Developer Blog

Interactivity in Visual Novels

Lately I've been working on what I'd call the more interactive chapters of Detective Butler, and it's gotten me curious about the concept of having an interactive visual novel. I believe it can be good, if done properly, but I'll examine the pros and cons in further detail.

I don't understand the appeal of most sim games. If you are not familiar with those, it should be easy to find quite a few of them on the Internet advertising themselves as visual novels. And I'm not sure what to make of that. I read visual novels to read a story about compelling characters and an interesting plot, not to click on the same button 50 times just to watch a dull animation 50 times before finally progressing into a very small segment of actual dialogue -- only to be interrupted by more pointless clicking. That formula just doesn't make sense to me; often times I don't want to bother thinking about the "strategy" behind clicking and just want to read the story. It gets in the way.

That said, at times I think visual novels can be improved by adding interactive elements. Even for a kinetic novel, where there are no choices to affect the story, it might be nice to have something the player can control themselves. Case in point: Phoenix Wright. Many won't consider this a VN, but it's a good example for me to use to illustrate interactivity that doesn't change the plot.

One con to this, however, is that interactivity does break immersion in the story. Immersion is already a rather difficult thing to accomplish in terms of writing; you have to set up an atmosphere with realistic characters and dialogue. But even if that is done correctly, it can all be torn to shreds by reminding the reader that this is merely a game. And in most cases -- where the gameplay only consists of clicking things that appear to have little variation -- I drop the sim games and move on to go do better things.

The question for the people reading this is as follows: At what point would an interactive VN cease to be a VN? The key word here is "novel" -- so I think that once the VN is more about interactivity than it is about reading a story, it no longer deserves the title of "VN". I think interactive visual novels have a lot of potential entertainment value (see: WTSC EP3) but, then, is it still a VN?

What's the perfect balance between interactivity and story? And how would one go about achieving it? I get the feeling I'll have to answer this myself over the next few weeks, but for now, feel free to contemplate it with me.

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