Visual novels are a type of video game that prioritize the story being told over gameplay functions. They are primarily narrative-driven, offering an immersive experience through the merging of art, sound and dialogue. Although they are primarily text-based, visual novels usually include a number of different gameplay elements, occasionally incorporating 2D or 3D movement with action, strategy and puzzles. Similarly, there are a lot of video games that are not visual novels but follow their format for large portions of the game, like the Persona franchise.
Visual novels originated in Japan, where they are called “adventure games” due to their common embodiment of choose-your-own-adventure options. Most visual novels involve a multitude of choices that the player can make to direct the story towards one of multiple endings.
They are primarily known for their dating simulations, in which the protagonist is placed in a harem-like situation with a variety of characters to pursue as romantic interests. More about that on the popular genres page.
Visual novels also provide a unique first-person perspective by placing the player directly in the position of the protagonist, allowing you to interact with other characters and make decisions that can impact the outcome of the game. They often have a fun time breaking the fourth wall and directly addressing the player or coming up with other ways to show its self-awareness as fiction.
Doki Doki Literature Club is an especially good example of self-awareness and fourth wall breaking; some instances even involve interacting with the game files themselves to progress the story.
Due to the amount of time simply spent reading, there is an ongoing debate about whether or not visual novels actually qualify as video games with little to no “gameplay.” On the other end of the spectrum there is the even more difficult concept of visual novels, as video games, holding their own in the world of literature.
This site serves as a location for me to share my research and discuss if and where visual novels fit in among other forms of media and storytelling, because this is an area where people love to disagree.