What defines a "visual novel" apart from other games?

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Re: What defines a "visual novel" apart from other games?

#16 Post by LVUER » Fri Sep 25, 2015 12:03 am

trooper6 wrote:Whereas I see Visual Novels as a form of Video Game, just as I see Interactive Fiction as being a form of video game. Maybe a KN is a novel presented visually...but I don't see a VN as a novel presented visually...novels are not interactive in the way that VNs are.
Of course I only simplifies things... Not only visual, VN has choices, multiple endings, sounds and musics, and so on... but the main point is that VN is novels that presented along with visual "aid"... others can be added freely (without visual, it's not VN... without other elements, it's still VN).

I can't see VN as a video game... though the moment a gameplay of any kind is added to the VN (Little Buster for example), it's not a VN anymore, it's a game... for me, at least...
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Re: What defines a "visual novel" apart from other games?

#17 Post by trooper6 » Fri Sep 25, 2015 12:32 am

LVUER wrote:Of course I only simplifies things... Not only visual, VN has choices, multiple endings, sounds and musics, and so on... but the main point is that VN is novels that presented along with visual "aid"... others can be added freely (without visual, it's not VN... without other elements, it's still VN).
But is a VN a novel with visuals? Why isn't it a play with visuals? Or a screenplay with visuals? Or a video game script realized into a video game?

I think that there are multiple ways to conceive of what a VN is...indeed, there are multiple ways of conceiving of what video games are.

I'm not convinced there is a unified consensus. Folks who came to VNs from JVNs would probably define VNs differently than those who came to VNs from EVNs, who would probably define VNs differently from those who came to VNs from Interactive Fiction, who would probably define VNs differently than folks who came from Adventure games, who would probably define VNs differently than folks who came from art games, who would probably define VNs differently than folks....etc...

Maybe there is a unified consensus among the folks who came from JVNs, but the VN player base is expanding a lot...and the new people...people for whom their first experience with VNs might have been The Walking Dead, for example...well...I think the old definition probably doesn't have a holding consensus anymore.
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Re: What defines a "visual novel" apart from other games?

#18 Post by Rossfellow » Fri Sep 25, 2015 1:49 am

I think The Walking Dead has long transcended the realm of Visual Novels. That thing is an interactive movie. :lol:

But that's beside the point.

Danganronpa is a Stat-raising/Adventure game. Ace Attorney is a Mystery/Puzzle game. The Walking Dead is a Pure Adventure Game. Blazblue is a 2D Fighter Game. Persona is an RPG. Etc. Etc. Everyone can probably name games with stories that really connected to them and narrative so good it gets you hooked-- But that doesn't qualify the "Visual Novel" tag. I don't think that's how it works.

Well, if you want to categorize a game as a VN while it has gameplay elements, it's doable, but not very positively received. In the end, requiring the player to fulfill an objective to progress a story (Having enough of X stat, Picking up an item, solving Y, etc.) makes it a game, no matter what the ratio of Narrative:Gameplay is.

If your project has these "Roadblock" elements, you may as well just call it a game.
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Re: What defines a "visual novel" apart from other games?

#19 Post by Fox Lee » Fri Sep 25, 2015 2:38 am

Rossfellow wrote:Danganronpa is a Stat-raising/Adventure game. Ace Attorney is a Mystery/Puzzle game. The Walking Dead is a Pure Adventure Game. Blazblue is a 2D Fighter Game. Persona is an RPG. Etc. Etc. Everyone can probably name games with stories that really connected to them and narrative so good it gets you hooked-- But that doesn't qualify the "Visual Novel" tag. I don't think that's how it works.

Well, if you want to categorize a game as a VN while it has gameplay elements, it's doable, but not very positively received. In the end, requiring the player to fulfill an objective to progress a story (Having enough of X stat, Picking up an item, solving Y, etc.) makes it a game, no matter what the ratio of Narrative:Gameplay is.

