by_singularity/ Source for FGO numbers
  5. If you could've saved all your videos on it, it might've been worth paying ~50 USD for a 1 TB external hard drive, if that was financially possible. Good luck with whatever decision you make. (I'm just a passerby who was slightly intrigued by your post's title.)
  6. Hey Ramaladni, thanks for the recommendation! I've just checked out the Amazon reviews. I don't, specifically, have more interest in the details of early eroge history, or eroge alone, but since the latest 2017 edition covers even relatively modern history, I'd love to check it out. I did find a download for the older 2013 edition on manga-zip.net. In any case, thank you for the offer of help. Hmm, too bad there's no 2019 or 2020 edition, since there've been many developments in recent years (or even just the past 3 months frankly). I'd say that the main subject of these notes (which you may not have finished yet) is the decline and evolution of adventure games and visual novels. Eroge declined somewhat too, but I think it's already firmly stepped onto the path of evolution (after deemphasizing ADV). And nope, I have no plans for this to be a series.
  7. Welcome to my blog. Where have we been? Where are we going? TIMELINE 1980s: - Early eroge largely consist of still art (what we call pixel art now), very short dialogue/narrative elements, and some primitive interactive elements, while spanning many genres. 1990s: - The point-and-click adventure game, which has its roots in 1980s video games, establishes itself as one of the most popular genres of eroge. Many games emerge which have interfaces that are visually similar to those of most point-and-click adventure games, but with gradually differing gameplay. These games are all collectively called "adventure games" or "ADV" in Japanese. The general style of having an interface which consists of a rectangular text box at the bottom of the screen, and a collage of visual elements meant to serve as a guide for what the main character sees, is also called "ADV". In other words, ADV becomes a genre that embodies a style of presentation. - The non-adult game company Chunsoft puts out Otogirisou, a kind of illustrated story in which pictures are placed in the background as visual aids while the full narrative is conveyed as overlaid text. This style of presentation is called a "novel game" or "NVL" in Japanese. The gameplay of Otogirisou purely consists of the player making choices on where to take the story, similar to "Choose Your Own Adventure" books, a simple yet powerful narrative tool which would prove influential to ADV as a whole. - Two major eroge brands that specialize in ADV, elf and Leaf, create popular games like Doukyuusei and To Heart. These games stand out from their competitors by the way they utilize talented artists and writers to focus on the personalities of charming heroines, rather than treating pixel porn as what matters and the characterization as an afterthought. This character-centric evolution is called a charage (character game) and encompasses both NVL (like Kizuato) and ADV. And with the release of YU-NO and Kamaitachi no Yoru, two ADV/NVL games that have well-written stories, the term scenarioge (scenario game) becomes more popular. 1999: - Kanon is released by Key. It's the first time a large number of players became very emotionally moved by the story of an eroge, or any ADV at that. Even someone like Baba from Visual Arts, who was just a businessman without much personal interest in ADV, became interested after Kanon. Aside from inventing the nakige (naki game, which means "crying game") genre, it awakened in players a desire for longer scenarios as necessary to deepen their attachment to the heroines. But its most significant role is being the first major moege (moe game) at a time when the term "moe" wasn't even very well known. 2000: - The doujin NVL Tsukihime comes out, and its quality lets it rank among the very top, if not at the very top, of both scenarioge and charage. See Popular Views on What Defines the Chuuni Genre for more info on the influence of Type-Moon's works. 