When the prospect of playing a visual novel is brought up many minds flock to the gutter and presume it will be a hilariously translated romp to be played by those who cannot find a date in real life. However, with the increasing number of visual novels propping up on Steam, for example, the well-received Loren the Amazon Princess and the popular Analogue: A Hate Story along with the surprising breakthrough hit of Four Leaf Studios’ Katawa Shoujo shows that evidently there is a market for these kinds of games – even if some are more than a little embarrassed to admit to enjoying them.
But why is there embarrassment? One could say it is because of the negative connotations that such a genre brings. If one is to mention visual novels the usual joke or comment will have something to do with asking or expecting harems or tentacles – or perhaps a mix of both with no intent to take the genre seriously, and why should they?
Long Live the Queen.
Developed by Hanako Games, Long Live the Queen is described by TotalBiscuit as the “Dark Souls of life simulation games”. The game is charming, simplistic, with the art heavily inspired by Japanese anime but do not judge this game by its cover, you will die. Repeatedly. The goal of Long Live the Queen is to try and help fourteen year old princess Elodie reach her coronation whilst protecting her from assassins, helping her escape certain death while choosing her morning and afternoon classes and trying to achieve the right mood to unlock perks for said classes.
Of course if one were to go by marketing this is not particularly clear to people who have not properly researched the game. The above screenshot is taken from the Steam marketplace and judging from the other screenshots the game seems to enjoy playing into the stereotypes of the genre such as fan service, romance, sex and playing dress up which is the reason many people do play visual novels, for this there is no doubt, but it is alienating an audience who perhaps is looking for a new hardcore strategy game and Long Live the Queen, while incredibly “cutesy” in appearance is a genuine challenge to complete.
Comparisons to other visual novels and life simulations will no doubt be brought up, and while it may make sense to compare it to other recent Steam games such as Loren or the similarly strategic but far more light hearted and comedic War of the Human Tanks I feel that Katawa Shoujo, the infamous ‘porn with plot’, is best due to being a breakthrough for many into the visual novel genre and especially with its notorious concept of dating disabled girls its popularity is something to be noted.
While Long Live the Queen is receiving acclaim and popularity for its cute appearance yet harsh gameplay Katawa Shoujo was brought to the public’s attention for its development hell, creation by 4Chan, frequent changes in design and development and yet on its eventual release on January 4th 2012 servers broke due to the amount of downloads and it was hailed in high regard for its paths, extremely well written characters, handling the disabilities tastefully and leading many who played it to realise that it was not a game focusing on a strange concept but a game created with a lot of love and care and even now, two years later, it still has a strong supporting fanbase, with thriving fanart and fanfiction while many frequent on the site’s forums. With the impact it created, popularity at launch and recognition with popular sites such as IGN, Katawa Shoujo is credited with breaking the genre well into the mainstream.
Long Live the Queen was greenlit by Steam users and has been positively reviewed for its gripping story, themes, dealing with betrayal, difficult choices and skill tests. It joins the growing list of mainstream visual novels, of which I am sure, will continuously grow for as long as Steam greenlight allows so. Both Katawa Shoujo and Long Live the Queen have helped break in the genre to both causal and hardcore gamers who have never properly experienced the genre. Katawa Shoujo allowed its controversial concept to gain notoriety yet handled it with care and allowed many gamers to engage with and genuinely grow to love the characters while Long Live the Queen thrived on its difficulty and tough choices which brought enough interest to be covered by popular Youtubers and thus create a growing community and breaking Hanako Games from its previous range of causal dating and slice of life games and enter the world of dark fantasy and strategy.
The increasing number of visual novels, and well written visual novels for that matter, lead me to hope that there will be a greater selection in future and they will gain further acceptance among the gaming community. If this article proves anything let it be that no matter how bizarre the concept, how generically cute the artwork and how tiresome you believe reading to be visual novels can be just as sadistically difficult, fun, well written and emotional as triple A titles. Long Live the Queen will reign in the memories for those who played it, and Katawa Shoujo will be fondly remembered in not only visual novel history but gaming history, may the genre continue to break expectations and itself be long lived.