If your project has these "Roadblock" elements, you may as well just call it a game.
So stat-raising games aren't VNs, even if they're genre classics like True Love? What about something like Ishara: Bane of the Seas, where there is a simple turn-based combat system, but you can turn it off completely should you so desire? Can a game change genres because of an in-game setting?

What about off-screen stats? Many is the VN where your options/endings are determined by one or more secret variables based on your choices (romance points, or flags about what information you've uncovered, etc). Those aren't materially different to counters or flags that the player knows about, but they don't count as "gameplay" while stats which are displayed to the player do?

And keep in mind, "fulfill an objective to progress" could include an objective like "visit the school" or "find out where senpai went", which need require no more than choosing the right option from a menu. What investigative/exploratory or romance type VN doesn't have a choice like that (okay, theer are some, but the vast majority do!). It seems to me that by this description, any VN with conditional logic doesn't count as a VN, and that makes it a fairly useless genre term.
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Re: What defines a "visual novel" apart from other games?

#20 Post by Rossfellow » Fri Sep 25, 2015 3:10 am

So stat-raising games aren't VNs, even if they're genre classics like True Love? What about something like Ishara: Bane of the Seas, where there is a simple turn-based combat system, but you can turn it off completely should you so desire? Can a game change genres because of an in-game setting?
I haven't played that game, but if what you describe is true, then that VN comes with an ON/OFF switch. When you turn on the game, it becomes a game. When you turn it off, it becomes a visual novel. It seems that the merit of it being a VN hinges on the player choosing to turn the game portion off.

Because "Conditional" isn't a formal category, that game would be able to present itself as a game or as a VN as it pleased.
What about off-screen stats? Many is the VN where your options/endings are determined by one or more secret variables based on your choices (romance points, or flags about what information you've uncovered, etc). Those aren't materially different to counters or flags that the player knows about, but they don't count as "gameplay" while stats which are displayed to the player do? It seems to me that by this description, any VN with conditional logic doesn't count as a VN.
Let me illustrate my point.

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Point A is the beginning of a story. Point B is the end of a story. Choice and Results change what content you come across along the way (CGs, characters, routes, etc.). It doesn't change the fact that you're progressing through a story. That's what novels are. A journey between point A to point B.

And then there's this model.

Image

Suddenly, there's a roadblock between Point A and Point B. You are required to clear this roadblock to proceed. No matter how simple it is, it's a challenge directed to the player. Your continued progress from Point A to Point B is now a reward for completing this challenge. And that makes it a game.

Edit: If you end up saying "Clicking One of Three Buttons is considered a challenge", then we're obviously not on the same page.
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Re: What defines a "visual novel" apart from other games?

#21 Post by Fox Lee » Fri Sep 25, 2015 3:17 am

Rossfellow wrote:Let me illustrate my point.
Illustrated or not, I have the same problem with this proposal. What if I desire a particular one of those "Point Bs" in the first drawing? Now the choice is a "roadblock", because I can't just choose, I have to choose right to get what I want. My desired ending is the reward for overcoming the challenge of making the correct choice. But that makes it seem as though choice being gameplay depends on whether or not the player cares what result they get, and I don't buy that as a definition.
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Re: What defines a "visual novel" apart from other games?

#22 Post by Rossfellow » Fri Sep 25, 2015 3:21 am

Fox Lee wrote:
Rossfellow wrote:Let me illustrate my point.
Illustrated or not, I have the same problem with this proposal. What if I desire a particular one of those "Point Bs" in the first drawing? Now the choice is a "roadblock", because I can't just choose, I have to choose right to get what I want. My desired ending is the reward for overcoming the challenge of making the correct choice. But that makes it seem as though choice being gameplay depends on whether or not the player cares what result they get, and I don't buy that as a definition.
You go to a Juice Machine to get juice. Whether you choose Orange, Grape, or Strawberry doesn't change the fact that you're getting juice. Whether you like/want the taste of Orange, Grape, or Strawberry doesn't change the fact that you're getting juice.

The same applies to the Point A - Point B model.
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Re: What defines a "visual novel" apart from other games?

