Visual Novels vs. RPGs

As someone who has favored writing for my medium in the last several years, it has been an interesting adjustment to making RPGs – especially since we have limits on the type of “cut scenes” we can produce. I find myself wanting to narrate moments in the game. I want to tell how her eyes looked, or how he felt about them, or why they were feeling that way. Thinking those thoughts. Maybe it’s also a little carry over from all the poorly-translated, ultra-girly otome visual novels I’ve been playing. Or maybe there’s really something to it.

Perhaps one of the differences between a novel and an RPG is that a novel seeks to tell a story that happened to someone (at least in many cases). RPGs hope to tell a story that happened to you. So we don’t want to exactly spell out everything that’s running through the protagonist’s head. Ideally, we’d put your character in a situation – and therefore you in a certain mindset – and you can fill in the thoughts behind the protagonist.

Now, as I keep saying, Ren is a pretty developed character. The goal would be, then, to try and think of the most natural responses a player may have to a situation, and utilize them ourselves.

That, I feel, is one of the short-comings of some visual novels: sometimes, they go in a completely different direction than what the player is thinking. It makes me feel like the protagonist is stupid. And it makes me feel kind of stupid for playing the game. The conclusions the protagonist reach seem to be mere plot devices to advance the story in the direction the author needed, rather than true, natural responses to a situation.

However, a plus side to the visual novel is that since there is one story line and because of the audience understanding of the game play (read: limited freedom), it’s much easier to avoid repeating the same exchanges day in and day out. Many RPGs will have only a certain number of things that each character can talk about. It’s a constraint that, to be really honest, I haven’t found it avoided in any RPG I’ve played. After running out of new conversation options, Carth always ends up just repeating “Can I help you?” Even in Harvest Moon, which is completely relationship driven, the girls or townspeople always end up just saying “It sure is a swell day!” (or whatever HM characters say). However, due to a lack of an open-world, with visual novels, the creators can completely limit the conversations of each scene, and in many cases, this is very effective in driving relationship development.

We can map out an entire conversation for each day, or at least for each area you end up playing, planning it by which areas we will guide you toward chronologically. But in the end, you will run out of conversation options, and Taya will end up just repeating “That sure was nice of you” just like Riku and Yuna and Rinoa and Tifa before her. Still, the open-world format makes the repetition a small cost, don’t you agree?

Have you played any visual novels? How does your experience compare to an RPG? What are some virtues of both that you think could cross over?


2 thoughts on “Visual Novels vs. RPGs

  1. (About your first paragraph) That is where the art, music, voice acting and gameplay help: the player gets to see/feel from the point of view of the character, rather than read about it. But switching from writing prose to the video games isn’t easy (I’ve only just started doing that myself).
    To me, letting the player experience things themselves is the greatest difference between novels and games. Whether you’re telling a character’s story, or letting the player set their own story, differs between RPGs (final fantasy vs skyrim, for example).
    Maybe the visual novel comparison highlights that the game won’t let you do something that your character wouldn’t do themselves (taking away freedom in order to stay in character). If your character would stop talking to someone after the third time, then you just might not have the option to talk to them. Maybe a solution would be to have characters stop talking to you (so you can still choose to talk to them, but they become annoyed).
    Just some random thoughts.

    • Thank you for the well constructed comment 🙂

      I think you’d enjoy a previous post about handling roles in RPGs (

      I definitely agree that with the incredible cinematic cut scenes utilized in Final Fantasy or Metal Gear games, it eliminates the need for any additional prose. Voice actors, animation, and music all make for an engaging, often absorbing video game experience.

      But with our limited abilities – think of our game more as a phone-based RPG or Nintendo DS – we cannot create those same cinematics. Instead, we need to rely on a palette of set expressions, which may not convey all of the subtleties of one instance.

      I have seen games wherein the NPCs eventually just stopped talking, or resorted to “Buzz off!” That’s just the price of an open world, I suppose.

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