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Jardic47

VNs Mainstream or Niche

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I have noticed in the past few years that visual novels are flying under the radar for most game developers in the west but I have to ask this. Are visual novels going to hit mainstream or are they going to remain a niche forever. I hope for the former, because their are a lot of good writers in visual novel genre that have made a lot of good stories that need to be told. I believe they are good for indie developers due to them being cheaper to produce than a walking simulator and a horror game sometimes. I don't know if people will see what i am talking about, but those who do, What is you opinion on visual novel medium. Is it a hidden gem to go mainstream or a thing that will go away in a few years.

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I played my first visual novel about 15 years ago.  They are certainly way easier to purchase in the West now and there are a lot more available.  But nearly every time someone has the "are you a gamer?" conversation with me, I have to explain the genre to them because they have never heard of it, despite playing some games themselves.  So, I don't think it will go away any time soon, but it is far from being mainstream.  I don't think it will hit the mainstream in the near future.

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1 minute ago, JJ! said:

I played my first visual novel about 15 years ago.  They are certainly way easier to purchase in the West now and there are a lot more available.  But nearly every time someone has the "are you a gamer?" conversation with me, I have to explain the genre to them because they have never heard of it, despite playing some games themselves.  So, I don't think it will go away any time soon, but it is far from being mainstream.  I don't think it will hit the mainstream in the near future.

Fair enough. I know that they are like laserdiscs and not played a lot by many people. It's just a shame really that most indie developers don't think of the genre that much.

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To be honest, I think that when it comes to VNs being mainstream, mobile otome games have the better chance of pushing them to the mainstream than traditional PC or console games. For one thing, they're everywhere and their advertising is very on point. A lot are free, some are pay-per-route and it targets its intended audience very efficiently with pretty art, pretty boys, and romance. It's also often the entry point for a lot of players to the better VNs out there. Personally, I got into VNs with mobile otome, and a lot of people in the otome community can say the same. Also, otome players don't necessarily read just otome forever. Some of them, like me, also get drawn into more plot-based VNs like Fata Morgana, When They Cry, or liar-soft's steampunk games.

Also, there are a lot of indie otome/bl/moege devs who are doing good work and I've noticed that the number of them are growing and getting better. Like, some devs I've followed for years and you can really see their growth when it comes to art style and writing quality.

Edited by Daydreamer97

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2 minutes ago, Daydreamer97 said:

To be honest, I think that when it comes to VNs being mainstream, mobile otome games have the better chance of pushing them to the mainstream than traditional PC or console games. For one thing, they're everywhere and their advertising is very on point. A lot are free, some are pay-per-route and it targets its intended audience very efficiently with pretty art, pretty boys, and romance. It's also often the entry point for a lot of players to the better VNs out there. 

This is what I was getting at. I mean take a look at Katawa Shoujo, it's a free game and it doesn't get the recognition it deserves. I was hoping more indie developers know that there is a market for these games.

 

3 minutes ago, Daydreamer97 said:

Personally, I got into VNs with mobile otome, and a lot of people in the otome community can say the same. Also, otome players don't necessarily read just otome forever. Some of them, like me, also get drawn into more plot-based VNs like Fata Morgana, When They Cry, or liar-soft's steampunk games.

I got into them through sheer boredom and I was looking for something to play that wasn't the same game just with a different name. I never looked back on that day since. Most of the time I wrote until my eyes went numb, but VNs gave me something to look forward to in my writing. I am making stories that I want to turn into VNs one day because of them. 

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I always thought of visual novels as a niche kind of games. As opposed to other games. They are the only type of PC that could be played the same way without hassle on tablets, as they don't requires much controls or buttons, so they have a good chance there.

In recent years, they have been gaining traction with people, but I don't think they will become mainstream. They require too much reading, and while you get rewarded for that with a good story, it's not something many people would want to do. 

As someone who wants to become a developer for these games (made short skits so far). I feel like they would be a bit harder to market compared to regular games, but I could be wrong here.

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One thing you have to keep in mind is that it is a reading medium.  Reading is something a relatively small part of the population actually takes joy in doing.  Most people feel it is work.  It is similar to the reasons why they still bother making anime dubs, even though the hardcore fans want nothing to do with dubs.

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11 hours ago, Clephas said:

One thing you have to keep in mind is that it is a reading medium.  Reading is something a relatively small part of the population actually takes joy in doing.  Most people feel it is work.  It is similar to the reasons why they still bother making anime dubs, even though the hardcore fans want nothing to do with dubs.

