I’m not sure if everyone has heard, but Steam has started up a greenlight project where fans can vote on what sorts of games they would like to see on Steam. Some of the games I’ve seen in the greenlight section include a few Japanese Visual Novels and unfortunately, browsing a few comments, I noticed a few people still held common misconceptions about these very misunderstood game/novel hybrids. As a fan of the genre, I feel like doing my little part here by addressing common misconceptions about Visual Novels that I personally have come across.

1. Japanese VNs are glorified porn games

This is probably the most common misconception I’ve seen people have against the genre and I’m sure anime fans are very much aware of this as well since it wasn’t so long ago that anime fans had to wrestle with the same sort of misconception. Just like with anime, there is a subsections of Visual Novels that are just porn. But, and this is what most people unfamiliar with the genre fail to understand, that doesn’t mean all Visual Novels are porn, just like not all anime is porn. This is especially frustrating because everyone should know that Steam does not allow any adult games onto the service, so any visual novel in the greenlight program has no pornographic scenes. Yet still people have called Go Go Nippon “this porn game” on it’s Steam greenlight page.

2. All VNs with sex scenes are porn games

Manga Gamer has an All Ages version of KiraKira, for example. This version is also available on the Apple store.

This misconception I can understand more readily since a lot of people tend to call anything with sexual content pornographic. Heck, I’m not even saying that the images aren’t pornographic, but most adult VNs worth any salt in the story department aren’t just fap material. The Japanese actually have a distinction for the full out porn games and for VNs with sexual content. The former are called nukige and the latter eroge*. It is usually pretty easy to distinguish the former from the latter as nukige aren’t very subtle most of the time with titles like “Horny Bunnies” or “My Teacher is My Sex Slave”. That said, one’s best bet is to do research before hand because this isn’t a fool proof method. So what’s the difference? It’s pretty simple, nukiges are full out porn games with the core of the game revolving around sex scene after sex scene. Eroges, on the other hand, tend to have a few sex scenes that are usually featured at the end of a route (for dating sims) or whenever the story calls for it. The player will be spending the vast majority of the game actually reading the story. This is why I say eroges, while they do have sex scenes, are not porn games because you spend so much time just interacting with characters and reading versus the few minutes of sex scenes. And as someone who thinks sex is something that a medium shouldn’t shy away from portraying when warranted, I don’t find this a problem for eroges. That said, yes there are plenty of eroges with unnecessary sex scenes. Unfortunately, due to how niche the market is (even in Japan), developers often add in sex scenes as a hook for sales in the same way some game developers add fan service as a hook. It is unfortunate, but there are ways around it. Usually, the best bet for these eroges is to look for an all age release (KiraKira has one, for example), try to see if there is an ability to disable sex scenes, or buy the version released on a console. Pornographic imagery is not allowed on any console in Japan, so when an eroge gets ported to a console, the sex scenes get removed.

*thanks for awesomecurry for pointing this out: eroges are any and all VNs with sexual content regardless of what sort of content that is and nukiges are a subgenre of eroges. I realize my wording here makes it seem like nukiges aren’t considered eroges at all, but that’s not true.

3. VNs are sexist/misogynistic/etc.

I’m pretty new to the genre myself, so I can’t make broad generalizing strokes about the genre as a whole, but I will say that there are plenty of VNs that are not pornographic. There are VNs that cater to women and ones that are all ages, so at the very least, the whole genre shouldn’t be labelled as such. As for eroge dating sims, I haven’t played many of them (just two really and one of those being a demo) and while anime cliches do come on strong at times, I felt those two games were never really about sexual conquest or left the girls as shallow cliches (for the most part). They felt to me like choose your own romance in the vein of choose your own adventure books. There was a whole group of girls you could date, sure, but you couldn’t date them at the same time. It was more about picking the girl you liked out of the group and having a relationship with her and getting to know her. There was real emotional impact in this sort of interactive attempt at romance because you personally come to care for the character(s). Although, again, this will heavily depend on how good the writing is. Plus there are even some English language VNs out and about, like Analogue: A Hate Story, which deal with feminist topics, and still had date sim elements. So the genre itself isn’t the problem, it is the writing, which applies to anime and video games in general as well.

4. All Dating Sims are Eroges and aimed at males

Both points are not true and while dating sim without sex scenes are rare, especially on the PC, they are not unheard of. Key is very well known for having dating sims without any sexual content (well not so much anymore, I guess). As for all dating sim being aimed at males, I believe this misconception arises from the fact that most dating sims for girls are just called otome games. Still, that doesn’t change the fact that they are dating sims.

Heart no Kuni no Alice, one of the very many dating sims for girls. Unfortunately, like the vast majority of them, no official English release is available.

5. All VNs deal with romance or slice-of-life

This acclaimed DS game is an example of a VN that isn’t a romance or slice-of-life story.

I’m guessing this misconception arises from people being aware of dating sims and not much else, but again it just isn’t true. The genre has a lot of variety. The unfortunate thing is, most games are Japan-only. Still there are a few English (and all ages) releases like Higurashi that are horror , and 999: 9 Hours, 9 Persons, 9 Doors *and Time Hollow which are science fiction/mystery. Yes, it is a small list, but it has more to do with the fact that Visual Novels are often overlooked because they don’t sell very well and that is most likely because of these very misconceptions.

*999 is sort of an odd beast, it has a very visual novel-esque story telling, yet has puzzles like an adventure game. Still since there is no real exploration, I personally call it a VN as my distinction between the two is: VN= no way for the player to explore the environment independent of the story pushing you into different places; versus adventure = the player exploring the environment and solving puzzles to proceed with the story. Examples of the latter are games like Hotel Dusk, Trace Memory, and Dear Esther.

There you have it. Those are the myths I’ve seen around the net about Visual Novels. That said, there definitely are problematic aspects in plenty of visual novels. Perhaps because the medium is so niche, there are a bit more exploitative works than in other mediums, so while I whole heartedly do love the genre, I do feel that anyone who wants to give it a try must approach it with this in mind. If a Visual Novel looks interesting, do a bit of research to see what sort of game it is and whether you are comfortable with said content. That way, you can avoid the exploitative works and still enjoy the strengths of the genre.