List by Matt S.
The Nintendo Switch is the ideal device for visual novels. Lightweight as a handheld, it’s easy to carry everywhere. It’s also got a lovely, big screen, which makes it perfect for displaying the gorgeous art that you generally see in a good visual novel, and allows for both buttons and touch input, which allows people to play the games in whatever way is comfortable.
As a result, there have been a lot of visual novels released on the Switch, covering a very wide variety of topics. To help people get into the genre if they hadn’t played before, we’ve compiled a list of the ten that we would recommend first.
Death Mark (Our Review)
This has got to be up there with my favourite VNs – and indeed horror games – of all time. Death Mark is a bit of everything that I like in horror. It’s intensely story-driven, and not just about jump scares – the game aims to unsettle and chill through the sheer quality of writing. It also recognises the close link between horror and sex, and that’s a common thread to horror literature and film that most other horror games neglect, but this one would make Marquis de Sade very happy indeed. As a result, there aren’t many games out there that are a true representation of horror than Death Mark.
Nurse Love Addiction (Our Review)
It starts out as a super-fanservicey story about student nurses and hot girl-on-girl action. It then… goes places that you just wouldn’t expect. Nurse Love Addiction has it all – gorgeous art, a great story, beautiful characters, and a not insignificant dose of the surreal and sublime. It is, broadly, subversive, but the way it takes its time to build up to that, and lead you to think very different things about where the game is going makes the game a truly impressive digital page-turner.
AI: The Somnium Files (Our Review)
Coming from the team behind the Zero Escape series, AI: The Somnium Files was always going to be more than a bunch of text and static character art. This high budget (by VN standards) cyber-noir mystery adventure has intense twists and turns, some clever gameplay mechanics, and a fascinating, wonderful cast. Will we see more of this series? We’ve got to hope so.
Raging Loop (Our Review)
Raging Loop is eclectic. It’s a werewolf story told through the lens of Shinto spirituality. It’s also a horror game, but takes wildly long diversions to explain a Danganronpa-like death game that the characters need to play each day. No matter which way you cut it, there’s nothing else quite like it out there, and while the presentation standards are not as high as we see in some of the other games on this list, as a storytelling experience Raging Loop is truly fascinating.
YU-NO: A Girl Who Chants Love at the Bound of this World (Our Review)
Yu-No is actually one of the true classics of the visual novel world, having been originally released as far back as 1996. Last year, Spike Chunsoft decided to give the game a full remake, and, for the first time, a formal localisation into English. While the original game was eroge, don’t let that fool you, because there’s actually a depth of narrative and theme to this one that means, even with the more explicit elements stripped out in the remake, Yu-No has plenty going for it.
If My Heart Had Wings (Our Review)
Another formally R18+ visual novel that “went legit”, If My Heart Had Wings is, simply, beautiful. There’s this gorgeous, airy art style to it, and a wonderful cast of characters that really help to sell its charms as a simple coming of age/slice of life game. Also, this game has the best duck that you’ve ever seen in a visual novel… or any other game, really. The duck wears a top hat. A TOP HAT! But seriously, this is one of those games that manages to find joy in the most mundane of things, and it’s lovely.
Root Letter: Last Answer (Our Review)
This remake of the original Root Letter has one major feature that the original lacked: the ability to play the narrative through with real photography, showcasing the wonders of Shimane prefecture, and experience the story with proper actors rather than art. I actually preferred the art version (which you can play with instead), but whether you go for realism or abstraction, the “cold case” mystery remains enthralling. And the game really does do a good job of showcasing the homey delights of Shimane.
Alternate Jake Hunter: Daedalus The Awakening (Our Review)
Another detective fiction title, this one comes much closer to being a true point-and-click adventure, following the story of the titular character through childhood right up until his career kicks off (and what a messed-up childhood he had). It’s a follow-the-breadcrumbs experience, with just enough in terms of puzzles and head-scratching moments to balance of the excellent story, homages to classic detective fiction, and amusing bunch of characters.
Kotodama: The 7 Mysteries of Fujisawa (Our Review)
I do love a good bit of fan service, and Kotodama offers plenty of great fan service indeed. On the one hand it’s a match-3 puzzler, with the goal of getting the various characters you need to “battle” down to their underwear. On the other hand there’s a clever narrative that bookends each of these narratives, cleverly re-working the seven deadly sins into a bunch of urban legends, all centered around one a truly oddball school. It’s funny, light entertainment, and a good contrast to a lot of the other stuff on this here list.
VA-11 HALL-A (Our Review)
Finally, the game about playing as a bartender in a dystopian future. The bar that you tend to is truly decrepit, and its clientele are a wildly varied bunch with one thing in common – they all have their demons, and they’re all struggling to get by in one way or another within a society that’s falling apart at the seams. You only really get to see that society through the stories that you’re told (after all, you’re busy tending bar), but the pictures being painted are both vivid and shocking. Truly, VA-11 HALL-A is a masterful example of video game storytelling.
– Matt S.
Find me on Twitter: @mattsainsb