2000-2006: - Now that Kanon and Tsukihime have come out, it seems like a dam bursts and a flood of popular and influential ADV/NVL are released. There are comparatively fewer in 2001, with the most notable ones in my mind being Kiminozo and Kazokei. But in 2002 you have Ever17, Higurashi, Kusarihime, Baldr Force, Hello world, Da Capo, and others. And every year after that just has more and more top quality ADV/NVL. The biggest year is 2004, which sees the release of both Clannad and Fate/stay night (successors to Kanon and Tsukihime, respectively). - Around the middle of the decade, the term "visual novel" is invented among English speaking fans of these games, and basically refers to any game which has an ADV/NVL-style interface and a strong and constant narrative. Since the rest of the world directly bypassed the early history of Japanese eroge and ADV/NVL, they didn't bother with the origins of these styles of games, and just chose a term which seemed to more naturally describe the most famous and representative ADV/NVL. Since then, the term "visual novel" has been recognized by the Japanese too, although the broader Japanese playerbase still commonly thinks that VN is synonymous with "adventure game". In any case, the term is excellent and I like it. - Over the course of this decade, the major tropes and popular genres of VNs, which were mostly foreshadowed in the late 1990s, are firmly established and standardized. They include TIPs, unlockable routes/end, true ends, bad ends, hidden heroines, time loops/leaps, moe, chuuni, nakige, utsuge, imouto games, and many more. The diverse and awkward gameplay of the 1980s and 1990s more or less disappears. - Meanwhile, many of the most successful eroge companies like Key, Type-Moon, and Leaf/Aqua-Plus successfully rebrand themselves and reduce their focus on adult content for the sake of marketing their works to the rest of the Japanese "otaku" industries. They adopt the label of "bishoujo game maker". Many of their most popular IPs (intellectual properties) receive anime adaptations or evolve into multimedia franchises, with "Fate" being the most famous example. On the other hand, as these industries embrace VNs, they also learn from them and try to emulate that same appeal within their own IPs; Fate/stay night is especially influential as a progenitor of the "chuuni" genre. 2006: - Statistically, eroge sales begin to decline. The industry itself doesn't immediately begin to decline, though, because investors take time to notice and react to such trends, companies are still in the midst of developing games, and they will try to shift strategies to fight the trend. The decline in sales won't slow down until 2012. WHY Causes of the trend? This was fiercely debated for years and still hasn't been completely settled. But it's more or less clear. VNs served as a creative outlet without rivals for several years. At first, in the early 1990s, nobody expect much from eroge. But as we entered the later part of the decade, that changed. Eroge was always a venue for weird and exciting scenarios that wouldn't be accepted elsewhere, and it was easier than ever to make quality audiovisual experiences, with multiple free or cheap VN engines available. Writers like Maeda Jun and Nasu took advantage of the medium's ease of entry, along with the freedom of expression it afforded. It was a fresh, mature alternative to the LN industry. However, that didn't last forever. Major publishers in other mediums distilled the parts of eroge that appealed most to players: the nakige components, the moe components, the fanservice and unapologetic harems, the handy sci-fi tropes, the balloon breasts. Everything except the deep emotional and mental investment that's only possible with literature. And of course, the mature themes and content. Above all, what VNs brought to the table was no longer as fresh to people. Without a sense of excitement, the fact that VNs require people to sit down and actually read continuously for hours became... problematic. The era of smartphones and social media also heralded the era of low attention spans. People came to think that "adventure games" = "boring". This was coupled with the fact that more and more people play bishoujo games on their smartphones, and who wants to play eroge in public? Waifu/husbando social games like Fate/Grand Order and Granblue Fantasy dealt especially heavy blows to players' interest in VNs. They let players pick between countless more waifus and husbandos than VNs, have more exciting plots to engage casual players (not some ordinary school life drama), have the slutty outfits and exaggerated figures of nukige heroines, continually put out new content for the most popular characters, let you put your waifu/husbando in your home screen so you can constantly look at her, and tap on the portrait of her/him to hear some flirty line voiced by a popular anime seiyuu. They even copied the feature of some VNs where you can give your favorite hero or heroine chocolates on Valentine's Day or White Day. The proof is in the recent anime Chuubyou Gekihatsu Boy where the "guy who's only interested in 2D girls" stereotype no longer involves VNs on a PSP, but rather depicts a social game on a phone. To be frank, even the latest Fire Emblem