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activi t

What is the appeal of visual novels?

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Hey,

I want to start of by paraphrasing that my intention is not to mock your hobby or to stir the pot in a niche discussion board, I've come here simply to understand more about visual novels as a medium and why people enjoy them.

So I'm a longtime albeit casual anime fan and after watching the White Allbum 2 anime adaptation, decided to check out what these so-called visual novels were. My prejudices of VNs being little more than otaku fap material were rebutted by this anime, and after some googling and Wikipedia-research, I though that VNs sounded quite cool and I might actually enjoy them. I decided to give visual novels a shot. I actually didn't begin my journey with Katawa Shoujo, I thought trying an "original" Japanese visual novel would be more appropriate as it might give a better representation of the medium. I started off with Kanon and soon after that read Fate/stay night and Grisaia no Kajitsu, and was thoroughly disappointed.

My main gripe was the writing. It was pretty obvious from the get-go that these stories were written by amateurs, and I found the writing no better than in some of those trashy harem light novels I tried before. The pacing was awful and the plot dragged out way too much. For instance, you don't need rows upon rows of mind-numbing dialogue to flesh out the personality of your characters or have the reader develop a connection with them, that is simply bad writing. Not to mention that the dialogue in these situations often felt forced and unnatural. The VNs I read lacked any sort of literary merit or narrative quality, from start to finish there was no subtext to anything of what I read. Everything was presented to the reader carefully arranged on a platter with little room left for individual interpretation. I felt like your average Hollywood flick or live-action TV series has more depth to it than the stories and their presentation in visual novels. When written text is the center of the medium, lacking any stand-alone narrative quality is a huge problem.

I felt like the visuals and music simply encouraged this lackluster writing, but didn't add enough substance compensate of it. When an emotional scene hits, you don't need to use any fancy prose when you can rely on a recycled song and change the facial expression of your sprites, right? These audiovisual characteristics weren't developed well enough in my opinion. It's just some static background images on top of which you throw a sprite with a couple of different poses and facial expressions. Done. It felt like the visual, the audial, and the written parts were developed completely separately from each other with little connection to the overarching story which would incorporate all three, and at the end just mashed together with all departments expecting the other one to do all the hard work to capture the essence of the moment.

I realize I've only read very few visual novels, but considering that these seem to be some of the most highly-acclaimed ones out there (at least among the translated ones) and that all three of them exhibited the same flaws, I believe it would be safe to assume these flaws were rampant in the medium as a whole.

Again, I don't want to offend anyone with this, these are simply my personal experiences and observations with visual novels and why I didn't find them enjoyable. I ventured to visual novels with a positive attitude, I believed I would find enjoyment in them. I might have looked at things the wrong way or my analysis may simply be completely off the track, which is why I decided to post this here to hear the opinions of more experienced VN enthusiasts, and I'm ready to give visual novels another chance. But from what I've seen so far, I don't know why anyone would find this medium even remotely interesting. If you enjoy reading, why not read books which handle the writing much better and more imaginatively? If you like the tropes or audiovisual characteristics, why not watch anime or read manga which handle those aspects way better?

I hope we can have a constructive discussion on the ideas presented here and the nature of visual novels as a medium. Cheers!

 

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You chose awful titles for your first experience. You'd really be better off by reading Katawa Shoujo as your first sample of "capable" vn's and that would still be the lowest available level, because there truly are well written vn's. They are simply rare and japanese market is oversaturated with bland, poorly written games that don't really take the advantage of this particular medium.

I presume a lot of people take such interest in vn's, because of it being a story-telling medium capable of mixing art, words, music and sound into a single work. This allows for a lot more flexibility and creativity, rather than books, comics or plays (does anyone even listen to these nowadays outside of Japan's fandom?). There's not much aside that, except for the fact vn's are a part of the so-called anime industry.

Edited by Narcosis

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I personally enjoy the combination of visuals and music in addition to the text in VNs, which makes them more enjoyable than normal books for me, where all I have is the text alone. It makes it easier to visualize the story, and the music + sound effects usually help setting the mood/ atmoshpere in the scenes without any "effort" from me as I read, and in turn makes me feel more immersed in the story.

You comment a lot on the writing and such in the VNs being terrible, and personally just straight up disagree with this. I can't really say much about that particular point to be honest, as I don't really understand specifically what you thought was so terrible compared to "normal books". If anything I find the writing in most VNs I have read quite enjoyable. (And as an avid book reader, I see little difference in quality when comparing "normal books" and VNs in my mind.)

