I’ve written before that I like visual novels. These are video games primarily focused on storytelling rather than gameplay. Of course, just like with music, video game genres are highly malleable. So while Super Paper Mario may have a visual novel parody in Chapter 4 and RPGs like Fire Emblem Engage have much in common with visual novels, I’d like to discuss games I’ve played that are primarily considered visual novels. These are games where you primarily press “confirm” to get to the next piece of text, have little-to-no control as the player to decide what to do, and spend 80 hours listening to the soundtrack as your eyes glaze over during the 4th flashback to dialogue that happened 10 minutes ago.
*Courtroom Lobby Beginning Overture plays* Remember when I said “primarily” three times in that paragraph? *Logic and Trick plays* *screen flashes, color palette goes black and white* “These are video games primarily focused on storytelling…” *screen flashes* “I’d like to discuss games I’ve played that are primarily considered visual novels” *screen flashes* “These are games where you primarily press ‘confirm’…” *screen flashes back to color* *Courtroom Lobby Beginning Overture plays* Now don’t you get it?
Alright, I suppose I can run it by you again… *Courtroom Lobby Beginning Overture plays* Remember when I said “primarily” three times in that paragraph? *Logic and Trick plays* *screen flashes, color palette goes black and white* “These are video games primarily focused on storytelling…” *screen flashes* “I’d like to discuss games I’ve played that are primarily considered visual novels” *screen flashes* “These are games where you primarily press ‘confirm’…” *screen flashes back to color* *Courtroom Lobby Beginning Overture plays* Now don’t you get it?
If you understood the formatting around that joke, you understand exactly what a visual novel is. Essentially, music, graphics and very minor choices spice up what could’ve just been plain text in a book. Imagine how much better these blog posts would be if some pretty anime babe said every line while the Ghost Trick OST played in the background.
Despite the seemingly small cross-section between someone who’d want to read a book and someone who’d want to play a video game, visual novels are aiming for an overlap between the moronic video gamer and the enlightened novel reader. Obviously, there’s a market that’s always been there–before the visual novel, PC adventure games like Myst or King’s Quest were what tapped that audience. And even before that, text-based adventure games like Zork back in the 1970s were text-only adventures where you were basically doing a Choose Your Own Adventure story, but on a computer. The visual novel eventually came to power in the mid-to-late 2000s thanks to some games I’ll be discussing, and has remained the most widely-read “reading game” these days.
The main criticism skeptics of visual novels have against the game type is the same criticism every intellectual has with regards to video games: the writing for them is terrible. As with all mediums, this is true for the majority of works in the visual novel genre, but by the same token 99% of The Next Great American Novels are also trash. Yet you don’t hear intellectuals calling anything new in that genre dead on arrival the same way haterz will throw out any and all possible merits a visual novel might have as a “novel” rather than as a piece of entertainment. That’s why I’m looking at five series of visual novels that lie somewhere on this false spectrum binary of visual novels that are either primarily entertainment or primarily a novel.
Before we begin, a novel needs some sort of baseline definition to ground us. The dictionary definition of “a fictitious prose narrative of book length, typically representing character and action with some degree of realism” is too vague to be helpful. Nor is the definition “new or unusual in an interesting way” useful either. No, to me, a novel is one of those “you know it when you see it” kinds of things. The Hardy Boys books are fictitious prose narratives of book length, but I and most others would consider those “entertainments” rather than novels. On the other end is something like A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Though the subject matter of “a boy in Ireland grows up in the early 1900s” is not interesting even compared to a typical Hardy Boys book, the way in which the story is told makes A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man compelling and qualifies it as a “novel”.
When it comes to visual novels, the storytelling can feel very juvenile for a number of reasons; primary focus was on graphics/music/gameplay rather than the individual lines, the story is told in too straightforward a manner, there are no real themes or the themes there are extremely basic (such as good is better than evil), game development caused rewrites and cutting of content, etc. There’s really an endless number of things. But the main thing is that a number of visual novels feel like entertainment serials like Hardy Boys or Sherlock Holmes (maybe people will remember that guy instead… Hardy Boys… who the heck has even heard of them?) rather than Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. So, to recap, I’ll be looking at five of my favorite visual novel series and discussing what makes them feel closer to a Sherlock Holmes book rather than a James Joyce novel.
