Let’s talk about Visual Novel mechanics! Part 1: Choices



if you've been reading vision novels for any length of time then the following is something that will inevitably have happened to you at some point or another this is not fun it really isn't very often when reading vision novels were forced to waste a ton of time struggling with the systems of the game just to be able to get on with a story that we want to be reading I'm talking about all the times we have to skip three introduction Airy portions because that's the only way to get to the other routes that we haven't read yet or hangovers on guide on game facts because the VN keeps tossing random unavoidable dead ends at you or just skipping back to the point where you last left off because you accidentally lost our save file etc etc whenever this stuff happens it completely ruins your immersion in the story and it also just plain wastes your time every minute Savion ask you to argue with this mechanics is a minute that you could spend doing literally anything else and to me all this seems quite unnecessary as I think most of these problems could be pretty easily avoided so in this three-part series I'm gonna go through some of the most common problems I've seen with visual mechanics and how to avoid them in this video we're gonna take a closer look at choices and branching paths in the ends then in the second part we're gonna discuss how to best utilize dead ends in Bayesian ovals then in the final video we're gonna go over how to minimize time wasting mechanics now just one thing as a tiny disclaimer I've never actually been involved in the development of any vision of myself so these aren't exactly the opinions of some well-trained game designer this is just me expressing my personal thoughts as a vision of the reader nothing more so with the intro finished please lean back as I spend the next few minutes of your life complaining about some truly truly horrible firstworldproblems choices and branching paths can be pretty powerful tools of storytelling it allows to read it to feel like they have a certain level of control over the plot and that it's their actions that make a story unfold in a way they want to or alternatively that it was their mistake that made a story play out in a way they didn't want and naturally it also allows the reader to pick and choose which part of the novel they want to experience and still feel like they got a complete story basically when they are used well I think the choices can be a huge benefit of vision novels and it's something I'm strongly in favor of when they are used well see way too often I feel like a lot of viens seem to just Forrest in a system of choices just for the sake of having them it's like some developers seem to feel obligated to include branching paths simply because they are making a vision of all I think this is the completely wrong way of going about it because first off I think it's perfectly fine to not have any branching paths at all some of the best visions I've read so far are completely linear but secondly and more importantly I don't think it's just completely pointless to include choice in viens just for the sake of having them oftentimes I think it actually makes the game significantly worse a perfect example would be this little moment in every seventeen Justice at the stage of what is going on here while avoiding spoilers as much as possible at this moment the characters are trapped several hundred metres below the surface in an underwater facility and in order to escape they need a password that has been encoded into this piece of paper there's a total of nine possible choices and you only get the three attempts to find the right answer if you fail the story then will continue but you will get an unavoidable dead-end a few hours later in the story by the way you might as well buckle up this is my favorite example of poorly implemented being mechanics and I'm going to be referring to this moment a lot throughout these videos so why exactly is this such bad design well for starters it's basically completely arbitrary look at the options that are available to you turn it over turn it upside down wad it up how are you supposed to know which one of these are more correct than the others the short answer is you can't you can't use logics to predict what the correct choice is in this situation so your best bet is to either use a walkthrough or just guess I see two significant problems with this one it takes away control from the reader and two it makes novel more difficult to finish let me explain you remember how I said the appeal of choices and games to a large extent was that it gives the reader a feeling of being able to affect how the story plays out well this moment doesn't give that at all if anything it does the opposite it makes the reader feel like they don't have any control over the story since you cannot accurately guess how it will affect future events in the plot second problem which is the more important one it makes novel more difficult to finish see very often routes envision ovals will have one correct ending which you must reach in order to unlock later portions of the story every 17 dusters as well it's all the final story arc that properly explains the mystery that has been building up throughout the novel and it's locked away until you reach the correct ending of all four routes prior to it this means that in order to see the full story and reach a genuinely conclusive ending to ever 17 you must finish all the sore paths and you also must get this one choice right so it is not exactly something you just want I guess the right attitude I've heard some people argue that this isn't such a big issue as you could just pull up a walkthrough and have the answer given to you I have two problems with this line of reasoning first off no game vision Noble or otherwise should ever require the use of a separate