An excellent example of the way they’ve changed — aesthetically, thematically and in terms of gameplay — comes in the form of Nocturnal Illusion, a title first brought to Western shores by localisation specialists JAST USA all the way back in 1997. It’s noteworthy in that, unlike many more recent visual novels, it’s not a “slice of life” affair focusing exclusively on romantic entanglements between the protagonist and the members of the cast who are love interests; while the game does explore the nature of love and sexuality in places, it’s actually much more of a surreal, fantastic, symbolic and at times horrific affair — and it’s hugely compelling as a result.
Regrettably, Nocturnal Illusion is extremely difficult to get running on modern machines owing to its age, though it is possible to get it going through a bit of fiddling around with — a “virtual machine” project for older visual novels that appears to have been dormant since 2011.
Alternatively, you could just read on and find out more about this unusual and remarkable game.
One common aspect of modern Japanese narrative-centric games and visual novels that we tend not to see quite so much in contemporary Western titles is the matter of multiple endings.
In some cases — visual novels being the prime example — seeing another ending is a relatively straightforward matter of picking different choices throughout the course of the story. In some cases, there will be a simple branching point towards the end that determines which ending you get; in other, more complex offerings, there will be completely divergent narrative paths down which to proceed.
In other cases — primarily more complex games such as role-playing games — seeing different endings is often dependent on a variety of other factors, some of which may not necessarily be entirely obvious at first glance, and some of which may be all but impossible to figure out yourself without the help of a guide.
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