Due to their focus on story and presentation rather than interactivity and game mechanics, visual novels are one of the most engaging types of video games.
- 15 Best Cyberpunk 2077 Mods. What You Need To Know? Update 09/2023
- Best ISP For Gaming. Comprehensive Guide Update 09/2023
- 10 Best Fan Controller Of All Time. Which Is Best For You? Update 09/2023
- Best Games Like Slime Rancher You Should Play Right Now Update 09/2023
- Fallout 76 System Requirements Update 09/2023
This means that many interesting ideas for stories can be explored in visual novels that wouldn’t be appropriate for any other medium.
For the year 2022, we’ve compiled a list of the top visual novels available across all platforms, including Steam and the Nintendo Switch.
In the future, we will add more games to this list, so come back and let us know if we forgot any!
What Is a Visual Novel?
A visual novel is a type of interactive fiction video game in which text plays a central role in the narrative. Character models and environments are typically static, and any animated sequences that do exist are usually brief.
Visual novels are distinct from other types of video games because they are more like books than typical video games. You read a lot of dialogue and other text to progress through the narrative instead of playing through gameplay, watching cutscenes, or figuring out context clues.
Japan is the largest market for visual novels because of how popular they are there. There are some visual novels that have been adapted for Western audiences, and there are even some that have been made from the ground up in English. Most visual novel games adopt an anime art style because of the genre’s association with Japan.
Visual novels rely heavily on their story, characters, and other narrative elements to keep the player engaged because they lack much in the way of traditional “gameplay”. Thankfully, most high-quality visual novels succeed admirably in this regard. The best visual novels are distinguished by elements beyond the basics.
Distinctions in the Visual Novel Genre
There is some wiggle room in the definition of visual novels, as there is with many video game subgenres. Games like these are referred to as “visual novels” in Japan. There is a severe lack of player agency in these games.
In addition to reading the story, you might be presented with options that could change the course of events. However, you do not have complete say over your character’s actions, such as where they go or if they pick up anything.
However, Japanese adventure games still use text and static graphics. However, in addition to reading the story, players are often tasked with solving puzzles or playing minigames. These Japanese games are reminiscent of the Western ‘point-and-click’ adventure games.
When compared to visual novels, they give you more freedom to give specific commands to a character at specific moments. These games may not have multiple paths to victory or major branching dialogue, but they are notorious for their harsh penalties for failure.
The distinction between true visual novels and Japanese adventure games is often blurred outside of Japan. We use the term “visual novel” to refer to either, so games that fall under this umbrella can be very different from one another.
If this is your first time trying out a visual novel, you may want to start with one that is more of an adventure game. Then, if you decide you care more about the story than the gameplay, you can dive into a dedicated visual novel.
The Best Starting Point for Visual Novels: Ace Attorney
The Ace Attorney games have been widely credited with introducing Western audiences to visual novels. Ace Attorney is more of a Japanese adventure game than a traditional visual novel, but playing it as a first foray into the genre can’t hurt.
In the Ace Attorney games, you play the role of defense attorney Phoenix Wright, who must defend his clients and prove their innocence. The game’s mechanics are broken down primarily into two areas: police investigations and courtroom trials.
Evidence for a case requires you to move around to different locations as you investigate. You and your partner will interview potential eyewitnesses, examine the crime scene, and share your findings with each other. You can’t advance to the next level until you’ve gathered everything you need, so there’s no room for error.
Trials are when you put all that research and preparation to use to prove your client’s innocence. The game’s logic puzzles become relevant at this point. If the prosecution presents witnesses, you must cross-examine them and refute their testimony with evidence.
If you have never played an adventure visual novel before, Ace Attorney is a fantastic choice. Although your decisions will have no bearing on the outcome, you will need to pay close attention to detail in order to do well in the courtroom scenes. It’s a great show with memorable characters, great localization, great music, and a complex story that everyone should watch at least once.
Examples of More Traditional Visual Novels
There are plenty of similar games out there to try if you enjoyed Ace Attorney. However, if you prefer a more conventional visual novel, you can also find many excellent titles in this genre.
The popular choice Hatoful Boyfriend is one possibility. In this game, you play as the lone human student at an elite avian academy. Your choices throughout the game’s story will determine which character you end up with romantically.
The player’s role is limited to selecting an option when presented with one, as was mentioned above, because this is a conventional visual novel. You can’t freely explore like in Ace Attorney’s investigation sequences, and there aren’t any extra gameplay elements like puzzles or logical deductions to keep you engaged.
