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Characters or story - Whats more important?


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When you are reading a VN, what is the most important element for you? Is it the story and how it unfolds or is it the characters and their development throughout it? Can you read a novel that has really good story but "bad" characters that you can't really connect to? 

 

For me it has to be characters. I do love a good story, but if I cant really feel anything towards the characters then the story doesn't really mean that much. Like, I just dont really care what happens to them. Also, putting a spin on it, I am more than capable of reading a somewhat boring and dull story if the characters are super interesting/funny/cool, what have you. 

 

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I tend to prefer story over characters.  If I like the characters but the story falls flat, I have no reason to care about what's happening aside from the best grill.  Obviously, connecting with the characters is important, but ultimately the plot decides the quality of the story, no?  Character interactions and development can only get you so far.  If, for example, Sachi and Amane's routes from Grisaia were of lesser quality, but the characters were the same, I wouldn't have enjoyed reading it as much, even with the golden common route.

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Well, ideally, they would both be good and complement each other. A story should be tied to the characters in some way.
A character shouldn't just be a token, an object thrown into the story for the sole purpose of being there for you to gawk at.

Visual novels like Comyu, for example, do this very well by having each main character actually play an active and important role in the story. All the characters are involved in some way in the overarching plot and while there are individual routes and each character has their own backstory, everything about the characters is only strengthened by their proactiveness in developing the plot.

Of course this is not to say you can't have a bigger focus on one of them as individual elements. A visual novel that focuses a lot on character development can be good, but I don't think it will stand very well on its own feet if there's no supporting plot, and vice versa.

For example, the visual novel Ikikoi, at least in my opinion, is a perfect example of why your sole focus shouldn't just be characters. It has an incredibly weak plot that doesn't seem to go anywhere and spends most of the time dealing with character interactions. Then once you get to a route, you still spend most of the time just working on character relationships and character build up, there's very little story behind the game, and that ends up causing, at least for me, a disconnection from the characters. I thought the characters could have had potential as individuals, but since there was no frame for them to fit in, they were just sort of there for me to pick from and interact with, and that just made the whole thing feel artificial.

Most VNs tend to be character driven, so the weight ends up falling on how the characters are portrayed and developed, but I think a good story is also rather important, and I would say it is the most important, because in order to have a good story, you need to have good character development, they're not mutually exclusive.
You could have a VN where all the characters are your ideal waifus, but if they don't stand on anything, then the game will just fall appart anyway.

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Most VNs tend to be character driven, so the weight ends up falling on how the characters are portrayed and developed, but I think a good story is also rather important, and I would say it is the most important, because in order to have a good story, you need to have good character development, they're not mutually exclusive.

Of course. Just wondering what people generally prefer, if there is a simple choice between the two. 

 

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I tend to prefer story over characters.  If I like the characters but the story falls flat, I have no reason to care about what's happening aside from the best grill.  Obviously, connecting with the characters is important, but ultimately the plot decides the quality of the story, no?  Character interactions and development can only get you so far.  If, for example, Sachi and Amane's routes from Grisaia were of lesser quality, but the characters were the same, I wouldn't have enjoyed reading it as much, even with the golden common route.

To be honest, I could read a super boring story of Sachi literally just going shopping or something as everything she does is just priceless. That goes for most characters in Grisaia. They are all wonderful. 

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I share a similar opinion with Nosebleed. A good story usually creates good characters, but good characters can make a good story. I suppose though I would say that characters are more important to me than story, with all the slice of life anime I watch and enjoy. However now that I think about it, a good character to me is someone that has an extensive history and reasons for why the act the way they do... which is usually because there is a good story behind them. 

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i take the stance of a modern western vn-customer & say pretty visuals are the most important here, rest doesnt matter at all, if it happens to be blessed with a good story too, then so be it, otherwise its okay and i wont be disappointed :/

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Characters good, story bad - may be playable if the characters are really good

Characters good, story medicore - playable

Characters bad, story good - may be playable if the story is really good

Characters mediocre, story good - playable

Characters good, story good - on my priority list to play first

 

I play a lot of visual novels.  And what I've found is that in these days it's generally pretty rare to get a game with any sort of stand out storyline (keep in mind I play them in Japan as they come out).  This means that I end up playing a lot of games with mediocre, same old recycled trope storylines.  When I find a game that actually breaks those molds, I'm delighted... but that doesn't happen most of the time.  You can only play so many school romance style visual novels before you start being able to easily map out things like 'oh, so it's X,X,X,X,X, and X' and then things play out exactly as you expect.  In the words of The World Only God Knows, 'I can see the ending!'  This happens because a lot of the stories you encounter in certain settings are heavily formulaic.  Most of the time it's the same general tropes, but with a specific twist.  Once you understand how the twist plays out, it's generally pretty rare for you to be surprised by the story.

