Visual Novels Can Succeed on Nintendo Switch
Surpassing the Wii U’s lifetime sales in ten months is a testament to the Nintendo Switch’s diverse library of quality games. However, the hybrid console has yet to see many visual novels released outside of Japan. The Switch’s portability, Doki Doki Literature Club’s positive reception, and Xenoblade Chronicles 2’s strong emphasis on eastern culture suggest visual novels can be successful in the west.
Visual novels are like long interactive books. Most of the gameplay consists of reading or listening to dialogue while looking at still images, typically in an anime art style. Some visual novels have unique gameplay elements that break up text sections and even impact the story. For example, Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors forces players to solve puzzles to progress, while Steins;Gate lets players send text messages to alter the plot.
The Switch’s pick-up-and-play mentality is a perfect match for the text-heavy nature of visual novels. The ability to enjoy short play sessions on the bus, train, or before bed makes the genre easier to dive into—similar to enjoying books in small segments. A more apt gaming comparison is to the PlayStation Vita. However, a PlayStation TV is required to play Vita games on the Television. The Switch’s versatility bridges different styles of gaming on the go and at home in ways the Vita failed to achieve.
Vita’s library features a trove of visual novels, but 2018 marks the first time notable series in the genre will be released on a Nintendo home console. In an interview on November 2017 with Japanese publication Jiji, Haruhiro Tsujimoto, COO of Capcom, said the company plans to release an Ace Attorney game in 2018. Level-5 CEO Akihiro Hino similarly told Eurogamer that he loves the Switch and wants to bring the next Professor Layton game to it.
Visual novels with greater Japanese influence, or what many gamers unaccustomed to Japanese culture might find strange in terms of story and characters, are also coming stateside. Last week, The Men of Yoshiwara: Kikuya, advertised as a popular romance game for women, came to the Nintendo eShop. In addition, the dark rhythm-action battle romance Song of Memories was confirmed for a western release and Nekopara, a million copy seller on Steam filled with cat-girls, has a good chance of coming west after it is ported to the Switch in Japan later this year.
An updated version of the time traveling thriller Steins;Gate called Steins;Gate Elite is planned for a March release in Japan. A western release seems likely given the high praise for previous entries and the anime’s popularity overseas, especially since Steins;Gate 0’s anime adaptation airs in April. A new release in the series could drive more interest in the anime, and the anime could conversely drive more interest in the game.
Danganronpa, a game where students with special talents are forced to secretly murder each other, is another popular visual novel series with an anime adaptation. Regardless of the truth behind rumors of a Danganronpa V3 Killing Harmony Switch port announcement at NIS America’s upcoming press event, Atlus’ recent open survey includes the Switch as an option for the unannounced Persona 6. Danganronpa and mainline Persona games have never been released on Nintendo hardware.
The Switch’s success, coupled with Japan’s massive mobile market, is compelling Japanese developers to not only bring their games to the console, but to release their games outside of Japan. Visual novels like Danganronpa would sell well overseas on Switch if the overwhelmingly positive reaction to Doki Doki Literature Club is any indication.
Doki Doki Literature Club was an unexpected hit in 2017. The seemingly innocent story about finding romance in a literature club plays with player expectation and twists the genre in ways that landed the visual novel a spot on many game of the year lists. Its cult following and engaging narrative likely made gamers more willing to give future visual novels a shot.
Slower openings are common in the genre, taking a few hours to really hook players. Doki Doki Literature Club is no different and lets gamers know that visual novels might start slow before picking up the pace and delving into deeper, more complex stories. Many visual novels have distinct “points of no return.” Once gamers reach these points, they’re too invested to stop and feel compelled to press on toward completion. Strong narratives drive discussion about different endings, spur conversation about player reactions, and make for great marketing via word-of-mouth and online communities.
Nintendo was heavily criticized during the Wii U’s lifespan for terrible marketing which made their massive support for Xenoblade Chronicles 2 all the more surprising. Monolith Soft is first party, but Nintendo highlighted Xenoblade in multiple Nintendo Directs, Nintendo TreeHouse Live, and even released a music video to promote the game. The original Xenoblade Chronicles didn’t come stateside until a massive fan campaign called Operation Rainfall pushed for localization. Xenoblade Chronicles 2 sold over one million copies in one month. As a result, Nintendo might be more willing to bring Japanese style games and content west.
From more distinct anime style personalities to maids and a hot springs scene, Xenoblade Chronicles 2 does not shy away from embracing Japanese culture. A large number of gamers subsequently played through these sections Nintendo promoted with minor censorship. Censored religious references and a number of dialogue differences aside, the Japanese tropes and allusions are still prevalent throughout the adventure, such as character designs. Despite greater censorship over Xenoblade Chronicles X’s female outfits, Pyra in Xenoblade Chronicles 2 wears a very revealing outfit. The developers didn’t seem to mind, as the game occasionally focuses on her body using different camera angles.
These prominent Japanese characterizations and tropes are common in visual novels. More gamers will become acquainted with this Japanese style as the number of people playing Xenoblade Chronicles 2 increases with the release of more content via DLC. Sales may also increase if Rex is announced as a playable character in the inevitable Smash Bros. for Nintendo Switch. Nevertheless, Xenoblade Chronicles 2 helped set the foundation narratively and artistically for gamers to dive into visual novels on the Switch.
The Switch’s hybrid nature, Doki Doki Literature Club’s cult following, and Xenoblade Chronicles 2’s deep roots in Japanese culture provide a promising future for visual novels. Throw in great sales for a first year console, and the Switch is positioned to become the new home for niche eastern titles in the west.