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A visual novel (ビジュアルノベル bijuaru noberu?), also known as sound novel, is an interactive fiction game featuring mostly static graphics, usually with anime-style art. As the name might suggest, they resemble mixed-media novels or tableau vivant stage plays.
In Japanese terminology, a distinction is often made between visual novels proper (abbreviated NVL), which are predominantly narrative and have few or no interactive elements, and so-called "adventure games" (abbreviated AVG or ADV), which typically incorporate problem-solving and other gameplay elements. This distinction is normally lost in the West, since both are streamlined compared to Western adventure games; Japanese ADVs generally focus on narrative and dialog, with little exploration and few or no logic puzzles or inventory items, and thus both NVLs and ADVs are commonly referred to as "visual novels" by Western fans. Visual novels and ADVs are especially prevalent in Japan, where they made up nearly 70% of the PC game titles released in 2006.
Visual novels are rarely produced for video game consoles, but the more popular games are sometimes ported to systems such as the Dreamcast or the PlayStation 2. The more famous visual novels are also often adapted into the light novel, manga or anime formats. The market for visual novels outside of East Asia, however, is small, though a number of anime based on visual novels are popular among anime fans in the Western world; such titles include Kanon (1999), Air (2000) and Clannad (2004) by Key; Rumbling Hearts (2001) by âge; School Days (2005) by 0verflow; Higurashi no Naku Koro ni (2002) by 07th Expansion and Fate/stay night (2004) by Type-Moon.
Visual novels are distinguished from other game types by their extremely minimal gameplay. Typically the majority of player interaction is limited to clicking to keep the text, graphics and sound moving (most recent games offer 'play' or 'fast-forward' toggles that make even this unnecessary).
Most visual novels have multiple storylines and many endings; the gameplay mechanic in these cases typically consists of intermittent multiple-choice decision points, where the player selects a direction in which to take the game. This style of gameplay has been compared to the Choose Your Own Adventure books. Most, however, strive for a higher level of plot and character depth than the aforementioned series of interactive children's books. These can be more closely compared to story-driven interactive fiction. While the plots and storytelling of mainstream video games is often criticized, many fans of visual novels hold them up as exceptions and identify this as a strong point of the genre.
Some visual novels do not limit themselves into merely interactive fictions, but also incorporate other elements into them. An example of this is Symphonic Rain, where the player is required to play a musical instrument of some sort, and attain a good score in order to advance. Usually such an element is related as a plot device in the game.
Some shorter works do not contain any decision points at all. Most examples of this sort are fan-created. Fan-created novel games are reasonably popular; there are a number of free game engines and construction kits aimed at making them easy to construct, most notably NScripter, KiriKiri and Ren'Py.
Many visual novels use voice actors to provide voices for the characters in the game. Often, the protagonist is left unvoiced, even when the rest of the characters are fully voiced. This is to aid the player in identifying with the protagonist and to avoid having to record large amounts of dialog, as the main character typically has the most speaking lines due to the branching nature of visual novels.
The visual novel genre has evolved a style somewhat different from print novels. In general, visual novels are more likely to be narrated in the first person than the third, and to present events from the point of view of only one character. It is fairly common for the primary structural unit to be the day rather than the chapter, with formulaic awakenings and returnings to bed framing each day's events. There are of course many exceptions to these generalisations.
In the typical visual novel, the graphics comprise a set of generic backgrounds (normally just one for each location in the game), with character sprites (立ち絵 tachi-e?) superimposed on these; the perspective is usually first-person, with the protagonist remaining unseen. At certain key moments in the plot, special event CG graphics are displayed instead; these are more detailed images, drawn specially for that scene rather than being composed from predefined elements, which often use more cinematic camera angles and include the protagonist. These event CGs can usually be viewed at any time once they have been "unlocked" by finding them in-game; this provides a motivation to replay the game and try making different decisions, as it is normally impossible to view all special events on a single play-through.
Content and genre
Traditionally, PC-based visual novels have contained risque scenes even if the overall focus is not erotic (similar to the "obligatory sex scene" in Hollywood action films). However, the vast majority of console ports do not contain adult material, and a number of recent PC games have also been targeted at the all-age market; for example, all of Key's titles come in family-friendly versions, and two have never contained adult content at all. Also, all of KID's titles are family-friendly.
However, most of these games are later re-released with the addition of hentai scenes, or have a sequel with such. For example, Little Busters! was first released as an all-ages visual novel, but a version with erotic scenes, entitled Little Busters EX, came out later, and though Clannad is also all-ages, its spinoff Tomoyo After: It's a Wonderful Life is not. One notable exception to the rule is Myself ; Yourself, which never had an ero version, though it did contain mature content not suitable for younger audiences. Another example of this is Higurashi no Naku Koro ni.
Sound Novels is a trademark of Chunsoft, which used the term for its novel games such as Portopia Renzoku Satsujin Jiken, Otogirisou, Kamaitachi no Yoru, Machi, and more recently 428: Fūsa Sareta Shibuya de (which received a perfect 40/40 score from Famitsu). Sound Novels were the origin of the "novel"-type game genre. Both genres share the style and gameplay. However the term "Visual Novel" is used by non-Chunsoft developers partly to avoid Chunsoft's trademark and partly to emphasize its focus on visuals rather than sound. As later entries in Chunsoft's own Sound Novel series have strengthened its visual expression with 3DCG and real-life graphics, the latter difference have pretty much disappeared.
Despite what the term may imply, not all sound novels have voice acting; the "sound" being merely background music and sound effects. An example of this is the original Higurashi no Naku Koro ni series for the PC, which billed themselves as "sound novels".
Visual Art's, the major visual novel house that publishes Key's works (among numerous other brands), has recently released a series of works called Kinetic Novels, which are notable for being an experiment in online content distribution. Most of these fall into the completely linear category, lacking any choices at all; as a result, some fans have begun using the term to describe other non-interactive titles.
As of 2007, all major visual novels are produced in Japan. Only a few have been licensed in the United States and other countries; a majority are eroge, with Hirameki's now-discontinued AnimePlay series as notable exceptions. In addition to official commercial translations, a vibrant fan translation scene exists, which has translated many free visual novels (such as Narcissu and True Remembrance) and a few commercial works (such as Umineko no Naku Koro ni and Policenauts) into English. Some French and Russian translations exist as well.
Commercial English translations of contemporary Japanese visual novels are uncommon, though some games with visual novel elements have been officially translated into English for release in the Western world. These include Hideo Kojima's Snatcher and Capcom's Ace Attorney series.
- List of anime based on video games
- List of video games based on anime or manga
- Graphic adventure game
- Text-based game
- ↑ "AMN and Anime Advanced Announce Anime Game Demo Downloads". Hirameki International Group Inc. 2006-02-08. Retrieved 2006-12-01.
- ↑ Script error
|40x40px||Wikimedia Commons has media related to [[commons: Category:Visual novels
| Visual novels]].
- VNDB.org - A comprehensive database for information of visual novels
- Visual-Novels.net - A site dealing with the latest visual novels from Japan, forum and downloads
- Visual Novel Fan Translations
- VisualNovelGames.com - A site with Visual Novel Games made mainly for western audiences
- Visual Novels at the Open Directory Project
- Creation engines
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