Visual novels are unusual creatures when compared to the rest of the gaming market. These games aren’t defined or determined by a gamer’s technical skill; rather, they ask that players think critically about each choice that comes their way (if there are choices to be made, that is). They can be choose-your-own-adventure stories, quick jaunts into fantastic worlds, heart-wrenching dramas, and anything in between. Just sit back in your favorite chair and read along as we count down Bit Cultures’ Top 10 Visual Novels.
10. Payback 2015
The reason why this visual novel is in this entry is purely because of its gimmick and how charming in its ridiculousness it is for me. In Payback 2015 you play a newly hired manager at WWE whose given the task of looking after either: Roman Reigns, Seth Rollins, Dean Ambrose or Randy Orton prior to the titular pay-per-view. It’s a short affair, but boy is it fun, even more so if you are a wrestling fan. It’s not that its filled with in-jokes, but that the sheer brilliance of having a dating sim VN of some of the most macho guys in the world is just wonderful. But what’s even better is that these guys are actually written quite sympathetically and three-dimensionally, even if their on-screen kayfabe character is not on the up and up (like with Seth Rollins). The art by sendendo.tumblr.com is also a highlight since seeing these wrestlers in a shojo style is a real treat. A short and sweet visual novel that I recommend to any wrestling fan with an open mind and sense of humor!
9. Hustle Cat
Hustle Cat seems simple enough at first glance. Avery Grey is a couch-surfing job hunter who one day stumbles upon a cat café staffed by a group of quirky employees. They’re hired on the spot, but soon find that there’s more to the café than meets the eye. What really makes the game intriguing is the options that it offers the player. At the start of the game, you can choose whether Avery is referred to as he, she, or they. You can also choose their look from different skin colors and character designs. Considering most VNs lock you into a certain character or gender, this is an extremely welcome change of pace. The cast spans a variety of races and body types, offering options beyond the same old generic anime girl or guy that populate a number of visual novels. Hustle Cat’s inclusivity and diversity, quite simply, make it the cat’s meow.
8. Hatoful Boyfriend
Hatoful Boyfriend needs to be on this list. It has dominated so much of the wider gaming public conversation and consciousness on visual novels that to not have it on here would be a travesty. For the uninitiated, Hatoful Boyfriend is a dating sim visual novel where you are the last human on earth and the dominant and most intelligent species on the green planet is birds. To win the game you must date one of these birds. Not only that but each of your feathered friends and potential love interests is some kind of anime archetype such as an athletic jock, an antisocial but enticing doctor and also a sorcerer. Your avian amours are not represented by cute anime boys, but in fact still images of actual birds blankly staring at you as you try to woo them. This is clearly a parody of the genre and its sheer ludicrousness and notoriety means it has to be on this list of the greatest visual novels of our time.
7. Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc
So I’ll admit something: I have never actually personally played Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc. Rather, I read it as it was being translated and posted on to the Something Awful forums before its official western release; even going so far as to download cached versions of the webpages to be able to continue reading it. If this is not a sign of how good the story is in this visual novel, I don’t know what would be. With its twists, turns and wonderful characters, the story of this visual novel is one of the most compelling reasons to okay it. Yet, from what I have seen and heard, the interactive investigation and court room sections of the game are also very good, thus leading Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc to being an overall great package. Additionally, Rui Komatsuzaki’s weird yet wonderful art style really adds to the strange, wacky and sometimes disturbing atmosphere of the game very well. Great story, great characters, great art and great gameplay on top of that all in all makes this visual novel very worthwhile.
Muv-Luv is a light-hearted coming-of-age story about a high school boy whose only real problems in life revolve around which girl he wants to date the most. It’s also a terrifying tale of war and the last days of humanity as it struggles against an extra-terrestrial invasion. The game is a cliché storm of epic proportions, with a simplistic plot and generic character designs to boot. It’s also a subversive, deconstructive work that takes said clichés and turns them on their head with incredibly detailed mecha designs. Muv-Luv Extra is a well-made if by-the-numbers romance with a lot of stuff to like but nothing especially new to offer. Muv-Luv Unlimited is a heart-wrenching war epic with twists and turns that retroactively make Extra worth revisiting. Both parts of the story congeal into an engaging whole, using the conventions and clichés of the visual novel genre to tell a story of love and loss in peace and war.