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The phrase “visual novel” is enough to turn away most gamers. I mean, who wants to read when playing a video game? Visual novels aren’t for everyone, but I assure you that they aren’t as boring as they sound.
Visual novels have very little gameplay—the character creation, script, and music gives these games their charm. As you chat with non-playable characters, your job is usually to solve a mystery or to build relationships. The following visual novel video games definitely won’t feel like a chore to play.
1. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Trilogy
The Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Trilogy is known for its wacky courtroom scenarios and its array of quirky characters. In the first three games of the series, you play as Phoenix Wright, a budding defense attorney with exceptionally spiky hair.
Each game features four or five different episodes in which you work to solve a case. First, you’ll investigate the crime scene and collect evidence. When you finally enter the courtroom, you’ll have to cross-examine the witnesses and present evidence at the right times. This game has plenty of tough challenges, but its incorporation of humor makes every playthrough loads of fun.
2. Zero Escape: The Nonary Games
The Nonary Games is comprised of two games from the Zero Escape series: Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors and Virtue’s Last Reward. Trust me, when you start playing these, you won’t want to stop. Every game follows a similar pattern. Nine people are kidnapped and locked inside a warehouse by an anonymous person called Zero.
The players must follow Zero’s directions or face death. The main puzzles in the game actually resemble horror-themed escape rooms. As you figure out how to escape each room, you’ll also find clues about why you’ve been abducted. Both games in this bundle have a ton of replay value—each game has several different endings that depend on your choices throughout the game.
3. Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc
Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc takes place in the elite Hope Peak’s Academy. After a group of 14 students learn that they’ve been accepted, they head to school—only to have the worst first day of their lives. You play as Makoto Naegi, a bright high school student who ends up trapped in a room with his fellow students.
The diabolical black and white teddy bear, Monokuma, soon announces the students’ fates. The students will die if they don’t escape the school—sounds doable, right? However, the only way to escape is to kill another student and get away with it.
When a student is murdered, the students must investigate before the class trial is held. If the students fail to choose the right culprit, they’ll all get killed, but if the students identify the culprit, the murderer will get killed instead.
4. Hatoful Boyfriend
I have to admit, birds are pretty cute—but I’m not sure if I’d actually date one. There are probably some people out there who’d like to date birds, so that’s why Hatoful Boyfriend exists. Basically, you play as a teenage girl who likes to flirt with members of the avian species.
Unlike real life, birds aren’t mindless animals. This love story takes place in an alternate universe where birds have taken on the roles of humans. You’re tasked with finding your next true love at the bird-only St. PigeoNation’s Institute high school. You get to choose from eight different birds who have different personalities and looks. When you finish the game once, you can go back to earn the heart of another bird for a new ending.
You may know Steins;Gate as an awesome cerebral anime, but did you know that it’s based on a video game? Steins;Gate explores the idea of time travel. You’ll take on the role of Okabe Rintaro, a student who shares the inventiveness of a crazed scientist. When he encounters a murder scene, he sends a text to one of his friends.
Rintaro soon notices that the people around him have disappeared, and no one else even realizes it. He knows something’s up when he later encounters the once-dead girl and finds that she’s perfectly alive. Rintaro comes to the conclusion that his cell phone works like a time travel device. As you play through this exciting visual novel, your responses to phone calls and text messages will affect the course of the game.
6. 2064: Read Only Memories
This indie game is labeled as an adventure game, but it plays more like a visual novel than any other genre. This game has colorful and unique pixel art and is filled to the brim with creative characters. It’s set in San Francisco in 2064, a time when robots are used as personal assistants (who needs Alexa, anyway?).
You play as a journalist who gets entangled in the mysterious case of a missing person. A sapient robot, Turing, breaks into your home and informs you that its creator, Hayden Webber, has been kidnapped. As you chat with locals and try to find your friend, you begin to unravel all of the city’s dark secrets.
7. VA-11 HALL-A
In VA-11 HALL-A, your responses to other characters don’t affect your game. This game is a hybrid between a visual novel and a bartending simulator—you play as a bartender, and the reactions of other characters depend on the drinks you make for them.
The game takes place in the year 207X, and you work at a bar called VA-11 HALL-A. The bar sees some very interesting customers, giving you a chance to learn more about the world around you through dialogue. This game has six different endings that you can experience by building a close relationship with certain clients during each playthrough.
Immerse Yourself in a Visual Novel
These visual novels never make you feel as if you’re reading a huge book. The authentic dialogue and fast-paced storytelling make them addicting and incredibly immersive. You’ll begin to forget the world around you, and begin to become attached to some characters.
Looking for some more low-stress games? Check our list of the most relaxing games for stress-free fun.