I do want to be clear here: games that are closer to being pure entertainment are not in some way morally superior than games that are closer to being an intellectual novel. They’re just different. You don’t need to chastise yourself or others for getting enjoyment out of a straightforward work like Nancy Drew instead of forcing themselves to read Ulysses. I like all five of these series that I’m about to talk about.
Like I said, starting off with the most pulp fiction/entertainment-focused series I like is Professor Layton. The Professor Layton series is by far the most financially successful visual novel series I’ll be discussing in this article. What do I mean by this? Well, to put it simply, every Layton game is centered around some mystery like a Sherlock Holmes story. I’ll take the second game as an example.
In Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box, the professor’s friend has acquired a box that kills everyone that opens it, and his friend also plans to open it. Layton arrives too late, his friend has opened it, perished, and someone absconded with the box. In pursuit of the box, Layton arrives at a gold mining town that appears to be stuck some 50+ years in the past. It turns out that the miners found hallucinogenic gas when mining that caused all residents to somehow hallucinate the same “dream” of the town in its heyday because that’s what everyone believed the town looked like while the town was actually a decrepit pit of despair full of dilapidated buildings. The box was full of the same gas and, since people believed that opening the box would kill you, the gas ended up killing all who opened it.
This is a story that actually has a lot of elements of a novel, but it misses a key component of what makes a novel: relation to the real world. The idea of a mining town hallucinating itself in a boom while the rest of the world has passed it by is a great topic for a novel. However, this game refuses to make any sort of point with this set piece beyond window dressing for the mystery of “what is happening to Layton and his friends”. There is a rumor of the lords of the town being a group of blood-sucking vampires–another on-the-nose metaphor for the rich in general in most novels.
But the lord turns out to be a fellow hallucinator that, despite ruling this town as it falls completely apart in the gas in those 50 years, is redeemed by the power of love since the box that killed everyone was actually a custom music box meant to celebrate his relationship with another character’s grandmother. There’s no real biting criticism that a novel would have. The resolution is a contrived Hollywood ending where everyone comes out alright, including Layton’s friend who should’ve died opening that box (he ends up living). A novel would make direct parallels to similar situations in the real-world and then make some sort of point–the mining town of Folsense might’ve been inspired by Hashima Island, an abandoned mining island off of Japan, but the game doesn’t make direct reference nor make any sort of criticism of the place because it is meant as digestible entertainment.
The way of playing a Layton game also prevents them from reaching novel heights. Just like most visual novels, your main gameplay in Layton is walking from place to place and reading dialogue. However, the gimmick of Layton is that there are hundreds of small puzzles to solve. Most of these puzzles are completely unrelated to what is actually happening in the game, which is why Layton’s constant quote of “This reminds me of a puzzle” is something of a meme. Most puzzles are there to break up the literal narrative and offer some interesting gameplay.
On rare occasions, puzzles will be directly intertwined with the story, and it is these moments when gameplay and story synergize (ugh) into something greater than the sum of their parts–the final puzzle of the second game is figuring out the correct way to open the Diabolical Box so that the gas isn’t released, and the note to the vampiric lord from his loving wife can be delivered. In my mind, these moments are what the visual novel should strive for as they take advantage of video games’ interactivity in order to elevate a specific moment.
But that’s not what I’m really talking about. The important thing is that Layton games don’t feel like novels because the player is in direct control of what Layton can do… mostly. It is harder to do some novel conventions like an unreliable narrator when you, the player, are literally seeing and controlling everything the main character is doing. This means that a certain atmosphere of the novel can’t be achieved by a visual novel. Furthermore, Layton games are framed so that the player should be able to solve every puzzle. Thus, the framework of the game is a puzzle with an answer, when novels are notorious for bringing up unanswerable questions. Like, what the heck is James Joyce even trying to say in Ulysses?
Again, I want to say that I adore the Layton games. They just don’t make much of any sort of point. There’s running themes of fatherhood and inheritance throughout the games as the first game is about an inheritance dispute caused by a rich man screwing up how he’s raising his daughter, the second game has the two sons of the original mining lord fighting over the inheritance, the third game is, well, about time travel being possible through the power of love, the fourth game is about Luke getting permission from his father to be Layton’s foster child basically, the fifth game is about a presumed-dead kid enacting revenge when he finds out his inheritance was stolen by his butler, and the sixth game is about fighting over inheriting the Azran Legacy with the revelation that Layton’s dad was the big bad guy in the previous three games.
