The State of Visual Novels on the Nintendo Switch
The Nintendo Switch, to nobody’s surprise, has become a hotbed for visual novels. Compared to more taxing game genres, there are typically no issues with running a visual novel on any platform, let alone the Switch. And given the Switch’s portable nature, it is quickly filling the niche that the Playstation Vita once held for visual novels.
But as niche as this genre is, it is still chugging along healthily, with new ports and releases announced at a pace that feels like every single month. Of course, Steam still appears to be most developer’s first choice in platform, but we are slowly, but surely, seeing some exclusives land on the Switch. The only real downside is something that exists across most Switch games: the dreaded Switch tax. Many ports have higher price tags on Nintendo soil, which can definitely turn people away from looking into these titles. Some of these visual novels do go on sale, but it can still be a hard sell to market a visual novel as a $40+ experience, especially for those wanting to dip their toes in for the first time.
What is a visual novel?
At its core, a visual novel is an interactive text-based narrative that brings both text and static images together. While there is some overlap with the adventure games, the visual novel genre is fairly straightforward (Ace Attorney is constantly argued between those deep in the visual novel community vs. those looking from the outside. It is not a pure visual novel, however, as it just has visual novel elements.). Many RPGs nowadays have some elements, mainly when telling the story. While the elements of the gameplay will be in 3D, some story moments will transition back to 2D.
Compared to Open World games, which Gio covered in his State of Open World RPGs video, visual novels are often thought of as cheap and quick game releases. I’d argue, though, that just as much time is needed to create a visual novel, because you HAVE to make every other element of the game good. With very little to no gameplay, that is one element that can’t be relied upon and really any weak point of a visual novel will be amplified as a result. This is exactly why there are a plethora of both good and bad visual novels out there.
What visual novels are available on the Switch?
Visual novels as a whole are very interesting, because there is typically something out there for just about anyone who’s interested in dipping their toes in for the first time. Of course, compared to Steam, your options are a bit limited, but there is definitely a good base of games to check out here. There are a lot of subgenres in general and a range of different tones. And while many of the first and third party releases are more anime based, don’t let that hold you back from at least looking a bit deeper at the available selection.
For those looking to check out some classic visual novels, here are some suggestions: Clannad, Aokana, Steins;Gate, The House of Fata Morgana, the Grisaia series, Fault, and World End Syndrome.
For those looking for dating sims with female protagonists (otome games), here are some suggestions: Collar x Malice, Cafe Enchante, Code Realize, Piofiore: Fated Memories, and Steam Prison.
For those looking for indie visual novels, here are some suggestions: Winds of Change, Angels With Scaly Wings, Coffee Talk, VA-11 HALL-A, Akash: The Path of Five, Arcade Spirits, and Cinders.
And that’s just scratching the surface. I didn’t even touch the adventure games that cross over into visual novel territory, such as Famicon Detective’s Club or Ace Attorney. So even if straight visual novels aren’t your thing, there may be a game that mixes another genre that will appeal a lot more to your play style.
The future for visual novels?
The future for visual novels on the Switch is looking very bright when it comes to both old and new games. Doki Doki Literature Club and the entire Dangan Ronpa series are being ported to the Switch, both which have pretty big followings. Aksys is bringing over three more otome games in 2021/2022 (Olympia Soirée, Dairoku: Agents of Sakuratani, and Variable Barricade), and Otomate seems to be more open about letting their properties be localized recently.
The tread for this genre points to both ports and new releases. Indie developers seem receptive to porting their new games to the Switch, although Steam is usually still the first choice. Aksys does seem open to giving support for the Switch with otome releases, although quality of said releases has varied (see the disaster that was the Collar x Malice Unlimited release for Switch). And in Japan, the Switch is a prime system for new visual novel releases. Heck, even Nintendo published a brand new visual novel this year with Buddy Mission Bond. The real struggle tends to be localization and Western support. At the end of the day, visual novels are still a niche genre and lack of support can easily spell the end of localization. And when it comes to Western development, outside of indie developers, visual novels haven’t really taken off in the West.
But with that in mind, a lot of games are mixing genres nowadays. See Ace Attorney, Famicon Detective’s Club, and Root Film, for example. All three have visual novel aspects and to those on the outside, they tend to be grouped together. I even just dump them into the visual novel category when describing them to other people for ease of explanation, but they are more adventure games than visual novels. And this is something that a lot of games have been doing for a while and will likely continue to do.
As a whole, the Switch is the perfect platform for visual novels. It’s big enough that support is aplenty, and the portability can make playing these games a bit more appealing than playing them on any other console. While PC still seems to be the natural choice for some releases, the Switch has naturally taken the place of the Vita and is doing very well in its place.
But what do you guys think? As the visual novel fanatic on the staff, I’m curious if anyone else that follows the site has an interest in this genre of games. How do you feel about the current climate for visual novels on the Switch? What games are you looking out for in the future? Let us know!