Dark VNs with a clashing art style?

A place to discuss things that aren't specific to any one creator or game.
Forum rules
Ren'Py specific questions should be posted in the Ren'Py Questions and Annoucements forum, not here.
Post Reply
Message
Author
User avatar
Coren
Mindscrew Driver
Posts: 1691
Joined: Fri Sep 18, 2009 9:24 am
Completed: Dear Mariko, Six Rules, Ribbon of Green, RE: Prince of Nigeria, Doppelganger, Cole's Gate Demo, Crimson Rafflesia Demo, Mica: Apoptosis Demo
Projects: Crimson Rafflesia, Mica: Apoptosis, Fantasy Euthanasia
Organization: Soyasushi Productions
Tumblr: CorenBaili
Deviantart: CorenB
Skype: coren.baili
Contact:

Dark VNs with a clashing art style?

#1 Post by Coren » Sun Jan 03, 2016 10:23 am

Just wondering - after seeing some rather popular games that seem to pair some dark, disturbing themes with a happy-go-lucky kind of moe anime art, do you think these kinds of art normally help or hurt a disturbing game? Would it interest you in playing/buying it, or turn you away from it?

See Undertale for instance. That isn't really "moe", but it does pair some classic, 8-bit nostalgic pixel art with some darker themes of destruction and humanity. Same goes with many gothic loli-style horror games, like Ib (https://i.ytimg.com/vi/xTi0Os19nG4/maxresdefault.jpg) and Mad Father (http://vignette1.wikia.nocookie.net/mad ... 0210210738). And of course, there's the very classic Higurashi (https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/ ... er_Art.png) which is all about cutesy girls dying in very disturbing ways.

Since dark fantasy otome games seem to be popular lately, I'll center the question around that - would you rather play an otome game, for instance, with dark themes where you can end up causing plenty of deaths single-handedly, with cutesy art or with more mature art? Would the clashing art style be interesting, or would it be revolting instead?

User avatar
sessurea
Newbie
Posts: 11
Joined: Thu Dec 17, 2015 6:34 pm
Tumblr: sessurea
Location: Portland, OR
Contact:

Re: Dark VNs with a clashing art style?

#2 Post by sessurea » Sun Jan 03, 2016 1:57 pm

Giving happier/cuter art to a darker story can be a good choice, but it has to fit with the story. It works well with loss of innocence themes or to enhance the shock factor of violence or other dark themes. This style can be pretty "revolting," but that seems like the point of using cute art in a dark story in the first place-- that shock of seeing cute things in dark situations. Whether it's a good storytelling choice is game-specific. I can see how it could go overboard and feel a little contrived.

As for Undertale, even though it has darker themes, the actual content of the game (not just the art, but the story, dialogue, etc) is cute as heck. The cuteness there works to establish a connection with the characters, and to keep the player interested in the game in general. So that's one of the advantages of using cuteness in general. A lot of games use cuteness to keep players attached (besides Undertale, see, for example, Syrup and the Ultimate Sweet). On the other hand, a more mature feel can set a darker or more serious tone, but it potentially risks feeling too serious, to the point of boringness.

I liked that you brought up Undertale, because it's a cute game that really effectively uses dark themes. Spoilers:
One of the best examples is the lab level. The game establishes battles as cute and funny, so when you encounter the amalgamates... There are no jokes, the music is no longer cheery and offbeat. The art is still pretty simple, if not cute, but it feels terrifying just based on the way the game plays with expectations established by the game's previous cuteness. That really enhances the feeling that the amalgams are a perversion, something to be feared. Flowey's boss form similarly messes with player expectations. After all that cute art in battles, having colored, highly-textured, highly-detailed art enhances the form's disturbingness.
So Undertale provides a good example of how cuteness can be used to set certain expectations that effectively enhance dark themes when those expectations are violated.

gekiganwing
Lemma-Class Veteran
Posts: 2457
Joined: Wed Sep 29, 2004 1:38 pm
Contact:

Re: Dark VNs with a clashing art style?

#3 Post by gekiganwing » Sun Jan 03, 2016 2:37 pm

Coren wrote:Just wondering - after seeing some rather popular games that seem to pair some dark, disturbing themes with a happy-go-lucky kind of moe anime art, do you think these kinds of art normally help or hurt a disturbing game? Would it interest you in playing/buying it, or turn you away from it?
I think that cute art and unsettling content can work together. For example...