And yet there’s nothing to these themes. Layton disowns his father at the end of the 6th game for being a bad dad, but that’s just character resolution more than a moral. He doesn’t explain how his dad could’ve been better or try to reconcile like a mature novel might do–he just says, “nah, get in jail, buddy”. Which is fair since his dad did try to kill him a bunch. Heck, the whole point of the Lady Layton spinoff is also about inheritance and fatherhood as Katrielle tries to find her dad and Ernest Greaves enacts revenge on seven millionaires of London who stole his inheritance. Man, maybe the writer of the Layton games got screwed out of his dad’s will and he made up for it by writing the most financially successful visual novels of all time.
Grouped together for the next set of visual novels are Ace Attorney and Danganronpa. Both series are satires that end up being primarily entertainment. What sets them apart from Professor Layton games is that satirical premise more so than anything else because both sets of games are collections of murder mysteries. And I can assure you that the episodic character-driven stories are closer to CSI: Miami than they are to The Secret Agent by Joseph Conrad.
Ace Attorney is a satire of the Japanese legal system. In the games, there are so many crimes and so few lawyers that each trial must be finished within three days or less. Furthermore, there is no jury, only a judge who is… well, stupid. And the prosecutors are insane megalomaniacs that will do all sorts of underhanded things to get your client a guilty verdict. These are all exaggerations of very real problems in the Japanese legal system (and really any similar legal system like the US’s). The game uses this backdrop as the base for, again, straightforward murder mysteries that tie into individual characters’ pasts and cause character development.
On rare occasions, these details are used as part of the story. For instance, in the 4th game, the final case introduces a jury for one trial as a test to mirror what was happening in the Japanese legal system at the time. It’s used to set up a very powerful moment where you finally have the direct ability to profess an innocent as not guilty along with a bunch of other character-related things. I think Ace Attorney makes a great point about the beauty of the juror system by giving the player this extremely vindicating choice after a long, drawn-out struggle against a dark truth. It makes the player feel hope in the juror system, like how the writer was hoping a juror system in real life might ideally function. The 4th and 5th cases of the 5th game are centered around Japanese NASA in a story ripped from headlines, but that is also used as a backdrop for the case rather than anything important like the juror system in the 4th game.
Ace Attorney does a better job than the Layton games in another important way when it comes to novels–there is far more inner monologue and introspection given by the characters from the POV you are currently inhabiting. Layton games are actually super frustrating as mysteries since you never see the thought process Layton uses to deduce the absolutely ridiculous central mysteries. But you do get to hear what Phoenix Wright thinks about Ron DeLite’s constant mumbling, or how worried he is about Maya when Shelly de Killer calls in, etc. This is important to building characters in novels and, again, is missing in most Layton games–Katrielle has some inner monologue at times that you see. The other games from here on also provide some level of inner monologue, or outer monologue in the case of the final series, but I won’t mention that when I get there in order to avoid redundancy. “But then why’d you make the opening joke??” Shut it.
One last short point here about Ace Attorney. The Great Ace Attorney is a spinoff of Ace Attorney, and is a historical fiction work. It is set in the late 1800s/early 1900s primarily in London. Though the main plot being about the characters and their rather fantastic narrative, the game tries very hard to portray a realistic depiction of the time. For instance, the English voice actors for the main characters (who are Japanese) are native Japanese speakers who learned English as a second language, and they have a thick Japanese accent. Beyond that, there’s all sorts of details about Japan’s place in the world especially relative to the huge power of Great Britain with tons of British characters displaying casual racism to the Japanese, the Japanese government being forced to commit heinous acts in order to gain points with the British, and actual Japanese author Natsume Soseki as a character in the game showing just how insanely bad even the brightest Japanese were treated at the time (and how crazy that made them). All of this makes for an incredible bit of historical fiction and makes the games the most intellectual and novelesque of all Ace Attorney games. But the gameplay is still a straightforward set of mysteries with all sorts of conventions, so it’s not that novelesque. Let’s move on.