game probably makes VNs less appealing by comparison. The main draw of VNs was always the cute and flirty heroines and romance, but these elements have been thoroughly exported. The exact same situation arose with Japanese web novels on the site Shousetsuka ni Narou. An initial wave of authors pioneered new genres with certain distinctive tropes, most of them related to isekai, and started a trend which has dominated the Japanese web novel scene. But the mainstream LN industry quickly learned and started to put out its own isekai LNs, as well as aggressively recruit these authors (who naturally didn't object to being paid for what they'd initially put out for free online). A few years later, Narou's talents have more or less moved out, and the stories at the top of the popularity charts haven't been supplanted by any new talents. In any case, the major difference between Narou and the VN industry is that Narou authors are overall much better off with editors, whereas the transition from VNs to LNs/anime is absolutely a creative downgrade. WHAT DO 1. Copy FGO. Social games are a natural evolution of the appeal of many VNs. Unfortunately, they're also largely vapid experiences with have less voice acting, silent protagonists, a massive cast of heroines who receive little character development, a disjointed narrative, a story that's mostly dialogue and constantly interrupted by battles, and many other flaws that prevent them from achieving literary excellence. These games have invariably underestimated how popular they'll become and worked with cheap art assets and flimsy storytelling, only to fix this by hiring better artists and writers for the more recent arcs of their ongoing main storylines. However, even those recent arcs are still shallow experiences compared to VNs. The best they can do is have good comedy--no one will ever feel as empathetic toward the characters as they do in VNs. But of course, despite the problems with social games' storytelling, they are still... inevitable. They will still successfully rake in cash from people with personalities prone to gambling addiction. So one VN company after another has tried to become the next FGO. Eushully, light, August, Key, Lilith, Frontwing, Nitroplus and many others have pursued social games, virtually all of which failed to really take off like FGO--in part because they weren't very well-made, and in part because the Fate franchise is more popular with more devoted fans. Frankly, this solution has been thoroughly pursued by all sorts of VN companies, and we know exactly what happens: it fails unless they're very lucky. 2. Give up. This is a wise and fine choice. The river of life flows ever onward. Sometimes it's best to accept defeat. 3. Make NOT a visual novel. Be Kodaka Kazutaka. Start from the idea that you want to make an adventure game. Then to appease your producer, call it a detective game instead, and add a 3D world with gameplay that takes place within it while occupying a lot of the player's time, so it in no way feels like a pure ADV. Make the narrative largely dialogue-driven. Write in a way that wastes less time on subtlety and imagery and takes more advantage of humor, twists, and action. Then call it Danganronpa and be successful, while feeling that you tricked the world by making an adventure game with the quality storytelling of an adventure game that doesn't feel like an adventure game. Too Kyo Games plans to water down a full-fledged ADV-quality scenario with meaningful realtime gameplay, by partnering with studios that actually know how to make fun games. It's a long-term experiment on tricking people into playing adventure games. 4. Make a visual novel, but be better. Find a slightly new angle. Gather the A-Team. Target non-traditional markets. Cultivate one's prestige. In short, reorganize and rebrand. But still make a visual novel, with ordinary 2D art and probably little to no gameplay. The only problem is that people don't like VNs anymore because smartphones shrunk their brains until they had flea-sized attention spans. So at best, such "better" VNs will simply exist in the top tier of modern VNs, able to survive and maybe make a little profit. These are VNs for the sake of creators who want to stay in the VN industry despite how comparatively little it pays. Aniplex.exe, a new VN brand started under Aniplex that Makura staff like Sca-ji are involved with, seems to fall under this category. They're identifying as makers of "novel games" probably because that sounds more respectable these days than bishoujo game. I'm frankly more interested in Sca-ji's other still unannounced projects (but that's just because I'm not personally a fan of Konno Asta or Umihara Nozomu). 