Makes sense. I'm one of those people who like watching shows in there native language and I think that most dubs should go in a tire fire. I can understand the reason behind VNs as well since it does feel like a chore sometimes to read when I am bored out of my mind and want to play something else.

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Its steadily getting more mainstream, but as is often when a niche medium/genre steadily gains more mainstream attention, it isn't necessarily a good thing if you are an old school fan. I first got into VNs around 2010/2011, they were extremely niche back then. Not as niche as say the early - mid 00s, but thanks to the Visual Novel fan-translation scene that took off around the mid-2000's they were steadily gaining more attention. Likely in part because anime was also becoming more mainstream. And It was the fan-transaltion of Kanon (which I was interested in because of the 2006 Kanon anime) that actually first exposed me to this medium. The correlation between a rise in the amount of fan-translations and rise in VN popularity in the west (even if still very moderate), is likely why Aaeru started Fuwanovel. She was the one who coined the Fuwanovel motto "Making VNs popular in the west", and among her biggest goals was to increase fan-translation output. Ultimately she fought a losing battle, because as VNs were starting to get more attention, companies and localizers started to pay more attention to them as well. So ironically the fan-translators who arguably helped grow this incredibly niche medium, were now getting cease and desist threats because companies wanted to take advantage of this potential market. Infact this very thing happened to Aaeru herself 

Not saying mangagamer or JastUSA are the badguys at all, I respect them a lot for being the OG localizers in the industry. When shit really hit the fan imo, is when Steam became a popular avenue to sell/market VNs. It was in this phase that VN's once again hit a bump in relative popularity, but this new audience by in large has very different taste then what original VN fans care for. Dies Irae and Suba Hibi for example, are two VNs very much beloved by older school VN fans but did pretty poorly when compared to DDLC. DDLC was a perfect market exploit of the new demographic of potential VN purchasers on Steam. Now I know DDLC is a free game, but its massive outburst in popularity proved one thing. It proved that VN's can reach mainstream popularity, but to do so would require betraying old school VN fans (at least in my opinion). 

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2 minutes ago, Zalor said:

Its steadily getting more mainstream, but as is often when a niche medium/genre steadily gains more mainstream attention, it isn't necessarily a good thing if you are an old school fan. I first got into VNs around 2010/2011, they were extremely niche back then. Not as niche as say the early - mid 00s, but thanks to the Visual Novel fan-translation scene that took off around the mid-2000's they were steadily gaining more attention. Likely in part because anime was also becoming more mainstream. And It was the fan-transaltion of Kanon (which I was interested in because of the 2006 Kanon anime) that actually first exposed me to this medium. The correlation between a rise in the amount of fan-translations and rise in VN popularity in the west (even if still very moderate), is likely why Aaeru started Fuwanovel. She was the one who coined the Fuwanovel motto "Making VNs popular in the west", and among her biggest goals was to increase fan-translation output. Ultimately she fought a losing battle, because as VNs were starting to get more attention, companies and localizers started to pay more attention to them as well. So ironically the fan-translators who arguably helped grow this incredibly niche medium, were now getting cease and desist threats because companies wanted to take advantage of this potential market. Infact this very thing happened to Aaeru herself (

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Not saying mangagamer or JastUSA are the badguys at all, I respect them a lot for being the OG localizers in the industry. When shit really hit the fan imo, is when Steam became a popular avenue to sell/market VNs. It was in this phase that VN's once again hit a bump in relative popularity, but this new audience by in large has very different taste then what original VN fans care for. Dies Irae and Suba Hibi for example, are two VNs very much beloved by older school VN fans but did pretty poorly when compared to DDLC. DDLC was a perfect market exploit of the new demographic of potential VN purchasers on Steam. Now I know DDLC is a free game, but its massive outburst in popularity proved one thing. It proved that VN's can reach mainstream popularity, but to do so would require betraying old school VN fans (at least in my opinion). 

)

The same thing happened to jrpgs.  As they became more mainstream, quality in general began a drastic flaw as efforts were made to appeal to casual and mainstream users.  This led to the mistakes that eventually crippled the genre, such as reverse-including elements from MMO games into normal jrpgs and abortive attempts to 'upgrade' series that were mostly geared to old fans (Suikoden Tierkreis, Growlanser V, etc) that ended up killing the series outright in the long run.  A lot of hardcore fans of jrpgs eventually just quit playing them or resorted to playing roguelikes and low-quality imitations instead.  The relatively low number of high quality jrpgs made since then (there are a ton of mediocre copies of the few hits, such as the dozens of copies of the latter-era Persona games) says everything about what appealing to the mainstream can do to a genre.  