VA-11 may be on to something if the game seems too simple. In Hall-A, the simulation genre is fused with that of the visual novel. It’s set in a cyberpunk dystopian future, and you play the role of a bartender. The majority of your involvement with the narrative will be through the serving of drinks; patrons will specify the type of drink they prefer, but you are free to prepare anything you like.
There are multiple possible outcomes and reactions from your guests, depending on what you give them to eat. The game relies less on reading text and more on having engaging conversations with its diverse cast, but it still has more interactivity than a traditional visual novel.
Crack Open a Visual Novel Today
You should be aware of what a visual novel is and can offer now. Any person who enjoys a good story would benefit from playing a game in this genre, be it an adventure game or a visual novel. You may enjoy visual novels more than other types of video games if the pace and complexity of those other types are too much for you.
Best Visual Novel Games
Windows, Playstation 4, Nintendo Switch, macOS, and iOS
In Necrobarista, a group of buddies decide to open a cafe on the border between the living and the dead.
It serves as an ideal resting place for the recently deceased, giving them time to grieve and make peace with their passing before continuing on to the next world.
Before your customers take their last sip, you, the alchemist barista, will have learned their backstory, their motivations, their flaws, and their evolving perspectives on death.
The game’s 20-30 minute episodes are great for short bursts of gaming, and the 3D visuals and fully animated characters are a welcome change of pace for the genre.
Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Trilogy
Supported systems include the PC, PS4, Xbox One, Switch, iOS, and Android.
The first three games in the Ace Attorney series have been remastered for PC and consoles, making them accessible to a wider audience.
You’ll get to tag along on the casework and courtroom defense of protagonist Phoenix Wright and his fellow attorneys.
Evidence gathering, cross-examination of witnesses, and the identification of inconsistencies in their testimonies all function like pieces of a complex puzzle to reveal the truth in any given case.
Even though the series is best known for its offbeat characters and clever writing, the detective-style gameplay is so well implemented that you’ll become emotionally invested in each case.
Windows, Playstation 4, Xbox One, Switch, Linux, and Mac
In the visual novel Monster Prom, you play as a monster student trying to find a date for the school dance that is only three weeks away.
The story moves at a relatively slow pace for such a short period of time, allowing you to fully appreciate the original humor and richly developed characters.
Along the way, you’ll be able to purchase items for your potential new beau, acquire abilities to impress your crush, and compete against friends in the game’s online multiplayer mode.
You’ll need to give Monster Prom a few tries to experience everything it has to offer, and there are plenty of add-ons and sequels that expand on the game’s core concepts.
The House in Fata Morgana
Windows, PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, and iOS
The House in Fata Morgana raises the bar for the visual novel genre with a compelling story that will keep you engaged until the very end.
You take on the role of an amnesiac man who discovers himself in a vast mansion whose mysterious doors are rumored to conceal the tragedies of those who have lived behind them.
The majority of the game is spent switching between different points in time and, perhaps more subtly at first, between different types of video games.
One of the best visual novel soundtracks we’ve ever heard complements the excellent translation and localization of the script.
Windows Is The Platform
Senren Banka is a visual novel dating sim that takes place in the historical Japanese village of Hoori, which has become a popular tourist destination due to its stunning natural scenery and therapeutic hot springs.
The Murasamemaru, a mysterious ancient blade, has been stuck in the rock of this village for decades.
Inevitably, your protagonist will sever the sword in two while trying to remove it from the shrine, forcing you to wed the shrine’s magical virgin.
The rest of the game is spent trying to establish contact with the legendary maiden and uncovering Hoori’s many mysteries.
Across the Grooves
Windows, Switch, and Mac are the supported platforms.
When discussing visual novels, it’s important to note that Across the Grooves succeeds admirably at achieving the painterly, hand-drawn aesthetic it aims for.
It also has an alluring secret that makes you want to uncover more and more of it until you reach the core.
Alice, the protagonist, leads a mundane existence until a mysterious record mysteriously appears on her doorstep, prompting her to travel across Europe in search of an ex-lover.
Many different outcomes are possible depending on the decisions you make throughout Alice’s story.
Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc
Windows, PlayStation 4, Android, and iOS
A group of teenagers, all eager to enroll at the elite Hope’s Peak Academy, soon discover that they are pawns in a sinister game devised by an evil bear named Monokuma.
The students are now trapped in the fake school, and the only way out is to kill a classmate and get away with it, per Monokuma’s rules.
As students are being murdered one by one, you must investigate, question suspects, and gather evidence to solve the case.
If you make a false accusation, everyone loses their lives while the real killer goes free; if you get it right, however, the killer is the only one who suffers the consequences while the rest of the class “graduates.”