What keeps games like that alive are the strength of the characters and the VAs voicing them.  I can have the most medicore storyline possible where I can predict everything that happens... but still enjoy the game if the characters are fun and interact well.  And every so often you find a standout character that you really really enjoy the performance for, that you'll remember for a long time, even in the midst of a relatively mediocre storyline.

However, if the characters are bad - as in, I actively dislike them and/or the VAs performance, it is really hard for me to get into a story even if it is very good.  In order for me to care about the story, I need to care about the characters and the protagonist.  If that's not there, I have a lot of trouble liking the game, even if it does have a good story.

And keep in mind, this is not just visual novels - this is true for me across ALL media.

Obviously though the best games come when you have a very good, unique storyline and a cast of really solid characters.  Those are the game I prioritize playing first, and those are the games I will usually recommend to other people first as well.

Also, on the risk of sidetracking this discussion, I also have to add artwork as something that causes me to like/dislike games.  Usually more in the 'dislike' area - I've had games where the artwork was just bad, bad enough that I couldn't get into the game.  Now, certain games I'm fine with this - notably Type Moon and Ryukishi07, back when they didn't really have access good artists.  But there's been a few games by professional companies where I would just look at the art, shake my head, and not play the game.  Generally speaking, it helps that such games also tend to have low quality characters and storylines as well.  Also, I'd like to note that bad art has nothing to do with me disliking a particular art style.  Style I can get used to - look at AXL's and certain liar-soft games, who have a very distinctive art style.  They took a bit of getting used to, but I played games from those studios and still enjoyed them.  I'm talking actively bad artwork with characters drawn like the artist had no idea of proportion.  To the point where I'm wondering just how much and where they found the artist.  I can't play games with actively bad art if they are from a professional studio.  Doujin works, or games that were originally doujin works, at least get something of a pass.  But a professional game studio should at least be able to find one good artist.

Edited by Salurian
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i take the stance of a modern western vn-customer & say pretty visuals are the most important here, rest doesnt matter at all, if it happens to be blessed with a good story too, then so be it, otherwise its okay and i wont be disappointed :/

expectations are the most important. I can usually enjoy both as long as I know before hand and am expecting it.

It's a really good question and a tough call. I would normally say characters, but there's a lot of things that need to be a VN to make it quite enjoyable even if the story is soso.

 

If the story is bad but the VN has moments which can make me go absolutely adore the characters, then it's all good. Although it's quite disappointing if you know the character or story would benefit from a stronger plot.

If the story is good, but characters are shallow, as long as they are likable, it's OK. But this would imply the interestingness of the story is outside the characters and is something about the twists or setting (really?) of the VN. So it's a different kind of enjoyment. But if the characters are likeable I can overlook that.

Edited by Chronopolis
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edit. that was obviously meant as a joke from my site, but i´ve seriously noticed those wanting exactly what´s been mentioned above steadily growing in numbers all over the net. whats become of this beloved community of ours?

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From a writer's perspective, (I'm assuming story is meant as 'plot') I'd have to go with characters, though this way of looking at it cuts into the specifics quite a lot.  Doing something at the moment so I can't go into full detail but generally it seems like an interest in the people in the story or the events surrounding them, maybe you could include themes in here as well.

If you don't have an interest in the people driving the events and those effected by them, the events themselves lose their impact, so plot with no characters tends to be weaker than a story where the characters are worth caring about but the plot and progression of events tends to be built on a weaker foundation.  As a result a plot-heavy story usually sets its characters as representative of the themes or ideas embodied by the story, and thus you give the characters a foothold in the story even if they're technically a representation of something non-human in a form the reader can relate with.  And then, the story ends once the conflicts dictated by these themes/ideas come to an end through the process of the events.

Whereas on the other hand, a character-heavy story (my specialty) would think up the internal and external conflicts of the people involved in the story, relating to themselves or other characters, and use those as a basis for the plot - you push a character into something they have to go up against, be it romance or a fist-fight with your long lost brother, and bring the conflict to its resolution.  From there whether it ends in victory or defeat, the characters involved react to the conclusion, and those reactions effect the other ones, leading to character development which leads into another conflict.  Then, the story ends once all the conflicts have been resolved, and everyone involved has changed as a result.

 

The difference between the two mainly lies in the conflicts - both end when their conflicts are resolved, and both are resolved through the actions of those progressing the events, but in a plot-heavy story your conflicts are generally dictated by a theme or idea, which then serves as the basis of the characters, whereas in a character-heavy story you start with the internal and external conflicts of everyone involved, and events occur from their attempts to resolve these conflicts.  From those resolutions you have character development, and the conflicts that spring forth from their growth serve as the basis for the story's themes, even if they're more haphazard than a story that uses them as a starting point.

