Westernizing Visual Novels

Japan is weird.

It’s just a fact. They’ve given us a lot of weird stuff over the years, from a wide variety of Hello Kitty paraphernalia to… actually, I think I started with the weirdest thing I could think of there. Anyway, it’s a strange place and has spawned a whole genre of animation and even a type of game called a visual novel.

Remember the Choose Your Own Adventure (CYOA) books from when you were younger? A visual novel is a game that operates sort of like that. You get a scene with an introduction to the cast, each of them sliding in and out with different expressions and saying their lines to exposit the scene. It ends with your character at a crossroads with several choices to direct the story.

I’ve been trying to do research on these games and figure out how they operate. There are playable areas with mini-games in some, while others rely on the story to be the driving force to get the players to complete watching. Really, it’s a bit of a comic/CYOA novel hybrid where the “player” gets to choose where the story goes and how events will play out.

I’ve been trying to play the free games that have been translated as I lack the funds to invest and the ability to read Japanese. The ones I’ve had access to have two key things in common. First, they are largely based around relationships. They have been largely about the token male lead trying to woo one of the female cast in the harem to him.

The second is that there’s a lot of porn in these games.

Like, a lot.

Rather than focus on that, I’ve been trying to think of ways to make this into something that I’d actually be able to work with. Given that I’m not Japanese and I don’t really want to tell any stories with a guy trying desperately trying to pick up school girls, I have been thinking of ways to make it a little more western. And by western, I mean something that I would actually write.

Change the first, of course, is to change the art to something western. That alone will change the aesthetic to something a lot more western as it is. But that’s not quite enough.

Next, animation. There are some animations in them already, granted, but those seem to be in much higher budget games and limited mostly to lip flaps and big dramatic cinematic. Western audiences seem to like seeing things move on their screens, so an animated sequence, or a generally more cinematic approach to the medium would be a great means of making it a lot more western. Budget comes into play, but I’m going to count this as a bit of a wish list item to the medium.

Lastly, the stories. The stories are almost all either romance (From what I’ve played) or creepy horror mystery stories (Or so Higurashi is supposed to be) and not as many of the latter than the former. With the game play abilities that they’ve implemented, there’s got to be a way to create an immersive experience in the more western, non-harem themes.

It’s on my list of things to try to write one day. I have a few stories that could work really well in the medium, though they will have to wait a bit. I do still have a book to write.