Visual novels went from being a rare genre outside of Japan to one we see appearing on major consoles! This is great news, but it also means that there can be some ambiguity. Lots of games are having the “visual novel” label applied to them. Which is fine for beginners, but it does not really show how distinct and unique some games can be. There are different categories falling under the visual novel umbrella, after all. With games like Nekopara and 428: Shibuya Scramble finding their ways to consoles, now is a great time to go over the different kinds of visual novels, so you can be better informed before you start reading!
What are kinetic novels?
Most people getting into visual novels have certain expectations. A big one is thinking they will have an opportunity to guide the experience by making decisions. The thing is, not all visual novels offer that. There are titles referred to kinetic novels, which just give you an opportunity to read through a story, perhaps with great art, a pleasant soundtrack and appropriate voice acting accompanying it.
These are often designed to evoke certain feelings while reading through a linear story. Nekopara can fall under this category. You might see these sorts of games focus more on the emotional element. eden*: They were only two, on the planet is one example. It is an example of an utsuge, a game designed to make you feel sad or depressed, perhaps even causing you to cry. Narcissu is another. Both are telling a set story that will hopefully leave you devastated by the end of it.
Which kinetic novels should I try?
A lot of kinetic novels have been localized! Some of them are even free! This is great, because this sort of visual novel can be rather difficult for some people to get into. The goal is to get immersed in a story and feel something after reading it. Testing the waters with a free game might really help you out.
Here are a few you could try:
eden*: They were only two, on the planet: Another PC kinetic novel, this one tells the last love story on Earth as it is about to become extinct due to the effects of a red star. There is a free demo for this PC game, but you will have to pay for the full adventure.
Hatoful Boyfriend: Holiday Star: While the original Hatoful Boyfriend allowed you to make decisions as you helped Hiyoko find love with birds, this fan-disc series of side stories mostly offers people kinetic stories where you make no decisions. You just enjoy goofy situations with everybirdie. You can find it on the PC, PlayStation 4 and Vita!
Narcissu 1st & 2nd: This is an absolutely heartbreaking story of a young man and a young woman who are both deathly ill, but somehow manage to find each other. You can get it for free in English on PCs!
Planetarian: The Reverie of a Little Planet: In a post-apocalyptic world, players follow a Junker who steals artifacts and comes across one of Earth’s last planetarians. He agrees to help the robot working there fix its broken projector. This PC game does not have a demo, but is considered a classic.
World End Economica: This is a futuristic novel following a young man who grew up on the moon. He wants to travel out into space and leave the moon, and is playing the stock market to make the kind of money needed to explore space. You can find this title on PCs! (It also appeared on the 3DS in Japan!)
What’s a sound novel?
Sound novels are an odd duck. Someone could look at one and generally assume it is a visual novel, and they would not be wrong. The thing is, there are little details that make it stand out. In general, a sound novel is a game that focuses on creating an atmosphere. You are supposed to pay close attention to its music and sound effects, letting them pull you into its world. A good rule of thumb is a sound novel will be a game where text will completely cover and appear over the images on-screen and it probably will not have any voice acting.
Of course, sound novels also apply to Sound Novels, a specific line of games from Chunsoft. Starting with Otogirisou for the Super Famicom in 1992, the company put together visual novels that all fell under that one umbrella. Even though they might not be directly connected, as 428: Shibuya Scramble is even under the Sound Novel franchise, they all feature similar mechanics.
Which sound novels should I try?
Finding English-language sound novels to play is a little trickier, as not as many have been localized and released outside of Japan. Fortunately, a few famous titles have made it overseas! Not to mention, 428: Shibuya Scramble is a good example of what to expect from this sort of game.
428: Shibuya Scramble: A kidnapping in Shibuya, Japan, brings together five different people. Why was a girl taken? What is going on? Jumping between the five different protagonists and following them throughout the day will help you find an answer. It is available on the PlayStation 4 and PC.
Banshee’s Last Cry: 428: Shibuya Scramble is not the only Sound Novel from Chunsoft to get localized. Kamaitachi no Yoru is a horror sound novel that originally debuted on the Super Famicom in 1994. The release people worldwide should be interested in is the one for iOS devices, as it lets people go through the horror murder mystery in English. It is free to try too, which can help you see if sound novels are right for you.
Higurashi When They Cry Hou: Interested in solving a mystery? Going through the six chapters of the Higurashi When They Cry Hou series might be a good place to start. Every June in Hinamizawa, one person dies and another disappears. Going through this PC sound novel can help you discover what is going on. If you like it, you can even follow up with the Umineko When They Cry Question and Answer Arcs. Just be careful, as it can get unnerving and even a bit scary.