Visual novels stem from the “adventure game” genre in Japan. They take up a huge portion (around 70%) of Japan’s PC gaming market and are vastly more popular there than in the West. Despite this, they are still considered rather niche, primarily due to their pornographic reputation and (mostly) anime art style. One of the reasons these adventure games are more popular in Japan than the action-packed games that are widely played in the West could be because of a genetic predisposition to motion sickness. Games that shift the player’s perspective around too much are generally not as prevalent in Japan as text-heavy still ones. Japan does produce popular action game franchises like Devil May Cry and Resident Evil, but those games tend to be geared towards a Western audience.
Appearance-wise, Japan created two different styles of visual novels. Adventure games typically place text in a bar at the bottom of the screen, while what they call visual novels have a block of text covering the entire screen as a transparent overlay of whatever images are being displayed. Games like Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors actually give you the option of switching between a “novel screen” and “adventure screen” at any given time in the game. The adventure option places the text at the bottom of the screen and primarily shows dialogue, while novel mode brings the text to full screen and includes descriptions of the images and events that you experience on the adventure screen. Despite the medium’s continued lack of recognition, these visual novel adventure games play a large role in maintaining the PS Vita game market long after the console has discontinued production. They are also the origin of a number of popular anime.