* Using a graphic style change to illustrate when a story goes from upbeat to downbeat, or vice versa.
* Art style dissonance: using illustrations that are thematically inappropriate for the story. This can be done for a variety of reasons. Perhaps you're using unexpected art to make a point, or perhaps your goal is to get a reaction from the audience.
* Using different art styles to indicate a character's point of view. This was done to a horrifying extreme in the very NSFW story Saya no Uta.
* Using expressionistic art to indicate the tone of a scene. If the main character thinks things are going well, they see their world as a nice place. But during times of stress or depression, their view of the world becomes distorted.
* Using art to show that locations in the story are very different. Illustrate how parts of the fictional world are pleasant, secretly bad, clearly horrible, and so on.
Coren wrote: Since dark fantasy otome games seem to be popular lately, I'll center the question around that - would you rather play an otome game, for instance, with dark themes where you can end up causing plenty of deaths single-handedly, with cutesy art or with more mature art? Would the clashing art style be interesting, or would it be revolting instead?
I would be interested in any sort of visual novel which addresses dark themes. Doesn't matter whether it includes pairings. That said, I think that many stories will benefit when violence and horror are justified. I would recommend omitting scenes that are only written to shock the audience. In other words, I believe it's usually wise to avoid gratuitous content of any kind which does not contribute to a story.

I like and welcome a variety of art styles. Though I have an admittedly personal and specific opinion...
I don't especially enjoy video games that emphasize machismo, violence, and anger. If the art indicates that one of these three is a major theme, then I will probably not purchase the game. Sometimes when I look at recent video games, I ask myself two questions. The first one is "Would the sort of person who likes this game look down on any kind of upbeat or humorous game?" The second one is "Would they hate me because I liked Sakura Wars 5, and because I'm looking forward to the translated 3DS remake of Dragon Quest 7?"

User avatar
SundownKid
Lemma-Class Veteran
Posts: 2299
Joined: Mon Feb 06, 2012 9:50 pm
Completed: Icebound, Selenon Rising Ep. 1-2
Projects: Selenon Rising Ep. 3-4
Organization: Fastermind Games
Deviantart: sundownkid
Location: NYC
Contact:

Re: Dark VNs with a clashing art style?

#4 Post by SundownKid » Sun Jan 03, 2016 7:23 pm

Personally it would turn me away from it. I like it when something that is dark already looks dark. It doesn't have to be grim dark, it could be quirky or darkly fairy tale-ish, but there are so many varied art styles that if a horror game looks like a generic dating sim, I just feel like the creator was lazy in developing it. Of course I know that sometimes the point is to subvert expectations but generally I dont like bait and switches where it suddenly becomes horror.

User avatar
Hijiri
Eileen-Class Veteran
Posts: 1518
Joined: Sun Mar 25, 2012 6:35 pm
Completed: Death Rule:lost code Overdrive Edition, Where the White Doves Rest-Tsumihanseishi
Projects: Death Rule: Killing System
Organization: MESI Games
IRC Nick: Hizi
Tumblr: mesigames
Skype: kurotezuka
itch: hijiri
Location: Los Angeles
Contact:

Re: Dark VNs with a clashing art style?

#5 Post by Hijiri » Sun Jan 03, 2016 9:13 pm

I think it all depends on what you're trying to push. Using the infamous example of Higurashi:
Image
The graphics are cute and adorable, but the content of the story is far and away from that. Though the clashing doesn't start until halfway through each arc (aside from Kai but by then you're probably invested in the story, art be damned) but its eased in and telegraphed well enough that you don't really notice it until you're too deep. Hell, the original PC release of Corpse Party does the same thing too, cute art but horrifying events and descriptions. Though unlike Higurashi, you're pushed right into the horror, which is why most people might not have been into the original release but became more interested with the release of Repeated Fear, which gave it a more mainstream appearance.
Image Image
"Perfection goal that always changes. Can pursue, cannot obtain."

User avatar
Rossfellow
Veteran
Posts: 283
Joined: Sun Jun 22, 2014 9:35 pm
Projects: Sedatophobia
Organization: Team 3Edgy
Deviantart: l-rossfellow
Contact:

Re: Dark VNs with a clashing art style?

#6 Post by Rossfellow » Mon Jan 04, 2016 2:06 pm

gekiganwing wrote: I would be interested in any sort of visual novel which addresses dark themes. Doesn't matter whether it includes pairings. That said, I think that many stories will benefit when violence and horror are justified. I would recommend omitting scenes that are only written to shock the audience. In other words, I believe it's usually wise to avoid gratuitous content of any kind which does not contribute to a story.
This is why Corpse Party, while enjoyable, ranks lower on my list of horror RPG/VNs.

I'd also like to put Danganronpa out there. It's plenty of murder, distrust, and tackles what it would take for a good person to do something horrible. But the presentation is so outwardly cartoony that it becomes unsettling. It's like the FNAF appeal.
ImageImage
Sedatophobia (latin SedatoPhobia)
___(n) 1: The averse reaction to stillness, silence and/or state of helplessness.
______2: (Psychology) A state of distress where the victim's sense of reality can no longer keep up with his or her imagination.
______Related: Madness, Paranoia, Despair

User avatar
Enigma
Veteran
Posts: 281
Joined: Sun Mar 14, 2010 12:53 am
Contact:

Re: Dark VNs with a clashing art style?

