On the content of visual novels – oh the vicious circle

Long, rage-inducing post incoming – cover your ears! (eyes?)

Isn’t it amazing? The famous visual novel Cross Channel is getting a Xbox360 port. And the limited edition extra is this.

The original release of Cross Channel was rated 18+ for PC. Many will add this information together with that limited edition and reach the very same impression:

“Eeew those crazy Japanese and their sex games!!”

What a perfect example of the niche that Japanese visual novels have dug themselves into, even when releasing a non-adult port of their game. When presenting visual novels to outsiders, it won’t take them long to find out that these games really originated from interactive sex stories (and mostly stayed there). And that’s a real shame, at least I believe so, as I have really come to love the medium of visual novels.

“Rage! Why present the games like this? Stupid public who don’t know anything! Visual novels are so much more than sex, you know!”

Let’s see….

The developers:

In reality the ones who do this to games like Cross Channel are the developers themselves. When looking at marketing like that, how can you blame news sites for presenting the products that way? Or the readers for getting the “wrong idea”?

Now, Cross Channel is just an easy example to bring up because of these news. I read Cross Channel myself. Even in spite of reading the version with no detailed sex scenes, it was definitely still an adult story. It also showed me a very interesting way to present and tell a story, even if the trip through it was quite long-winded at times.

FlyingShine may have had something good going there, but in its presentation they never tried to push the game as anything else but an outlet for gushing over cute girls. By reading the non 18+ version, did I miss out on anything important? No. Circumstances of the protagonist and the bloody happenings in the plot gave reasons why the game will always be for an adult audience, but in spite of that there is no reason why it would ever have to be with porn included.

And it’s the same thing for countless other VN companies out there. You have something interesting, but instead they will mostly be marketed as entertainment for lonely men/women. (And be stuffed with fluffy/racy content to live up to the hype).

Is it really needed? In some stories adult scenes may be appropriate for what the writer/artist wishes to convey. Most of the time they are just fillers.

Even games that are not 18+ will often be marketed just the same way.

Reception / The fans:

When discussing the erotic content in visual novels, it often ends with a debate on whether said content should be included or not. Sometimes the discussion is a civil one, other times not.

Many will complain that removing erotic scenes is censoring – and yeah, censorship sucks and all that. Some will even go as far as to say that removing it is crippling the involved creator’s artistic expression, but I wouldn’t go that far. That would only be true in the very (very) few cases where those scenes actually mean something.

On the flip side, how much are you crippling the creator’s artistic impression when you force erotic content in there in order for the intended audience to even look at the work?

In the case of a story like Kanon, this is said to be the case. In recent times Key has even moved on to create their games as “all ages” first, then create reprints with added sexual content to appease fans.

Then what is it when a game like Little Busters gets translated, but some of those same fans complain “that they are not doing the 18+ version, bah!”? Isn’t that editing the original product as well…?

In the end most sex scenes are just extra content, made for the enjoyment of fans. Remove them and you lose little of the story, just as you won’t loose anything by removing X standard lunch break scene. But it will have a serious impact on the image of said story.
Besides, if a writer cannot convey the feelings between two people to the reader without showing graphical sex scenes, that writer isn’t very good to begin with.

Boo, you want my precious galge banned!

I’m not writing this to try and convince anyone that all 18+ visual novels should have their adult scenes removed, or that they shouldn’t exist to begin with. I’m just saying that if you want other people to take these things seriously, at least try to do it with the right arguments, and don’t give excuses.

Besides, the erotic content itself isn’t the only result of this situation – not every visual novel in existence has to be stuffed with the tooth-rotting and predictable cuteness that is considered obligatory for the intended audience these days.

Even I think that mindless entertainment can be great, but it would be nice if visual novels could be seen as something more diverse, like other mediums are, instead of having all their titles lumped together in the same pot.

If visual novels are ever to be seen as anything else than dating games for lonely people, then it’s going to take a lot of change in how these games are presented and marketed. If a title is truly meant to be something else, then it should let go of its seedy roots and be something else. The image of the product is also part of the developer and publishers responsibility, so if you’re going to blame someone, start by blaming them. At the same time the fans need to let go of some of their preconceptions of what they believe a visual novel should be.


