The most common kind of visual novel, and the genre the medium is known for, is the dating simulation. Also known as dating sims, these games place the protagonist in a harem setting where the player can choose to romantically pursue the character of their choice. The choices made by the player can lead the protagonist down any number of storylines, usually with multiple Good or Bad conclusions available at the end of every route. Dating sims are popular for their replayability, allowing the player to experience a variety of stories within a single game. It should also be noted that a lot of dating sims are also eroge, or “erotic games,” with pornographic elements that greatly impact the reputation and stereotyping of visual novels as a whole. Dating sims often to go hand-in-hand with other genres.
Science fiction has played a prominent role in the visual novel industry from the very beginning, and is the defining genre for some of the very first visual novels, like Suishou no Ryuu and Snatcher. Some of the most well-known visual novels take place in the Sci-Fi genre, like Steins;Gate, the Muv-Luv series, and more recently, VA-11 HALL-A.
Sci-Fi, like romance, is a broad genre that is easily combined with others. The futuristic stories that stem from this genre have always been popular across all forms of media, and visual novels are no exception. Whether it’s about space adventures, time travel, or the apocalypse, science fiction has something for almost anyone regardless of your comfort zone.
Nakige, or “crying games,” are visual novels with the intention of making the player cry, or at the very least feel some strong emotions. These games tend to be sad or even downright depressing but have a happy or hopeful ending. The nakige genre was kick-started by To Heart, an emotional dating sim released in 1997. A similar genre, utsuge, lacks the positive finale that most nakige have. These games are a more extreme version of nakige, aiming to instill a feeling of dread and the experience of suffering from beginning to end.
Nowadays, horror and mystery themed visual novels are very popular, with the imagery and soundtrack of a game able to contribute greatly to disturbing atmospheres. Some of these games use a cute art style or humor to contrast the dark nature of a story, making the horrific moments all the more impactful; Danganronpa and Doki Doki Literature Club are fantastic examples. DDLC in particular takes advantage of the medium’s shallow, erotic stereotype by uses people’s assumptions against them to create an innocent atmosphere before making the drastic shift to horror.