#23 Post by Fox Lee » Fri Sep 25, 2015 3:31 am

Rossfellow wrote:
Fox Lee wrote:
Rossfellow wrote:Let me illustrate my point.
Illustrated or not, I have the same problem with this proposal. What if I desire a particular one of those "Point Bs" in the first drawing? Now the choice is a "roadblock", because I can't just choose, I have to choose right to get what I want. My desired ending is the reward for overcoming the challenge of making the correct choice. But that makes it seem as though choice being gameplay depends on whether or not the player cares what result they get, and I don't buy that as a definition.
You go to a Juice Machine to get juice. Whether you choose Orange, Grape, or Strawberry doesn't change the fact that you're getting juice. Whether you like/want the taste of Orange, Grape, or Strawberry doesn't change the fact that you're getting juice.

The same applies to the Point A - Point B model.
That's true assuming that I know what each choice gives me, which I don't necessarily in a VN. If the buttons for Orange, Grape, or Strawberry depict a Horse, a Boot and a Whale, it would certainly be a challenge working out which one to press to get my desired juice (and boy do I hate orange juice).

Okay, there's no "challenge" to menu that literally lets me pick which cute girl I want end up with, but most choices in VNs aren't like that - admittedly they aren't as obtuse/inane as in my example either, but they are usually more subtle than just "pick what result you want". You usually don't know exactly what outcomes will result from each (unless you have an FAQ or have played before - but that's true of many genres (puzzle games, mysteries, anything with a fixed solution). Often, they are even deliberately obfuscated, precisely in order to make earning the desired ending more of a challenge.
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Re: What defines a "visual novel" apart from other games?

#24 Post by Rossfellow » Fri Sep 25, 2015 3:53 am

I don't understand. Isn't the whole point of this thread to set a difference between Visual Novels and Games? I tried to lay it as flatly and as simple as possible, but there seems to be an insistence to complicate it by piling on exceptions done by Game X or Game Y.

Why is there this reluctance to accept that Visual Novels are pretty much just that-- Novels?

Sure, "Choices" will always come up, but that's just a bonus feature. Either they're for flavor, or they're for unlocking different pieces of content. "If you choose X, Turn to Page 67" only changes the page order of how you read Goosebumps, but it doesn't change the fact that you're reading Goosebumps.

Edit: For the record, a VN like Fate/Stay Night is the equivalent of an anthology--- Three books/novels in one package.
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Re: What defines a "visual novel" apart from other games?

#25 Post by Fox Lee » Fri Sep 25, 2015 4:11 am

Rossfellow wrote:I don't understand. Isn't the whole point of this thread to set a difference between Visual Novels and Games? I tried to lay it as flatly and as simple as possible, but there seems to be an insistence to complicate it by piling on exceptions done by Game X or Game Y.
That's because it IS complicated. The very nature of what is or isn't a game is a major topic of discussion between serious academics who can't come up with a simple answer, because there almost certainly isn't one; "game" is virtually impossible to define well. If including any gameplay makes the difference between a game and a VN, then we have to define what gameplay is to decide what's what, and to know that, we have to know what a game is - which has no easy answer.
Sure, "Choices" will always come up, but that's just a bonus feature. Either they're for flavor, or they're for unlocking different pieces of content. "If you choose X, Turn to Page 67" only changes the page order of how you read Goosebumps, but it doesn't change the fact that you're reading Goosebumps.
Sure, if you assume that all outcomes are equal. But by that logic, it doesn't matter whether my JRPG party beats up God or dies in the tutorial, because either way I've played the game to an ending. The rest of the game is just "a different piece of content" I could have unlocked.
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Re: What defines a "visual novel" apart from other games?