5. Copy FGO, but EVOLVE. Before Light's "Pantheon" mobile game died mid-development, Masada planned for it to have a substantial scenario. That kind of story would fatally clash, like matter and dark matter, with social games as they exist today. Unless they rethought the entire premise from scratch, I assume they'd have to at the very least dilute such a lengthy narrative into segments with constant breaks, rewards, and mini-games. And they'd have to make a tough choice about whether they seriously want to market it for smartphones, or stick to PC like Granblue Fantasy. It's easier to not evolve or just give up. But moreover, I think industry veterans are just pissed off and unable to accept that something as amazing as VNs can't find its consumers anymore. So they will struggle. Visual Arts will struggle, for sure. Key pretended to be half-dead in their 20th anniversary message, but they were actually hard at work. They've let Maeda take on the scenario of a high budget smartphone game called "Heaven Burns Red". Will he be able to do for social games with "Heaven Burns Red" what he did for VNs with "Kanon"? I'm not too optimistic, since I haven't seen any indication that the overall story concept was Maeda's. 6. ??? To quote Sca-ji, a writer who's qualified to talk about the unique worth of eroge, from late October: "People across various otaku industries have said, 'I want the wonderful culture of eroge to stay alive.' They're going out of their way and doing many things to make that happen. If I'm pessimistic, this might be our last chance to revive this industry, so I'm cheering them on. Do your best. ... People around their late twenties to thirty years old have started to take positions of power in society, praising eroge and doing many things for us." ZZZ 「Kanon」や「CLANNAD」「Angel Beats!」など…「泣きゲー」からアニメ原作まで、美少女IPを仕掛け続けた28年! ビジュアルアーツのユニークなブランド戦略と経営思想を馬場隆博社長に聞いてみた 『ダンガンロンパ』、『東京クロノス』、『グノーシア』の開発者が語る。「アドベンチャーゲームは滅ぶのか?」緊急座談会 「なぜエロゲ業界は衰退してるのか」 それをまとめた画像が話題にwwwww https://twitter.com/gannbattemasenn/status/1015644154271973376 https://enty.jp/avestan https://twitter.com/sca_di https://vndb.org/ EPILOGUE A new decade is upon is, and we're in the midst of a wave of 20th anniversaries that inevitably prompt retrospection. What I'm keeping an eye on, out of concern for the industry, as we enter it: - Too Kyo Games - Heaven Burns Red (unveiling on February 28) and Visual Arts as a whole - Sca-ji's Twitter account - Aniplex.exe as a whole - Any news from Masada about new publishers for Pantheon - Major non-adult scenarioge companies like Spike-Chunsoft and Mages (they may absorb some talent or try to carry on eroge culture) - Any actual new VNs from Nasu, like the Tsukihime remake ADDENDUM I: A Note on Death VS Decline (added 1/28)
  8. @HonorificsSurvey Oh, wow. Thanks for the chart. Looks like I underestimated the amount of localizations that keep honorifics. The last localization I personally tried was Dies irae, and the last localizations I paid any attention to were Sorcery Jokers and Leyline which came out about half a year ago, plus I always seem to hear translators criticize honorifics... Speaking of SJ, you have it listed as Kept, but I'm not sure that's correct, at least, judging from the VNDB screenshot which has "Mr. Senri" instead of Senri-san.
  9. All right, at this point all I can do at throw up my hands at how much you guys love to talk about statistics...
  10. All the comments about the the imperfections of polling are quite interesting, and it's nice of @Toranth to provide rational input. On the topic of honorifics, what @HonorificsSurvey said about how newcomers tend to be least opposed to honorifics surprised me. I always had the impression that since the number of official localizations exploded a few years ago, and official localizations tend to avoid honorifics, newbies wouldn't be as used to honorifics as older fans. Looks like that's not the case. Now that I think about it, there are potentially multiple reasons that VNs fans tend to care more about honorifics. VNs focus relatively more on interpersonal relationships and school life, where honorifics are more meaningful (compared to, say, a slapstick action story). VNs let you replay voiced lines if you didn't hear them properly, and click at your own pace to hear them properly, so it's easier for players to pick up on the honorifics. Unlike manga which isn't voiced and anime which people are often introduced to via television dubs, VNs as a medium emphasize voiced lines, which contain honorifics for Japanese VNs. Also, as was said earlier and @TheCrimsonFucker echoed, the more a person becomes acquainted with Japanese, the more it tend to feel