walkthrough to finish if it does then it's just terribly designed to begin with I'm sorry but it just is if nothing else because a lot of players including myself prefer to not use guides to avoid potential spoilers and secondly the option of using a walkthrough might not be available to you what if you happen to not have any internet access or what if you happen to be playing a V and that has just been released and there just hasn't been enough time for anyone to even write a walkthrough well in either of those cases you're gonna end up being very frustrated for the rest of your evening so how could we have done this differently well when creating branching storylines I think it's really important to always ensure that the reader can have a decent idea of how their choices are going to affect the story that there are not just forced to guess what the correct answer is going back to the paper choice never 17 again imagine this scenario say that the characters had realized that the code was on the paper but the player character was not the one given the task of cracking the code instead you're given the choice of picking someone else from your crew to decrypt the text instead of simply picking something from a random set of nonsense now you would have to try and figure out who is best qualified for the job do you pick Sora because she is an employee at a facility and thereby should be more familiar with the security systems used at the station or is the correct answer is you because she has studied computer engineering and should know a fair amount about encryption it would make the reader really think back about what they've learned about these characters and more importantly it gives a logical answer to the question one which the reader can figure out if they are clever enough and quite frankly if you are afraid that your readers might still find your branching paths too confusing despite your best efforts to give them as many breadcrumbs as possible then I don't think there is any shame and simply shipping European with the walkthrough built-in mirror moon did this for the translation of fate/stay night and I've never heard anyone complain about that now it's important to note that in the example above there are still going to be some readers who will get a question wrong no matter what you do and they are now locked to a dead end this is a problem in and of itself which we have not fixed yet but this is something I'm gonna talk about more in the next video speaking of dead ends so far we've only talked about choices that have lasting consequences which they don't actually need to I think it's entirely feasible to implement choices that will only affect individual scenes without changing how the story plays out long-term these can be handy for making the novel seem less linear than it actually is without being forced to write hundreds of pages of text to fill up an entire tree of different branching paths however even when making these tiny and non impactful choices I think they should still be written in a way that gives the reader a general clue of what their outcome is going to be or in this case that there won't be any particularly important outcome for example say that the characters meet at noon and start talking about how that's not the best time of day to use the phrase good morning and then the reader is given the choice of which other greasing they should be using instead this doesn't feel all that significant in the grand scheme of things so it probably should not be the moment of the term is the future of the characters entire lives what's important is that again we've ensured that the reader will have a decent idea of how their choices are going to affect the story moving on yet a third way of implementing choices can be solely to heighten reader attention while having virtually no impact on the story at all for this next bit I'm simply gonna talk about the deduction sequence from lucid 9 because it's an excellent example of this towards the finale of lucid 9 there's a section where the main character sits down and tries to figure out who the culprit of the novel is at its core it's actually just one long exposition dump to unveil the answers to the mystery however throughout this sequence the novel also asks the reader a series of questions about the puzzles so far it's there to test the reader to see if they themselves can solve the mystery on their own you can't actually fail during the section if you pick any incorrect choice then not simply explains why your guess is incorrect and then progresses normally basically the choices during this sequence doesn't actually affect the story in any way but it still makes the audience lean back and really think about the mystery for themselves which is going to be far more engaging for most readers than simply having the novel force-feed them all the answers I think it's a really nifty trick and it lets the people who are able to get all of the questions right feel pretty smart about themselves while not unnecessarily punishing the readers who don't plus you get an achievement if you get all the answers correct which is nice there you have it those are some of my personal thoughts on our choices and dish novels can be best implemented like I said previously choices can be a huge benefit of is novels but they shouldn't be forced and it just for the sake of having them if they serve no purpose then they're better left out completely in favor of simply creating a linear VM furthermore arbitrary choices will often be an outright detrimental novel since they will rarely add anything for the story and it will also make it more difficult for the reader to actually finish the novel next time we're going to look into what happens after you pick an incorrect choice and how dead ends can be written to feel like a tiny reward rather than a punishment for the reader so until then take care