#26 Post by Rossfellow » Fri Sep 25, 2015 4:51 am

Sure, "Choices" will always come up, but that's just a bonus feature. Either they're for flavor, or they're for unlocking different pieces of content. "If you choose X, Turn to Page 67" only changes the page order of how you read Goosebumps, but it doesn't change the fact that you're reading Goosebumps.
Sure, if you assume that all outcomes are equal. But by that logic, it doesn't matter whether my JRPG party beats up God or dies in the tutorial, because either way I've played the game to an ending. The rest of the game is just "a different piece of content" I could have unlocked.
....Um, yes? If this was a Visual Novel instead of a JRPG, then that would exactly be it. A Bad/Boring End on Chapter 1 and a True End on Chapter 10 would simply be different pages of the same book.

The emotional value of each one is not relevant to the fact that it's a book.
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Re: What defines a "visual novel" apart from other games?

#27 Post by truefaiterman » Fri Sep 25, 2015 6:16 am

Well, we're trying to define an entire genre here, so... it IS very complicated.

Using more examples, how would you define what an "Action game" actually is?
Action games are a huuuge mixture of narratives, aesthetics, mechanichs, etc which can alternate and merge with other genres. Even if we go to a more defined "sub-genre", let's say FPS, we'd have a very distinct videogame which can't be changed, right?

Except games like Deus Ex or Fallout 3 are FPS ingrained within a deep and rich RPG system, Portal and Magrunner have all the elements of FPS, but are actually puzzle games, and you even have games like Dark Messiah of Might and Magic which are... First Person Melee Fighting games?

Genres are a base, a foundation to work with, we can't just say "this genre is like this, and like that" because almost everygame outside of the last 80s or first 90s would probably need their own genre.
Edit: If you end up saying "Clicking One of Three Buttons is considered a challenge", then we're obviously not on the same page.
Then one of the new genres which are getting bigger, the so-called "Walking Simulators" like Dear Esther, The Stanley Parable or Gone Home aren't video-games, either, since most of their challenge is literally "move one direction or the other".
Danganronpa is a Stat-raising/Adventure game. Ace Attorney is a Mystery/Puzzle game. The Walking Dead is a Pure Adventure Game. Blazblue is a 2D Fighter Game. Persona is an RPG. Etc. Etc. Everyone can probably name games with stories that really connected to them and narrative so good it gets you hooked-- But that doesn't qualify the "Visual Novel" tag. I don't think that's how it works.
I think it's not about "having good narrative" but how such narrative IS presented. The Witcher, Mass Effect or Dragon Age can have very compelling stories which gets you reaaally hooked, but they put them through cutscenes and in a more "cinematic" angle. And even games like Fallout 3/New Vegas, with dialogues that could fit into the VN label, don't present any other narrative in that way.

We also want to consider that VNs can and do have sub-genres by themselves: Kinetic Novels, Raising Games (Princess Maker, Long Live The Queen), SimDates (Tokimeki Memorial, Hatoful Boyfriend [which is the Otome variant of Dating Sims. This is already getting complex]) and there are times when the gameplay can't really overcome the VN aspects of a game (Who's going to call "adventure game" to Kara no Shoujo, where you only have like... four or five little point n' click areas in the whole game, and most of the "gameplay" is clicking where to go on a map?) (Is DiviDead not a Visual Novel because you also choose your route on a map? Is it not a game at all since it has pretty much the same challenge as the walking simulators I talked about before?)

Gameplay features don't always have any more impact than VN narrative in a videogame, so it can't just be prioritized. (If a game has, let's say, twleve hours of VN and one hour of shoot-em-up mechanichs, it doesn't make any sense to label this game as an action game).
trooper6 wrote: I've seen many people, even on these boards, categorize VNs as a form of adventure game...so even making a distinction between visual novel and adventure game isn't always something everyone can agree on.
It's understandable, I'd say that VN and Adventure Games are "siblings" (the father being Interactive Fiction). Which makes it even harder to point what a "true and pure" genre can be.
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Re: What defines a "visual novel" apart from other games?