Danganronpa is a satire of the extremely competitive world of the Japanese school system. Instead of every kid competing in an abstracted, standardized test as a way to compare each other as is normal, the high school students in Danganronpa are forced to compete in a murder game. All the students are trapped at school by a megalomaniac talking bear. The only way to escape is to kill another student, then escape being accused as the murderer in a class trial where all students come together to suss out the murderer. Yes, this game came before Among Us. No, it came after Ace Attorney.
It is very similar to Ace Attorney in many ways, just a little more hardcore and unrealistic. Which is hard to say considering Ace Attorney characters have the ability to channel spirits of the dead in order to have them temporarily come back to life, among other supernatural things. The tone of Danganronpa is a bit more unhinged than Ace Attorney, which gives it more of a novel feel. Unlike Ace Attorney where most crimes/murders that occur feel pretty explicable (even when the murderer is doing something insane like dropping a statue on someone from the third floor of a building), Danganronpa characters in their extreme situation do extreme things to win at the mind games. But the main thing about both games that kind of sinks them as novels is that every (important) question needs to be answered by the player for the game to end.
A novel proceeds even when the reader has no idea what is happening. Both Ace Attorney and Danganronpa set up questions that the player must answer, and that takes away from the story at times as the player is forced to look up a walkthrough for a stupid hangman puzzle with the worst mechanics known to man, or for which statement to present the autopsy report on when it feels like it should work on all of them. Not all visual novels are like this as you’ll see, but it is vital to the gameplay of all three of the prior series we have discussed that the player must actively solve the riddles. And, again, I do want to be clear that this isn’t a bad thing necessarily: a video game is an interactive medium; not letting the player be the most important character in one feels weird. It’s more that novels have a different feel than a game because the reader has no control over what a character in a novel does.
I don’t have much to say about Danganronpa that I care about that wasn’t already covered in my long comparison essay between V3 and Professor Layton vs Ace Attorney: https://pungry.wordpress.com/2020/05/23/drv3-vs-pl-vs-pw-aa/. Danganronpa 1 and 2 had the same main point of “the Japanese education system is extremely messed up”. V3 had the far more interesting points about fictional characters being able to impact the real world among many other things in the rather insane ending. That sort of point is novelesque in my book. Heh. Book.
The Zero Escape series comprises of 999: Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors, Zero Escape: Virtue’s Last Reward, and Zero Time Dilemma. That last one also got a very long write-up from me https://pungry.wordpress.com/2016/07/19/zero-time-dilemma/. These games get closer to reaching the feel of a novel than the other series discussed. Zero Escape is a series of games similar to Danganronpa in premise–a group of people are trapped in a stupid game in a remote location by some megalomaniac and they must fight to free themselves.
999 is a traditional visual novel where you spend hours reading text boxes. Virtue’s Last Reward allows you to read text boxes or have them read to you by voice actors. Zero Time Dilemma forces the player to sit and watch a bunch of morons and their bad 3D models stand around and talk for up to 30 minutes as a camera pans. Zero Time Dilemma really nails the feeling of being trapped in the bunker with the insane amount of time you will have to spend hearing them talk–almost makes you think you’ll run out of oxygen before the underground bunker does. What was I saying?
The Zero Escape series doesn’t have great writing, but it does do things that novels tend to do that other games don’t–it just brings up the most random crap imaginable. In Virtue’s Last Reward, there are a bunch of optional text logs that the player can read after gameplay segments are finished. This itself isn’t uncommon among games; a lot of atmospheric AAA games will have memos from unknown NPCs hanging around to give some flavor to the backstory.
