In March, Elena and Ash discussed what makes a good strategy game (find the article here). This time, CJ and Yvonne talk about their love for visual novel games.
The Definition of a Visual Novel
Yvonne: When we decided on this topic for our monthly Q&A I was wondering: what is the true definition of a visual novel? Checking it out on wikipedia it says that visual novels are “text-based stories with narrative style of literature and interactivity aided by static or sprite-based visuals, most often using anime-style art or occasionally live-action stills (and sometimes video footage)”. Yeah, don’t know if that helps! Because when I read on, the examples named on wikipedia, were games like Hotel Dusk, Professor Layton and Ace Attorney. They are included in Visual Novels, but in the category Adventure too. I would have said those games are puzzle games!
What do you think, CJ?
CJ: The category is very broad. It’s a category that is often “visual novel and…”. So yes, I think those count as visual novels. Particularly Hotel Dusk.
Yvonne: When you look at games that are story driven I guess you could say that the examples are indeed Visual Novels. I did indeed play Hotel Dusk in 2014, a mystery novel starring detective Kyle Hyde, made by Cing. Both games were presented like a drawn storybook, much like the video clip for the hit single “Take on me” by the Norse pop group A-Ha ( I guess that betrays my age!). Hotel Dusk looked beautiful, a very engaging story and difficult puzzles.
And true, the Professor Layton games I loved as much for the stories as for the puzzles. Another one that would classify as a mix of visual novel and puzzle/ adventure game is Root Letter. It was the first game in the Kadokawa Game Mystery series. It also used real world locations as a background, which was very cool if you can’t wait to visit Japan!
Otome Games, Prime Examples of Visual Novels
CJ: Otome games may be the default of what we consider a visual novel here in the West, but we’ve probably done ourselves a disservice by being so narrow in overall perception. For instance, my friends often give me a hard time for playing so many Otome games. They claim these aren’t actual games. But games like Fire Emblem have a heavy visual novel story component, with long scenes of characters talking. It’s a component in many games.
Yvonne: Otome games, to me, are indeed the perfect embodiment of a visual novel. I still very much remember my first ever Otome game. In fact, it was a game I reviewed for LadiesGamers on the PS Vita. It was also the first review code I got, for Code Realize – Guardians of Rebirth. I got the code from Aksys games, and was actually surprised I got the full game, and not just some demo to make a review on!
I enjoyed the game a lot, I had never before played a game that read like a good book. Very relaxing, traveling back and forth by commuter-train to my work. It was an hour long trip, and Code Realize kept my attention all the way. What was the first Otome game you played?
CJ: It was also Guardians of Rebirth! As some may recall, I bought a PS Vita when the Switch came out because I was annoyed Nintendo killed the Streetpass feature. So you could say I got a Vita out of spite! Anyways, I forget why, but I tried Code Realize and enjoyed it quite a lot. I think I had tried one other on my 3DS previously, but didn’t like it and returned it.
Yvonne: so you bought the Vita out of spite? That’s a special reason! A bit of a sidestep, but the PS Vita is an awesome device that has a good library of Otome games. A shame Sony abandoned the handheld device so quickly. But, back to Otome games. I think I was spoiled by Code Realize. Since then, I haven’t found any other Otome that looks as stunning as Aksys’ collection of Otome games. But I think you are more of a connoisseur than I am.
Which ones were special to you?
CJ: I have really enjoyed what I’ve played of Code Realize, Professor Layton, and Café Enchanté. Professor Layton and the Unwound Future remains one of the few games to actually make me cry. It was so touching. I love that series. Not all of those are Otome, but it’s hard not to include Professor Layton because it’s such a beloved series.
More to Otome than Romance?
Yvonne: Otome, for many people, is synonymous for romantic stories. But I don’t play Otome games to date hot guys. Sounds strange, right, when you know Otome games that are also called harem games. I’m in it for the story line, and I love feel good stories. In the same way as I watch a romantic movie on the tv or read a book that has a good ending. I don’t think I’d want to play an Otome of which I know to expect heartbreak and sad endings. My daughter Caroline reviewed Piofiore: Fated Memories and adored it, even though the story was intense and didn’t always end well. I don’t think that’s for me, I have to say my absolute favorite is Café Enchanté. You said it yourself, CJ, it’s really the Hallmark movie among the Otome games. Why did you call it that?
CJ: Mostly because the story was so light and fluffy! It is such a feel good tale. Plus, setting it in a coffee shop is similar to the vibe in Hallmark movies and another favorite of mine, cozy mysteries.
Yes, I avoided Piofiore as well. Especially from Asksys I prefer feel good games. They do such a great job with them! Code Realize: Wintertide Miracles is another excellent cozy/feel good title from them.
Yvonne: The thing is, when you start with Café Enchanté and meet the regulars at the Café you inherited, they turn out not to be from this world. I mean, there can’t be much doubt seeing a guy that doesn’t have a head. Or one that clearly has little horns on his head. So at first I was in it for the story. And the story is ace! But after finishing the main storyline I found myself jumping in the more romantic storylines with each of the regulars, and it didn’t feel weird at all!
CJ: I don’t particularly like to play them for the romance either, with one exception: I really like a good Yuri game. I’m not sure why. I think it’s because I haven’t seen enough of them to find the tropes that are always in Otome games. They have more originality to me.
I mostly get involved because the story lines are really creative. The Steampunk vibe of Code Realize is so engaging. The fantasy background of Café Enchanté is super creative. There’s a lot of character tropes inherent in Otomes, but I love it when they rise above. I am especially attached to the headless knight and the Otome loving angel in Café Enchanté.
Yvonne: I saw your review last week for Synergia, another such Yuri game. I must admit I had to look up on the internet what that meant!
CJ: They are a lot of sub-categories of visual novels. Just like regular novels in that way! Whatever you like, there is probably a visual novel out there for you somewhere. It’s just a matter of finding it.
That’s what blogs like LadiesGamers are for: Connecting readers with the games they will love!