#7 Post by Enigma » Mon Jan 04, 2016 7:25 pm

Every time I see the original higuarshi art I just think "BIG...MEATY...CLAWS!!"

As for me, I'm very forgiving when it comes to artstyle, there are a few artstyles I really don't like. I do like when the artstyle is a deliberate choice in any game myself, the more thought there is put into it the better IMO, though it doesn't always work out. Puella Magi Madoka Magica is an example of a series that I feel fell really flat despite the fact the artstyle was obviously a deliberate choice (unfortunately the story never got more complex than people get sad when bad things happen and time travel the worst plot device ever.)

User avatar
lamb
Newbie
Posts: 7
Joined: Mon Jan 04, 2016 6:23 pm
Location: USA
Contact:

Re: Dark VNs with a clashing art style?

#8 Post by lamb » Mon Jan 04, 2016 7:57 pm

It really depends on the style and themes of the game. If the story is too dark but the art style too cutesy, it might not come off as seriously as the creator might want... unless if having it be presented in a less serious manner is the goal, of course. It has to be done deliberately and the audience has to realize that it was intentional, otherwise it comes off silly or like a bad mistake. That being said, even intentionally clashing styles/themes that are recognized as such can still leave a bad taste in the player's mouth, but that's another topic.

User avatar
SexBomb
Regular
Posts: 109
Joined: Sat Oct 11, 2014 2:40 am
Projects: "Up All Night," "Reynard the Fox"
Tumblr: sexviolenceandvideogames
Deviantart: cooldrinkofwater
Location: Los Angeles
Contact:

Re: Dark VNs with a clashing art style?

#9 Post by SexBomb » Tue Jan 12, 2016 5:09 am

I try not to let the art style deter me from the content, but often I find myself pining for more appropriate visuals. I love Higurashi, but I often find myself thrown off by the childish style. Shiki is one of the most well-written psychological horror animes I've ever seen, but the character designs crush it for me. It's not a deal breaker in any sense of the word, but I definitely always feel as though a little something has been lost. Something that could have been 'great,' is now just 'good,' thanks to a poor choice in art direction. The clashing themes and styles can make for an interesting introspective, but for me, personally, it loses some of the grittiness and immersion.
Rossfellow wrote: I'd also like to put Danganronpa out there. It's plenty of murder, distrust, and tackles what it would take for a good person to do something horrible. But the presentation is so outwardly cartoony that it becomes unsettling. It's like the FNAF appeal.
An interesting thought. Dangan Ronpa is one of my favourite games, and for some reason I have never given a second thought to the contrast between the art and content. I think what makes DR a little different is the absolute looney-tooney-ness of the franchise--it is often more of a comedy than anything. Blending horror and humour can add an entire new level of discussion to the subject!

User avatar
Rossfellow
Veteran
Posts: 283
Joined: Sun Jun 22, 2014 9:35 pm
Projects: Sedatophobia
Organization: Team 3Edgy
Deviantart: l-rossfellow
Contact:

Re: Dark VNs with a clashing art style?

#10 Post by Rossfellow » Fri Jan 15, 2016 2:34 am

When you think about it, there are hugely popular "children" demographic franchises in Japan that are pretty damn "Dark". Detective Conan, for one, and Kamen Rider GAIM.

http://www.marycagle.com/index.php?id=32

We consider Ace Attorney fairly lighthearted and PG and tend to forget its primary subject matter. Danganronpa is an offshoot of that. I'm beginning to think this is just a Japan thing.
ImageImage
Sedatophobia (latin SedatoPhobia)
___(n) 1: The averse reaction to stillness, silence and/or state of helplessness.
______2: (Psychology) A state of distress where the victim's sense of reality can no longer keep up with his or her imagination.
______Related: Madness, Paranoia, Despair

User avatar
Katy133
Miko-Class Veteran
Posts: 686
Joined: Sat Nov 16, 2013 1:21 pm
Completed: Eight Sweets, The Heart of Tales, [redacted] Life, Must Love Jaws, A Tune at the End of the World, Three Guys That Paint, The Journey of Ignorance, Portal 2.5.
Projects: The Butler Detective
Tumblr: katy-133
Deviantart: Katy133
Soundcloud: Katy133
itch: katy133
Location: Canada
Contact:

Re: Dark VNs with a clashing art style?

#11 Post by Katy133 » Sat Jan 16, 2016 8:27 pm

I actually love the idea of using cute/aesthetically-pleasing art styles that are also not afraid to go to dark places (you can probably see a bit of it in my own VNs... I've said before that Edward Gorey has had a major influence on my art). As animator Don Bluth put it, "You can't appreciate the light without the dark."