Doki Doki Literature Club!
Windows, Linux, and Macintosh
Doki Doki Literature Club appears to be a typical visual novel dating sim, complete with curvy anime women dressed in their uniforms.
Deeper exploration of the story, however, reveals much darker themes akin to those found in video games of the psychological horror genre.
It’s best to go into it completely blind, as the most unsettling reveals are linked to the protagonist dating different characters to further the plot.
Doki Doki Literature Club is available for free on Steam, but a downloadable content pack that includes an official soundtrack, high-resolution wallpapers, and concept art can be purchased for a small fee.
Windows, Switch, and iOS are the supported platforms.
Visual novels are particularly effective at evoking strong feelings about controversial issues like the growing influence of automation in modern societies.
You take on the role of Lina, Neo Cab’s lone remaining human driver in a world where autonomous vehicles have eradicated the need for human interaction.
As you navigate the lonely streets of Los Ojos, you’ll pick up a cast of strange and recognizable characters, all of whom need a ride and have stories to tell.
Lina is trying to keep her focus on the road ahead while also investigating the disappearance of her best friend, who introduces an entirely new layer of mystery.
VA-11 Hall-A: Cyberpunk Bartender Action
Windows, Linux, and Mac OS X
From what we’ve seen in VA-11 Hall-A, working as a cyberpunk bartender isn’t all bad.
You play the part of a bartender at the downtown watering hole VA-11 HALL-A, also known as “Valhalla.”
In this corporate utopia of the future, you must accurately prepare drinks with a sci-fi theme for customers like them.
Customers who are satisfied with the service you provide will gladly talk about their experiences in the outside world if you do a good enough job.
Available on PC, PS4, Switch, iOS, and Android.
Raging Loop is a visual novel of psychological horror about a young man who finds himself abandoned in a remote Japanese mountain village.
The townspeople coerce him into taking part in the feast, an ominous ritual, and he soon discovers that a vengeful werewolf is hiding among the locals.
When people begin to die off, Haruaki wonders what’s going on and sets out to find out how to put a stop to it while staying alive.
It’s a must-play for horror fans who enjoy hanging on the edge of their seat as terrifying events unfold on-screen because it’s so much more intense and action-heavy than many of the visual novels on this list.
AI: The Somnium Files
Available on PC, PlayStation 4, and Nintendo Switch.
AI: The Somnium Files, another excellent detective visual novel recommendation, adds an intriguing science fiction premise to the mix.
You take on the role of Date, a police officer on a special task force who gets caught up in the hunt for a serial killer known only as “the Cyclops Killer.”
The most intriguing part of the game is when Date enters other people’s dreams, which are represented as timed puzzles.
Similar to Necrobarista, the game’s immersion is enhanced by the use of fully animated 3D models and detailed environments.
Windows, PlayStation 4, iOS, and Android
While Steins;Gate may be a little older than some of the other games on this list, it is still highly recommended if you enjoy anime visual novels and are looking for a compelling story.
The story follows Okabe Rintarou, a mad scientist who uses a microwave to travel through time.
The stakes may seem low at first, but players will soon discover that time travel has dire consequences in this universe.
The majority of events are triggered by the player’s responses to phone calls and texts from a variety of characters; the player’s decisions about how to respond to these requests will have significant effects on the story’s resolution.
Zero Escape: The Nonary Games
Software for PC, PS4, and iOS.
Sci-fi, adventure, puzzle-solving, and mystery-solving fans of visual novels should check out the Zero Escape series.
Both 999: Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors and Virtue’s Last Reward, the first two games in the series, have been remastered and updated for inclusion in The Nonary Games.
The plot revolves around an escape room conceit in which nine individuals are compelled to take part in a nefarious game of chance masterminded by an individual only referred to as “Zero.”
Amid mounting panic, the victims wonder if they can trust one another as they try to outrun certain death.
PC and Switch are the supported platforms.
Little Busters, like many other visual novels based on popular anime, was initially only available in Japan until an English translation was released in 2017.
You take on the role of Riki, a young man whose parents passed away when he was a child and who now suffers from narcolepsy and weakness.
Riki and his childhood friends form a team of fictional heroes called the Little Busters, and they set out on a mission to seek out and destroy evil.
There are multiple possible outcomes depending on the player’s choices throughout the game, and it soon becomes apparent that not everything is as it seems and that Riki and his friends must face their greatest challenge yet.
Higurashi: When They Cry
- The full set will set you back $53.93.
