Who doesn’t love a good tear-jerking movie? Better yet, make that an emotional video game! We all know the heavy hitters; Triple-A games from the raw and unrelenting The Last of Us 2 to the more delicately subtle indie beauty’s like Celeste, each game can and does stur something within us. And if you ask me, I have never been as moved after finishing a video game than with a visual novel. Whether it be the effective visuals pulling you in with every different frame and sprite indicting how we should sympathize with what our characters are feeling (Clannad), to narration stringing you along that may be from an unassuming protagonist (Raging Loop), or maybe even the antagonist (Saya no Uta), visual novels’ simple formula have created countless, unforgettable tales with varying reasons as to why they tug at the heartstrings. And what makes this even better is that these emotional short stories are sometimes completely free!
Out of the free visual novels I have suggested, one may very well be so well known and popular that you’ve already played it, so give the other two a go considering I regard them as highly as the popular title! And please take into consideration that each title does cover triggering topics (depression and/or suicide).
The shadows that run alongside our car
Set in a zombie apocalypse, this is only the first sign of originality in this small, hidden gem of a visual novel. Conceived and created in only four days, we follow two strangers during the zombie apocalypse on a simple drive after meeting at an abandoned gas station. You play as both characters on separate routes to discover more about the other character, as they each have their own story to tell. The game not only has layers to it, what with the mystery surrounding its two only characters and their intentions, feelings and thoughts, but with six endings to obtain as well.
The game may be on the short side (lasting up to 2 hours depending on reading speed), but it holds deep sentimental value in its message, a pair of complex main characters, and dialogue so effective and penetrating it builds up its characters effortlessly through both intrigue and a plethora of emotions explored in its short run time. Where the focus between its pair is the exploration of how we look at one another and judge without thinking, it is only one reason why this indie visual novel has stayed with me for years. From the unexpectedly deep meaning behind its zombie story, to being a small game that packs every emotion into it, with an effective whiplash from melancholy, joy to angst, The shadows that run alongside our car is remarkably poignant and superbly constructed. It may very well be the most emotional I got from an itch.io title. I applaud you, Lox Rain.
Grab the game for free here.
For those who have played a decent amount of visual novels, Katawa Shoujo won’t be a name new to you. Gaining immediate attention and a loyal fan base since its release in 2012, Katawa Shoujo has become as infamous as Doki Doki Literature Club within the niche genre. With outstanding character designs and art for an indie title, a colourful and memorable cast with life lessons ready to give you an emotional pet talk, and as one of the most positive representation for disabilities, Katawa Shoujo is deserving of its notoriety. The game has stayed free to download even to this day, so there’s absolutely no reason for you to not have experienced this glorious piece of collaborated artistic work yet. Katawa Shoujo withstands the test of time and will not be forgotten in years to come, being an outstanding visual novel developed by amateurs now affectionately known as the Four Leaf Studios, with humble begins starting in 2007 on 4chan!
Get the game here, with an option of censoring its sexual content.
Angela He is immediately recognizable with a distinctive, breath-taking and polished art style to juxtapose her harsher stories and themes underneath the appealing surface. In what is her most well known and highly regarded entry in missed messages., it is an LGBTQ+, internet humor based, aesthetically pleasing visual novel with a short story to tell and life lessons to go along with it. With an appropriately fitting original soundtrack that had me pausing the game to just listen to it and take it in, when certain events hit, it hits even harder with the harsh, gritty change in tone due to its noticeable sound production.
Angela He continues to contribute appealing, small visual novels filled with meaning and messages for such a short runtime, with YOU LEFT ME being my second favourite title of hers, where a humourous moon character spews dad jokes at every given moment, to its mysterious setting along with beautifully surreal artwork and horrifying conclusions. missed messages. leaves a permanent mark after playing it, and I cannot applaud Angela He enough for tackling the issues she does and the way she explores them in her free-to-play works. Not only will it be relatable to many players, its “true” endings (hope and survivor) leave a positive note – quite literally from Angela He herself – and is a reminder that none of us are alone and that good things will come to us in time.
missed messages. is available on Steam.
What free visual novel titles have affected you most? Let us know in the comments below.
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