In Virtue’s Last Reward, these memos are abundant and are there as red herrings or just to be cool. There’s a long file about Ice-9, in what is a Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut reference for no reason. There’s a long file about the Chinese Room Theory that can obliquely applied to a character that turns out to be a clone instead of a robot like they might seem. There’s a long file about annihilation energy that has nothing to do with anything. The stupidest one brought up is the “morphogenetic field” theory that I believed in when first reading the games that turns out to be the key to the whole game–your character accesses the morphogenetic field from 10 years in the past to get the answer from your player character 10 years in the future in order to solve a sudoku puzzle to disarm a bomb. My point is that Zero Escape does what a lot of novelists do which is throw stuff from reality they think is interesting in order to make the reader think about how it might be connected to future events in the game. Personally, I think it’s not great that a bunch of actual science and pseudoscience get mixed together into these games and convince people on Gamefaqs that they’ve somehow learned more about real life in two visual novels than 12+ years of schooling: https://gamefaqs.gamespot.com/boards/641334-zero-escape-virtues-last-reward/71961202
I am letting my feelings for the Zero Escape series come through a bit much rather than trying to stick to my points. Why I think I am struggling with that is because Zero Escape is trying to both be a novel and a video game in how its narrative comes together. In my mind, a novel is allowed to end however it wants to; no closure is necessary, the timeline doesn’t have to make sense, actions don’t have to have appropriate consequences as long as whatever point it was trying to make was made. A video game has a much different audience. See, most video game players rely on Facts And Logic and play strategy games where nothing is left unexplained or to chance—a video game narrative must make sense if it is trying to tell a narrative. Otherwise, people will make 6 hour YouTube video essays about why such and such game was a failure And Here’s Why with a thumbnail of them making the pogface while wearing a fedora and looking disgusted with the game’s logo/mascot.
Back to my point about Zero Escape. 999, on its own, is a perfectly good visual novel that has a central mystery that is mostly solved by the characters in it. 999 would have honestly been fine if it was the only game in the series as a standalone game that allows the reader to think of what happened. But, some of the unsolved parts of the mystery are left for Virtue’s Last Reward to solve, which it also mostly does. But, of course, Zero Time Dilemma is left to pick up the final pieces, and at this point the trilogy is 12 years in the making and has a whole bunch of people waiting for answers because, again, the games are consumed by strategy gamers that refuse to play Hearthstone because there’s too much randomness. And Zero Time Dilemma doesn’t actually answer every question, some of the answers (like the mother and father of Phi) did not need to be known, and it goes back on answers from the other games. It is a mess of a finish to a trilogy.
Gah, I’m becoming that very video essayist I hate. My point is that a series of novels could get away with that, but a series of games can’t, and so Zero Escape as a whole is looked back with less fondness than a series with more internal consistency like Ace Attorney. Anyway, let’s talk a bit more about how else the Zero Escape series was novel-esque. The games change perspective and time much more than other games on this list. Now, though this is slightly disorienting, it’s not as disorienting as a novel because Zero Escape still puts up the dialogue portrait and name of whomever is speaking even during these switches while a novel might go a while before naming whatever character’s perspective from which you’re reading. For instance, the perspective of this blog post is actually from my dead aunt’s.
I’ll be honest, I don’t have much else to say about Zero Escape since the only one I played was Zero Time Dilemma, and I experienced the other two via the screenshot Let’s Play. My main thrusts with the series were the “it brings up random crap like a novel might” and “it can’t decide if it wants to be a game’s narrative or a novel’s narrative” things. I’ll just move on to the series that made me start thinking about all this in the first place: The Silver Case.
The Silver Case is about as close as a visual novel gets to being a novel in games I’ve played. Unlike the previous games where there is actual gameplay and consequences to “playing poorly”, The Silver Case games are extremely linear. They aren’t quite kinetic novels which are a type of “game” where all you can do is press a button to get to the next line of text, but they’re close. In The Silver Case, when not reading text, you can have your character move, look up and down, contact people, contact points of interest, or use an item. You use an item maybe 6-7 times. You look up/down exactly three times, never again after the second chapter. All you really do is move and interact with people and items.
In the sequel, The 25th Ward, you are similarly railroaded, but now there are random points in the game where it’ll stop and ask you to input a code to make sure you’ve been paying attention to the game. And the way you input the code is the most obnoxious input system ever: a large multi-sided die with every letter of the alphabet on it and some punctuation that you need to rotate until you find the letter you want. It is hilariously annoying. The other gameplay in The 25th Ward is selecting the correct dialogue options. But there’s again no danger in getting it wrong, just wasted time as you have to restart the encounter. Very different from Layton, Ace Attorney, Danganronpa, and Zero Escape where enough wrong moves added up to having to reload your save.