odd when they read a non-literal translation. They pick up on the nuance attached to specific names & words that aren't particles which can be recognized audibly. And as @HonorificsSurvey said, people who play VNs often have experience with voiced anime (and manga which sometimes notes honorifics, esp. scanlations). So yeah, I'm starting to see a lot of reasons why many VN fans' desire to welcome honorifics won't change easily, even if they're absent from many localizations and many translators swear off them. People like @AdventSign talk about a war over honorifics, but as far as I can tell, everything has completely settled down: For the above reasons and probably others, most VN fans tend to prefer honorifics. I don't think you can change their minds if they already know what honorifics are and attached importance to them. You'd essentially have to convince them that Japanese culture isn't important. Or change the demographics of fans of Japanese VNs through marketing (didn't turn out well for MoeNovel). On the other hand, the localization side is firmly opposed to honorifics. There are big ego wars over perceived translation quality on Twitter, and translators know that it's frowned upon to include honorifics instead of trying to finding various ways of conveying them differently (or not at all) which is the traditional in the prideful professional translation industry. In addition, localization companies probably think that they can market their products to a broader audience when VN translations are non-idiosyncratic and remove honorifics. I don't think you can change their minds either, since they're doing what they think is right. Although @sanahtlig pointed out already that it would've been a little interesting to survey whether people would refuse to play a VN with or without honorifics, I'm personally glad that this survey asked what people think, instead of just asking what they're willing to tolerate in their purchases. Questions along the lines of the latter are something we already get enough of from localization companies' surveys. And I think it's probably not necessary either, because like I said earlier, my impression is that most localizations these days don't have honorifics, and people just tolerate it. (Or does anyone disagree with this?) So honestly, the bottom line is that fans might be a little happier if more localizations included honorifics, but since it's not a do-or-die issue for them, many translators will continue to shy away from honorifics.
  11. @HonorificsSurvey I agree with a lot of the sentiment of your post there. I just want to chime in to say that I think it's a mistake to suddenly start talking about markets. IMO, this survey has meaning because it deals with the views of VN fans. It doesn't try to account for anyone who has ever or could ever buy a VN. Once you selectively focus on people who are into one particular VN for whatever reason (like Ace Attorney fans, or Umineko fans) rather than people who like various VNs, I think you've stopped talking about what VN fans generally care about, and are at best instead conducting market research on how to expand the VN fanbase by finding different ways of appealing to people. The survey questions about honorifics are only relevant to people who play a variety of JP->EN translated VNs.
  12. @Toranth Nice post! Now that you mention it, I've heard about sample bias and selection bias before. It's just that there are always limitations to polls. After all, you mentioned "these communities do not represent the entirety of the population" but the only way to do that perfectly is to literally ask everyone, otherwise your only choice is to do your best to sample as many diverse parts of the population as possible. So you're right that it isn't representative. In retrospect, what I probably really wanted to ask was closer to, "Is there a reason to believe the results aren't what the overall community believes?" Though it might be unfair to shift the burden of proof like that. The bottom line is that I found the survey results fascinating, and plan to tentatively accept them as fact about public opinion in the VN community, unless I learn that there's been some major oversight in the way the survey was conducted which would have clearly led to a different result if fixed. @Decay Hmm. It's true that many fans don't participate in fan communities. VNDB is proof enough of that, since it has over 100,000 users who largely lurk. I had assumed that the existing VN communities would be representative of such people.
  13. I don't understand, why isn't this poll representative? Where are the VN fans if not in the communities that the pollster here surveyed?
