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"Real" choices in a VN

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When playing a Visual Novel, especially Japanese ones, there was always one thing that I found disappointing: the use of "choices".

I have yet to find a VN where the choices you make are really meaningful.

 

1°) Way too often, the choices you make in a VN are either :

- Go with/support heroine A or Don't go with/support heroine A.

- Choose heroine A / B / C / D

- Go to location A / B / C / D, which will make you meet heroine A / B / C / D

 

Those choices are always very practical, and never appeal morally to the reader, it's mostly either random, or either depending on whether you like the heroine or not. They aren't that many games where the choices you make actually force you to consider the situation you're in, and uses the mood or a moral dilemma to influence your decision (All VN are not like that fortunately, those who stand out as very good VN tend to have more meaningful choices, Steins;Gate being a very good example, but also G-senjou and Grisaia to some extent).

 

 

2°) Something I find more in some OELVN, but that I have yet to find in japanese VN, is choices that actually asks for your opinion on something.

Because sometimes there are questions that don't have any "right" or "wrong" answers, or at least where the answer is not obvious. Those choices don't have to be necessarily practical (= they can or cannot have an influence on the plot or on future decisions). But I feel that it makes you grow as a player, and sometimes even as a human being if the VN asks you the right questions. It can even make you learn something about yourself.

For example, wouldn't it be interesting to have a choice where you're asked :

"Is it okay to sacrifice a few to save many?" => Yes / No
"Is it okay to sacrifice many to save your loved one?" => Yes/ No

"What is the best way for a human being to be happy?" => Being with his loved one / Being wealthy / Succeed in your projects/...

 

You could go as far as having only those kind of choices in a VN, and make it that the personality of your character is modeled progressively based on those choices. Let's just take a stupid example : take a star wars VN. Have the main protagonist be a jedi. Maybe those kind of choices you make before would actually determine whether you'd fall on the dark side or not. If you decided that it was okay to sacrifice people earlier, maybe it would change the course of one of the later event, thus making you getting closer to the dark side. (not an ideal example, but you get my point).

Basically, it's not exactly a "The story changes and adapts to the choice you make." but rather a "The story changes and adapts to how you shape the personality of your character." I do realize that it requires much more writing and creates a much more complicated flowchart when it comes to the storyline, but it's nothing impossible to realize.

 

 

3°) Lack of dilemma when a choice is given to a player was always something I felt missing. Again, it doesn't have to be very practical or not, though it can be very interesting sometimes.

 

"Yourself, your best friend and a young child are starving. You only have food for one person."
=> Keep the food to yourself.
=> Give the food to your best friend.
=> Give the food to the child.

With an example like that, it could or could not have consequences, either it does nothing except changing some dialog lines (if played well, you can still create feelings of guilt, sadness or anger for the character), or it could give you a "point" for this character for the choice of the route later on, or it could even decide about who would survive or die if you go to an extreme case. It could also be this choice that makes the difference between one of the character helping you or abandoning you when you're in a pinch.

 

Maybe it's something proper to japanese mentality and culture, or just because the companies want to take the least risks as possible and want to spare their readers, but a VN is rarely a "b*tch" to you. It will rarely put you in a situation of "conflict of love and duty", and in dilemmas situations. Maybe because sometimes those choices can be harsh to make, and cruel, and that the VN can basically trick you because of the fact that you can never guess if a choice is relevant or not. But again, it would create a very interesting experience imo.

 

4°) Lack of pressure when selecting a choice. This one is more of a gimmick, but most of the time, there isn't any pressure on the reader when he has to make a choice. What about adding a time limit to pressure him? Especially if the choice is a dilemma, it makes it even more effective.

"A woman and her young child are going to die. You can only save one of those, and the person will accompany you for the rest of the story. If you save the child, he will be a burden, if you save the woman, she will hate you forever for not saving her child."

=> Save the children
=> Save the woman
=> Save none of them

Now imagine you have a timer to choose which one. If you don't choose anything by the end of the time, none of them will be saved. Again, it adds pressure on the player, but at the same time, it's much more immersing. You are taking the real decisions, it feels like you are becoming the main protagonist.

 

 

In the end, I feel that the use of such a system for choices is something that the western VN scene could pull out easily and more naturally, because we are actually used to those kind of development where characters you're attached to die (Walking Dead, Game of Thrones...). We are used to stories that are more "cruel" with their own characters.

 

And you, people of Fuwanovel, as VN readers, what are your thoughts on that? Do you know of any VN that already use choices similar to what I described? Would you be ready to play games with such a system? Would you enjoy it?

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Swan Song is a Japanese visual novel that would give you seemingly insignificant choices (like bringing a rock or something as a weapon) and than making that choice significant later down the line. However, while the story made me question my morality, the choices themselves rarely did. I agree, the only time I feel like I made important choices that questioned my personal philosophies was when I read Episode 1 of Dysfunctional Systems. I think creating meaningful choices is definitely something OELVN might have more potential for. However, this is just me speculating, but I think one of the reasons for that is the differnce between western games and Japanese games. Western games seem to place more emphasize on life, death, morality; whereas Japanese games generally are more focused on world and character building. 

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When playing a Visual Novel, especially Japanese ones, there was always one thing that I found disappointing: the use of "choices".