The choices in VNs was another one of the things that drew me to the genre. A book where I as the reader get to make choices that impacts the ending of the story is an incredibly cool feature. This is certainly one of the most appealing things about VNs to me, even in pure love stories where the only real choices is choosing a heroine. Just the fact that I can somewhat choose where the story will be going is tons of fun.

The combination of "mature content" and serious stories utilized in eroge was another reason I got interested in VNs. Games that can actually utilize 18+ scenes in the story well are quite enjoyable to me, as creepy as that might sound. I mostly read untranslated VNs nowadays, but one translated example would be Euphoria.

Lastly, I guess just having been a fan of manga, anime and light novels since I was a kid has made me enjoy the artstyle and storytelling in these mediums, which in turn makes me enjoy VNs quite a lot, as VNs utilize a lot of the same stuff you find in other otaku mediums.

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Do you really think the average VN has the budget of a hollywood movie much less a TV series? Of course the presentation isn't as good. They didn't have as much money to dump into licensing music or spending 1000's of man hours making sure they never recycled a background. It seems your expectations are set pretty high.

I will agree that the writing quality is highly variable. But you also have to consider this is an industry laden with tropes for the sake of it. Which is also true of anime so it really shouldn't be much of a surprise.

To each their own though. The last few book series I've read have had their share of predictable plots and forgettable characters. Fiction writers have been recycling ideas for a long time (no matter the medium).

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6 minutes ago, Dergonu said:

You comment a lot on the writing and such in the VNs being terrible, and personally just straight up disagree with this. I can't really say much about that particular point to be honest, as I don't really understand specifically what you thought was so terrible compared to "normal books". If anything I find the writing in most VNs I have read quite enjoyable. (And as an avid book reader, I see little difference in quality when comparing "normal books" and VNs in my mind.)

I presume it's mostly because the writing WILL differ between vn's and standard books. VN's have often more common with screen plays, rather than typical prose writing. There's a lot of dialogue, especially within ADV-centered games and descriptive writing often falls onto second plan. On the other hand, this is reversed with NVL games, which focus mainly on descriptive writing and prose, rather than character interactions; they are still there, but look and work in a way, which is a lot more "accessible" to someone, who's used to reading books.

I'd say, the OP should give a try a few more mature titles, which often make use of NVL-styled writing, instead of adventure game-esque presentation. Games like Hanachirasu, Saya no Uta, Cartagra, Narcissu, Planetarian, True Remembrance. There's a lot more, of course; one of the fun things about vn's is that you are 100% sure to stumble upon something that will suit your fancy. You only need to keep diggin'.

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29 minutes ago, activi t said:

Again, I don't want to offend anyone with this, these are simply my personal experiences and observations with visual novels and why I didn't find them enjoyable. I ventured to visual novels with a positive attitude, I believed I would find enjoyment in them. I might have looked at things the wrong way or my analysis may simply be completely off the track, which is why I decided to post this here to hear the opinions of more experienced VN enthusiasts, and I'm ready to give visual novels another chance. But from what I've seen so far, I don't know why anyone would find this medium even remotely interesting. If you enjoy reading, why not read books which handle the writing much better and more imaginatively? If you like the tropes or audiovisual characteristics, why not watch anime or read manga which handle those aspects way better?

I hope we can have a constructive discussion on the ideas presented here and the nature of visual novels as a medium. Cheers!

 

Visual Novels are terrible. Regardless, they are what I prefer over Manga, Light Novels or Anime. Or books.

I read Visual Novels because I like 'bloat text'. I like when things are long. Your pacing problems are a boon to me. Sure, all of your titles could have been much shorter, but all that bloat that's in the middle, characters messing about, talking about nothing in particular, having stupid misunderstandings are some of the things I crave the most, in conjunction with the rest. Anime and Manga suffer from being over too soon. I need a really long time until I get tired of the characters and can finish the product feeling "That was a long and enjoyable ride, but it's finally over". Feeling "I want more" is torture.
It may also have something to do with the fact that I tend to spend most of my time laughing at all these long common routes.