  14. Summer Pockets Review Before I begin, I'd like to point out that the Frontline Japan review is excellent. The only part I didn't like is that they indirectly reference one of the most important hidden elements of the story (but it's possible some people won't notice or think too hard about it) and that they say it's too short. Edit - Just to re-emphasize, this is an atypical style of VN review. If you want a more normal review, check out the Frontline one. This is intended to be a spoiler-free review. I never reveal anything concrete about the story itself or its themes, that isn't clearly evident from the first hour, or assumed if you know anything about Key (like the fact their games are nakige). Key's Creative Intent If you didn't know, Summer Pockets is the next major Key title (not a short VN like Harmonia) that came out recently. In Key's promotional interview back in December of last year (translation), the director and writer Kai revealed that Key staff tried to have a "fresh approach" and come up with ideas for the next Key title internally, but didn't like any of the proposals. Then Maeda Jun spoke up and said, "Uh, I have this one idea..." And they said, "This is Maeda Jun!" and went with it. That's the core of Summer Pockets. Maeda was unable to write for Summer Pockets due to medical problems. Key had already hired Niijima Yuu by then, and Kai worked with Niijima to flesh out the story. Hasama and Imashina Rio also wrote part of the scenario. How Summer Pockets Actually Turned Out, Overall Summer Pockets is easily the most Key-like game since Clannad. It's not an unconventional title like Rewrite. Niijima's influence definitely stands out; he was responsible for many of the most important parts of the scenario, and from what I've seen, fans have praised those parts most. However, Kai's role shouldn't be understated, since he was the director and worked closely with Niijima. Despite some people's fears, Summer Pockets was not turned into a distinctly "Niijima" work like Majo Koi Nikki or Koikake. That was only to be expected, since Niijima didn't come up with the concept behind Summer Pockets, and he wasn't the sole planner either. Although Niijima is no Maeda, IMO he's the best Maeda they could possibly find, because their overall styles are similar. There was no sense of discord with Niijima as the lead writer. The parts not written by Niijima weren't problematic in any way, either. At the worst, you could say they were typical Key routes. To me, each route felt very unique, and each heroine had her own charm and appeal, so even if the prose didn't wow me, I always had fun. The production quality of the rest of Summer Pockets was also extremely solid. They seriously didn't skimp on the CGs this time. Since Angel Beats! -1st beat-, Key's art has been (in my personal opinion as a non-Itaru fan) much more beautiful and expressive. The seiyuu are top-notch too. But it's too bad that the male lead Hairi wasn't voiced. Key always has nice music, too; I've spent hours with the jukebox in the extras menu. Orito's tracks are typically my favorites, and I also like Maeda's "Sea,You Next" and "Pocket o Fukuramasete". Normally I'm a major Mizutsuki Ryou fan, so the fact she's overshadowed by two people just makes me think, "Yep, that's Key for you." My favorite track from her in Summer Pockets is "Yoru wa Mijikaku, Sora wa Tookute". What It Feels Like to Play Summer Pockets From here on out, this review will be "less spoiler-free" simply because I'll talk about stuff like... the extent to which the heroines interact with one another in the common route, or the common route's structure. Don't worry, I never reveal anything concrete about the story itself or its themes, that isn't clearly evident from the first hour. At the story's start, the male lead Hairi arrives on a small island that's located off the coast of his home city. He's ostensibly there to help his aunt dispose of his recently departed grandmother's possessions, but she tells him, "I'm still sorting through everything, and don't need your help yet. Go out and have fun!" So he has no choice but to wander around the island every day. A major part of the charm of Summer Pockets rests in the island and its inhabitants. As Hairi wanders around, he becomes friends with the handful of locals who are his own age. They already know each other well and have their various humorous character dynamics, so it's wonderful how they accept Hairi into their circle despite the fact he's not from around there. To quote someone on EGS, it's "an island atmosphere filled with kindness and consideration." Many people love this aspect of Summer Pockets. It probably appeals to players even more than the nakige aspect does (judging from the EGS tags). The fixed part of the common route is very short, and from then on you have to repeatedly choose who you want to spend time with in order to select a route. It's very typical. In the heroine routes, you'll learn about the hidden sides of the heroines and come into contact with various mysteries. Unless you've never heard of Key before and want zero expectations (don't confuse "intended to be spoiler-free" with "completely blind"!), I don't think it is a spoiler to say that you should expect to deal with