My point here is that the gameplay of The Silver Case series is akin to the gameplay of a novel. Or at least a novel that randomly forces you to stop and answer a question every 15 minutes in order to be able to turn the page. Through this act alone, The Silver Case is asking its “players” to be more like readers of a novel and go along with the ride. And what a ride it is.
The plot of The Silver Case series is deliberately confusing, disorienting, and distrustful. It is told in a deliberately confusing and disorienting manner. From a user interface perspective, The Silver Case is so much harder to follow than any game prior. Let’s compare some UIs. First, Ace Attorney’s.
This is the simple, elegant visual novel standard. The dialogue is at the bottom of the screen, with the text on a translucent background to let it stand out more, and the speaker’s name is just above the text box on the far left. Above the text is the visual part of the novel, which takes up most of the screen. Nice and simple. Professor Layton is next.
The Layton games have very minor differences in UI to Ace Attorney, but the basics are the same: text at bottom, visuals up top with some way of identifying the speaker. Danganronpa is the same. Virtue’s Last Reward and 999 are the same. Zero Time Dilemma is slightly different in that most dialogue is spoken in video, but the cutscenes have subtitles at the bottom and the parts with dialogue in text have the same UI.
The Silver Case plays around a ton with its UI in an effort to add to the intense and disorienting atmosphere it strives for. At times, it can have a relatively typical UI as seen below.
The dialogue is at the bottom with the character speaking clearly identified just above it, and then visuals just above that. But you may notice something slightly different about the UI even in this screenshot–the visuals in The Silver Case almost never extend the entire screen. Instead, some hypnotic gif is always playing in the background, and the gif changes as you go from chapter to chapter in the games. Each one is unique and the palette it brings adds some atmosphere itself even if it might not be consciously registered by the reader–kind of like a coat of paint. Still, this is a relatively normal UI for a visual novel. Here’s a less normal one.
I could spend the rest of this post showing screenshots of The Silver Case’s UI at different times as it changes where the text boxes appear, how large they are, and, of course, the contents of them. But the point is that the games does a lot to disorient you compared to other visual novels in a way that makes The Silver Case feel like a series of post-modern novels that play with space and meta elements that other books might not engage with.
So The Silver Case is discomforting on a meta level, but it goes out of its way to be disorienting on a visual level that other visual novels don’t do. The art in The Silver Case series is, first and foremost, dark. But secondly, it is wildly inconsistent. Here is the character portrait for Tokio Morishima when playing The Silver Case from his perspective:
Here is the character portrait of Tokio Morishima when playing The Silver Case from “your” perspective:
They’re similar, but I think it’s quite clear that Tokio Morishima thinks of himself a lot cooler than what “your character” thinks of him based solely on their dialogue portraits. There are tons of examples of this where characters do not look the same between scenes, and it is hard at times to remember who is who especially when the dialogue boxes only show the names of characters on screen for half a second before disappearing. This is something closer to what a graphic novel might do than a novel, I suppose. But this consistent inconsistency adds to the intensity.
Lastly, The Silver Case games are very dark, moody games. Compared to the colorful anime look of the prior games discussed, The Silver Case is, uh, dark. The 3D models of objects are the lowest-poly, ugliest models I’ve ever seen. On the flipside, the pictures with people in them are usually haunting and effective at getting the mood across. Like below.
Look at how horrifying the nearly-dead man in the back is. I’m not saying other games are lazy for this, but most visual novels switch between a few basic portraits to reflect the speaker’s mood–i.e., they’ll be smiling in one, or look neutral in another, etc. The Silver Case has bespoke pictures for the stuff it tries to highlight. With the real highlight being the ending video in the final chapter of the original The Silver Case being an incredible stop motion video of a guy spinning in a chair. It is hilarious and extremely cathartic. In short, the visuals of The Silver Case do so much to add to the game’s narrative in a way that a novel might capture by pointing out unsettling details of a character as that character changes throughout the story. Compare that to the static portraits of characters in the other visual novels discussed.