I have yet to find a VN where the choices you make are really meaningful.

 

 

Yeah, was never a fan of the route system incorporated in VNs. Imo of all the subcategories of Interactive Storytelling, VNs are by far the worst in how they utilise choices.

 

My thoughts on choices in VNs revolve more around character freedom, and having the world reacting to your choices. Western studios practice the “choice and consequence” mechanic, which is far more my thing. I like to see real consequences to my choices instead of a couple of lines of flavour dialogue and flags which dictate which version of the story (A, B, C, or D) a user reads.

 

I’d like to see the consequences of my actions affect my environment (I lost my job, I got thrown out of my apartment, my buddy died.)

 

I’d like to see actual, meaningful options for what I can do. – I could fight the guy, try and use diplomacy, try and use cunning behind the scenes, run and hide. Some Western studios do this well but I can’t think of many Japanese VN’s which give you that option.

 

I think VNs have a set formula which they don't want to break away from, and I think partly because of this the genre has stagnated.

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I was thinking about this some days ago. I really don't like the choices in general, and meh, I use walkthroughs, so... I found Forest's choices, though, pretty good, since they actually changed the story, but it wasn't enough

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The section where you have to make choices and it goes with some half-surrealistic tone in Swan Song is honestly pretty effective. It's not "hard" to pick the "right" ones, but I tried to pick the "wrong" one each time... not to mention that there actually is an "opinion" question, though I don't think it changes anything overall.

 

Pressure selecting a choice can be found in School Days, and I'm not sure if I liked it to be honest. It's certainly thematically appropriate that you can say nothing and be interpreted as indecisive though (amusingly, go with no decision, ever.. and you'll get a good Sekai end.)

 

Playing Fate/Stay Night without a walkthrough made me feel like I really was in the Grail War due to the many bad endings possible (fifty -the choices aren't necessarily obvious, but I feel that just adds to it), and I think that kind of thing should be replicated more if possible. Preferably with the hint room mechanic in F/SN.

 

To be honest though, I like the route approach, especially when handled as very separate branches like F/SN does. Some amount of linearity is very useful for creating a cohesive story, which I prefer over something free but ultimately shallow.

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As far as dilemma goes, I always feel bad about my choices if I know someone else is going to be negatively affected by it, even in a VN. I guess this forces me to always go with 'the most' positive ending so that might not be the best thing either (I always end up pissing myself off if I try to get a bad end on purpose for completionist purposes).  ^_^

 

In that way, I consider even the slightest change in dialogue a means of pressuring me to 'do the right thing'...

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Interesting topic. I feel the practical aspect of choices in visual novels often comes before the moral dilemmas for a number of reasons, not so much related to lack of an author's capabilities but more to a problem in game design that haunts all genres.

 

1. You can't predict the consequences of your actions

 

Games in which the player is forced to do moral decisions hardly ever rely on these decisions to decide whether you fail or not. Dragon Age, Mass Effect, Fallout - in all of these, the moral choice is either absolutely attached or completely independent from the failure or success system. Meaning, you either engage in a battle with someone - and engaging in said battle is the choice itself, but it doesn't determine whether you get a game over or not - or the battle system has absolutely nothing to do with your choices. Sure, it affects your progress, but, once again, not under a failure/success switch. In VNs, choices are likely to be the first if not the only judge of your success. So it might be completely unfair for a player to get a game over for choosing this or that, considering a practical choice i.e.: the one that won't get you killed is a moral one when confronted with an idealistic one. It feels unfair if the story judges your worldview.

 

2. Morals don't apply to numbers

 

This happens a lot in RPGs, older ones especially so: you find a cursed sword that has an exceptional attack status, but the game tells you it's cursed so you shouldn't use it. That or you become unable to unequip it; or it hurts you every time you use it; anything like that. The problem here is that the fact that it's cursed, evil or anything of the sort is irrelevant: it's better than the others, so why not use it? Once numbers are in play, it becomes very hard for moral dilemmas to be effective because it becomes a matter of whether it's worth to use it.

 

In VNs, this translates to the fact that a moral choice is irrelevant if it's going to drive you forward. If anything, it'll detach you from the character, but it won't stop you from taking it if you know it's the one that'll drive you forward in the story. Western games have "solved" this issue by not making of it an issue at all: like I said before, choices don't really make you fail or succeed at the game, but rather affect the path you'll cross. So even if you're the most terrible person in the world, you'll still defeat the Archdemon in Dragon Age: Origins. However, this leads to our next problem:

 

3. Significance of the story is inversely proportional to player agenda

 

Interactive fiction that leaves lots of room for you to choose are more about you than about the character: there are so many possible "routes" and "paths" that your playthrough is yours to treasure. This means that everyone gets a different experience. It also means the story loses significance, as there's little character development delivered by the story, since, well, the character was already built by the time the game started and the character is "you". Of course the game can still affect you and teach you things, but it won't be the same for the character. Meaning, you won't have an example to mimic and it's a lot easier to lose sight of what it was all about in the first place when there are so many epilogues and endings under the same label of "success".

 

Western VNs tend to do this and, in all honesty, it's boring. It ironically becomes more about replaying to achieve something than about cherishing an experience. Long Live the Queen and Cinders are main offenders. When you have a route, it's easier to get attached to it because that which you achieved is the route itself and the story in it.

