The visual novel genre doesn’t have quite as much of a hold in the U.S. as it does in Japan, where nearly 70 percent of games sold in 2006 were visual novels. But it still enjoys a passionate and creative domestic fanbase. NaNoRenO, a month-long game jam, celebrates the genre by encouraging fans to create their own visual novel in only a month, a challenge inspired by NaNoWriMo. Let’s break down some of the jam’s most interesting projects.
For the uninitiated, a visual novel is a piece of interactive fiction that incorporates static graphics, choice-based gameplay, and occasional skill-raising challenges. While they’re typically associated with romance, not all visual novels follow this formula. Drama is the main requirement since the branching narrative style of visual novels means there are a lot of opportunities to shape the direction of a story.
By nature, game jams rely on a time crunch for motivation, so many of NaNoRenO’s games aren’t as polished as your typical visual novel. But there are a lot of interesting things being done with character and story in short order, and these are just a few of the amazing projects coming out of this year’s visual novel jam, all of which you can check out for free (though a donation to these hardworking devs is recommended).
Fate and Humanity Meet in New Pisces
Whether you believe in horoscopes or not, the desire to know the future is deeply ingrained in human nature. New Pisces plays on that desire while adding a cyberpunk-y futuristic twist. You play as a horoscope writer tasked with creating the fortunes that will guide the activities of your readers, many of whom have electronic enhancements that you do not. While using a simple rhythm mechanic and choice-based decisions, your writing becomes a song that plays throughout the course of the game. The game is an interesting exploration of fate, destiny, and humanity. It encourages questions about free will and what makes us human—a seriously impressive feat for a game that’s only about 2000 words long.
Visual Novel Wanted: Dragon Leaves Out the Paragon Path
Playing a sweet and kind character is a typical feature of the visual novel, but Wanted: Dragon doesn’t really give you that option. Rather than playing the cute, naïve princess, you play a ruthless brat determined to take the throne from her more qualified older sister. Though you can vary your degrees of ‘evil’, even the nice options are typically sarcastic or disingenuous, making what would otherwise be a cute and fun medieval fantasy game a whole lot more memorable.
Sunrise Surprises With Beautiful Visuals and Inventive Story
While the style of many of NaNoRenO’s visual novels is fairly simplistic, Sunrise is an absolutely beautiful dieselpunk fairytale. Dieselpunk—the 1950s-esque version of cyberpunk—is an often-underutilized genre with a lot to offer. Think steampunk, but with World War sensibilities and film noir influences, modern touches, and stream-of-consciousness writing. Mix that with a fairytale-inspired story, and you get Sunrise, a truly unique game that’s memorable for its gorgeous art style, engaging story, and fantastic setting.
Green Eyed Monster is More Than Meets the Eye
You may think you know what you’re getting into when you sit down to play the magical-girl inspired Green Eyed Monster; you might even think you understand it when you approach the end for the first time. But you would be wrong; this game is simply not that straightforward. This isn’t the peppy, good-always-wins world of Sailor Moon, nor is it a simple story of two friends overcoming physical and emotional distance. With four endings and stunning artwork, Green Eyed Monster is an amazing feat for a month long project, especially with only one developer behind the wheel.
You Can Speak Easy In The Blind Griffin
The Blind Griffin is easily one of the most polished games in NaNoRenO 2015. Everything about it is beautiful—even the menu looks like something you’d like to print out and hang on your wall. The sprites are adorable and easy to tell apart, and each character has a distinctly different personality. The story is great too—the game takes place in a 1920s speakeasy with a healthy dose of magic tossed in for good measure. The level of detail afforded each character is what really makes this game memorable, as every person comes complete with flaws, ambitions, and positive traits despite the game only being put together in a month.