Japanese visual novels: What they are and 5 recommendations

By Limarc Ambalina

In North America and Europe, critics, journalists, and gamers have pronounced that the PS Vita (PlayStation’s handheld console) is dead. For gamers in Japan, however, the PS Vita is very much alive and kicking for one major reason: the incredible popularity of the ビジュアルノベル, or Japanese visual novel. Go to the PS Vita section of any video game store in Japan and you’ll quickly see that half the shelf space or more is taken up solely by these games.

The video game community seems to be split on whether visual novels are indeed video games. While they do lack active gameplay elements, the one thing that separates them from films, books or any other medium is decision making. In video games, players must make choices. They must swing the sword, fire the weapon or choose which path to take. While scaled down, visual novels include this same process of decision making — whether it be which person to ask on a date or which dialogue option to select, people must make decisions when playing visual novels.

The great thing about the Japanese visual novel is that they are available at almost every game or electronics store or on almost every gaming console, as well as the Windows and Mac operating systems. Simply purchase a physical copy of the visual novel game or download it from an online store, load it on the device of your choice and you’re good to go. For people who aren’t big into video games, visual novels are usually straightforward and easy to navigate, often only requiring the use of the directional buttons and a single action button to “turn the page” and select options. As a bonus, for English/Japanese or Japanese/English learners, some visual novels will have dual language support.

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