Some particular examples were the disappearance of quality music direction, the overuse of VAs to compensate for poor writing, and the increased tendency to ignore the story-driven gameplay that was the center of the jrpg golden age.  Very few jrpgs actually tell an interesting story anymore, to the point where when one does (like the Legend of Heroes series or Tales of Berseria) it gets worshiped outright by the newer generation, who haven't experienced anything like it before unless they were already retro gamers.

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42 minutes ago, Clephas said:

The same thing happened to jrpgs.  As they became more mainstream, quality in general began a drastic flaw as efforts were made to appeal to casual and mainstream users.  This led to the mistakes that eventually crippled the genre, such as reverse-including elements from MMO games into normal jrpgs and abortive attempts to 'upgrade' series that were mostly geared to old fans (Suikoden Tierkreis, Growlanser V, etc) that ended up killing the series outright in the long run.  A lot of hardcore fans of jrpgs eventually just quit playing them or resorted to playing roguelikes and low-quality imitations instead.  The relatively low number of high quality jrpgs made since then (there are a ton of mediocre copies of the few hits, such as the dozens of copies of the latter-era Persona games) says everything about what appealing to the mainstream can do to a genre.  

Some particular examples were the disappearance of quality music direction, the overuse of VAs to compensate for poor writing, and the increased tendency to ignore the story-driven gameplay that was the center of the jrpg golden age.  Very few jrpgs actually tell an interesting story anymore, to the point where when one does (like the Legend of Heroes series or Tales of Berseria) it gets worshiped outright by the newer generation, who haven't experienced anything like it before unless they were already retro gamers.

My question is how do you deal with seeing something you love (Jrpgs, VNs, anime) gradually betray the reasons/quality you got into them in the first place? For me, I had to take significant breaks from VNs, anime, and the communities attached to those things to keep a piece of mind. And I completely ignore recent releases unless if someone who I know explicitly recommends me one. Otherwise I tend to just get upset at the current state of things. Overall, its just gotten me more withdrawn from the Otaku community. Although a positive is that I've developed other hobbies and interests, so its not like I'm completely socially withdrawn or anything.  

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2 hours ago, Zalor said:

My question is how do you deal with seeing something you love (Jrpgs, VNs, anime) gradually betray the reasons/quality you got into them in the first place? For me, I had to take significant breaks from VNs, anime, and the communities attached to those things to keep a piece of mind. And I completely ignore recent releases unless if someone who I know explicitly recommends me one. Otherwise I tend to just get upset at the current state of things. Overall, its just gotten me more withdrawn from the Otaku community. Although a positive is that I've developed other hobbies and interests, so its not like I'm completely socially withdrawn or anything.  

It hurt... and now I cherry pick jrpgs instead of anticipating them.  To be honest, every time I take a look at a review that has everything but story marked high, I end up reflecting on what mainstream gaming has done to the genre, and I get depressed.

Anime hasn't really betrayed me... I love junk isekai.  I do hate that truly good rom-coms and space operas have vanished, though.  

Visual novels have always been iffy.  To be blunt, the skew toward moege/charage has always been a problem for me... in small doses, I like them as much as any other genre that isn't my favorite, but seeing 90% of all JVN (non-nukige) releases for years on end turn out to be charage drove me absolutely nuts.  Worse was that I had a weird sense of duty that made me play them all, so I quite naturally burnt out back in 2017, after five years of that crap.  

I take breaks from VNs now, often lasting days or even a week or so.  I've found that the problems start popping up mostly if I play several in a row, and that I can still enjoy any genre I didn't already hate if I give myself time between games.  

For English releases, I have to say I don't even pay much attention anymore unless someone mentions it to me... I liked it that Nanairo Reincarnation and Hapymaher (both excellent games) got English releases, but unless it is a truly remarkable (whether horrible or awesome) I just don't notice.  While charage/moege are now localized more than plotge, chuunige, nakige, etc, the proportion is something like 2 charage for every three of other types (combined), which is a much better ratio than the one in Japan.  This was the trend I noticed last time I checked anyway.

More problematic is the rather excessive appeals being made by some Japanese companies by making games specifically to be released in both countries from the beginning.  Pulltop, Whirlpool and Front Wing are the only companies really doing this, but it has led to such things as releasing series in parts (Corona Blossom, Phantom Trigger, Nekonin, etc) and horrible quality games that get caught halfway between appealing to Westerners and appealing to the Japanese (the Lovekami 'sequels' *spits with disgust*).  While Phantom Trigger is fun to read, it is also a series that really needed to be released in larger chunks to be satisfying (if you have a year, you should be able to make something that takes more than three hours to read through going slowly, especially if you reuse as many resources as they do).  