drama that arises from supernatural plot devices. The average reading time of Summer Pockets on EGS is 30 hours. That's the same length as Air, and longer than Kanon. Of course, it's much shorter than Little Busters EX, Rewrite, or Clannad. The Bottom Line: How Good Summer Pockets Is Just look at the numbers. Summer Pockets has an extremely robust score on EGS, a median of 89 with 200+ votes. For comparison, the only clearly better-received VNs in the past 5 years are Sakura no Uta, Rance 10, and ChuSinGura 46+1. It's similarly well-rated on VNDB. What appeals to people most is, as you'd expect, that this VN successfully nails the Key formula: comedy, lovable characters, and of course, tears. As one person put it, "Key isn't dead. I've been convinced." And like I said earlier, the production values are excellent. Key's VNs used to be known to skimp on art (of course, the music was always solid) but they've broken away from that limitation. There are so many nice CGs in Summer Pockets, as well as sprites. It seriously improves the experience. Summer Pockets is truly a modern VN. There were other improvements over previous Key VNs, too. Kai probably deserves credit for them. He mentioned in the December interview that for Summer Pockets, they tried to make the heroines interact with each other more, and they also added handsome male side characters. Key pulled this off well; while the level of inter-heroine interaction still wasn't at the level I hoped for (I know I'm crazy to want harem love comedy situations in a Key VN...) it was still solid. The two boys, Tenzen and Ryouichi, resembled Kengo and Masato (from Little Busters) respectively. Although they clowned around a lot, and rarely seemed as reliable as the Little Busters boys. Not that they didn't have their cool sides. But if you're Kyousuke-sexual, you probably won't find what you want in Summer Pockets. If anyone, perhaps Ao was the "Kyousuke" of Summer Pockets, socially. Despite being a heroine, she's a friendly person who's easy to talk to and well-connected on the island, so there were plenty of roles for her to play in every route of Summer Pockets. I would say that Summer Pockets has 2 notable "flaws". The first is that some routes are better (worse) than others. Frankly, this should surprise no one who has read Key VNs--or VNs at all. Not all writers are equal, and Key often has multiple writers work on the same VN. But as I said before, none of the routes are especially bad in any way. I personally enjoyed every one of them. Only 1 of them felt fairly predictable. To offer you an idea of what my tastes are like, I was decently entertained by every route of Little Busters aside from the ones Tonokawa did (Komari and Kurugaya). So if you're someone who would say that every route but Refrain and maybe [some other route] was terrible, then maybe you actually will think that ~2 of the routes in Summer Pockets are terrible... Tastes vary. The second "flaw" is that it's fairly derivative of other Key VNs. Maybe now you see why at the start of this post, I related the little anecdote from the interview. It shows how Key attempted to innovative, but in the end, they went the safe route with a very Maeda-esque story. Since I read this interview before I played Summer Pockets, I didn't expect a revolution... Anyway, I personally don't think it makes Summer Pockets any less excellent, except to the extent that it doesn't blow anyone's mind because they've played VNs like this before. A lot of people realize that Clannad copied from a certain other classic VN, but that doesn't make Clannad any less of a masterpiece which achieved success beyond that classic. Even if Maeda recycled some themes or plot devices when he came up with Summer Pockets, the fact of the matter is that Summer Pockets delivers them in an unpredictable way, with plenty of red herrings. You can tell from the impressions people left on EGS that few people care about the parts that are derivative. And for the record, it's not completely derivative thematically. For example, the themes about summer and summer vacation are potent and unique to Summer Pockets. The final title drop especially wowed me. Niijima VS Maeda I want to talk about Niijima's style. A lot of people assumed that a Key VN wouldn't feel like a Key VN without Maeda Jun, with comparisons to Rewrite. But a Key miracle happened. Summer Pockets has been just as successful (I mean, when you adjust for the fact that the industry is smaller than it used to be) as many of Key's past titles, like Air. Credit where credit due: Niijima Yuu, the same person who wrote the hit Hatsuyuki Sakura (#1 VN of the year 2012, as voted by 2ch), who has been praised by many writers in the industry, did for Key what I presume someone hoped he would when they hired him: he utilized his Maeda-like style to capture the sort of atmosphere that they'd previously relied on Maeda to deliver. For the record, I'm not denying that there are still many people (even those who loved Summer Pockets) who, after they played it, still think, "I miss Maeda." Niijima and Maeda are not exactly the same. I personally love them both. From an objective standpoint, Maeda is probably better. However, Niijima has his own strengths. Both Niijima and Maeda