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A Defense of Visual Novels: What Are They, Why Do They Matter


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2 hours ago, Stormwolf said:

Chances are that visual novels evolve into something else too as things change for new generations.

This is an idea I'm open to. However, the days when the novel had serious influence on popular culture is long over, and the dominance of screen based stimulation changed that. VNs, as in a medium that combine sound + visuals + text have all the potential to be something much more than they currently are (which in many cases are just glorified anime games). Perhaps they are just a transitionary medium into something else, but the novel (as a medium for significant contemporary influence) is dead and that much I am 100% certain of  

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Very salient insights. I enjoyed watching the video.

Couple of thoughts maybe to add:

--> What about the relationship of VNs to anime, considering most people came from the latter.

--> What is the future of VNs, given the continued decline in reading literature?

--> The relationship of adult content to the literary value of VNs

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48 minutes ago, LAsuka said:

Very salient insights. I enjoyed watching the video.

Couple of thoughts maybe to add:

--> What about the relationship of VNs to anime, considering most people came from the latter.

--> What is the future of VNs, given the continued decline in reading literature?

--> The relationship of adult content to the literary value of VNs

Great questions, and I'll address each one individually. 

Q1: What about the relationship of VNs to anime, considering most people came from the latter?

A1:  Partly for a reason I will address in my answer to your second question, I think that the association between visual novels and anime is mostly just circumstantial. As in the market that visual novels originally grew out of, was closely connected to anime and so they have had a close relationship since. But just as chivalric romances used to dominate literature in the early era of the novel, mostly for commercial viability, the medium of novels slowly evolved passed that. I think visual novels can express much more than the themes and styles they are currently limited to with their close relation to anime. And eventually as the medium gets experimented with, it will move away from the current trends.

It's also worth noting, that the very early visual novels (Otogirisou and Kamaitachi no Yoru), had no connection to anime at all. Imo they were just very ahead of their time. The connection with anime only happened for commercial reasons for the time. But the original conception for visual/sound novels didn't have anime or adult content in mind at all. As the medium slowly expands through experimentation, I think it will return to the original vision of these early works to be multi-media novels rather than just anime games.

Q2: What is the future of VNs, given the continued decline in reading literature?

A2: In the very last part of my video, I suggested that visual novels are a potential new frontier for artists. I think creative thinkers and artists who can see the theoretically potential of visual novels, have a whole new medium to play around with and experiment with. I think as artists begin to experiment with this medium and its potential, it will evolve into something more significant. Particularly because the publishing industry is so nepotistic (at least in my home country of the USA), I think steadily we will find aspiring novelists turn to this medium as a way they can express their stories in a medium that that appeals to the new sensibilities of people raised on screens. 

Q3: The relationship of adult content to the literary value of VNs

A3: My answer to this is pretty similar to question 1. Due to circumstances, the visual novel market embraced adult content for commercial viability. But as the medium grows and gets experimented with by artists from different backgrounds, I think it will steadily expand past the need to contain adult content. 

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8 hours ago, Zalor said:

Great questions, and I'll address each one individually. 

Q1: What about the relationship of VNs to anime, considering most people came from the latter?

A1:  Partly for a reason I will address in my answer to your second question, I think that the association between visual novels and anime is mostly just circumstantial. As in the market that visual novels originally grew out of, was closely connected to anime and so they have had a close relationship since. But just as chivalric romances used to dominate literature in the early era of the novel, mostly for commercial viability, the medium of novels slowly evolved passed that. I think visual novels can express much more than the themes and styles they are currently limited to with their close relation to anime. And eventually as the medium gets experimented with, it will move away from the current trends.

It's also worth noting, that the very early visual novels (Otogirisou and Kamaitachi no Yoru), had no connection to anime at all. Imo they were just very ahead of their time. The connection with anime only happened for commercial reasons for the time. But the original conception for visual/sound novels didn't have anime or adult content in mind at all. As the medium slowly expands through experimentation, I think it will return to the original vision of these early works to be multi-media novels rather than just anime games.

Q2: What is the future of VNs, given the continued decline in reading literature?

