What is Visual Novel (VN)? [Gaming Definition, Meaning]


Today, we will explore a common feature of the anime world; That is visual novels (VNs)! No doubt as an otaku, you would probably have heard of the term before, be it on forums, in the anime you are watching or simply through surfing the web and running across it. So what exactly is a visual novel? For those of you who do not know. It is simply a novel with added visuals. Hence the name, visual novel.

A visual novel (VN) usually comprises of having a rich storyline due to the amount of time that can be dedicated to one game. Its art-style is usually anime-like. It has its own original soundtrack like every other game. Visual novels also usually feature branching plotlines except for kinetic novels which we will discuss later. The only difference between a VN and a conventional game is that you spend most of your time reading instead of actively engaging in a task.

There are many kinds of VNs out there and you would probably have heard of some it's sub-genres instead of the umbrella term itself first. Instead of telling it to you via a lengthy essay, we think it will be much better to show you some examples by featuring 3 popular visual novels so that it will be easier to understand just what a VN is! So without further ado, let's get going!

Dating Sims

Ahh, dating sims... Made popular by various moe shows relating to the otaku culture. Dating sims and visual novels are often mistaken due to its similarities. However, not all dating sims are visual novels in nature but most of them are! Often in such games, you are presented with a choice of multiple characters. Each of them has their own personality and different appearances. It is up to your own choice to pursue one of them through various interactions and actions.

In a typical dating sim, you are presented with multiple characters. After going through a thorough introduction phase which is mainly reading, you will start to be presented with choices. These choices directly impact the storyline. Each option carries a certain amount of points that is calculated by the game's internal engine on deciding on a character route. Once you have stacked up enough points, you will be set on that character's route until the end. The game doesn't end with one heroine however, you can backtrack to the beginning and start anew with another character. Complete all the routes to unlock the True End where you will then have truly completed the game. Fail to meet the prerequisites or you just are just indecisive and keep switching around between the characters and you might very well end up with a Bad End. Now let's take a closer look at one of these dating sims!

1. Amagami SS

  • Developer: Enterbrain
  • Publisher: Enterbrain
  • Platform: PS2
  • Released: March 19, 2009

On Christmas Eve, Junichi Tachibana was stood up by a girl and was heart-broken. It was perhaps the worst thing you can do to someone who had just entered high school. Now, as he enters his second year in high school, he still remembers that fateful day. Junichi dislikes Christmas and completely lost faith in love, often shutting himself in his closet planetarium that he made himself. However, his life was about to change due to the appearance of six girls. It is now time for Junichi to give love a second chance.

Amagami SS is also a very well-received anime that is based off this original game. Even the anime emulates how it's like to progress through each of the 6 different paths in the game so if you can't dedicate that much time, do give the anime a try to experience what it's like to play a visual novel! So the structure of dating sims applies in Amagami SS - first you get an introduction phase that has the setting, the introduction of the characters and their personality.

It isn't usually until early mid-game that you will start to be presented with choices that will affect which path you are about to take on a heroine. For example, two of the girls might have asked you to do a task and choosing one over the other will give 'points' in their favour of their route, meaning to say you have chosen one heroine over another. Once you have met the requisites on a particular route, the storyline will be constant with that heroine until the very end until you reached your first end! Thereafter, you will have to replay it from the first choice and finish all the other routes in order to truly finish the game. Certain visual novels even have True Ends which only appears once you complete all the other routes.

It shouldn't come as a surprise that Dating Sims often takes up a lot of time. Amagami, for example, can take up to 50 hours to complete! The journey is well worth it, however, and we recommend you to try it!

Kinetic Novels

Kinetic Novels VNs that do not present the player with options. Essentially, it's like reading a book except with visuals and sound effects. Just visualise a really cool book with its own sound effects and images. Comparing it with conventional visual novels, that would mean that Kinetic Novels only have one end and one route. It's like a lite edition of a visual novel. Needless to say, the time needed to complete Kinetic Novels is also significantly shorter than VNs due to it only having one route.