 

4. Moral isn't entirely rational. Moral choices in games are.

 

No moral choice in a VN would ever be an honest-to-God moral choice because the player always takes into account the fact that it's a game. In other words, the notion that you as a person won't suffer from the consequences of it means you're a lot more likely to kill off somebody or make a difficult split-second decision instead of standing frozen in place, terrified. So you're effectively forcing the player to detach him or herself so he or she can choose not as a human being, but as a completely rational being. You could, like you said, incorporate artificial pressure to emulate a real-life decision, but what are the odds of this kind of thing work and not feel gimmicky and cheap - and, worst of all, unfair?

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Have you played BSD or Muramasa? Can we not generalize the qualities of certain VN aspects by production origin when they are so diverse in nature? Some VNs are aimed for simplicity, others don't have choices, some are set in casual school settings, where serious decisions aren't always applicable, the greatest decision I've made in my 18 years is probably where to attend college, other than that, most of them are what to eat, where to go, who to hang out with, on a daily basis. Why would it be more appealing to sacrifice character consistency for reader engagement? The common trade-off, If we'll let the readers make major or many decisions for the character, the extent to which the author can define and develop the character is limited to ensure that either decision is plausible. Continuing from that, is reader involvement always necessary? What's wrong with kinetic novels, or novels, plays, movies?

 

I simply hate threads that generalize very diverse subsets, the other day, I saw a thread that asked whether openings are "good" or "bad", seriously? Depending on how well it's implemented, results can vary widely. As for choices, I'll hold the same argument, we can look at specific cases and how well choices are implemented in a particular novel, given its setting, plot, characters, and how well they fit as a whole, etc.

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Have you played BSD or Muramasa? Can we not generalize the qualities of certain VN aspects by production origin when they are so diverse in nature? Some VNs are aimed for simplicity, others don't have choices, some are set in casual school settings, where serious decisions aren't always applicable, the greatest decision I've made in my 18 years is probably where to attend college, other than that, most of them are what to eat, where to go, who to hang out with, on a daily basis. Why would it be more appealing to sacrifice character consistency for reader engagement? The common trade-off, If we'll let the readers make major or many decisions for the character, the extent to which the author can define and develop the character is limited to ensure that either decision is plausible. Continuing from that, is reader involvement always necessary? What's wrong with kinetic novels, or novels, plays, movies?

 

I simply hate threads that generalize very diverse subsets, the other day, I saw a thread that asked whether openings are "good" or "bad", seriously? Depending on how well it's implemented, results can vary widely. As for choices, I'll hold the same argument, we can look at specific cases and how well choices are implemented in a particular novel, given its setting, plot, characters, and how well they fit as a whole, etc.

Then interpret the question as such. "Are openings usually well implemented?" would be how you go about determining if they're 'good' or 'bad'.

 

Painting with a wide brush is more efficient. You've listed two examples within a subset which we both agree is massive. As with any form of media, the vast majority of VNs are watered down crap noticeably similar and simplistic. What this guy's saying is that he is disappointed that the choices present in most VNs are insubstantial. He says himself that he knows there are some exceptions to this.

 

I simply hate replies that accuse OPs of generalising and not taking into account exception X.

 

I personally prefer more complex MCs whose role I need to take rather than a blank slate who can never actually emulate a real person well enough to provide immersion.

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hum...i think that in this saya no uta heavily contrast with, say, chaos;head. I like both a lot.

But there's just one true ending in chaos;head, but there's a lot of options. They would either:

-go into the delusion system. This is, you will either see the real (neutral) scenes, or a violent variation (in case, the protagonist is the one that suffer) or a sensual variation. No impact at all in the endings. It's a very "sandbox aproach".

-go or avoid death endings.

 

Then we look at saya no uta. There's just 2 questions in the whole game. They will directly determinate the routes and the ending that you can get. This does means that it's less interactive...you won't be able to take actions in the rest of the history. But when you do take a action, it have really really heavy implicances in the course.

 

Giving a example of this in rpgs: tactics ogre battle: let us cling together (psp).

At the beggining, you will be asked a sequence of questions in moral dilemas. There aren't correct or incorrect answers.

It will affect the status and attacks of your "Hero", that you will be obligated to use in every mission and the class can't be changed.

 

When you advance more, you will be confronted with moral dilemas, around lawfull and chaotic options too. Its the D&D definition: lawfull following duty and responsibility (what sometimes can obligate them to commit bad deeds), while chaotic are the free willed (what put all the responsability in them about deciding what is a good or bad deed). Again there's no right or wrong. But it will drastically affect the route the story take, and what characters will wan't to fight under your command.

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i like to have choices in vn but sometimes i dont like having them on every game. if the choices have a meaning then thats o.k thats what the author wants us to learn as to a vn where you have to pick every other event (the walking dead). the walking dead is a good example of what not to do with choices, there just too many to even care anymore which leads to bad endings more often. on the other side of vn with no choices that can make a impact on the person because they are so engage with the story that there will be no interruptions just shocking events. thats why i like in a vn a good balance in the story not the gameplay.

