Japanese Visual Novels (Clannad, Umineko)

Does Anyone know this superweird genre of PC “games”? It seems something HUGE in Japan and has a rather consistent following even in our side of the world.

I’m curious because I read comments of people in awe for these things and I can’t imagine where a so strong appeal may be. I mean, we’re talking about text scrolling on screen, and the “player” pressing the spacebar and maybe make a pivotal choice once or twice through the whole game…

I’m also reading that Clannad takes something like 300 hours to complete fully. And it means 300 hours reading on a screen. Has anyone actually survived?

These obviously do not exist in our market and either you can read Japanese or you have to resort to translations. From a little research it seems that two of the most popular VNs are Clannad and Umineko.

Clannad is some typical romance story where the male character is going to “date” a number of female characters. It sounds atrocious but people still swear the story is wonderful. (btw, no sex stuff here, it’s not that type of dating sim)

After about 322 hours of playtime, I finally finished CLANNAD, the best visual novel ever made. I got the true ending yesterday, with a 100% CG mode, completed Music mode, and Ushio on the Title Screen. I can’t count how many times have I cried while playing this visual novel. Finishing this game makes me want to replay it again. I want that 322 hours of fun back

Umineko is instead some kind of cluedo/mystery game with tons of weird characters and a plot so convoluted that makes no sense. People are crazy about this and waste their life making up all sort of theories to explain what can’t be explained.

How I can not be curious? Any better insight about the genre?

I’ve wanted to play this one for a while…

To me, i see it as splitting the gameplay from the story/character elements, leaving you with sort of an interactive movie.

I played a game called “Sentimental Graffiti” on saturn or dreamcast, I can’t remember. Dating sims are popular enough that Tokyo Game Show has huge lines to play the newest ones. Also, I played for the laugh factor, not because I really like the genre ;)

I started the second one a while ago, but didn’t put much time into in yet (umineko no naku koro ni).

There is an officially endorsed fan translation going on for umineko…


How are these games any different from many J-rpgs with all of their random and boss battles cut out? If you did that you would also just end up with the story and lots of reading.

So far this visual novel has not contended with other video games for my gaming time, but with books for time I would allot to reading. In a sense these visual novels have some advantages over books… They stimulate more senses (as there is sound in addition to the text). Additionally one might say the reading itself is a more vivid experience, because of the colorful backgrounds and visible character expressions… Of course this is based on the argument that an experience is made more vivid if it triggers/stimulates more senses…

Played a fan-translated demo of one of them years ago. I imagine the appeal lies in what Murbella and Razarok said – if you’d like a print story or manga to be more of a multimedia experience.

It’s not that weird. As razarok mentioned, it competes with my reading time, not video game time. Admittedly, I was surprised that the two I played - Tsukihime and Fate/Stay Night, which I both highly recommend - did contain sex scenes and even more so that I didn’t find them off putting, though not titillating either.

IIRC, I think you’ve seen you in the anime thread, HRose - have you thought to check out the anime series based off them? I’ve never seen Umineko, but Clannad was gorgeous, if a little too cute for me. If you enjoy it, though, shouldn’t you enjoy the visual novels where, in addition to what happens in the television series, you can see what happens with your favorite characters?

Edit: I just remembered Hotel Dusk for the DS. If you’ve never tried it, you definitely should. It’s more game-y than any of the other titles mentioned here, but it’s certainly in the visual novel vein.

And all this time I thought Clannad was just some Irish folk band.

I see that Fate/Stay Night is popular as well, and they also claim it to be around 100 hours long.

Is this stuff true?

have you thought to check out the anime series based off them? I’ve never seen Umineko

Not really, someone on twitter was talking about Umineko EP7 and I thought it was the anime (which is considered crap), instead it was the visual novel. Then I noticed it was translated.

Yeah, the key is in the name of the genre: visual novel. There’s no gameplay in most of them and very little in the ones that do have gameplay, but there are some excellent stories accompanied by artwork, music, and in some cases voice acting. I’ve been quite impressed with Divi Dead in the past (which is a bit more of an h-game than most in that it has a significant amount of sexual content), and am currently about five chapters into Chaos;Head and enjoying that. There are some pitfalls for me, though. For starters, this is a genre that really really needs good translations and some of the commercial translations are…not. (A favorite line from Divi Dead involved the main character describing someone as a “fart-blasting scrotum”.) Secondly, there are certain tropes that are kind of annoying, more so if you find anime offputting, as they tend to share anime characteristics. Not surprising, as they’re often adapted into manga and/or anime shows. Thirdly, there’s usually not much text onscreen at once, which is very frustrating for me as a fast reader and advancing the text at any kind of pace can be RSI-provoking. Chaos;Head and Fate/stay night both can be advanced with the mouse scrollwheel, which helps alleviate some of the latter.

