I've been intrigued by visual novels ever since I first came across an Electronic Gaming Monthly preview of Silent Hill: Play Novel, a Japan exclusive launch title for the Game Boy Advance. This little blurb about a game destined to never come to North America served as my introduction to the genre.
I had wondered for years just what it meant for a game to be little more than text on a screen. It wasn't until the release of Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney for the Nintendo DS that I finally understood just what I had been missing. Here was a game that relied solely on the strength of its script to make an impression, a facet that is key to the genre. Many games are lucky to have any plot at all, let alone a decent one, and yet the success of the Ace Attorney series hinged on players being enthralled by its tale.
Despite the Ace Attorney series finding an audience in the West, it never seemed large enough to guarantee a localization for future installments. The people enjoying the games was certainly small in size, especially when considering the effort that goes into localization. The North American market had already set itself up as a market where action reigned supreme. How could the visual novel genre carve out a sizeable audience when our hardware generations are defined by the likes of Blast Processing and online multiplayer experiences?
While the genre found itself on platforms like the Super Famicom and PlayStation, its first home was always on Japanese PCs. Even now, in the age of Steam, Japanese developed PC games have trouble in making their way over to North America. While visual novels thrive in their native land, the process of finding a publisher or group willing to localize these works is difficult. With the genre unable to make its presence known in the West through a steady stream of releases, early standouts like Phoenix Wright and Professor Layton weren't enough to prove that visual novels were a bankable property.
Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney
The game that introduced me to the genre, and the beginning of a trilogy that will stick in your head forever. Its humourous script is without equal, and the twists and turns of its trials will keep you glued to your DS until the judge hands down his verdict.
Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors
A late DS release that shocked me with the depth of its story. Navigating your way through all the endings is time consuming, but it's all worth it when you finally witness its true ending. One of the only games that takes the double screens of the DS and weaves it into the story. Brilliant work.
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