I also read Visual Novels because they are the only form of medium which regularly implement routes. Romance is the main reason why I read anything, and therefore, I want to be able to romance all the nice characters on the story. Both anime and manga are generally constricted to one character, which is problematic. When they aren't, they're harems, which I dislike.
As my favourite segments in a romance are all the moments after the confession, Visual Novels also have the upper hand here, as they tend to include these moments much more often than anime.

Then I have a problem with books and light novels, in that my imagination is terrible. Reading books is tiresome to me, whereas Visual Novels aren't. The only Light Novels I've read, the Spice and Wolf ones, were an enjoyable experience, but I'm still traumatized from how much that experience tired me out, or how difficult, comparatively speaking, it is for me to read them.

52 minutes ago, activi t said:

from start to finish there was no subtext to anything of what I read. Everything was presented to the reader carefully arranged on a platter with little room left for individual interpretation. I felt like your average Hollywood flick or live-action TV series has more depth to it than the stories and their presentation in visual novels. When written text is the center of the medium, lacking any stand-alone narrative quality is a huge problem.

I disagree with this perspective, for instance. It's not that I have anything against it per say, and some pretty cool stuff can be done with it like in Symphonic Rain and Gahkthun, but I'm stupid, and I'd rather things just be simple. I want to be able to read and comprehend.

I also don't know what 'good writing' or 'bad writing' are supposed to be. To me, the most important thing is to understand what I'm reading.

 

Of course, not all Visual Novels adhere to pacing 'problems' or include routes and choices. You may want to try some of those to widen your perspective.
Planetarian and some Western Visual Novels come to mind. You may also want to look for titles on the shorter side, they should resolve your pacing issues.

 

Note that whilst I prefer Visual Novels, I have read more manga and watched more anime than Visual Novels.
Most of the books I've ever read were aimed at younger audiences. It could be said I haven't given books a proper chance, but I kind of have.

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Typical visual novels are more about cute girls and the interaction with them, with a high emphasis on dialogue, fluff text, pretty art and... adult content. They are hardly about intellectual quality.

Visual novels with mature themes and writing are still quite rare. You could try:

- Innocent Grey VN's like Kara no Shoujo and its successor

- Fata Morgana no Yakata

- Nitroplus VN's like Saya no Uta or Stein's Gate (arguably)

- Umineko although it has a pacing from hell

- Liar-Soft VN's like Sekien no Inganock or Ourai no Gahkthun although their attraction lies probably more in their unique prose than the depth of their stories

But in general, if you're searching more for intellectual challenging stories and writing, then you're probably better off sticking to real books or play a text heavy RPG like the new and old Torment.

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i meandid you finish those 3 before judging it amateurish

 

 

because if you at least finish FSN, i dont think you can call that "lackluster visual and audio to accompany lacklustre writing". Or amateurish, for that matter.

and pacing problem sounds more like you were expecting novel level pacing. VN pacing is very different because its not meant to be read lika a book, piece meal each volume. Its a long, long journey, and a good VN can essentially create a world from that journey, by means of choice, that create other paths and journeys., which can reference each other Books cant do that.

Add the fact that you pick 3 longass 30 hours and over gameplay VN and it will of course kick you in the rear if you expect book level pacing.

 

IMO its less VNs sucks and more "very different from what i expected" thingy for you.

Just my 2 cents

Edited by castor212

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56 minutes ago, ChaosRaven said:

Typical visual novels are more about cute girls and the interaction with them, with a high emphasis on dialogue, fluff text, pretty art and... adult content. They are hardly about intellectual quality.

Visual novels with mature themes and writing are still quite rare. You could try:

- Innocent Grey VN's like Kara no Shoujo and its successor

- Fata Morgana no Yakata

- Nitroplus VN's like Saya no Uta or Stein's Gate (arguably)

- Umineko although it has a pacing from hell

- Liar-Soft VN's like Sekien no Inganock or Ourai no Gahkthun although their attraction lies probably more in their unique prose than the depth of their stories

But in general, if you're searching more for intellectual challenging stories and writing, then you're probably better off sticking to real books or play a text heavy RPG like the new and old Torment.

Maybe G-Senjou no Maou could fit among those. Dispite having teenage characters, the plot and the situations in which you see the important characters interactions is not the the same as typical VNs.

You also missed Kara no shoujo's predecesor so to speak.

 

Edited by Benji Price

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23 minutes ago, Benji Price said:

Maybe G-Senjou no Maou could fit among those. Dispite having teenage characters, the plot and the situations in which you see the important characters interactions is not the the same as typical VNs.

