I recently picked up some visual novels in a Humble Bundle, in an effort to learn more about the genre / scope out the competition / get ideas for how others are using RenPy / etc. But I have to admit… after playing a bit of each of them, none of them really clicked with me.
Most had little to no choices to make. Generally you’d be sitting there watching action unfold with no say in the matter, often enduring massive exposition dumps or overly elaborate descriptions of some really mundane actions. (Brushing your teeth could take 5-7 text boxes, it felt like.) I saw little to no opportunity for customization or roleplaying. Instead of playing a game, I was being dragged by the nose through someone else’s story being told “Isn’t this awesome?!”.
Maybe I just don’t get this genre. Maybe it’s not my cup of tea. I love the idea of it — of marrying character-driven narrative to beautiful art to good music and allowing the reader to participate actively — but I haven’t found a VN yet that really works for me. I’m not doubting they exist, but so far, no luck.
Let me tell you what Arcade Spirits already has, which these novels didn’t. Then you make the call if you like what I’m serving up.
First off, your protagonist. Pick your pronouns, pick your hair style, pick your skin tone, pick your name. As the game goes along, your responses — which are frequent, at least 2-3 per scene — are personality-driven. You express yourself the way you want to, within the limitations of a choice-powered visual novel, and the world responds.
Second, your ability to influence the world. (A lot of this is smoke and mirrors, I’ll admit, if only because I’m not frickin’ Sierra On-Line and I don’t want to arbitrarily Game Over you.) Quite often you’ll be called on to deal with a situation, some conflict or crisis or difficulty, and how you choose to approach that problem is your call. I mean, it’s not an open world RPG, you have a menu of options… but you have a MENU, period. You can make a choice.
All of that sounds good, I’m hoping, but there’s another key difference and I’m a little more worried about this one: romance and melodrama. ’cause I’ve seen PILES of each in these games, sometimes explicitly saying up front YOU CAN BANG THESE SPECIFICALLY THEMED GIRLS WHOA. Pigeon dating simulator! Dad dating simulator! A death game / dating simulator! And so on. And… Arcade Spirits is not that.
For the first arc of the game, there’s some flirting, but you’re primarily in a workplace comedy and dealing with the day-to-day affairs that come with that. You’re not saving the world, you don’t have superpowers, and we aren’t getting right to the banging. In fact, there isn’t any banging. There’s DATING to be sure, and relationships, and love… but it’s not a hentai game. There won’t be some sly patch you download off the website to turn on the nudity.
So, this leaves me mildly anxious. A visual novel is a niche of a niche of a genre, not a moneymaker by any means. And now I’m saying “All these conventions of VNs? I’m not doing those, I’m doing something different.” Will VN fans eschew Arcade Spirits? Will it stumble out of the gate and flop? Am I freaking out over nothing?
Ultimately, time will tell. But you know how you can help? Join the Patreon, get monthly demos, and give us feedback. (The July demo is coming up soon! If you join July 1st, you’ll get two full episodes of the game!) Let us know if this is the direction you want to go. And together, we’ll make something grand.