9 Responses to “On the content of visual novels – oh the vicious circle”

  1. 1 Deji February 20, 2011 at 3:38 pm

    My (limited and biased) opinion is that it’s very likely that Japanese developers are NOT really interested in changing things. They don’t care about VNs being seen as porny games, because, to them, that’s what they are.
    If they want to write a story that has more meaning/depth, instead of trying to make a VN like that, they’ll probably try with a a Light Novel instead, or if the want something more graphical, maybe even partner with an artist and try to publish a manga. And if they want to make a ‘game’, they’ll make an RPG or ADV or whatever other kind of game.

    It’s ‘us’ the ones that want to change things for ‘our’ market.

    Again, this is just my limited and biased opinion, people with more knowledge in the subject may have a different and more accurate-to-reality opinion.

  2. 4 Vercalos February 23, 2011 at 1:51 am

    I remember playing Season of Sakura and enjoying the story far more than the erotic content, and I have to agree, erotic content, while it can be a selling point, isn’t necessary to convey a good story(I still have so sit down and play Kanon some time)

    On an unrelated note, the e-mail for The White Cat appears to be down. I tried sending an e-mail and it bounced.

  3. 6 Paulo April 16, 2011 at 4:35 am

    For me erotic material on a VN is like blood and nudity in a movie, it’s not there for you to look at it 24/7, it’s there so that the game doesn’t feel empty and shallow, some visual novel would feel like some goofy anime world for kids where three’s no such thing as sex.
    Funny thing is, the first time I played cross channel I skipped most of the erotic scenes, I feel completely gripped by the story, by taichi character, I don’t think that the developers want visual novels to be something else, games like Cross Channel, Sharin no Kuni and kana already are well respected and loved, the major consumer base of visual novels like things this way, and would feel betrayed and irritated if the developores changed to much.

    • 7 Vatina April 16, 2011 at 7:09 pm

      Thanks for your comment!

      I see your point, but what I mean is that having sex or any kind of maturity in your story, does not equal having graphic sex scenes for the sake of keeping the readers attention. They are often just unnecessary filler, just like those persistent lunchbox scenes that can draw a vn out for eternity with no real purpose.

      And as for the major consumer base, they’ll most likely still get the games they like. I’m just thinking it would be nice to broaden it a bit and let others in as well, don’t you? 😉

      VN’s don’t have to stick to just one area of expertise, the medium is not that limited.

  4. 8 lordcloudx May 18, 2011 at 6:38 am

    Lulz! If you’re going to talk about filler sex scenes and fillers in general, you cannot forget the masterpiece of long-windedness that is Fate/Stay Night. Some people even laughingly call it “a VN about cooking.” Oh, and before I incite teh rage from other commenters, yes, I have read all arcs in FSN. It’s a decent shounen story, happy now? Now then, the sex scenes are definitely something that FSN could have done without IMHO. It doesn’t really add anything to the game and there are lots of other ways (which the anime, all-ages and theatrical versions handled with water dragons and other things – lulz) around the whole idea of “mana transfer.”

    For Cross Channel, I think the sex scenes actually worked well considering Taichi’s insane, perverted personality.

    I totally agree with developers and marketers giving the right arguments instead of relying on weak excuses. Funny thing is that in terms of diversity, I don’t think VNs are lacking at all, especially in the non-commercial market.

    • 9 Vatina June 16, 2011 at 7:59 am

      As for Cross Channel, you’re right on that point. I guess I’m just still bugged by how much people need to go into detail about these things, and most of all, how an included vibrator stick really just ruins the opportunity to say “there was actually a point to this, apart from the porn”.

      As for unnecessarily long-winded details – oh, the cooking! That really was a pain. All that really isn’t necessary to tell the reader that the characters have quality time together. FSN was an awesome story, but had way too many fillers.

      It’s true that the non-commercial market has a lot of diversity. Unfortunately it is mostly overlooked when considering how to expand visual novel awareness.

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