I remember a time not so long ago when localisations of Japanese visual novels were something of a rarity and almost entirely focused on the erotic side of things.
Today, however, there’s an absolute deluge of these wonderful stories from writers and artists all over the world — so it can be hard to pick out the ones you really “should” read. And, naturally, that means some titles inevitably fall somewhat by the wayside or don’t get talked about nearly as much as they deserve.
With that in mind, here’s three top picks from my own experiences that I think more people should spend some time with.
Our World is Ended
Red Entertainment’s sci-fi visual novel was written off by some as a Steins;Gate wannabe when it was first released, but it’s actually something rather different. Instead of exploring the idea of time travel and parallel universes, Our World is Ended instead explores the way in which we perceive the world, using the medium of virtual reality as a means of questioning this concept.
As the game progresses, the narrative also raises some fascinating questions about the idea of our digital presence online being able to outlive our physical bodies, and what that might mean for concepts of mortality. It also interrogates the idea of whether or not a “perfect” life is actually a desirable thing after all, because the inherent diversity that chaos brings is inevitably much more interesting than boring old predictable homogeneity.
The game features beautiful artwork by Eiri Shirai (aka “shiranori”), who was previously responsible for the artwork in the manga, light novel and anime series Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash, along with Sakura Wars’ Naoki Morita on directing duties. The result is a visual novel that is obviously a passion project for everyone involved — one filled with compelling, memorable and unconventional characters, all of whom come together to tell a fascinating and thought-provoking story.
This delightfully bonkers visual novel, developed by White Powder and published by Love Lab in the west, is a curious beast in many ways. Initially it appears to be a slice-of-life sort of affair, but it doesn’t take long for some absolutely batshit crazy surrealist comedy to start rearing its head — and for you to get swept along with its considerable charms.
One of the interesting things about LAMUNATION! is that its writer Kepposhi is a huge fan of western media and popular culture. This means that many of the popular culture references and memes in the script that some may assume had been inserted through the localisation process were actually there in the original Japanese script. It’s not all memes, though; there is a story with plenty of intelligent dialogue for each of the main characters, and the whole thing ends up being surprisingly compelling. There’s substance here to go along with the style, in other words.
Probably the most delightful thing about LAMUNATION! is its acerbic wit and forthright nature. These characters don’t speak to one another like examples of regular anime tropes; they take the piss out of one another like a group of real friends. Whether it’s heroine Lamune’s friends mocking her for wanking and crying every morning because she doesn’t know how to express herself to the love of her life, or the protagonist’s lusty brocon sister shamelessly describing what she actually wants to do to her brother, the dialogue in LAMUNATION! is a consistently refreshing delight — and, of course, dialogue is what makes a visual novel really work.
LAMUNATION! is available for PC. There’s an “all-ages” version available on Steam, and this can be easily converted to the (highly recommended) adults-only version via a free patch on the developer’s website.
Seven Days with the Ghost
This evocatively written yuri visual novel is one of the most elaborately written visual novels I’ve ever had the pleasure to read, and its highly embellished prose creates a wonderful sense of otherworldly fantasy about the whole experience — highly appropriate for a game that deals with supernatural themes.
The game concerns Ayako Orihara, a young woman attending an all-girls boarding school that has both magical and traditional subjects on its curriculum. We join the action seven days before the live-in students are required to temporarily vacate the dorms in order to allow the school to prepare for the new academic year, and in those seven days we see Ayako initially attempting to investigate the supposed “seven wonders” of the school as part of her work for the school’s Occult Research Club, and subsequently discovering that ghosts are both very much real and prone to the same sort of… proclivities as humans are.
What follows is a beautifully written adventure about the occult, sexuality and the difficulty in defining and understanding oneself during one’s teenage years. There are explicit sexual scenes throughout, but in keeping with the rest of the prose, they’re fascinating and compellingly written rather than simply being strings of grunts and descriptions of anatomical interactions — and they’re all in service of character development and the unfolding plot. The main love interest in the game absolutely overpowering a futanari succubus in an explosively erotic yet somehow understated manner is a particular highlight, but I’ll leave further details of that for you to discover for yourself.
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