Warning: Unmarked spoilers for Undertale and Dreaming Mary

I think cute art mixed with dark themes can work if the art style does one or more of the following:

a) The cute art style makes the darker elements feel more surprising, and therefor, darker.

Using Undertale as an example again, one of the final bosses is rendered in a different art style. He looks like this (a cross between a Madoka Witch and a Terry Gillian animation), while the rest of the characters and art prior to it had looked like this (pixel art).

Another example is Dreaming Mary, where the art style is cutesy and pink, but if you play the game a certain way, you can encounter darker elements, including areas that look a lot creepier than the rest of the game's world.

I also remember an interesting quotation from Alec Holowka on his co-created game, Night in the Woods:
"When the game begins, [the player character] Mae wonders what it would be like to burn down the house with her still in it. A lot of people [who have played demos of the game] have said, ‘woah, that’s really dark’, but then games are full of people blasting each other in the face with machine guns. We’ve become accustomed to a certain level of violence and cynicism - if this hits people, that’s good. We’ve all had the experience of lying in our bedroom being really bored, thinking, oh seriously, [f*ck] everything."
Note that Night in the Woods has anthropomorphic animals as the main character, and is said to have be inspired by children's work such as The Busy World of Richard Scarry.

b) The "simple" art style ("cute art" generally goes hand-in-hand with "minimalist art," such as Japan's Kawaii art aesthetic) makes the player use their imagination to fill in the gaps, making things scarier.

You remember that theory in horror-writing that if you leave scary elements vague or off-camera, the audience has to use their imagination, which will make the horror element more scary? Yeah, this is in a similar vein. Using a simpler art style such as pixel art means that the player has to imagine the details themselves.

A good example of this is the atmosphere in The Witch's House.

c) To make a point of some sort.

As an animator, I've noticed that people in the West tend to associate animation in general as "for kids" and having "fantasy" elements (because animation is labour-intensive, so you probably don't want to make a slice-of-life story because that could be more-easily made in live-action, right?). But what's frustrating is that animation is not a genre. You can make animation for adults and even make slice of life reality-grounded films using animation (that's one of the reasons why a lot of animators, including myself, were really excited about Anomalisa). Skeptic people ask, "Why?" Experimental people ask, "Why not?"

Taking all that and putting it in the context of VNs, you can argue that the cute art style clashing with the dark themes is mean to represent an Aesop of some sort: That "sometimes, in life, bad things happen even in places you don't expect. Just because you are in an environment that looks safe, doesn't mean that it is safe."

Of course, the downside to all this is using cute art and dark tones simply for the sake of shock value, which can feel very cheap if there's no other reason for the art style. I guess creators just need to use their common sense and ask themselves why they're using their particular art style.
Last edited by Katy133 on Mon Feb 08, 2016 11:25 am, edited 1 time in total.
ImageImage

My Website, which lists my visual novels.
Become a patron on my Patreon!

neowired
Regular
Posts: 199
Joined: Mon Dec 01, 2008 2:33 pm
Contact:

Re: Dark VNs with a clashing art style?

#12 Post by neowired » Sun Jan 17, 2016 12:49 pm

The way I see it, there's a pretty big rule in all kinds of art in general.
Opposites contrast with each other creating tension, tension catches the viewer's attention.
This is centered on the concepts of consonance and dissonance.

That is not to say that you can't have art which is largely consonant and without tension, you can, your responsibility as an artist is to know when to use consonance and when to use dissonance to enhance the power of the message you are wanting to present to the viewer.

When you put in contrast, oposites, you create dissonance, it creates tension, energy, struggle, this is good for for certain types of music, certain subjects in graphic, or certain stories. Horror stories for example gain a lot from dissonance, it creates tension within the viewer, and that works well with this kind of story.

On the other hand, if you want to make a calm story which let's say, portrays normal everyday life, and in a more romanticized, harmonic fashion, you would want to stray away from things which dis-harmonize the atmosphere, like too much tension.
But let's say, if you want that story to be a tragedy full of passion, then dissonance can again be very helpful.
Or let's say you want to portray a dark and depressing horror world without perspectives or any hope, one which suffocates the viewer rather than crates energy, in this case you could go with only dark themes, keeping your art consonant.

To make good, interesting art, you want to use the proper tools for the proper reasons. You need to understand what each tool does, why, and what it should be used for.

The concept of harmony and disharmony spans through many different art forms.
Depending on what kind of mood you want your story to portray, you want to use more harmony or more disharmony, more consonance, or more dissonance. It needs to be used in good proportions to enhance the atmosphere. And, imho, atmosphere is one of the most, if not the most crucial elements of art. Having a well constructed atmosphere/mood/theme can to a large degree make or break your art piece.

and now I shall ninja back to my hole for the next few months or something lol

Post Reply

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users