I’ve heard good things about Umineko and Higurashi no naku koro ni - both from the same people but with different concepts. Fate/stay night is fairly excellent but is probably 100 hours, yeah - I’m not much past the prologue and that took like 4 hours to read through. Combine that sort of pace and the necessity to go through three different story paths to have truly “completed” it, and 100 hours seems reasonable. Chaos;Head’s main character is a nearly parodic anime-and-MMO obsessed shut in, but if you can deal with that, the story is engagingly weird and somewhat creepy.

It’s been a long time since I read it, but even reading all of the storylines, I would be surprised if it took that long since most of these games have fast forward options that instantly skips text you’ve already read.

The anime series for Clannad, Tsukihime, and Fate/Stay Night are good, and I’d imagine that’s the easiest way to get into visual novels. It was for me, anyway. Tsukihime is about a 20-ish-year-old dude who gets intense migraines when he wears glasses, but while wearing them, he’s able to see the “lines” in the world that lets him destroy anything if he cuts along them; he uses them to kill a woman. Fate/Stay Night is about a similarly-aged young man who can fix things as long as he follows their physical properties a la Fullmetal Alchemist, and gets caught up in a war between magi.

I am kinda surprised that I haven’t seen any game sites or publications write about them, like the writer heard about this weird only-in-Japan thing and thought to check them out, and here are his experiences with them. Like who the hell would imagine you could play Starcraft for a living? That kinda thing.

I’m going to have to disagree with you there. The only thing that was good about Shingetsutan Tsukihime is the soundtrack. I’d be extremely generous to call everything else about it downright awful.

In order to stay on topic, though, I should note that the Tsukihime visual novel is rather good.

Bear in mind that the quality (or at least, one’s enjoyment) of an anime adaptation can vary from the visual novel that it’s based on; I loathed the Fate/stay night anime, but liked the demo.

I play quite a few and am a big fan of a couple of the games discussed here (Fate/Umineko)…anything you want to know in particular? It’s a pretty big topic to cover :)

Higurashi/Umineko are very interesting. Worth checking out if you like bloody mysteries with a supernatural element. The anime for both are pretty good, and hopefully Umineko will get a second season once the VNs are finished.

I’d say that Fate/Stay Night is around the 40 or 50 hour mark. Of course, it depends on your reading speed (and your level of Japanese comprehension, if you’re not reading a translation).

There actually are some visual novels that straddle the game/novel line a bit more. The tendency for game/VN hybrids is to take standard-issue JRPG mechanics and just go whole hog on the idea that RPG battles are what you grind through to get to the cutscenes. There are some interesting exceptions, though. For example, there’s a series of cyberspace-themed VNs which includes a surprisingly awesome game part where you pilot a giant robot and make elaborate button-mashing combos out of a huge variety of weapons. I’ve also seen one that contained a turn-based strategy-RPG game where you would organize characters into squads and send them across a map to fight tactical battles.

I’d say that there are about three-and-a-half good reasons to like visual novels in general:

  1. The multimedia presentation. Sometimes a VN can accomplish some interesting narrative just by using the right combination of text, graphics, and voice-over (more recent VNs are invariably fully voiced.) For example, I remember a scene in Fate/Stay Night where Shirou, the main character, is talking with one person while another paces around in the background plotting something. It’s a first-person narrative, so you read Shirou’s internal monologue and thoughts. Meanwhile, the voice-over is the person Shirou is talking with, and the third character changes expressions as she walks around in the background. Using just voice and graphics, it’s hard to convey abstract concepts and inner thoughts. Using just the written word, it’s hard to show multiple characters doing different things - some of them things that Shirou isn’t focusing on or noticing - without breaking the flow of the internal monologue. Using all three, you can do all of that and even maintain a natural progression to the scene; it wasn’t until I was going through F/SN again with a critical eye that I realized how hard it would be to write that scene for a different medium without changing its pacing or content.