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Interesting topic. I feel the practical aspect of choices in visual novels often comes before the moral dilemmas for a number of reasons, not so much related to lack of an author's capabilities but more to a problem in game design that haunts all genres.

 

1. You can't predict the consequences of your actions

 

Games in which the player is forced to do moral decisions hardly ever rely on these decisions to decide whether you fail or not. Dragon Age, Mass Effect, Fallout - in all of these, the moral choice is either absolutely attached or completely independent from the failure or success system. Meaning, you either engage in a battle with someone - and engaging in said battle is the choice itself, but it doesn't determine whether you get a game over or not - or the battle system has absolutely nothing to do with your choices. Sure, it affects your progress, but, once again, not under a failure/success switch. In VNs, choices are likely to be the first if not the only judge of your success. So it might be completely unfair for a player to get a game over for choosing this or that, considering a practical choice i.e.: the one that won't get you killed is a moral one when confronted with an idealistic one. It feels unfair if the story judges your worldview.

 

2. Morals don't apply to numbers

 

This happens a lot in RPGs, older ones especially so: you find a cursed sword that has an exceptional attack status, but the game tells you it's cursed so you shouldn't use it. That or you become unable to unequip it; or it hurts you every time you use it; anything like that. The problem here is that the fact that it's cursed, evil or anything of the sort is irrelevant: it's better than the others, so why not use it? Once numbers are in play, it becomes very hard for moral dilemmas to be effective because it becomes a matter of whether it's worth to use it.

 

In VNs, this translates to the fact that a moral choice is irrelevant if it's going to drive you forward. If anything, it'll detach you from the character, but it won't stop you from taking it if you know it's the one that'll drive you forward in the story. Western games have "solved" this issue by not making of it an issue at all: like I said before, choices don't really make you fail or succeed at the game, but rather affect the path you'll cross. So even if you're the most terrible person in the world, you'll still defeat the Archdemon in Dragon Age: Origins. However, this leads to our next problem:

 

3. Significance of the story is inversely proportional to player agenda

 

Interactive fiction that leaves lots of room for you to choose are more about you than about the character: there are so many possible "routes" and "paths" that your playthrough is yours to treasure. This means that everyone gets a different experience. It also means the story loses significance, as there's little character development delivered by the story, since, well, the character was already built by the time the game started and the character is "you". Of course the game can still affect you and teach you things, but it won't be the same for the character. Meaning, you won't have an example to mimic and it's a lot easier to lose sight of what it was all about in the first place when there are so many epilogues and endings under the same label of "success".

 

Western VNs tend to do this and, in all honesty, it's boring. It ironically becomes more about replaying to achieve something than about cherishing an experience. Long Live the Queen and Cinders are main offenders. When you have a route, it's easier to get attached to it because that which you achieved is the route itself and the story in it.

 

4. Moral isn't entirely rational. Moral choices in games are.

 

No moral choice in a VN would ever be an honest-to-God moral choice because the player always takes into account the fact that it's a game. In other words, the notion that you as a person won't suffer from the consequences of it means you're a lot more likely to kill off somebody or make a difficult split-second decision instead of standing frozen in place, terrified. So you're effectively forcing the player to detach him or herself so he or she can choose not as a human being, but as a completely rational being. You could, like you said, incorporate artificial pressure to emulate a real-life decision, but what are the odds of this kind of thing work and not feel gimmicky and cheap - and, worst of all, unfair?

Very interesting reply, you do point out the trade off and issues that go with going with more engaging stories in general.

 

1°) You are talking about failure or success, but an interactive story doesn't necessarily need to have "good" and "bad" ends (I'm mostly talking about stories without gameplay elements). Aninteractive story doesn't necessarily need to give you a "game over" merely because of a choice. Even when it's a moral choice, it can be a mean for you to get into a route. For example :

The main protag (you) go through 3 events. You are accompanied by 4 characters (let's say heroines). During each event, you will have to ultimately choose one heroine to sacrifice to continue (it can be either one choice or several, direct or indirect...). After the 3 events, there would be only one heroine remaining, which would basically be your "route".

 

2°) It all depends on what you call "driving you forward". The only thing that can stop you is death, that, I agree. Death of the MC is a game over, as a result, any moral choice is irrelevant if the results is only about having your main character die or not. Except, all choices don't have to be thing that affect success or failure. What is even success in a Visual Novel or an interactive story? Reaching the end of the story? But what if you had several endings to your story, and that neither of them is canon, and neither of them can objectively be judged as "better" than another? It's the same as the heroine routes concept. I'm not seeing those choices as "life and death choice" that leads you forward. They are merely checkpoints that define which branch/route of the game you'll play. Meaning that even if you answered randomly to every question, you wouldn't get a "game over", you would just arrive on a path / route randomly.