You also missed Kara no shoujo's predecesor so to speak.

I left both out intentionally. If he doesn't even like F/SN, I'm not sure if he'd like G-Senjou. And while I think that Cartagra's true story would be in principal better than both KnS 1 & 2, it unfortunatley doesn't have their high quality of writing yet. Besides that, Cartagra is so H-heavy that it rivals a full blown nukige. Back then I think I even counted its H-CG's and it was almost on par with ImoPara. :blink:

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VNs with some amount of literary merit exist, but they're the very rare exception, and they are by and large not very popular, especially in the west (when we even get translations of them...). Visual Novels are an entertainment medium, first and foremost, and it shows. That's neither a bad nor a good thing; it doesn't make sense to knock entertainment media for doing its thing. I like reading literary stuff every now and then, but in most of my leisure time I'm just looking for some good entertainment, and VNs often deliver that for me. But like Ariurotl said, they're not even at the top of the entertainment game for the most part: when the newest Brandon Sanderson book or Brent Weeks book comes out, I have a lot more fun reading top-notch genre fiction than I do reading VNs.

Judging by the two I've read, as ChaosRaven pointed out, even games from the steampunk series, often acclaimed as some of the more thoughtfully-written VNs, have a bare minimum of really blatant symbolism, basically no subtext, and, when the dust settles and the rationale behind everything becomes clear, they have extremely straightforward plots. I love them dearly anyway, in large part because of the juxtaposition of the ultimate simplicity of the underlying motivation behind the entire plot and the vast resulting impact the events have on the world. But the fact remains: large, complex worlds; simple texts.

The more I read it, the more I realize Majo Koi Nikki has a surprising amount of subtext and symbolism woven throughout certain sections of it. But I won't kid myself: that makes up maybe 3% of the writing, at most. There's probably as much time spent on sex scenes as there is on developing and building the underlying themes and messages, and this puts it in the far high end of literary focus I've detected in VNs I've read (though I'm quite sure a lot of this is simply a result of the sheer amount of time I've spent re-reading Majo Koi Nikki).

Since they aren't subject to the same market conditions and thus don't suffer the innovator's dilemma to nearly such an extent as the entrenched Japanese VN makers, non-Japanese VNs may perhaps have a better chance at breaking the mold and telling at least somewhat different stories. VA-11 HALL-A is, in some ways, a more interestingly-told story than any other VN I've ever read, because it makes the unusual choice of putting the point-of-view character on the fringes of conflict, only relating snippets of the lives of the characters closer to the core by means of their conversation with the bartender narrator. I can't imagine any Japanese VN doing this; they're too stuck pandering to an audience requiring self-insert characters who are the most important person in the story.

That said, if anything, non-Japanese VNs almost universally do an even worse job of it than Japanese VNs, since they try too hard to emulate a formula, and often even emulate the setting along with it. Every time I see another OELVN project about a bunch of people with Japanese names, I roll my eyes, and I'm worried I'm about to go cross-eyed over here.

Anyway, maybe time to summarize: there's stuff out there that's more like what it seems you're looking for, but not a lot of it, and even then it's not a primary focus, because your expectations are probably a bit out of whack.

Edited by Fred the Barber
grammar

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Visual Novels rarely seem to depend much on literary merits, you are setting yourself up for disappointment to begin with. You should treat VNs more like games, thankfully VNs generally have better writing than games.

I like VNs because they can do a damn good job at immersing you in the setting. Symphonic Rain is my favorite so far, it did something that you couldn't do in any other medium. I would also say that both Forest and Ever17 couldn't have been done in any other medium at all.

Besides, I think Kikokugai and Saya both had fine writing by literary standards and they packed some serious atmosphere to boot with amazing BGM and CGs, stuff like this is really important. Reading Inganock right now and it's yet another reminder why VNs can be so cool. You gotta remember that these are VISUAL novels.

Now, I haven't read Fate/Stay (frankly it looks bad) nor Grisaia so perhaps you just had bad luck in your choices. You gotta remember that weebs have awful tastes in everything and are often incredibly stupid so it's important to not listen to them, only listen to me and noone else.

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VNs are like drugs, you might have a good first experience, but as time goes on the effect starts to wear off and you end up chasing that high you experienced the first time.

The more visual novels I read the less I like them, and the less I even like the ones I used to like. They are repetitive, unimaginative, and all extremely similar. But every once in a while you find something that really connects with you and makes you keep on reading them.

