There’s a term that anime fans hear every season: “adapted from a visual novel”. So what even is a visual novel? Hint: it’s more than just a game with an anime-inspired art style. Below, we’ll look at what visual novels are, why they’re popular, and how you can get started.

Novel? Like a Book?

doki doki literature club gameplay
Team Salvato

Yes, kind of. Visual novels usually have two part interfaces: the text box and the rest of the screen. Normally, a character will appear in the top half, and their dialogue in the bottom. Easy, right? All you have to do is click to see the next lines of text… over and over and over.

It sounds boring, but visual novels are actually strangely engrossing. Occasionally, you’ll be asked to make a decision which in turn affects the ending. Most games of this type have at least two, but some, like DRAMAtical Murder, have ten or more. Don’t worry, though: there’s almost always a fast-forward option for subsequent playthroughs.

Why Should I Care?

clannad visual novel
Key

You know how some people like to just watch anime and chill? Visual novels are like the gaming equivalent: you can just sit back, relax, and read the text a couple of lines at a time. That’s not to say the stories are slow, though: there are some incredibly gripping tales awaiting you, and some use the medium’s unique pacing to help ramp up the tension over several hours.

Why Shouldn’t I Just Watch the Anime?

It’s like watching the movie adaptation of your favourite book: it might be good, but there’s a strong chance the director left some of the best bits out. Visual novels can take dozens of hours to fully complete, so you have a much better chance to get to know your favourite characters. Plus, once you finish the game, you might even unlock new content or modes.

Some Good Visual Novels to Start With

For the unconvinced:

Danganronpa 2 gameplay
Spike Chunsoft

If you’re hesitant about just reading for hours, why not try Danganronpa? There’s plenty of interaction here, and you’re free to roam around a school solving mysteries and making friends (or enemies) as you please.

For the anime fan:

SteinsGate visual novel
5pb., Nitroplus

There are so many great visual novels that have anime adaptations: there’s Steins;Gate, Clannad, Fate/Stay Night… the list goes on. Best of all, these are usually available fairly cheaply on sites like Steam or GOG.

For those looking for scares:

Check out the short and sweet Doki Doki Literature Club: the whole thing is free and takes just a few hours to finish, but believe us: you’ll be thinking about it for a long time after. If that doesn’t float your boat, check out Higurashi no Naku Koro Ni. This is an episodic visual novel that only gets creepier as it progresses.

Ian Garland

Just an ordinary guy who woke up one day in the magical world of anime reviews. Check them out... or don't, i-it's not like he likes you or anything...

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