 

3°) I partially agree, with such a system, it's only natural that the trade off for enhancing immersion is generally having to sacrifice character development. However, I do believe that both are not completely incompatible. I'll just take as an example my favorite game in the medium that illustrate it, The Walking Dead series by telltales :

 

You play, during the season 2, as a little girl called Clementine in the zombie apocalypse setting that is Walking dead. If you're not very familiar to the Telltale games series, it's mostly an interactive ficton game, with point and click elements. While the story doesn't have "routes" so to say currently (except it's not impossible they try it for season 3). You're not a blank character when you play her, but you're not a character that has completely matured either. You still play as a little girl, and you can feel that Clementine has a story, a past, a view of the world (that was by the way built during the season 1 of the game), and throughout the game, you get to follow and slowly decide what kind of character you want her to become. Try to fight and have her keep that bit of innocence in this apocalyptic world, even though it might give you higher chance to not survive, or on the contrary become a cold realist girl ready to ditch your group if ever shit happens. Become a cunning girl because the end justifies the means, or stay honest and build trust with your companions by all cost?

Some of the choices have no impact. Others kill a character. Or another can save a character. People remember what you said, and take different actions depending on your personality.

Can I say that the story loses significance? No, because the game still follows some sort of plot line, even despite the numerous choices. I was merely guiding clementine's footsteps, and I got attached to the story, even though I know that I was somehow the one who helped modeling the character. 

Basically, you don't decide everything, as the character still has a personality on his own, but you can choose to influence some parts of the character's personality.

 

4°) I totally agree with you here. In the end, it's just a matter of whether you try to play honestly or not. It depends on the mentality of the person that read the story. However, a choice can still have options to choose that are equally reasonable, in a rational point of view. If a choice in a situation can be summarized to => Take a risk / Play it safe, you have no way to know which one you should take. For example, if you're aware that "taking a risk" will give you higher chance to rescue character A, but that playing i safe will give you higher chance to not have character B not be hurt, there might not be any answer that is better to choose.

 

 

Have you played BSD or Muramasa? Can we not generalize the qualities of certain VN aspects by production origin when they are so diverse in nature? Some VNs are aimed for simplicity, others don't have choices, some are set in casual school settings, where serious decisions aren't always applicable, the greatest decision I've made in my 18 years is probably where to attend college, other than that, most of them are what to eat, where to go, who to hang out with, on a daily basis. Why would it be more appealing to sacrifice character consistency for reader engagement? The common trade-off, If we'll let the readers make major or many decisions for the character, the extent to which the author can define and develop the character is limited to ensure that either decision is plausible. Continuing from that, is reader involvement always necessary? What's wrong with kinetic novels, or novels, plays, movies?

 

I simply hate threads that generalize very diverse subsets, the other day, I saw a thread that asked whether openings are "good" or "bad", seriously? Depending on how well it's implemented, results can vary widely. As for choices, I'll hold the same argument, we can look at specific cases and how well choices are implemented in a particular novel, given its setting, plot, characters, how do they fit as a whole, etc.

I haven't played either of these games unfortunately. Also, regarding the rest of your post, I am not trying to actually judge and say "All VN should use this kind of choice system", I'm merely saying that "Wouldn't it be interesting to have more VN that create more involvement for the reader?".

I do like a lot character development, growth and consistency that you can find on most traditional VN. But at the same time, I enjoy a lot storytelling that engages the reader more, for example I'm very fond of the game produced by Telltales. They are quite close to Visual Novels as a genre by nature, and a lot of people enjoys it, so it's only natural to wonder if people think there will ever be VN with such system/gamplay that will ever be created.

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I haven't played either of these games unfortunately. Also, regarding the rest of your post, I am not trying to actually judge and say "All VN should use this kind of choice system", I'm merely saying that "Wouldn't it be interesting to have more VN that create more involvement for the reader?".

I do like a lot character development, growth and consistency that you can find on most traditional VN. But at the same time, I enjoy a lot storytelling that engages the reader more, for example I'm very fond of the game produced by Telltales. They are quite close to Visual Novels as a genre by nature, and a lot of people enjoys it, so it's only natural to wonder if people think there will ever be VN with such system/gamplay that will ever be created.

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3°) I partially agree, with such a system, it's only natural that the trade off for enhancing immersion is generally having to sacrifice character development. However, I do believe that both are not completely incompatible. I'll just take as an example my favorite game in the medium that illustrate it, The Walking Dead series by telltales :

 

Basically, you don't decide everything, as the character still has a personality on his own, but you can choose to influence some parts of the character's personality.

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Then interpret the question as such. "Are openings usually well implemented?" would be how you go about determining if they're 'good' or 'bad'.

 

Painting with a wide brush is more efficient. You've listed two examples within a subset which we both agree is massive. As with any form of media, the vast majority of VNs are watered down crap noticeably similar and simplistic. What this guy's saying is that he is disappointed that the choices present in most VNs are insubstantial. He says himself that he knows there are some exceptions to this.

 

I simply hate replies that accuse OPs of generalising and not taking into account exception X.

 

I personally prefer more complex MCs whose role I need to take rather than a blank slate who can never actually emulate a real person well enough to provide immersion.

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If that was what you meant, then perhaps you should leave out the OELVN vs JVN undertone and cultural bias in your post? "in some OELVNs [...] yet to find in japanese VNs", "something that the western VN scene could pull out easily because we are actually used to those kind of development where characters you're attached to die (Walking Dead, Game of Thrones...)" can't you tell you're generalizing something that you don't have much knowledge of? What's with these implications, have you read East Asian masterpieces like Romances of the Three Kingdoms, Water Magin, or The Tale of Genji? Have you watched Eastern TV shows and saw no one dying? Ridiculous.