  2. Branching storylines. Not just in that visual novels usually have branching storylines, but that they are… err… branchier. Often when a game has multiple endings or important decisions or whatnot, it turns out to be less exciting then you might hope. I think I’ve played more than a few games where one route has you becoming a soldier for the Empire of Red in a pivotal battle where you start at the north of a map and attack the Blue Kingdom in the south, and the other route is that you command the Blue Kingdom in the south in its defense against the Empire of Red, but either way you get interrupted in the middle of the battle by the Cult of Yellow and the plot from then on is prettymuch the same no matter how you got there. Even in Bioware games, there’s a tendency for characters to show up and be introduced mainly so you can make some important decision about them, and then they don’t reappear afterwards except to remind you how your choice did or didn’t affect them - the overall narrative arc doesn’t change.

In visual novels, the entire story can change, not just the events in one city or the aftermath of one mission. One branch can be a story of heroic triumph while another is a story of heartbreaking sacrifice and failure. Secrets that are hinted at in one branch can be explained in the next. The plot may introduce a terrifyingly important McGuffin that has the power to change everything if used… and then NOT use it, because the McGuffin only gets used in some story branches but not others. Not every VN does all of this, and not all are good at it, but some of them manage to do narrative tricks as interesting as anything in Dragon Age.

  1. Variety. Lots of characters in visual novels are commonly-used stereotypes, and many of the stories are standard-issue Japanese clichés as well. But they’re Japanese stereotypes and clichés, not Western ones. In other words, even if some VN character is a stereotypes that’s been seen a hundred times in Japan, if it’s the first time that YOU’VE seen it, it’s fresh and new to you. Sometimes that’s enough! Of course, if you dislike things from Japan, or especially if you dislike anime-themed things from Japan, then this doesn’t apply.

3.5) Japanese practice. Visual novels are actually a great way to practice your Japanese language skills. Obviously the best way to practice Japanese is to do things like go to Japan, speak with real live Japanese people, take a class at your community college, etc. but those aren’t always convenient or available. On the other hand, visual novels are available on your laptop or console and include HUGE quantities of text, much of it voiced. Most VNs also let you scroll forward or back in scenes and have a button you can click to replay a voiced line, so if you want to look up a word in the dictionary, you can pause, have the line repeated until you can clearly hear the pronunciation, check it in your dictionary, etc. And of course it feels like an enjoyable hobby rather than dreary work; once you know enough Japanese to follow a VN, picking up more vocabulary from context isn’t as painful as just trying to memorize the dictionary.

That only counts as half a reason because most people don’t have time to learn any Japanese at all and just use the fan translations. =)

I really liked the Tsukihime anime and look forward to one day reading the visual novel. The thing to remember about going for the anime version, though, is that your average anime series is either 13 or 26 20-something minute episodes. So, like regular novel to moving picture adaptations, they have to condense and trim. Ruthlessly. So you’re going to lose things in the transition. They might not be important, but I for one wouldn’t recommend counting on it. This is especially true for visual novels, where the anime is almost guaranteed to have to pick one particular path through the story. From what I understand, the story is radically different on each of Fate/stay night’s three paths, and I’d be very surprised if the anime captured more than one of those paths.

The F/SN anime was basically the Fate route with a few (very few) aspects of the other two routes pulled out and applied. 99% Fate, though. They did release a movie in Japan earlier this year that covered the Unlimited Blade Works route, but the movie suffered from the same condensation and trimming that I feel the Tsukihime anime was afflicted with.

I will freely admit, of course, that adapting a game with such clear, divergent and fundamentally incompatible paths is extraordinarily difficult.

It’s not a common thing, in part because most of the visual novels actually released in English are out and out porn, and probably in part because they’re mostly not games as such and more likely to be covered by enthusiast sites for things like anime. But it does happen.

But pretty narrow if you consider just was is accessible (aka translated) here.

I’m looking at some numbers being tossed around, and they aren’t totally believable.

Fate/Stay night is given at 800k words
Clannad 600k
Umineko 1-4 600k

I’m skeptical because an actual 800 page novel is around 300k words of prose. The whole Lord of the Ring trilogy is something like 450k. Are those numbers correct?

I also read that Umineko is supposed to be much shorter even if it’s made of episodes, so how can be the number realistic? If you put in the picture the other 4 episodes it’s going to be 1.2 MILLION words!

I mean, these ridicule even the epic fantasy genre.

Considering how the original material is in Japanese, those numbers (if accurate) is probably the number of “characters” and not words, so if these were translated over they would be shorter.

Also, you have to remember that many of the people playing these games outside of Japan aren’t native Japanese speakers so they’ll take a lot longer to read through the text (if they’re doing it at all). Something like Clannad or Fate is really closer to 30-40 hours to get through start to finish, and even that is padded due to the reader paying attention to the pictures, sound effects, and the voiced dialog (which will really slow things down)