Best Visual Novel Games

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Image Credit: suzanna8767 on Deviant Art.

Visual novel games focus on storytelling and weaving you into the narrative, without many combat or quick-time events. These games are heavy on plot, mysterious details, and fascinating puzzles.

Here are some of the best visual novel games out there, ideal for gamers looking for more immersive play—and, quite often, a bit of a mental workout.

Hatoful Boyfriend (2011)


This oft-dismissed game appears to be a regular dating simulator on the surface…except that all of your available men are birds.

It’s weird for sure, but the dialogue is hilariously well thought-out, especially considering it was translated. What’s more, the bird puns are just the beginning of this wild ride.

Find it on Steam here.

 

Doki Doki Literature Club (2017)


In Japanese, the phrase “doki doki” refers to a heartbeat’s sound, specifically of someone who is smitten.

In this game, you play as a high school student who joins a literature club. You can pursue any of the girls there…but always at a cost.

Ultimately, Doki Doki Literature Club has very little to do with cutesy romance or high school shenanigans. It seems to toy with its own script—and that’s to say nothing of the way it’ll toy with your emotions, while playing.

Don’t let the adorable, bouncy trailer fool you.

Find it on Steam here.

 

Higurashi When They Cry (2002-2006)


This series revolves around a group of high school students, living in the sleepy town of Hinamizawa.

Although it first seems like a slice-of-life game, individual choices and events culminate in strange murders happening around the town, which herald the coming of a horrific natural disaster.

To stop everyone from dying, you must figure out the cause and how to put an end to things, once and for all.

There are eight visual novel games in this series in all, beginning with Higurashi no Naku Koro ni Onikakushi-hen (2002), and ending with Higurashi no Naku Koro ni Kai Matsuribayashi-hen (2006).

Download the first game in the series here.

 

Zero Escape Series (2009-2016)


These games cover a wide range of concepts, from Vonnegut’s stories to alternate realities, and require pretty careful attention to follow. In these mysteries, you learn about the bizarre complexities of time and space.

You and a group of seemingly unrelated people are kidnapped and trapped in an improbably large facility. To escape each room and move on, you must solve increasingly challenging puzzles.

Unlike most visual novel games, it’s impossible to unlock all of the game’s content and story with a single playthrough. You will need to play multiple times, learning everything from all possible choices, to reach the proper ending.

This series of three games include Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors (2009), Virtue’s Last Reward (2012), and Zero Time Dilemma (2016).

Find it on Steam here.

 

The World Ends With You (2007)


This fantastic game takes place in a neighborhood in Tokyo, and follows the protagonist as he tries to win a game…or become permanently deceased. When someone wins the game, they can have another chance at life.

The soundtrack is mostly remarkable, which is good, since light combat is somewhat rhythm-based.

Find it for the Nintendo Switch here.

 

DRAMAtical Murder (2012)


This game follows the protagonist, Aoba, through a series of strange adventures. He deals with the consequences of turf wars between rival gangs, and gets sucked into an increasingly odd virtual reality game.

Find it on Steam here.

 

Lamento: Beyond the Void (2006)


By the same creators as DRAMAtical Murder, Lamento is an altogether different kind of story.

The protagonist is part of a race of bipedal, anthropomorphic cats—the descendants of humans and felines in a far-future, post-apocalyptic world.

Though their technology is limited since the humans, known as Two-Canes, went extinct, the cat people have something that humans did not: magic.

 

Corpse Party Series (1996-present)


These bloody games are a top-down series.

You follow the adventures of high school students mysteriously transported to an alternate reality, where monsters lurk around every corner.

To escape with your friends, you must make choices, explore the ruined school to which you were transported, and find clues to solve the mystery of what took you.

In total, there are eight games in the series, spanning release dates from 1996 through 2017.

Find the first game in the series on Steam here.

 

Danganronpa Series (2010-2017)


All of the Danganronpa games start with sixteen high school students, each possessing a very special talent, who are trapped in a large area resembling their original school.

The only way someone can leave is to murder another student. They must then convince the remaining kids that they are not the murderer.

After each killing, there is a trial based on available evidence. The stakes get higher and higher as the students learn more about their sadistic captor.

This series of three games include Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc (2010), Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair (2012), and Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony (2017).

Find the first game in the trilogy on Steam here.

 

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Image Credit: sakonma on Deviant Art.

Visual novel games aren’t everyone’s favorite, but true fans of the medium know there’s more to great gameplay than flashy fight sequences or cool effects. Story matters in all content types, and games are no exception.

When you can fully lose yourself in a great plot and characters, the rest—animation, effects, and even overall graphic quality—are just icing on the cake.

For more gaming recommendations, check out this guide to every game in the Kingdom Hearts series, or the best horror video games.