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Please, don't make me say what I didn't say.

- I didn't say that the japanese scene doesn't have any story that are cruel or that has characters that die. Don't misunderstand me. I just said that when it comes to Visual Novels, I have yet to find good examples of japanese VN where the choices you make are more immersive and more moral oriented. Japanese and asian people probably have a lot of good stories depicting moral conflicts and dilemmas, I'm sure of it, but I'm just saying that I have yet to see this kind of dilemmas to be implemented as choices in any interactive story japanese game, whether it is a VN, or a RPG. Again, I'm not saying I have a very broad knowledge concerning the VN and interactive stories oriented games of the japanese scenes, so there might be examples that prove me wrong. And even if some exists (there might), isn't the fact that it's not well known / not famous a sign in itself?

 

- On the other hand, what I know about, is that western gamers are accustomed to this kind of stories, especially since it became recently the popular trend in the west (and that's my main point) with the examples I quoted. Whether it is series, or even video games, as Valor said on his post "Western games seem to place more emphasize on life, death, morality", and I do see that they are examples of such games/VN that are getting popular. I'm just saying that the apparition and development of games with such a philosophy / system might be influenced by the recent rise of popularity of stories that involve said dilemmas and moral conflicts. And most of all, that it's that kind of stories that might be more appealing on the western scene for gamers.

 

I'm not trying to generalize about how stories are written in Japan or in the east, and me mentioning western examples of popular series wasn't an intent to compare to eastern stories (and I apologize if it seemed like so).

 

 

I'm not gonna go back and quote every sentence in your post containing "japanese", beginning with "especially Japanese ones" in the first sentence, but it's pretty clear that you were forming an OELVN vs JVN argument as you elaborate your primary points, which was quite frankly extraneous. I'll certainly agree that you might know about OELVNs and western culture in general, but If you don't know much about the other side, I'd suggest that you simply leave the whole thing out instead of making bad generalizations. That's all I have to say.

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Very interesting reply, you do point out the trade off and issues that go with going with more engaging stories in general.

 

1°) You are talking about failure or success, but an interactive story doesn't necessarily need to have "good" and "bad" ends (I'm mostly talking about stories without gameplay elements). Aninteractive story doesn't necessarily need to give you a "game over" merely because of a choice. Even when it's a moral choice, it can be a mean for you to get into a route. For example :

The main protag (you) go through 3 events. You are accompanied by 4 characters (let's say heroines). During each event, you will have to ultimately choose one heroine to sacrifice to continue (it can be either one choice or several, direct or indirect...). After the 3 events, there would be only one heroine remaining, which would basically be your "route".

 

This is the point I'm trying to make in #3, actually. Don't misunderstand-- success and failure don't equal good and bad. They merely mean being able to progress within the story or not; Being allowed to keep playing or hitting a roadblock; succeeding within the structure of the game or not. The more your choices branch into diffferent stories, the more player agenda you have and the problem descripted in #3 only intensifies.

 

Completely eliminating the notion of failure is possible, obviously, and it does eliminate the unfairness of making a moral choice give you a roadblock. Not all choices need to lead to good ends, of course, but if that's the case it's imperative that all ends are absolute. Consider Fate/Stay Night. Compare the forty game overs, some of which are actually good ends in a way, to the actual endings, one of which is more depressing than most game overs combined. If we had only the endings, the moral choices wouldn't carry this weight.

 

However, this is only true in hindsight. One doesn't know of a VN structure before he or she plays it, so the possibility that you might be doing the wrong thing, even if it's the good thing, persists until the game ends. There is no immediate way to solve this, except maybe exposing the VN's sctructure to the player before the story to assure him or her he or she is free to do whatever he or she wants.

 

 

2°) It all depends on what you call "driving you forward". The only thing that can stop you is death, that, I agree. Death of the MC is a game over, as a result, any moral choice is irrelevant if the results is only about having your main character die or not. Except, all choices don't have to be thing that affect success or failure. What is even success in a Visual Novel or an interactive story? Reaching the end of the story? But what if you had several endings to your story, and that neither of them is canon, and neither of them can objectively be judged as "better" than another? It's the same as the heroine routes concept. I'm not seeing those choices as "life and death choice" that leads you forward. They are merely checkpoints that define which branch/route of the game you'll play. Meaning that even if you answered randomly to every question, you wouldn't get a "game over", you would just arrive on a path / route randomly.

 

Death isn't the only thing that can stop you. Anything that stops you from progressing counts here - being expelled from the garden in Oblivious Garden, for instance. In any case, it's true there are VNs in which all endings hold equal significance. And you can have variations on these endings, too. But this slowly takes away the significance of each of them - compare Steins;Gate, a Visual Novel with a clear True End, and Long Live the Queen, a VN with a myriad of outcomes for your decisions and ways to survive until you're crowned. Both are fun in their own ways, but which one has an ending with the greater significance of being the story that had to be told? For the purposes of this argument, ignore the myriad of game overs in Long Live the Queen and just consider you'd get crowned either way.

 

Like you said, in a VN in which choosing randomly will always get you somewhere, getting anywhere loses value in itself because why bother? I see the advantages of giving all players a special place to go based on who they are or want to be while playing, but there are disadvantages too. Consider that, of course, a player doesn't assume he can choose randomly so the feeling of insecurity is still there (as I just said above). But, in this case, where is the balance? Or rather, how do you approach this?