2. Planetarian: The Reverie of a Little Planet

  • Developer: Key
  • Publisher: VisualArt's, Kinetic Novel
  • Platform: PC, PS2, Android, iOS
  • Released: November 29, 2004

Set in a post-apocalyptic world, the remnants of humanity has been reduced to scavenging. They are known as junkers. One such junker happened to make his way to an abandoned building. Here, he finds a planetarium on the top floor of the building. He found Yumemi Hoshino, an extremely talkative gynoid. Yumemi wants to showcase her special commemorative projection but the projector was damaged. giving in the nameless protagonist decides to repair it only to have it die once again due to a lack of power. What lies at the end of the projection?

Planetarian is a relatively short VN, befitting that of a kinetic novel. The whole game generally lasts not more than 10 hours. It has a linear storyline, meaning that there is no alternative routes nor options in-game. Planetarian is simply a stunning electronic book that is packed full with emotions and stunning visuals. The company that made Planetarian also happened to be Key, a notable VN developer that emphasises on simple storylines. It's publisher, Kinetic Novel is a company that releases well-known kinetic novels. If you would like a taste of kinetic novels, then as a starter, we would recommend looking up this company!


A portmanteau of ero and game and contrary to the stereotypical views of eroges, not all eroges are actually games that are only devoted to the purpose of sexual content. A true and good eroge contains extremely deep and meaningful character development. More often than not, eroticism is used as a plot-developing tool to develop the relationship between two characters. When used correctly, the end result is an immensely satisfying story, one that brings the character to life, emulating reality. Eroges is perhaps the largest sub-genre in the VN world. If you just want a game that is purely focused on the sexual content, we'd recommend checking the term 'nukige'. If you are looking for something more plot-driven, we will be looking 'nakige'. Let's take a look at one of the most famous Eroges of all time - the Fate Series.

3. Fate/Stay Night

  • Developer: Type-Moon
  • Publisher: Type-Moon
  • Platform: Windows
  • Released: January 30, 2004

Fate/Stay Night is set in the city of Fuyuki City, Japan. The Holy Grail war is an all out battle royale between summoned servants and their masters. These servants are mythical heroes of the past and can come from any legend. Their prize, the Holy Grail grants both master and servant any wish that their heart desire. Here, we find our unwilling protagonist - Shirou Emiya participating in the Fifth Holy Grail War. Accidentally summoning a female servant, she introduced herself as none other than Arthuria, the legendary king of the Knights of the Round Table. Seven masters and seven servants, it's an all out battle and only the strongest will emerge at the top and claim their prize.

Immediately after Ufotable took the reins in producing an anime of the same name, the series skyrocketed to fame. Amazingly though, fans were shocked to find out that this impressive series has its origins as an eroge. As mentioned, a good eroge relies on the usage of mature themes to intensively build relationships between characters. The Fate series differ from a normal dating sim in the way that the plot is way more developed than a dating sim of which the story can be somewhat open-ended. What you can expect from the Fate series is appropriately placed scenes, a great storyline, likeable characters and an amazing soundtrack! On the other hand, if you're looking for a game that is purely based on its erotic contents, do check out Illusion Games. After all, Eroge is a broad category on its own!

Final Thoughts

We hope you have a deeper understanding on the world of visual novels. Anime does derive its sources from visual novels at times. Some anime on the market may match up to the standards delivered by its original source. However, it will be a remarkable feat if the anime surpass its visual novel origins. You can't pack extended hours of gameplay into 1 season of anime unless you are Unlimited Budget Works. Here, we would recommend that if you truly enjoy a series, to play it's visual novel and discover its hidden potential.

Some visual novels that turned out in brilliant animes for example, are still worth playing due to unexplored routes, true ends and further character development. For example, any works of the Key series - Clannad, Air, Rewrite, Little Busters etc. Even the Fate series has multiple spin-offs which are all great games in their respective genres.

Give a chance to those visual novels that still hasn't had an anime adaptation such as G-sensou no Maou and Katawa Shoujo. The world of visual novels is as diverse as the anime world. Have you played any visual novels and if so, what are your favorites? Do you agree that it is nearly impossible for the anime to surpass its original? Do leave us a comment and we will see you next time. Jya-ne!

Fate-Stay-Night-wallpaper-688x500 What is Visual Novel (VN)? [Gaming Definition, Meaning]


Author: Araragi

Writing from a little island known as Singapore. It is through my articles that I want to show that the world of anime reaches out beyond the boundaries of Japan. From different age groups to individuals coming from different walks of life, everyone and anyone can be a lover of anime. To quote from Kingdom Hearts, 'There are many worlds out there, but they share the same sky.'

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