like to write comedy that involves eccentric side characters, with male leads who tends to wander around like a loner. They both write scenarios that make the player cry at climactic moments. They both lean toward narratives with unlockable routes and true ends. They both tend to incorporate the supernatural into their plots, yet at the same time don't completely rely on it, or employ it as a kind of metaphor. A major part of what I feel is Maeda's charm is that there is a deep sense of intimacy, or camaraderie, between his characters. The characters don't subconsciously keep each other at a distance--they form a unique bond almost immediately which deepens as they come to know each other, in a way that every reader loves to see, especially more socially isolated Japanese readers. Niijima's flaw is that he can't quite do this--it wasn't until some of the scenes toward the latter part of Summer Pockets (perhaps not written by Niijima) that I really felt I could sense a heartfelt connection between Hairi and the side characters. There were many parts of Summer Pockets where a character would have some sort of comic reaction, where they became really upset or passionate, but then 2 sentences later when another character switched the subject to move on with the conversation, that upset character suddenly was calm and matched the pace of the conversation, as if they'd instantly quelled their emotions with zero explanation, or as if their previous reaction had been totally fake. I'm sure that Maeda would have depicted more smooth conversational transitions. Niijima's humor has its own brilliance, but often it feels like the characters just relate to one other with humorously eccentric behavior at a superficial level, without the sense of closeness of Maeda's character dynamics. On the other hand, Niijima's text appeals to me a lot more as a fan of eroge. His humor may not be quite as... hmm, "creative" and "unprecedented" as the weird situations Maeda comes up with, but it feels less childish too. One very Niijima-esque technique is to have a set of ~3 side characters who talk back and forth to each other about the male lead in the male lead's presence for comic effect. In other words, he pokes fun at misinformed attitudes and social expectations. Compared to Maeda, Niijima's humor is a bit more, hmm... "mean-spirited"? It feels like the humor often revolves around one character who teases another based on a misconception. Connected to that, it often feels like there's more of a flirty atmosphere. Well, honestly, Summer Pockets was still a lot less lewd than I expected from Niijima. The lewdest parts of the VN weren't even written by him. So the overall more "eroge-like" atmosphere of Summer Pockets may owe itself to the director Kai more than Niijima. But I think that Niijima's style is what enabled this. Anyway, this is the first Key VN I've read where I actually really wished it had ero. Still, as a Niijima fan, I wished I'd seen a little more of his style in the fabric of Summer Pockets. While it's true that the text definitely felt Niijima-like, and one of the routes that Niijima wrote deeply resembled a route he wrote in a certain other VN... Part of what I had really hoped to see Niijima introduce to Summer Pockets are elements of action. It's not like I expected the amount of combat to match Hatsusaku, but at least once or twice, I would've liked to see a few short battles. The nature of the way Niijima writes such clashes, as half-metaphors which emphasize differences in perspective, leaves the story's atmosphere intact, so it wouldn't have hurt. But I'm afraid that Kai may have wanted to avoid any Rewrite-like action, as Key attempted to return to their foundation with Summer Pockets. In any case, without this, Summer Pockets suffered from a deficiency of 盛り上がる要素 (excitement/tension). Despite the fact that in many ways Summer Pockets felt like a modernization of Key's style, it still lacked one of the most prominent elements of modern console ADVs--action. Kai may have perhaps clamped down on Niijima a little too much, but I'm still very happy with Niijima's role in Summer Pockets. The "summer vacation" that's at the core of the story (adjacent to the parts that Maeda came up with) as it's developed is 100% Niijima thematically, and is also the most memorable part of the story to me, besides just how fond I am of the characters. Key, After Summer Pockets Actually, I'd rather ask you, theoretical reader of this post. Do YOU know what Key plans next? Has anyone at Key said how they feel about the positive reception to Summer Pockets? I haven't heard any information yet, but then, Summer Pockets only came out recently. All I want to say is that Key's future is on my mind. I'm hopeful they will make a fandisk, because they've made a fandisk for every other major Key VN besides their first 2. If so, they will probably keep Niijima around for a little while more. I want Maeda back, but I think Key is an excellent fit for Niijima, and maybe Key can allow him a tiny bit more creative freedom next time to repay him for Summer Pockets. I wouldn't mind if they let him direct a smaller-scale project like Harmonia. That's all from me. Have a nice day.
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