 

 

3°) I partially agree, with such a system, it's only natural that the trade off for enhancing immersion is generally having to sacrifice character development. However, I do believe that both are not completely incompatible. I'll just take as an example my favorite game in the medium that illustrate it, The Walking Dead series by telltales :

 

You play, during the season 2, as a little girl called Clementine in the zombie apocalypse setting that is Walking dead. If you're not very familiar to the Telltale games series, it's mostly an interactive ficton game, with point and click elements. While the story doesn't have "routes" so to say currently (except it's not impossible they try it for season 3). You're not a blank character when you play her, but you're not a character that has completely matured either. You still play as a little girl, and you can feel that Clementine has a story, a past, a view of the world (that was by the way built during the season 1 of the game), and throughout the game, you get to follow and slowly decide what kind of character you want her to become. Try to fight and have her keep that bit of innocence in this apocalyptic world, even though it might give you higher chance to not survive, or on the contrary become a cold realist girl ready to ditch your group if ever shit happens. Become a cunning girl because the end justifies the means, or stay honest and build trust with your companions by all cost?

Some of the choices have no impact. Others kill a character. Or another can save a character. People remember what you said, and take different actions depending on your personality.

Can I say that the story loses significance? No, because the game still follows some sort of plot line, even despite the numerous choices. I was merely guiding clementine's footsteps, and I got attached to the story, even though I know that I was somehow the one who helped modeling the character. 

Basically, you don't decide everything, as the character still has a personality on his own, but you can choose to influence some parts of the character's personality.

 

 

This is a nice way to tell the multiple possible stories, but still doesn't deny the fact that she can become any of these with no formal tradeoff. Within the story, the characters react to how you behave and people die or live. But the fact that the story adequates to you more than you adequate to the story is still there.

 

It's not like this is the wrong way to make a VN. Rooke said he wants the world to react to moral choices, so there you have it. I happen to reject the notion that choices of this kind are necessarily more immersive, though, exactly because I assume all players know they are playing a game when they do, so if they don't have to make a compromise and go with the flow, immersion is at risk - and moral choices can't force this compromise. This may mean that this is just my way to get immersed and yours is different.

 

 

4°) I totally agree with you here. In the end, it's just a matter of whether you try to play honestly or not. It depends on the mentality of the person that read the story. However, a choice can still have options to choose that are equally reasonable, in a rational point of view. If a choice in a situation can be summarized to => Take a risk / Play it safe, you have no way to know which one you should take. For example, if you're aware that "taking a risk" will give you higher chance to rescue character A, but that playing i safe will give you higher chance to not have character B not be hurt, there might not be any answer that is better to choose.

 

 

That's a way to do it, I suppose. In this specific case, however, that is, a moral choice so rational you could choose either, isn't it just a way to sugarcoat preference for one character or other? I mean, what will tip the balance are the possible consequences or, in other words, who you least want to see hurt.

 

Perhaps one way to evade all of these questions is to evade the normal choice system altogether, since it's basically a switch between action and consequence. I once thought of an alternative choice system that I still want to implement some day, somehow. Maybe if you instigate the constant feeling that the player is choosing you'll have a more immersive experience while not trying to deny the conscience that it's a game. You know how, in Catherine, you make choices based on text messages you receive on your cell phone while you're at the pub? If you don't, that's how it goes. The point is that there's this feeling that you might receive a text message anytime so leaving the pub would perhaps mean missing out. So you're always choosing and I would even check my cell phone for new messages even when there was no notification - just like one does in real life when anxious about receiving text messages. So this was probably the most immersive experience I've ever had regarding choice systems.

 

What I'd like to implement is a system in which, in every scene, you could trigger an event, but had a limited number of possible triggers and scenes. For example, imagine a story where the protagonist is a photographer and the photos he takes are the act of choosing, considering he can shoot a picture at any given moment. However, he can only take 6 pictures and these will decide what happens next. Not taking 6 pictures before an specified event leading to a path and the combinations of moments that interested the player enough that he'd take pictures of them would define the routes to take. With this, you eliminate the passive time and are constantly choosing, effectively forcing the player into a state of (artificial, gamey) immersion.

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I think this could go really good or really bad. For instance left it was left to my "morals" i would probably pimp slap the shit out of a good amount of VN heroines, can't have "real" choices without the threat of physical violence now. Grisaia Sort of does it where you get the to actually consider both the good and the bad, the bad part of it is you are forced to pick the lesser of the two evels else you end up on ye bad ending. If you have VNs where you could pick a morally bad choice but could still save your ass in a followup route with very few consequnces i would be so game. That's as real as it gets though

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1) The main issue seems to be that most VNs consider the moral values of the protagonist and not your own. Well, think about this for a moment: what determines one's moral values and principles in the first place? Isn't that his/her own past experiences? If every given choice reflecting moral principles has to be picked by you, wouldn't that mean that the protagonist himself has no integrity of his own? What most VNs do is provide you with a point of view of an individual whose moral values are already established. It's obvious that at this point what's left for you is only to pick the route of the heroine you're interested in. Even though at this point, if protagonist's personal past experiences are influencing his choices regarding morality, it'd make pretty good sense if they'd influence his choice in picking a heroine as well (but I guess that'd be too much of restricting).