28 thoughts on “Let’s talk about Visual Novel mechanics! Part 1: Choices

  1. Good video, but still, I must add that I use skip of common route as a reminder of what happened in the beggining of the story. Because of the length of most VNs it's important part of reading for me.

  2. I got lost in Kagetsu Tohya and Steins;Gate(True End). I actually needed a guide

  3. About this part in Ever17 with the code, you're not supposed to guess : Actually, if you tilt the screen of your computer until your line of sight is almost parallel to it, the black marks get crunched together and the characters "海月の 虚空に秋涼し 時鳥" appear clearly (It's an anamorphosis). Apparently they didn't translate this part… This is a pretty common trick in Japanese puzzle or mystery games.

  4. I've never played any of the VNs you bring up but I'd really like to know if the answer to the paper code comes from tilting the paper, as tilting would be my first guess because it seems like stretched text. if that's the case, the hints are there for you visually, and other options like flipping and crumbling the paper are there as obvious wrong choices, both helping lead you to the correct answer. thus, if the answer was tilting the paper, its a legitimate puzzle and your distain for it is misplaced.

    I have a lot of interest in VNs and am currently working on one, so I love the topic of the video but I had to make this comment cuz the whole rest of the video im just sitting here going "its tilt, right?"

  5. Event flowchart like in Zero Escape. The flowchart is always the way to go. You can chooe to go wherever you want, whenever you want, however you want, whatever route/nod/possibility/choice you want to, the way you want to, if you want to. It's the perfect system.

  6. I don't get walkthrus on a VN..
    I play it, I reach an end
    Maybe I reread it, maybe not – do I get hung up on which ending I found? or if it was the ultimate perfect ending?
    No… zero interest in a walkthru.. did I miss a bunch of content? sure… that's the point..

  7. I'm a new VN developer and I enjoyed watching these 3 videos. It was helpful to hear your opinions–I've been studying VN's a lot recently and it's great to hear from the VN community like this! I'm working hard to hopefully make my VN something this community will enjoy!

  8. Nice to see someone analyzing Visual Novel design seriously. I never liked the genre, but it feels like people dismissing them as "fake games" or "glorified story books" is a really unproductive way to deal with their flaws.

  9. 0:15 me exactly with this exact novel G-senjou no maou has pacing issues but at least later it kickes ass

  10. I'm going through tutorials for the Defold engine right now to start making Visual Novels because…well because I have to. Lol

    I'm thinking about the whole decision choice mechanic right now and I'm actually thinking about just dropping it. The question is how to still allow story branching without choices. I do have an idea but I won't know how well it will work until I have a prototype fleshed out and testable.

    I'm thinking that maybe having the player manipulate the MC's emotions directly in real time throughout the story might do the trick but just because I can do something doesn't necessarily make it fun to play. Visual Novels have this turn-based quality to them and I'm thinking that a mechanic like this might just push them into more of an active experience. I think QTE's try to do this but just repeatedly smashing your keyboard isn't really a fun thing to do at least I don't really like it much.

    I'm thinking that just clicking objects in the scene in real time with the mouse might work but without all the annoying bits. Maybe. I need to start prototyping and testing out some ideas to see just how fun they are in practice.

  11. Nice job Ash! Glad to see you're back,even if it's for a little! I actually agreed with a lot of the point you brought up! ^-^
    Also..you snuck ddlc in…lol ^-^

  12. Glad you're back :*
    I TOTALLY agree. I tried to play Yu-No for example, and oh god, it's so freakin good but even with a walkthrough I'm too dumb to get to each route. Which resulted in dropping my potentially second favorite VN.
    Flowers is btw a great example that perfectly shows how engaging and immersive the choice system can be.

  13. I agree with some things you said here while I must say there are some that I disagree with. Indeed, there are VNs out there that have choices just for the sake of having those choices and those choices are called "meaningless choices". You seem to completely misunderstand the concept – here’s the definition from the VNDB “They do not affect the endings and change at most one or two lines of dialog or choices are given that lead to the exact same results regardless of which are chosen..” A perfect example would be those choices at the end of Lucid 9 – these are meaningless since they fit the bill perfectly for the definition. You said that there's no logic involved in that puzzle in Ever17, – indeed there's not, what should be used here is your imaginary thinking, but regardless – what do you the Quick Save function exists for? And leaving this puzzle to be solved by another character completely ruins the purpose of the puzzle. One last thing – the whole point of choices in a VN is to make the story branch and have different endings, – that is what makes VNs what they are. – I also don’t use guides and it does not make frustrated to click skip and skip read text, but rather excited of seeing what will happen if I were to make different choices. I get frustrated for the opposite reason – when I pick a choice and it turns out that it didn’t even matter what I pick – eg would again be Lucid 9

  14. You can't just leave out the choices. You must have some method for the player to interact, else it is not a game. Arbitrary or meaningless choices suffer from the same problem, they prevent interaction.

  15. You know there's a lot of mechanics about visual novels that could use a bit of an analysis and some serious discussion on making them better. Nicely done.

  16. I've missed you man. Please don't upload videos just once in a year

  17. I was only planning on making one, single 8 ish minute long video…….. this project turned out just a little bit longer than I was expecting………

  18. I am so happy to know that you are back. Your channel is one of the few places where i feel i am in a vn community. By the way,do you know anything about the sequel to Lucid 9?

  19. 3 ashadow videos at once? Niceeeeee! I would have just released it as one long 30 minute video 😅

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