A2: In the very last part of my video, I suggested that visual novels are a potential new frontier for artists. I think creative thinkers and artists who can see the theoretically potential of visual novels, have a whole new medium to play around with and experiment with. I think as artists begin to experiment with this medium and its potential, it will evolve into something more significant. Particularly because the publishing industry is so nepotistic (at least in my home country of the USA), I think steadily we will find aspiring novelists turn to this medium as a way they can express their stories in a medium that that appeals to the new sensibilities of people raised on screens. 

Q3: The relationship of adult content to the literary value of VNs

A3: My answer to this is pretty similar to question 1. Due to circumstances, the visual novel market embraced adult content for commercial viability. But as the medium grows and gets experimented with by artists from different backgrounds, I think it will steadily expand past the need to contain adult content. 

 

One problem with the removal of adult content currently is that we go from porn scenes to no mention of having a proper relationship at all. Any indication of sex even happening seems to be a no go. That's going way overboard with censorship for younger audiences. It works for heavy plot based VN's, but for moege and such it just doesn't. Would be way too boring. Even if i skip most scenes after the first, i do like that the act is present in the relationship. I just wish they could move it into a more subtle direction with innuendo and the day after scenes like waking up together under the sheets etc. Bit of a ramble xD

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6 hours ago, Stormwolf said:

I just wish they could move it into a more subtle direction with innuendo and the day after scenes like waking up together under the sheets etc.

+1000 this. All-ages version of Princess Evangile does this, and it worked great, at least for me.

Also, I wish they stopped inserting cringey, mood killing h-scenes in most random moments just to fill the quota.

Edited by adamstan
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12 hours ago, Stormwolf said:

It works for heavy plot based VN's, but for moege and such it just doesn't. Would be way too boring. Even if i skip most scenes after the first, i do like that the act is present in the relationship.

Apologies, I should have been a little more specific. I'm not saying VNs should completely move away from adult content, and there are certainly genres and individual works that benefit from such content. Rather, I'm just advocating that more VNs that focus on stories where adult content isn't necessary would be an overall positive thing. Similar to how outright censorship stifles creativity in the way you detailed, the still prevalent expectation of sexual content in many commercial VNs reinforce the opposite problem. Where romantic and sexual scenes get forced in for the marketing of an 18+ tag promising sexual content, but where it clashes with the overall focus of the story. For example, Steins;Gate, Umineko, Higurashi, etc would be objectively worse works if they had forced sexual content. There is no serious need for it in those stories. Likewise, to go with an example I used in my video, Sayooshi would be an objectively worse work without the sexual content.  

So I'm not fundamentally anti-sexual content. But I think if VNs lost the reputation of "VN = porn game", it would be overall beneficial for the medium and could attract more people (both creatives looking to work with VNs, as well as a broader audience for VNs) if that reputation for adult content weakened. 

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Somewhat agree. It's just that those visual novels that go a bit beyond usually get popular enough regardless. Sciadv series, utawarerumono, 13 sentinels (if you consider this a VN), and the others you mentioned. The pitfall is to avoid this becoming written anime completely. If they're going to play out and have relationship dynamics like anime then we can just as well watch anime. BUT... All these series could benefit from exploring the romance more if im honest. It's there mostly as a tease and you know it's relevant to the protagonist and main heroine, they just fail at exploring it even though they set up the pieces for it for that singular purpose. So sex scenes is not the problem, it's just the good old first awkward romance that we almost always see is the problem (regardless of the age of the characters it plays out mostly the same) and the fact that certain writers seem to fail at writing believable romance without it. Adult romance like we see in root double is fantastic and was a truly fresh breeze.

 

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This was a good watch, but I have to wonder if this holds much truth, especially for creators outside of Japan. I mean, if people are reading less, why would they read a vn? Most vns are just reading with the occasional choice. I mean yeah having art may attract some, but I'm just not seeing visual novels as a medium that can grow outside JVNs. Another problem is, are vns really growing? I mean what's the point of writing one if no one will take the time to read it. Just look at Steam, it's over flooded with vns and it seems its hard to even get 10 reviews. I don't mean to sound negative and it would be great for vns to grow, but I also am hoping this isn't just about jvns. Anyway, I hope they don't die and do become a medium people can go to to create, but I'm just no sure it's possible..

