The Future of Visual Novels

2017 has been a great year for Visual Novels in the west. Over the last few months we have seen some amazing titles release officially in English and many more are coming out soon. We have seen a lot of growth for the medium in the last few years so I thought now would be a good time to look at how the industry has adapted to the growing international audience and what trends we will continue to see in the future.

In an interview with DualShockers, Frontwing’s president Ryuichiro Yamakawa talked about Grisaia: Phantom Trigger and Self Publishing Visual Novels in the west. In this interview, he talked about their aims and goals when releasing Visual Novels to an international audience. One of the first aim Ryuichiro spoke about was prioritizing simultaneous international releases.

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This is definitely something we’ve seen more of in the last year, we’ve seen quite a few successful simultaneous releases such as Harmonia, Steins;gate 0 and Grisaia: Phantom Trigger so this is something we will probably see more of in the future. The only shortcoming with international, simultaneous release is that the success of these games was based on pre-established franchises and Studios such as Key and 5pb, so it would be difficult for newer or lesser-known series to sell as well and succeed internationally.

Ryuichiro also talked about moving towards self-publication within Frontwing, discussing the benefits of localizing the game within their company. The main benefit Ryuichiro mentioned was the ability for their in-house localisation team to interact with the development team in the production of the games which allows them to create a better localization.

Although this is something that Frontwing and Key Visual Arts have started to adopt, I don’t feel this is something that will be pushed for by other publishers. For smaller development teams, setting up their own in-house translation teams would be too expensive to be feasible – for larger developers it will come down to whether they see value in the international market to invest time and money into it.

Whether they do so will come down to the success of other titles internationally through crowd funding or if they can be convinced there is interest in their games from the west. Until then we will continue to see more Visual Novels translated and published through companies such as Sekai Project, Jast USA and MangaGamer or out-sourcing of independent translators on new projects.

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Ryuichiro also discussed the changes to the format visual novels would be released in. He talked about how changing the format from the traditional full releases. For Grisaia: Phantom Trigger, Frontwing decided to release it as an episodic series unlike the original. The benefits of this in his eyes was to make it more accessible for an international audience and increase the pace at which the game can be developed and localised. He mentioned that a drawback to this would be that this format wouldn’t be as appealing to Japanese readers but he thought this compromise was fine in the bigger picture.

Episodic releases are definitely something we have seen over the past few years and has been quite successful. A few examples of Visual Novels which have had successful episodic releases would be Higurashi no Naku Koro ni, World End Economica, NekoPara and the Fault series. We have also seen other release formats available such as with Dies Irae and Narcissu where a section of the game is released for free and then you can purchase the rest of the game if you enjoyed it.

I personally really like this format as it allows you to try the game for yourself before you commit time and money to playing the rest, especially when time is probably one of the biggest barriers to entry as visual novels as they can be really long. This release format allows you to figure out if they are a game that you will enjoy without wasting money on a game you don’t like. This is something that will benefit a casual fan more who is unsure of what Visual Novels are worth their time as opposed to more well-versed fans who will have more knowledge of the medium.

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In the last couple of years, we have been seeing Kickstarter more prominently when releasing Visual Novels in the west. This is a topic which has been discussed a lot in the past in interviews with companies such as Sekai Project, Mikandi and more recently Fruitbat Factory. These interviews discussed the reasons why Kickstarter was used as a platform for releasing visual novels. All these interviews cover a lot of ground and you can read them yourselves via the links so I will try to summarise some of the key points from them.

The first reason is that Visual Novels are quite new in the western game market and is seen as being a niche form of entertainment. This means that for the companies bringing over Visual Novels and their Developers, selling visual novels in the conventional way most Triple-A games are released is rather risky and has the potential to completely flop.

In Fruitbat Factory’s interview they said that “Kickstarter is a pretty logical venue to try to balance the risk“. This is because of Kickstarters ability to gauge interest for a release where developers are unsure if the game will sell and it’s ability to supplement regular sales and balance out the expenses of producing physical merchandise. In the case of Mikandi, they stressed the importance of this when trying to bring over a newer title which consumers in the west would no have prior knowledge of.

Fruitbat Factory also mentioned how using Kickstarter has allowed them to make improvements to the game that they couldn’t in the Japanese release such as extra CG art. This is something I have only seen Fruitbat Factory do specifically which I think is a really interesting. Not only does this benefit the western fans who back the game, but it will also give this new content to the Japanese audience. This gives an incentive to the developer to invest in the western market and bring new life to games in the Japanese market that were released in the past.

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Now that we have look at the current landscape of the industry, we can begin to speculate where the industry is heading and what we can expect from future releases. This is mostly speculation but it is somewhat based on what we discussed previously. I think that despite Kickstarter not being the most ideal platform for consumers, it will definitely be something we’ll continue to see used by developers in the foreseeable future. This is due to the stability of the platform and lower risk for the publisher compared to selling games in a conventional way.

I think we will also continue to see innovation from publishers in the format that Visual Novels are released in, but I don’t feel this will become a trend that over-takes the traditional full releases. Unless the game has been developed specifically for an episodic release like Grisaia: Phantom Trigger, I find it difficult to justify changing a game to be released in that manner. It will be interesting to see how well Dies Irae’s format works in the long run but for now it is difficult to say.

Anyway, this was just a quick look at the western visual novel industry in its current state. Hopefully this give you some insight into where the industry is at and where it will eventually progress towards as visual novels continue to grow in the west. Please check out the sources as well If you are interested in the interviews themselves. The links are places in the corresponding sections. Thanks for reading and I will see you on the next VN Completionist.

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