#28 Post by Fox Lee » Fri Sep 25, 2015 9:19 pm

Rossfellow wrote:
Sure, "Choices" will always come up, but that's just a bonus feature. Either they're for flavor, or they're for unlocking different pieces of content. "If you choose X, Turn to Page 67" only changes the page order of how you read Goosebumps, but it doesn't change the fact that you're reading Goosebumps.
Sure, if you assume that all outcomes are equal. But by that logic, it doesn't matter whether my JRPG party beats up God or dies in the tutorial, because either way I've played the game to an ending. The rest of the game is just "a different piece of content" I could have unlocked.
....Um, yes? If this was a Visual Novel instead of a JRPG, then that would exactly be it. A Bad/Boring End on Chapter 1 and a True End on Chapter 10 would simply be different pages of the same book.

The emotional value of each one is not relevant to the fact that it's a book.
It's not a VN, it's a JRPG. That was the point of the example.

The "emotional value" is the only thing that separates the "win" ending in a shooter or a puzzle game or whatever from the "lose" ending. The fact that one of them is assigned success and one is assigned failure is the only thing that makes one "good" and one "bad". One ends the game quicker than the other, but then so does facing Lavos at the first portal in Chrono Trigger, and that's hardly a fail state. This is exactly the same as in a VN with choices; sometimes two choices are equal but different, sometimes the choice is irrelevant, and sometimes the choice has right and wrong answers, making it as much a challenge to be overcome as shooting a guy jumping a gap or or solving a slide puzzle.

You're negating that challenge - which you say makes the difference between a game and a VN - by claiming that all endings are equal. I think that is objectively untrue, because we can apply the exact same logic to negate the challenge in any other sort of game, too - at least, any game where "Game Over" is one possible ending. If all endings are equal, whatever roadblocks you put in the way don't matter, because failure is just as acceptable as success - which might support your argument, except it is as true for any other game genre as it is for VNs.
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Re: What defines a "visual novel" apart from other games?

#29 Post by Kinjo » Sat Sep 26, 2015 8:43 pm

trooper6 wrote:Well I wouldn't be bothered...though some purists might be bothered...but purists get bothered by everything.

However, I think you might be thinking about your advertising in the wrong direction. What I mean to say is, some of the most successful EVNS I can think of tend avoid marketing themselves as visual novels at all--even if they fit very comfortably in the genre. Mainly, because I think the makers wanted markets beyond the fairly narrow VN purist market and might have wanted to avoid the stereotypes associated with the genre in Western minds. I mean I was playing a successful weekly VN on iOS for years, Cause of Death, that never mentioned the phrase visual novel. I could have easily been a huge fan of that game and never found my way to the VN community. I found my way here through Christine Love's work, specifically Digital: A Love Story...but when I found that game, it was in the context of it being marketed as an Art Game, not as a visual novel. I found my way here because some googling revealed to me that her art games were made with renpy...and I thought, I want some more games like those cool interactive fiction art games...and I bet I could make one myself!

I think if you self-identify your game as a VN, you should call your game a VN. Even is some VN purists get upset. But if your game might have any crossover appeal, you might want to consider marketing your game with other labels as well, not because VN people will be mad if you don't, but because you could possibly get a much bigger market if you do.
That actually makes a lot of sense. I hadn't thought of it that way before, from a marketing standpoint. I don't necessarily need to label my game as a VN, even though it may or may not contain VN elements. Even Umineko, which was my inspiration for getting into VNs in the first place, advertised itself as a "sound novel" because it emphasized music and sound over visuals. That interest in Umineko bled over into other visual novels (to an extent), but I completely see your point. You can totally get someone interested in the "genre" of visual novels by introducing them to something that isn't necessarily CALLED a visual novel but has many VN-like aspects to it. Thanks for the advice.
Rossfellow wrote:I don't understand. Isn't the whole point of this thread to set a difference between Visual Novels and Games? I tried to lay it as flatly and as simple as possible, but there seems to be an insistence to complicate it by piling on exceptions done by Game X or Game Y.