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14 hours ago, blackrose said:

This was a good watch, but I have to wonder if this holds much truth, especially for creators outside of Japan. I mean, if people are reading less, why would they read a vn? Most vns are just reading with the occasional choice. I mean yeah having art may attract some, but I'm just not seeing visual novels as a medium that can grow outside JVNs. Another problem is, are vns really growing? I mean what's the point of writing one if no one will take the time to read it. Just look at Steam, it's over flooded with vns and it seems its hard to even get 10 reviews. I don't mean to sound negative and it would be great for vns to grow, but I also am hoping this isn't just about jvns. Anyway, I hope they don't die and do become a medium people can go to to create, but I'm just no sure it's possible..

You bring up some serious concerns that I have as well. Particularly the points about if people aren't reading, why would they read VNs? As well as the point that VNs don't seem to be growing. 

The VN medium may very well be doomed, but I don't think it HAS to be, and I think it could even thrive, so long as the right things happen. And I guess that's my point, if these things don't happen the medium could very well be screwed.

So the reason I think VNs have an appeal to people who are increasingly reading less, is because of its acoustic quality. It may sound ass backwards, but sound is actually a much more important element to visual novels than the visuals are. This is to the extent that visual novels were originally called sound novels. Sound involves a person in poignant ways that visuals could never do. But unlike audio books, which aren't even really books since they are just pure sound, visual/sound novels actually allow you to engage with text. You can read at your own pace, you can go back an read previous text via a backlog, and you can even make decisions with the text. But my key point, is that the digital age has strengthened our focus on the acoustic, and visual novels are a novelistic medium which make significant use of sound.

As for (the lack of) popularity VNs have, I think the solution for this is simple, and it's a note I ended my video on. Visual Novels are a new artistic frontier, that is mostly unexplored. Most VNs that get made, either JVNs or EVNs, hardly experiment with the medium. But there is a lot of cool things you can do with the medium. Furthermore, precisely because reading is in decline, and publishing as a result is a near impossible goal for many fiction writers, I think traditional writers will slowly start seeing VNs as a medium they could make use of. Similarly, there are a bunch of musicians on Soundcloud who seem to be struggling to get the recognition they are after. A struggling and talented musician, and a struggling and talented writer, could work together to make a VN and the result would likely be interesting. 

So I guess to conclude, precisely because VNs are an acoustically dominated medium, it has a kind of fundamental appeal to non-readers. At least a much lower barrier of entry than reading an actual book. And for writers and musicians who themselves are working in mediums where it is increasingly difficult to breakthrough, making VNs may prove to be an appealing option to them. Granted, this process, assuming it happens, will start slowly. But artists with outside influences could add the crucial new blood to the medium that it desperately needs.

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I'll be honest, I'm not too sure on the whole reading is declining debate. Don't get me wrong, I do believe people are reading less and prefer tv and video games, but I do feel like a lot of young people enjoy reading as a hobby. I just remembered that my sister, who is a teacher, says that her kids do love reading despite also loving their phones. I do think less people read, but at the same time that people who love it wont go away. Still, people will love video games and tv more (obviously). I realize though that I and some others here are being a bit too negative about this topic. 

As for visual novels, it depends on where you look. I admit Steam is a bad place to see if visual novels are on the decline or not because it's so hard to get noticed. However, I've been on itcho and have seen games like this that do very well 

https://lunarisgames.itch.io/wtnc

Note, this is an LGBT game and VN's seem to kind of thrive in the LGBT community. 

Whether they are dying in general I do not know and hope not. It's just I notice how hard it can be for people to get into them.

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On 8/3/2021 at 8:12 PM, blackrose said:

I'll be honest, I'm not too sure on the whole reading is declining debate. Don't get me wrong, I do believe people are reading less and prefer tv and video games, but I do feel like a lot of young people enjoy reading as a hobby. I just remembered that my sister, who is a teacher, says that her kids do love reading despite also loving their phones. I do think less people read, but at the same time that people who love it wont go away.