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On 13/05/2020 at 7:31 AM, Clephas said:

It is similar to the reasons why they still bother making anime dubs, even though the hardcore fans want nothing to do with dubs.

In a way, I agree, but I also feel like that is a cultural thing. Certain countries that are more nationalistic in the sense they have more dubs than actual subs have this problem because their inhabitants aren't used to read subs but other countries like mine (Portugal) have always read subs for everything so we don't really mind haha I personally can only stand dubs in kids cartoons but other than that, I'd rather watch with subs. Then again, I read VNs so that's not much of a surprise lolol

6 hours ago, Zalor said:

it isn't necessarily a good thing if you are an old school fan.

Why not? I know people tend to gatekeep but it doesn't make sense, since bringing visual novels to mainstream attention will only help getting more works translated! Don't "old school fans" want more stuff translated? It seems quite masochistic of them, even for me.

 

6 hours ago, Zalor said:

It proved that VN's can reach mainstream popularity, but to do so would require betraying old school VN fans (at least in my opinion).

I mean, this happens all the time... and it's not necessarily a bad thing. There will always be gems that will end up being translated, be it by official sources or fan-translations, but it's always a good thing that more and more people know about vns. Yeah, they may not like vns like subahibi at the beginning because they are not used to denpa (I personally haven't read it yet but, oh boy, do I want to) but I'm sure that the more it's known in mainstream media, the more people can explore this medium :)

Anyways, I don't think the fan-translations will stop and before that, there were only them, anyway. If someone doesn't like the trash translations (when it comes to quality of the vn itself) then why not just learn Japanese? It's not like keeping them niche is going to make them have more translations available ^^"

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I hope someone that is more into the history of VNs can correct me, but weren't the 90s the only time period where they weren't a niche in Japan (mainly because of console gaming and Chunsoft)?

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@onorubThe modern VN started with YU-NO (the 1996 original, not the remake.) according to sources I found. Nintendo in the 2000's credited it for making the genre popular in the first place. It started back in 1983 with Portopia Serial Murder Case if you were curious.

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15 hours ago, Jardic47 said:

@onorubThe modern VN started with YU-NO (the 1996 original, not the remake.) according to sources I found. Nintendo in the 2000's credited it for making the genre popular in the first place. It started back in 1983 with Portopia Serial Murder Case if you were curious.

I've been researching PC-98 visual novels quite a bit lately. And simply put, while you could argue on details, I would say Yu-No is an excellent starting place for what defines the modern story-based VN. 

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15 minutes ago, Zalor said:

I've been researching PC-98 visual novels quite a bit lately. And simply put, while you could argue on details, I would say Yu-No is an excellent starting place for what defines the modern story-based VN. 

What about earlier C's Ware's attempts like Eve: Burst Error or DESIRE - Haitoku no Rasen (written by YU-NO's writer nonetheless)? Or ~1995-96 JAST titles (San Shimai & Meisou Toshi)? Mugen Yasoukyoku? Well, I guess neither of those had the impact and scale of the YU-NO (and JAST titles had much more dating sim elements), so there's some merit in highlighting it.

Edited by adamstan

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46 minutes ago, adamstan said:

What about earlier C's Ware's attempts like Eve: Burst Error or DESIRE - Haitoku no Rasen (written by YU-NO's writer nonetheless)? Or ~1995-96 JAST titles (San Shimai & Meisou Toshi)? Mugen Yasoukyoku? Well, I guess neither of those had the impact and scale of the YU-NO (and JAST titles had much more dating sim elements), so there's some merit in highlighting it.

Haha, I was actually about to edit my post to mention some of the stuff you did. I think YU-NO is a great TL;DR answer for the first most influential story based VN. But of course the story isn't that simple. In my opinion I think a lot of influence could be traced to one specific individual, Kanno Hiroyuki. Who was the primary writer for Eve: Bust Error, DESIRE, Xenon ~Mugen no Shitai~, and of course YU-NO. All of these mentioned VNs are classics imo. 

I also want to give Umemoto Ryu an honorable mention because he often collaborated with Kanno Hiroyuki, and his compositions often captured the tone of Kanno's writing excellently. I think he worked on the compositions for all those VNs I mentioned above, so the two were a great combination. 

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22 hours ago, Jardic47 said:

@onorubThe modern VN started with YU-NO (the 1996 original, not the remake.) according to sources I found. Nintendo in the 2000's credited it for making the genre popular in the first place. It started back in 1983 with Portopia Serial Murder Case if you were curious.