Why is there this reluctance to accept that Visual Novels are pretty much just that-- Novels?
This whole discussion was very interesting to read. My main problems come with classifying VNs based on what they are made of rather than their functional components. For instance, Wikipedia would call something a VN because it has a textbox, 2D sprites, clickable choices, branching routes, backgrounds, and music, with minimal programming. Other games are decsribed by their functionality: are there experience points, levels, map-based movement, and a story? RPG! Is there a first-person perspective and you shoot people? FPS! Are you jumping from platform to platform? It's a platformer! Functional components are more the programming side of things, and VNs have very little coding in the first place (hence I'd agree that it's "mostly novel"). The only functional component that is consistently in a VN (with the puzzling exception of KNs) is "choice", or maybe more appropriately "player interaction" and its effect on the story. Whether or not a choice is a gameplay element itself is a little trickier.

In the juice example, as you make the choice the outcome is known, but for more complicated situations, and especially those where the consequences of your choices persist throughout the whole VN, the full outcome of each individual choice is hardly known at the time you're making it. What sets VNs apart from other games is that other games have almost "infinite" choices. Do I move left? Do I move right? Do I jump? Do I attack? Do I evade the enemy? As a traditional VN, you're limited to the X amount of options the author has provided for you (where infinity > X >= 0), and that spins the story in a different direction.

So in VNs, there are a discrete set of choices, whereas in a normal game you'd have a continuous amount to choose from. Do you choose to jump to page X or page Y? Versus jumping to a specific point (x,y). In a JRPG, you'd have the freedom to roam the map UNTIL you stumble upon the next story point -- you're free to do as many sidequests as you want and waste as much time fighting monsters you've already defeated. In that sense, VNs are far more linear, because the story is always propelling you forward, into the next page.

And that's really where my classification issue arises. If we're defining a game based on "does it have a particular objective until we go from story point A to the next story point B?" and a VN as "do we have a set of choices that always take us from story point A to the next story point B?" I don't actually see much of a difference in what is being asked. It suggests that VN choices can't have strategy to them, and if they do, it's no longer a VN but a game (despite it maybe having every other quality that a VN might have; why should this one exception disqualify it?)

And regarding the "equality of endings", indeed there is always going to be some emotional value tied to an ending (good/bad/neutral endings, for instance). The player will have some reaction to reaching that point in the story, and evaluate it into some emotion. For typical video games, the GAME OVER ending is the one you don't want, because you want to reach the single VICTORY ending. VNs complicate this by often having multiple VICTORY endings as well as fewer and less obvious GAME OVER endings.

So yeah, I do find it strange as well that people tend to list "there was this one exception in this one game, but we still call it a VN because it's VN-like overall". I suppose it really makes sense to just consider it a marketing strategy, because ultimately the label doesn't so much matter as the actual content. People like Phoenix Wright and Dangan Ronpa for what they are, not just because they are great mystery games which happen to meet this set of "visual novel" criteria.

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Re: What defines a "visual novel" apart from other games?

#30 Post by Rossfellow » Sat Sep 26, 2015 9:51 pm

On hindsight, I don't think discussing "What should count as a VN?" is worthwhile, so I'm dropping that topic, even if I'm the one who brought it up. As Truefaiterman said, the 90s are far, far behind us. We can drown in cross-genres by now. That ocean is so deep that there's probably a cosmic evil lurking down there.

So here's a new angle.

We tend to have an idea of what a genre's "Element" is. When we see something labelled "Platformer game with RPG Elements" it registers as "Platformer with a stat/equipment progression system". "Puzzle elements" would be "Problem solving", etc etc. We see "VN Elements" a lot, but what does that mean, really?

So I did a little thought experiment. Take a game, strip it of every possible feature until you're left with the bare minimum it needs to be functional, and part of the genre. For VNs, I'm left with "Novel" and "Audio/visual/audiovisual cues". I take back what I said about choices being a "VN Element". Those are actually not relevant to what being a VN is, at its very core. They are actually RPG elements.

That said, as long as you have these, you can keep adding and adding to it, building and building upon it-- It can still be classified a VN, gameplay included or no. The Tokyo Twilight example is a mistake on my behalf as well. It's not that it "Pretends to be a VN", because it actually is one. Just that the VN aspect of it is so shoddily done that its hard to acknowledge that it's there.
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