Actually I agree with this, and in earlier drafts of my script I addressed it a bit. But when I was editing things down (cutting the fat) it was one of the parts I thought I got a bit too rambly and decided to cut out. But I see the cultural trend of novels going a similar direction poetry did. Sure, some people still read poetry, but its a pretty small niche. Especially if you compare it to more popular media. Poetry will never "die", but I don't see it making a comeback as a culturally significant medium. Likewise, I don't think the novel will ever die, and it will always have an audience, but the audience is shrinking. It's also interesting to note, that most novels that have a significant cultural impact, most often have movie adaptations which serve as the forefront of that cultural impact.

There is also one other caveat I have about my argument about reading being in decline (which I also cut from an earlier draft). Which is that I think non-fiction won't be hurt as badly as fiction. Partly because the screen and the internet has made many of us addicted to information, I think many people will continue to read informative, non-fiction. Non-fiction aimed at the general public also tends to be written in ways that don't tend to challenge the reader (at least in it's style of writing). And as a side point, in so far that fiction still does have a somewhat popular audience, it is mostly in genres related to YA, which also are written in styles that don't challenge the reader. Just as TV is easy to consume, so is YA fiction. So what I'm really arguing is that it's the novel (and written short fiction) more broadly speaking that is in decline.  

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On 8/2/2021 at 2:40 PM, adamstan said:

+1000 this. All-ages version of Princess Evangile does this, and it worked great, at least for me.

Also, I wish they stopped inserting cringey, mood killing h-scenes in most random moments just to fill the quota.

I forgot which VN it is, might've been Chrono clock but if there's an option to view the H-scene later seperately from the main menu thats works best for me.

In most VNs after the first one I end up skipping most of the rest since its usually just pandering to different fetishes lol

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3 minutes ago, Freestyle80 said:

I forgot which VN it is, might've been Chrono clock but if there's an option to view the H-scene later seperately from the main menu thats works best for me.

Yes, it was Chrono Clock - it had separate unlockable after-stories dedicated just for h-scenes. There were no sex scenes in main story at all.

  

3 minutes ago, Freestyle80 said:

since its usually just pandering to different fetishes lol


Yeah, and that's exactly what bothers me - it often clashes with the mood of the story and becomes out of character because of this "porn logic".

Edited by adamstan
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On 8/1/2021 at 9:40 PM, adamstan said:

+1000 this. All-ages version of Princess Evangile does this, and it worked great, at least for me.

Also, I wish they stopped inserting cringey, mood killing h-scenes in most random moments just to fill the quota.

As long as eroge with these type of H scenes keep getting bought (ESPECIALLY in Japan, the one who started this way back in the day) this quota ain't going away.

Despite the loud detractors of H, there's still a good amount of silent fans who enjoy having them.

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I don't think it's a completely hopeless cause.

For one, cash in on the vtuber craze. Modernize the formula with animated sprites, moving backgrounds and other gimmicks.

And speaking of cashing in, it always felt to me that the medium has completely missed it's opportunity to cash in on anime trends in the past. The amount of Isekai VNs is laughable, even according to me JP reading friends. Manga, Anime and LNs milked that trend for every penny and VNs just... didn't even bother?

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7 minutes ago, TexasDice said:

I don't think it's a completely hopeless cause.

For one, cash in on the vtuber craze. Modernize the formula with animated sprites, moving backgrounds and other gimmicks.

And speaking of cashing in, it always felt to me that the medium has completely missed it's opportunity to cash in on anime trends in the past. The amount of Isekai VNs is laughable, even according to me JP reading friends. Manga, Anime and LNs milked that trend for every penny and VNs just... didn't even bother?

While that can work, it likely would be very expensive. Only well off devs or well known studious could pull something like that off, and even than with a vn it still may not sell. A person has to read a vn but with a vtuber you just watch them. Your method would likely help, but only for those who can afford it. Even then, it can be risky.

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5 hours ago, TexasDice said:

I don't think it's a completely hopeless cause.

For one, cash in on the vtuber craze. Modernize the formula with animated sprites, moving backgrounds and other gimmicks.

And speaking of cashing in, it always felt to me that the medium has completely missed it's opportunity to cash in on anime trends in the past. The amount of Isekai VNs is laughable, even according to me JP reading friends. Manga, Anime and LNs milked that trend for every penny and VNs just... didn't even bother?

As if we need more isekai...

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