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Story for me. I find that the story behind characters are far more intriguing to me than character traits. That isn't to say that a good cast can't save a game though, for example (besides a particular part of Amane's route, which isn't very character oriented to be honest) the common route was my favorite part in Grisaia no Kajitsu thanks to the funny-ass cast. 

I find that my favorite thing about fiction is plot twists. Most (if not all) of my favorite franchises are based on having great plot and less of a focus on characters. I fucking LOOOOOOOOVE the Zero Escape and Infinity VNs, and  except for a few none of the characters truly affected me (exceptions being Sora and Luna). Danganronpa, another loved franchise of mine, is partially carried by the casts though. 

I guess I just haven't found the right characters yet, or I'm too stupid to fully grasp truly deep, engaging or well written characters (this goes for all fiction). Plot twists and mindfuck just carry more value for me, especially since I prefer dark/grim/depressing etc. stuff. 

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You can't separate them - the characters drive the story, and the story is about the characters. If either is lacking your enjoyment will lack as well. If your story is weak, then you can't really do a good job of connecting the characters to the reader, as your medium for doing that is the story itself. If your characters are weak, they won't convey your story very well, and there's no need for the reader to care about them. Hence, you have to have both the story and characters have a certain amount of strength to them.

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Story for me. I find that the story behind characters are far more intriguing to me than character traits. That isn't to say that a good cast can't save a game though, for example (besides a particular part of Amane's route, which isn't very character oriented to be honest) the common route was my favorite part in Grisaia no Kajitsu thanks to the funny-ass cast. 

I find that my favorite thing about fiction is plot twists. Most (if not all) of my favorite franchises are based on having great plot and less of a focus on characters. I fucking LOOOOOOOOVE the Zero Escape and Infinity VNs, and  except for a few none of the characters truly affected me (exceptions being Sora and Luna). Danganronpa, another loved franchise of mine, is partially carried by the casts though. 

I guess I just haven't found the right characters yet, or I'm too stupid to fully grasp truly deep, engaging or well written characters (this goes for all fiction). Plot twists and mindfuck just carry more value for me, especially since I prefer dark/grim/depressing etc. stuff. 

999 I feel like is more a combination of good characters and story.  The plot twists are engaging because the characters realize it and react along with the player.  Virtue's Last Reward felt more like it was plot-heavy so it could set up for later games, though.  I don't feel like it resolved all its conflicts.

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now a serious answer from my site, the whole characters or story crap is exactly what it sounds: crap.
both are equally important, as a good cast contributes to a great extend in keeping people interested in the story itself for various reasons, like getting them to empathize with certain characters, or to recognize oneself in someone there etc, but no matter the greatness of them all, an awesome cast alone isnt able to cover for a lame story/ plotline, simply because a works of literature (visual novel in this case) is way more than about character traits, or their monologues only, means when 70-80% of the whole vn bores literally the living fuck out of the reader, then they´re going to drop it, regardless of some bright moments encountered in between...

edit: visual novels are by NO means a biography of sorts and even if so, the whole thing has to be interesting or noone will consider buying it. :/

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Both. A story presents characters with roles the characters are supposed to fill.

If you have a good story but bad characters, then it will be apparent that the above is the case.

If you have bad story but good characters, then it will be clear that there exist barely any roles for the characters to fill.

When you have a good story and good characters, only then will you be fully able to see the characters as an integral part of the story, while it's still not apparent that they are simply filling a role (VNs are generally terrible at this by choice, especially when it comes to moege)

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As a NTR fan, both story and characters are important to me. You can't have only one or the other without any severe sacrifices.

For example, you can put Chuck Norris on a vn but if the story is about rainbows and ponies, I don't think it's going to develop into a worthy story. Same case for story, you can have Titanic-like scenarios, but if the characters are shallow and no emotion, then it's wasted. 

Edited by CeruleanGamer
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Both are important obviously, but if I had to choose one then it would be characters.

If a VN/Anime has a bad story or no story but still has great characters and character development it can still be a great anime/VN on the other hand no meter how great a story is if you have a shallow, boring real life-like characters it can't be any good.

Anime characters are one of main reasons why Anime/VNs are so superior to western media.

 

You should add a pool for this topic.

Edited by Okami
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In agreement with both Palas and Nosebleed. Particularly this quote:

Characters don't develop if not through story and story doesn't develop if not through actions, therefore through characters. This is a false dichotomy. You either have both or none.

This is why I hate around 99% of moege. Too often there is pretty much a complete lack of any serious story, therefore no means for the characters to develop. And too often the characters themselves are cookie cutter deres as well. 

I suppose my the nature of OPs question, you could have a slice of life story with no plot; but this would rely on unique characters that have an interesting social dynamic between the group. But generally, conflict is a necessity in story telling, and story comes out of conflict. It is most rewarding to experience the roller coaster of a story, when the characters experiencing the events are interesting and unique. Because if you don't care for the characters, then you don't care about their journey; no matter how exiting of a journey it was.  

 

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