Visual Novel, or Adventure Game?

4 minute read

Recently I posted a discussion thread on Lemmasoft Forums asking what it meant for a game to be a ‘visual novel’. After all, this had confused me since I looked up Wikipedia’s definition. It seemed to imply that a visual novel is defined by its representation of the story (static sprites, backgrounds, and textboxes) rather than any inherent gameplay element (such as choices). My problem arose when taking a standard visual novel and continually adding gameplay elements to it, and changing its way of presentation. Was it still a visual novel, or had it turned into something else?

Ultimately the thread turned out to be an interesting read, and you can take a look at it here. The conclusion I arrived at is quite simple: we can mix genres between video games, taking elements from various genres and putting them together to best serve the game’s purpose. I can illustrate this with a few examples.

The first and most obvious example I can use here is Phoenix Wright. People consider this game a visual novel despite having a lot of gameplay elements. Why is this? Well, it’s a very subjective thing. But it has all the components that a visual novel might normally have – sprites, backgrounds, and a textbox, etc. The gameplay is just added in-between visual novel segments. So because people spend most of their time looking at something which resembles a visual novel, they don’t mind associating that game with the visual novel genre.

Now here’s a contrasting example: Fire Emblem. Most of that game is tactics battling on a map. There are, however, visual novel-like cutscenes with sprites and a textbox. But these are very short-lived, and not much time is spent on them. Overall, the game is advertised and remembered as a strategy game rather than a visual novel. Yet it undeniably has parts which are “visual novel” in nature.

So, back to the conclusion: games can be composed of multiple genres. What makes this important is the fact that Detective Butler is turning out to be something other than pure-VN. It’s really more like an adventure game, and I can only see that as being a good thing. I’m enjoying the process of coding the adventure game mechanics and I think it’s a great opportunity that other games haven’t explored yet. So in addition to the serial nature of the story, it’s going to be more gameplay-centric than the typical visual novel.

I am also interested in the “visual” of visual novel, which should be obvious from my fascination with 3D backgrounds, particle effects, cameras, lights, and all that other stuff I keep bragging about. I think games could be a really cool way to tell a story on a more cinematic level, which you could argue is the next step up from a visual novel. Why settle for static sprites when you can have dynamic ones? Why settle for 2D backgrounds when you can have infinitely more camera angles in 3D spaces?

Initially, visual novels were created due to their… ease of creation. It’s very easy for a writer to code a complicated story by just using static sprites and backgrounds, with minimal programming involved. However, programming is not only becoming easier thanks to game engines like Unity, but technology is allowing for a lot of cool new features to enhance visuals in games. Think of games like Heavy Rain; that almost seems like a visual novel (but more like a visual movie?) because it’s mostly a story being told through a visual game interface. However, it does not fit the description of a visual novel, so as similar as it may be in terms of functionality, it can’t be classified as one.

As far as Detective Butler is concerned, what kind of plans do I have to make it more like an adventure game? We’re going to emphasize the investigation mode, where you’ll be able to click around the scene and find clues. It will still be optional for those who just want to read the story, but you won’t get the full experience if you skip each one. We’re going to emphasize the idea of levels or stages, and gameplay-centric ideas like end-goals and points. In other words, we’re trying to maximize the experience of solving mysteries in a video game, even if that means making our game less and less of a visual novel. Solving mysteries is very much like a game, and I honestly think it’d be wasted potential if we didn’t go this route.

This also means we will need additional time to make the game exactly how we want it to be. We’ve made fairly good progress so far, but we still have a long way to go. Being able to deliver a game experience that has both a compelling story and engaging gameplay is no easy task, but it is something that we hope to do with the Detective Butler series.

Thank you for your continued support; we hope you’ll enjoy what we come up with in the future.

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