Edited by atorq

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Ev4Y1mE.gif

I've been an avid reader for most of my life and i've found that there is great value in any story as long as it connects with the reader based on their preference in themes, genre and focus among other things. Visual novels are interesting to me,  everytime i read one, i delve into new worlds with new characters, sounds and settings. It's just like reading a new book, its just different in that it creates these things for you rather than you helping create those worlds with your imagination. You can simply lie back and pick your own road to take. Most visual novels are simple and direct with their delivery, but that doesn't take anything away from it. Stories don't have to be elaborate masterpieces to have value, to be enjoyed.

So for me, the appeal of visual novels is simple, its merely another way for me to pursue stories. Its delivered in its own unique way, with voices, colour, music and design. It's so fun to read! :sachi:

Books, Manga, Visual novels, Anime, Magazines etc. I don't mind any of them, as long as there's something in them that i can connect with, i'll enjoy it. They all have value to me.

 

“Stories, like people and butterflies and songbirds' eggs and human hearts and dreams, are also fragile things, made up of nothing stronger or more lasting than twenty-six letters and a handful of punctuation marks. Or they are words on the air, composed of sounds and ideas-abstract, invisible, gone once they've been spoken-and what could be more frail than that? But some stories, small, simple ones about setting out on adventures or people doing wonders, tales of miracles and monsters, have outlasted all the people who told them, and some of them have outlasted the lands in which they were created.” 
― Neil Gaiman, Fragile Things: Short Fictions and Wonders

Edited by DharmaFreedom

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As someone who very rarely watches Anime and doesn't read manga at all, is generally unfazed my moe-ness, and find random H-scenes weird,  it's the "choose your own adventure"-esque-ness for me.

Or in case of a selected few, actually interesting story (Liar's stuffs, for me, mostly).

Edited by Khazit

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On 3/12/2017 at 8:28 AM, activi t said:

My main gripe was the writing. It was pretty obvious from the get-go that these stories were written by amateurs, and I found the writing no better than in some of those trashy harem light novels I tried before. The pacing was awful and the plot dragged out way too much. For instance, you don't need rows upon rows of mind-numbing dialogue to flesh out the personality of your characters or have the reader develop a connection with them, that is simply bad writing. Not to mention that the dialogue in these situations often felt forced and unnatural. The VNs I read lacked any sort of literary merit or narrative quality, from start to finish there was no subtext to anything of what I read. Everything was presented to the reader carefully arranged on a platter with little room left for individual interpretation. I felt like your average Hollywood flick or live-action TV series has more depth to it than the stories and their presentation in visual novels. When written text is the center of the medium, lacking any stand-alone narrative quality is a huge problem.

Try Song of Saya.  I think it has what you're looking for, and it can be completed in 6-10 hours so it won't take up much of your time.

Moe and slice-of-life are a centerpiece of most VNs, and this genre tends to have bloated writing with large amounts of fluff dialogue.  To avoid that, you should probably stay away from many of the lengthier VNs, even if they're highly-rated.

Edited by sanahtlig

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So, most regular novels are crap?

VN differ from the anime presentation because it's a different medium. No, in animes you don't see the protag thinking stupid thoughts, you just see them acting stupid. If that's too much of a problem then I suggest you skipped regular eroge, at the very least.

With just 3 VNs under your belt (or that I assume) it's a very skewed view you've got there. Kanon is ancient, it's like the granddaddy of it all. Key has kept some cringey dialogues mixed in there between good drama and emotional scenes. Since they do pretty much slice of life, I have to say that idiocy is an inextricable part of everyday life. In that sense, idiot dialogues (and the antics of characters such as Sunohara from Clannad) are on the mark.

A thing I noticed is that when you read proper VN, you almost always learn something, be it from the theme around the novel (gliders in Konosora, stars in astronomical novels, etc...) or just some tidbit of knowledge the characters reference. Is that a proof of bad writing? I don't think so.

Also, most regular eroge have around 5 routes with different girls, and you have to keep in mind that they vary greatly in quality, if only because there tends to be different people writing them. So, in the same novel you can have utter crap next to something pretty good. If the overarching theme is crap then you have it rough. But they cleverly set up interesting overall themes (if not nobody would read a given novel as there's hundreds to choose from), even though you might have to endure some crap route from time to time.

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