Higurashi, like DDLK, initially seems like a pleasant slice-of-life adventure before twisting the player’s expectations. The creator of Higurashi, Ryukishi07, expertly employs a wide variety of anime tropes to lull players into a false sense of security, before slowly peeling away the reassuring veneer that initially covers the troubled village of Hinamizawa.
After moving to Hinamizawa, Keiichi Maebra learns of a string of mysterious deaths blamed on the town deity and central to the annual Watanagashi Festival. This is the story of Higurashi. The more players uncover about the sinister history of Hinamizawa, the more suspicious they become of the entire village, including Keiichi’s new friends. Players are introduced to the bulk of the main mystery in the first part of the series, and in the second part, they use the clues dispersed throughout the narrative to piece together the puzzle.
Umineko: When They Cry
- Total Collection Price: $79,97
Umineko presents players with a series of murder mysteries that appear impossible to solve, in contrast to Higurashi’s methodical use of psychological horror to unnerve them. In this tale, the members of the Urshiromiya family gather on Rokkenjima every year for a celebration. After a devastating typhoon, a string of occult murders occurs, forcing the lone survivor, Battler Ushiromiya, into a battle of wits with the apparent perpetrator, Beatrice the Golden Witch.
Umineko uses question and answer arcs to advance the story’s multiple strands and flesh out its characters over the course of its fifty-plus hour runtime. As expected, Ryukishi07’s plot is full of unexpected turns that challenge the player to make sense of the world’s biggest mystery.
The Silver Case
- Price: $19.99
The Silver Case was Grasshopper Manufacture’s first game, released in 1999. The studio is now better known for titles like Killer Is Dead, Lollipop Chainsaw, and No More Heroes. The Silver Case has all the hallmarks of an early Suda game, including two scenarios in which players take control of different characters to solve a grisly murder case.
Not until 2016 did The Silver Case see a global release, and since then, it has been ported from PC to the Switch and PS4. It’s one of the most original visual novels available on Steam, and its relative anonymity has made it something of a hidden treasure.
- Price: $34.99
Chaos;Child is a thematic sequel to 2008’s Chaos;Head, and while familiarity with the original game isn’t strictly necessary, it will certainly enhance your experience with Chaos;Child.
The game continues the story of Takuru Miyashiro six years after the events of the first game. Like in Chaos;Head, the story centers on a string of strange murders that plunges the protagonist into a web of lies and secrets. Chaos;Head has a ton of replay value because players must finish the game’s main route to gain access to side paths that help solve the game’s overarching mystery.
Psychedelica Of The Ashen Hawk
- Price: $29.99
This Otome visual novel follows on from its predecessor, Psychedelica of the Black Butterfly. The protagonist of an Otome game (also known as a “maiden game”) can have romantic interactions with the male supporting cast. Jed, a young woman with red eyes who is raised as a man, is our protagonist. A witch who has red eyes is a bad omen in the Psychedelica of the Ashen Hawk universe. In this town reminiscent of Salem, she must conceal her true identity if she is to survive.
The Fruit Of Grisaia
- Price: $39.99
Visual novel The Fruit of Grisaia is a psychological drama with romantic undertones. Yuuji, our protagonist, is a new student at a tiny school that has a total of five students. There are a variety of “unique circumstances” that call for Yuuji and the other students to be present. The playable female main characters all have different romantic arcs.
There are more than 50 hours of content in The Fruit of Grisaia, and afterward, you can play the two direct sequels.
Senren ＊ Banka
- Price: $34.99
Senren * Banka, a supernatural romance visual novel with six different endings, will be released in February of 2020. When Arichi Masaomi accidentally breaks a mythical sword in the picturesque town of Hoori, which appears to be a few decades behind the rest of the world, a series of mishaps involving spirits ensues. Naturally, Masaomi becomes entangled in the midst of a great deal of demonic activity after becoming engaged to a Shrine Priestess.
Senren * Banka has likeable characters, a mysterious and intriguing backstory for Hoori, and decent romance-driven paths for Masaomi to take.
- Price: $44.99
Key’s Clannad is an emotionally resonant visual novel. Tomoya, the protagonist, is down and out at the start of the story. Watch as Tomoya meets new people and pursues new relationships as he searches for his place in the world.
The main female characters in Clannad can take any of a number of different paths throughout the game’s roughly 80 hours of playtime.
Tips and Tricks to (Finally) Playing That Visual Novel
Make a List
The sheer quantity of excellent visual novels available today makes it impossible for me to keep track of them all without a list. To begin, I consulted the Visual Novel Database, a comprehensive database containing information on thousands of visual novels (over 32,000 to be exact). The only drawback to using this site as your primary resource for cataloging your collection is that, being a wiki, it does not include every visual novel. If you’re willing to put in the extra effort, you can add visual novels to the database. However, if you play a lot of indie games, this may not be the best option for you.