 

2) I think this is the main point:

 

I do realize that it requires much more writing and creates a much more complicated flowchart when it comes to the storyline, but it's nothing impossible to realize.

It may not be impossible, but it'd probably require tremendous amount of planning, writing and recording. Which in the end would amount to a significant budget required for the production. Especially if you're talking about major events happening after picking various choices - imagine how many different routes and endings it'd require. It's also true that not everyone enjoys pondering about such philosophical matters. Even aside from Moege, if the author has a moral message to deliver, it's enough to do so with plain writing. Such questions may be able to add a certain spice to the story, but it'd be troublesome if they were to affect the story and the ending in particular. You said it yourself, there's no right or wrong when it comes to them. So why does one has to end up with a bad ending after answering such a question? And if they weren't, wouldn't people consider them useless?

 

3) It would certainly be more realistic, but I'd make me replay the same pieces over and over again. I hate the idea. I like intuitive choices and I hate the ones that are not - especially if they determine the ending I end up getting. For that reason I also dislike "Go to location A / B / C / D, which will make you meet heroine A / B / C / D" principle if I don't know what I end up with.

 

4) It's meaningful and meaningless at the same time. Meaningful, because it'd be able to create a more immersive experience. Meaningless, because it'd only be immersive for the first time. The player can always revert to a previous save file and go through the same thing, this time already knowing what's awaiting for him. Again, it'd probably be more realistic but I dislike the idea because the choice is not intuitive. Save the children and die protecting them? Save the mother and be killed by her? Save none and be abandoned by the others? It'd require you to go back every time you realize it's leading you to the ending you don't want to get. I'd rather have a protagonist making a wrong choice by himself and get a "sad" ending rather than going back later and replay the same piece again to get that particular good ending. It ruins the immersion for me.

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While a lot of visual novels indeed focus on the much more tangible and straight-forward choices relating to specific heroines, there still are others that focus more on the moral values than characters, too. From the translated ones, Saya no Uta immediately comes to mind, and from the untranslated ones I'd definitely pick the previously mentioned Muramasa as well. But those VNs focus on moral choices an dilemmas mainly because its the central point of their story - you can't really expect heavy choices in a school romance setting, can you? Well, even in that genre you can find the rare works that even actively mock and blame you for the choices you make (Kimi to Kanojo to Kanojo no Koi), but that's not really the point here.

 

As I've said above, visual novels focus more on the tangible choices of characters rather than the abstract and ambiguous moral ones, and the reason for that is simple. It's to allow the route structure to function. I'd probably go as far as to say that this structure will allow you the most freedom you'll ever get from an interactive story - in the usual visual novel, you have a common route and several branches splitting from there, each completely different than the other, with an ending or two of its own. Now, compare that to western games that focus more on moral choices - what do you get there? Most of the choices are either completely fake are momentary, with the only large effects on the story appearing at the very end as a different ending. Sure, you might get some variations along the way, but it's still just a single story. No different routes, just slightly different outcomes. From games that flat out lie to your face about the freedom of choice (Telltale games, where the result is generally same no matter what you pick, yet it acts like every single dialogue option changes the universe) to games like Infamous, which might have two different sides of it, but eventually just force onto you their own morality (their own concepts of good and evil), removing your very own choice in some way or the other anyway. In that way, I think VNs offer much more freedom - even if it's just characters in the end, you're still getting much more variable content in the end.

 

Let's also not forget what happens when you push the choice-making so far that the main character becomes a blank slate - I remember rather vividly a fuwa thread about how much everyone hates those.

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I think that as a interactive story, visual novels do a good job of providing multiple stories based on choice. Sure sometimes those choices are simplistic, but that depends on the nature of the story.

 

In any case, I do agree that visual novels don't provide choices..as meaningful as say table top roleplaying games (to be fair in those games, you can say and do what you want, and the GM reacts accordingly).

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While a lot of visual novels indeed focus on the much more tangible and straight-forward choices relating to specific heroines, there still are others that focus more on the moral values than characters, too. From the translated ones, Saya no Uta immediately comes to mind, and from the untranslated ones I'd definitely pick the previously mentioned Muramasa as well. But those VNs focus on moral choices an dilemmas mainly because its the central point of their story - you can't really expect heavy choices in a school romance setting, can you? Well, even in that genre you can find the rare works that even actively mock and blame you for the choices you make (Kimi to Kanojo to Kanojo no Koi), but that's not really the point here.

 

 

Saya no Uta is special in that morals (or more specifically the subversion of morals) are firmly attached to a character, so a moral choice is also a character choice and Saya no Uta never hides this fact because, as you said, it's kind of the point.

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Many of these reasons are why the only memorable choice I still remember is the choice in rewrite between

-changing yourself

-changing the world
-can't pick

I think the gimmick in point number four will be either a hit or miss. It can potentially become an annoyance during the subsequent playthroughs of the novel and would not work for every choice. There may be many people who act as though VNs are another type of book. In that sense, adding a timer might not be the best of ideas. However I see where the idea leads and it might be an asset. Who knows?

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