I don’t think I explained anything about The Silver Case series, did I? Well, simply put, it’s a lot like Ace Attorney. Instead of an attorney trying to solve murder cases, you play as different characters involved in murder cases. Most of the time, you are a cop in a Heinous Crimes Unit trying to solve the murders. Some of the time, you are Tokio, who is caught up in the murder as an investigative journalist. And, in The 25th Ward, you are some of the time part of the group not exactly controlling the murders but trying to enforce the absolutely wacko governance of The 25th Ward.
I’d explain more, but I can’t really because the games are novel-esque in this regard. The level of detail in world building is staggeringly complicated. It reminds me of the absurdist detail of the government decision making in Waiting For the Barbarians was, among other novels where there’s a pointlessly complex parody of the government.
Another level of detail that makes The Silver Case feel novel-esque compared to other games on this list is that it is truly impossible to suss out the “real truth” at the core. See, The Silver Case series is about stopping the serial murderer Kamui. Only you find out that he wasn’t behind the killings in the first chapter because he’s braindead. Only you find out that other people have latched onto Kamui as a god because of the mass media combined with the internet allowing for niches of extremists to have power. Only you find out that Kamui was originally the personality of a hitman who killed a bunch of government officials 20 years prior to the games and a bunch of other government officials tried to distill his personality and implant it into children so they created an entire shelter system to do so and the Kamui in chapter 1 that everyone is holding up as this god was just one of those children who did inherit the spirit of Kamui and it will be passed to the next.
What makes this novel-esque isn’t that it’s complicated. It’s that it doesn’t truly matter. The literal truth of The Silver Case games is not what makes them important. You do not ever get true closure in the games because that’s not the point. The point is that Suda51 and the rest of his writers all freaking love Pulp Fiction.
Well, among many other minor points. Like Dangonronpa and Ace Attorney, a lot of what The Silver Case comments on is ripped from the headlines. The shelter system is a parody of the Japanese schooling system. The shocking inability of the Heinous Crimes Unit to actually solve and prevent heinous crimes is a comment on the inability of modern police to do the same in modern society. The terrifyingly accurate depiction of the internet as a place for extremist weirdos to meet up and start a viral revolution promising doomsday that was spurred on by mass media was written in a game released in 1999. The Silver Case is a novel in how it pulls together all these individualistic ideas, fears, and beliefs about life, the government, and society into an art piece, just like a novel often does.
The Silver Case is a truly moving set of games that are somehow relevant even now despite being written from 1999-2005. I am writing this even before finishing The 25th Ward, and without playing Flower, Sun, Rain. It is hard for me to fully capture my thoughts on this subject, that The Silver Case is somehow more novel-y than other visual novels, but I hope this sort of made sense. I didn’t even discuss the dialogue or characterization of The Silver Case compares to other visual novels which are both important. Nor did I discuss how funny the games are. But the bottom line is that all five series of games here are worth playing for different reasons–it’s just that The Silver Case is the most likely to make an impact on how you think since that’s what novels do.
Oh, and by the way… I am actually the third clone of Pungry, who perished originally 6 years ago. But you can decide for yourself if you think I am telling the truth or lying. Ha ha ha.
Hi, Third Pungry Clone,
So much to love here! Thank you for the Pungry Visual Discourse! Here was something I was delighted to learn in your missive:
Ace Attorney is a satire of the Japanese legal system. In the games, there are so many crimes and so few lawyers that each trial must be finished within three days or less. Furthermore, there is no jury, only a judge who is… well, stupid. And the prosecutors are insane megalomaniacs that will do all sorts of underhanded things to get your client a guilty verdict. These are all exaggerations of very real problems in the Japanese legal system (and really any similar legal system like the US’s).
Thank you for the run-down on the visuals and stories, and please allow me to digress. When I diagnosed stories, I figured out there were 2 key elements: (1) All writers know conflict is central to a good story – good vs evil, so that’s usually a given, but (2) the thing I found that was for some reason not discussed by other writers was this – the search for Luck. We all want to be lucky, so if you marry the right person, and you feel lucky (like you have a good cat and home), then you feel like the winner in your life story. If you feel unlucky, then your story is the search to change your luck. Anyway, it’s my own personal theory on what readers are looking for in stories and in everyday life – to change their luck and find happiness, balance, adventure, whatever.
Thank you for your wonderful writing – by sharing it with people you may be changing their luck and making them feel like there is someone else who gets it.