Not only that didn't answer my question at all, it actually derailed the thread. The reason i thought the 90's could've been the closest to a mainstream time period is because of how famous stuff like Kamaitachi no Yoru, Tokimeki Memorial and Machi became in Japan. I could even argue that YU-NO wouldn't be as big as it did without the Sega Saturn version.

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1 hour ago, onorub said:

Not only that didn't answer my question at all, it actually derailed the thread. The reason i thought the 90's could've been the closest to a mainstream time period is because of how famous stuff like Kamaitachi no Yoru, Tokimeki Memorial and Machi became in Japan. I could even argue that YU-NO wouldn't be as big as it did without the Sega Saturn version.

At least I tried to answer the question. I couldn't follow what you were saying since I didn't understand what you were saying. Sorry if I was slow. I don't know, and correct me if I am wrong. do all of those VNs mentions have RPG elements in them?

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23 minutes ago, Jardic47 said:

At least I tried to answer the question. I couldn't follow what you were saying since I didn't understand what you were saying. Sorry if I was slow. I don't know, and correct me if I am wrong. do all of those VNs mentions have RPG elements in them?

Only Tokimeki Memorial (dating sim from 94). Kamaitachi no Yoru (from 94) and Machi (from 98) are entirely text-based.

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Ok, so I think I can throw in a few observations connected to the EVN scene specifically: some lewd games gained pretty wide popularity with the Western otakus and that's pretty much the closest thing to VNs going "mainstream" so far – people fapping on mass or meme'ing to Nekopara and Winged Cloud's Sakura games. DDLC became a massive meme and brought many people into VNs, but generally, the aggressive gatekeeping drove many of them off and made them organize into a separate community that doesn't really know/understand much about VNs. Most VNs, as a see it, do not have the appeal to bring mainstream crowds, with the prevalence of porn and questionable themes pushing them even harder in this shady, obscure corner.

In the West, outside of the particularly dedicated otakus, VNs thrive in basically two places: among women that enjoy romance stories/otome and within the queer crowd. For example, while in Japan yuri is very much created for the male audience, in the West you'll see lesbians/bisexual women being both devs and avid consumers of VNs, simply because it's one of the main forms of media touching on their experience and prefered romantic setups. On the BL side, you'll see more "bara" VNs created by openly gay developers and geared towards male readers. As a medium that is relatively easy to make and story-oriented, VNs in the West became a tool for minority groups to express themselves and create their own brands of entertainment, which is interestingly detached from what they (usually) represent in Japan. This approach, of course, is by default niche, aiming for very specific audiences.

I'm kind of stuck thinking that without the specific trajectory and cultural context that made VNs important in Japan trying to push them into mainstream is kind of hopeless. The idea of porn with story has its appeal, but it's not something the Western audience wants in mass (one could argue that it's because they don't know they want it/aren't familiar with how VNs do stuff, but I'm not sure). The storytelling formula of VNs is also not automatically attractive – just observe the bewilderment of people that stumble upon VNs randomly on Steam. Literary buffs usually scoff at the anime aesthetic and cliches inherent with the otaku media. While VNs are growing in the West and people are more aware of their existence, but I just don't see them expanding out of those few, very specific niches they're confined to now.

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@Plk_Lesiak that is what made me think that the VN industry was picking up in the first place. I have noticed since Persona 5 came out and has been getting momentum that I thought that VNs were gaining ground. I have noticed it for a while now and I don't know if what I said even qualifies as VN talk anymore.

 

Also, if you are wondering. I don't know if Persona 5 even qualifies as a VN with as much gameplay it has. Someone told me it partly was and that is where I got this idea.

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23 minutes ago, Jardic47 said:

@Plk_Lesiak that is what made me think that the VN industry was picking up in the first place. I have noticed since Persona 5 came out and has been getting momentum that I thought that VNs were gaining ground. I have noticed it for a while now and I don't know if what I said even qualifies as VN talk anymore.

Also, if you are wondering. I don't know if Persona 5 even qualifies as a VN with as much gameplay it has. Someone told me it partly was and that is where I got this idea.

We can talk about technicalities of what is and is not a VN, but the much more important point is the perception of an average player. Persona is primarily a JRPG and most people will see it as such. I imagine most people also won't see the popular "technically VNs", such as Danganronpa or Ace Attorney, as something the same category as Clannad or Fruit of Grisaia. And there's a relatively slim chance those games, which are very accessible and heavy on gameplay, will get people hooked on "pure" visual novels and eroge. Elements of the storytelling formula of VN are widely spread in Japanese games, some of which are massively popular, but if we try to interpret that as VNs not being niche it's just wishful thinking. 

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