In the short term, creating lists on itch.io or Steam can be useful, but ultimately, I end up with a disorganized mess of games that I never get around to playing. While spreadsheets do the job, I find that The Backloggery is the most convenient and time-saving way to keep track of my games. Because it’s tailored to your personal library rather than pulling from a selection in a database, adding your games here is much faster than doing so in the Visual Novel Database. In addition to visual novels, The Backloggery makes keeping track of my game progress simple. Your personal log can include both classic and up-to-date titles.
If you want to play more than a handful of visual novels at once, you don’t have to play each one in order and all the way through before moving on to the next. It’s easy to get through a bunch of short games in a short amount of time if you have a stack of short indie visual novels on your to-play list. Cafe in the Clouds was over in less than thirty minutes, and it felt good to cross a book off my list of fifty or more that I had been meaning to read.
Make a list of all the VNs you want to play, and then prioritize that list. Depending on the length of the novels in your collection, this can be anything from one to five per week. Your choice will also be influenced by other factors, such as how much free time you have or how many visual novels are already on your to-read list. Once you’ve made your choices, commit to working on them exclusively for at least a week. As you complete them, you can swap them out, and before you know it, your library of visual novels may be more comprehensive.
Set a Schedule
Although it may seem excessive to plan out when you’ll play your favorite visual novels, doing so can be helpful if you have a large backlog of games. During the week, I’ll focus on playing shorter games, and on weekends, I’ll play games like Code: Realize. An hour or so before bedtime is ideal for me. Long-term commitment games like these typically occupy my last two hours of awake time. It’s fine if you’re the type of gamer who only has time for short gaming sessions. You can play for a full day on Saturday and then break up the rest of the week with shorter games.
Streams of video games and visual novels are something I’ve become interested in as of late. Many streamers plan ahead and announce when they will be playing specific games. Setting a gaming schedule is a good way to start and finish games, and it’s also part of a streamer’s job to be consistent. Setting aside specific times for games throughout the week helps get a flow going, though you shouldn’t force yourself to play or read when you don’t feel like it. The overall success depends on the strategy.
Recognize Your Play Style
Is it important to you to see every possible outcome in a game because you’re a completionist or achievement hunter? Do you play seriously, choosing your favorite love interest’s path in all romance games, or do you play more casually? You probably have at least a little bit of “the completionist” in you if you’re reading this and feeling overwhelmed by your massive library of unfinished or untouched VNs. In any case, it’s crucial to be aware of your preferred mode of play. I’m the type who needs to finish a visual novel in its entirety, exploring every possible path and branch. This complicates my quest to achieve a sense of “completion,” so I focus on playing short VNs as much as possible, keep a small collection of VNs longer than ten hours, and limit my playtime for long VNs to no more than two at a time.
In some games, I tend to take a more relaxed approach. I can take my time and enjoy myself while playing Monster Prom, for instance, because I don’t feel compelled to investigate each and every available option. Of course, I still take pleasure in doing so, but games like these are perfect for winding down after a busy day. I don’t need to feel emotionally invested in the plot. On days when I don’t have a lot going on and can really focus, I enjoy playing visual novels with more involved plot themes so that I don’t miss a thing.
No need to stress if planning ahead and sticking to a schedule isn’t your thing; my final tip is the magic bullet for getting back into your VNs after a long break.
Make It a Social Thing
If you’re a fan of visual novels, you’re probably playing for fun, and playing with friends is the best way to clear out your backlog. Although the vast majority of visual novels are designed for solo play, I’ve found that playing with friends is where I have the most enjoyable experiences. My best friends were also playing Mystic Messenger, so we could discuss the interesting things that happened in our chats or when our love interests called us on the phone.
Don’t stress if you don’t know anyone else who enjoys playing visual novels. Many of the visual novels I’ve played to completion have been played entirely alone, simply because I didn’t have any friends who shared my interest in the genre at the time and nobody I knew played otome games. My enjoyment of otome games skyrocketed, however, after I stumbled upon a podcast called Otomates in which girls discussed their favorite otome games. If you enjoy otome stories but haven’t read these, you’re missing out.
Finally, I’ve found that watching other people play visual novels on Twitch can be just as fun as playing them myself. Even if I don’t have time to play a visual novel right now, I can still learn about it by watching someone else play it and hearing their thoughts on it. Due to my penchant for multitasking, I can listen to someone else read a visual novel if I get the hankering to play one but don’t have the time to play it myself.