Prime Quarantine Content, part 1: Visual Novels

Hello, all! I’m having a really hard time concentrating these days, given the state of it all. I have work to do, but it’s challenging to focus. Even in my downtime, I’ve been running around and trying to look after things for neighbors and roommates to keep myself busy. Now I’ve manufactured a new project to help you find something to keep you company in these tricky days.

So for the next few weeks, when I think of things, I’m going to make a post of recommendations by medium for stuff that you might like to check out. I bet you have lots of books to read, games to play, and stuff to watch already, but maybe nothing of the stuff on your queue is calling to you. Maybe you need something fresh? I know what it’s like.

Here are my favorite Visual Novels that I’d like to recommend to you, and a few that I hope to get around to.

Dating Sims

Mystic Messenger

Group shot of the love interests from the game Mystic Messenger.
  • Platform: Android/iOS
  • Price: Free-to-play
  • Time Investment: A little, or a lot!
  • Edgy rating: 3/5

Mystic Messenger is made by one of my favorite dating sim studios, Cheritz. Mystic Messenger is a mobile game that is free-to-play. One day a mysterious app appears on your phone, and you find yourself in a private messaging service with the RFA, a group that holds charity parties. As you get to know each of the members of the RFA, things might get more serious…

In the spirit of many dating sims from east asia, the “bad end” routes can get quite dark, but you can see a lot of them coming. If you’re a completionist, you can spend a lot of time getting all of the material. The game works in real-time and sometimes you’ll even get calls from the characters, and you might miss conversations while you sleep, but micro-transactions can get you access to do-overs and conversations you miss and might want to get involved in.

I played this game in full in 2016, when it was released (while everyone else was playing Pokemon Go) and I know there’s a lot of new content that I haven’t seen, and it’s still getting updated all the time. Mystic Messenger has been wildly successful, and that success is deserved.

The pretty boys from Nameless in a row, looking to the right, with the title of the game overlaid.

Nameless: The One Thing You Must Recall

  • Platform: Windows/Mac
  • Price: $30
  • Time Investment: Many juicy hours, if you want to commit.
  • Edgy Rating: 4/5

Nameless is another game by the above studio, Cheritz. This was the first one of their pieces that I played through. The gimmick is a little stranger than Mystic Messenger

Toy Story meets a dating sim, Eri is a normal high school girl whose grandfather has passed away. She lives alone in his house with no one but her ball-jointed dolls to keep her company. One day, these dolls come to life and she has to help them navigate survival in the real world. Each has to navigate their pre-decided personality traits in everyday life, while vying for Eri’s affection. But what miracle has caused this to even happen?

Nameless is a good introduction to what dating sims are about, and the kind of stuff you’re getting into if you want to try reading them. This game follows a lot of typical tropes, but deals with them all thoroughly, for a satisfying read. If, in the end, you absolutely hated it, at least you’ll know a lot more about the ins and outs of a typical dating sim. 

WARNING: Some of the bad endings are really creepy!

Hatoful boyfriend logo, showing Sakuya and St Pigeonation's school in the BG.
source: humblebundle.com

Hatoful Boyfriend

  • Platform: PC/Mac/IOS/PS4/PSVita, probably more.
  • Price: $10 (another $10 for the sequel)
  • Time Investment: A good 40 hours if you get into it.
  • Edgy Rating: 4/5

You’re a regular human girl who lives in a cave and goes to a private school for birds! That basically covers it. Go to school, enjoy life, and maybe… fall in love with one of the handsome birds in your class?

Hatoful Boyfriend is one of my favorite visual novels, mostly because it was one of the first I got into. It’s a cute and silly joke until you get to the end, and it isn’t, and you cry all the way to the bank, princess-carried by Hato Moa to hand over all you’ve got.

The remake has made it very accessible on many platforms to play on whatever is convenient for you. It’s cute, silly, and seems to be a very popular choice for streamers. Also, you haven’t really played Hatoful Boyfriend until you’ve gotten to the final route, Bad Boy’s Love. Good luck! 

WARNING: As rosy as Hatoful Boyfriend may look I’ve got to warn you about murder, childhood trauma, character death, and a big plot thing about a flu pandemic. 

"Love on the Peacock Express" splash image, featuring the four love interests.

Love on the Peacock Express

  • Platform: PC/Mac
  • Price: Whatever you want
  • Time Investment: Not too long. 5-10 hours?
  • Edgy Rating: 2/5

Remember how much we all loved Dream Daddy? Well how about if we had that, except with older women? Great news, I have the game for you! Love on the Peacock Express! Solve crimes on a train, help lovely ladies solve problems, get out alive, and maybe even with a new hot GF?

I have a vested interest in sharing this game because I wrote for it. I wrote the route for Vic Rook, our salt-and-pepper butch. It’s a short game that was made with love for a game jam. It’s heartwarming, romantic, gay, and FREE! If you’re a content creator who streams this or something, let me know so I can watch.

What Else Have You Got?

A header image for Psychedelica of the Ashen Hawk, showing the protagonist and one of her love interests,

Psychedelica of the Ashen Hawk

  • Platform: PC/Mac/PS4/PSVita
  • Price: $30
  • Time Investment: 30+ hours, I believe.
  • Edgy Rating: 3/5 

There’s a story in the village about a witch with red eyes who will destroy the town and end it all. So, an innocent girl whose eyes turn red when her emotions run high, disguises herself as a man and takes up residence at the edge of town in her adult years, to protect herself from the villagers, and the villagers from herself. She can never really escape the town that lives in an eternal winter, and its squabbling noble families: the authoritative Hawks, and the communal Wolves who raised her.

Psychedelica of the Ashen Hawk was released alongside Psychedelica of the Black Butterfly, both by Otomate, a company known for making pretty quality dating sims. I played Black Butterfly first, and it’s quite good, a solid 3/5, but Ashen Hawk was the one that really knocked my socks off. If you only have time for one, please read Psychedelica of the Ashen Hawk.

These games are made by a company that makes otome games, so a lot of the tropes are present, however Ashen Hawk and Black Butterfly are more interested in seeing where their strong story concept goes, rather than swerving to accommodate the romantic interests of the player. If you want a dating sim, these games might disappoint. If you want a good romantic story, this is what you’re looking for.

Cover image for Umineko featuring it's large cast of witches emerging from a painting to pull the protagonist, Battler, inside.

Umineko When They Cry

  • Platform: PC/Mac
  • Price: $55 in total. $25 for the Question arc. $30 for the Answer arc.
  • Time Investment: MANY HOURS
  • Edgy Rating: 5/5 

Umineko is the story of a prestigious family meeting on an island for a yearly conference in October, on an island off the southern coast of Japan in 1986. When strange things begin to happen, and people begin to die, could it possibly be one of the beloved members of the Ushiromiya family? Or could it be the doing of the legendary witch of the island?

Umineko is a murder mystery story written combining the repetition common to visual novels with the solid logic of the Golden Age authors like Agatha Christie. Each episode (4 per arc) shows how the events unfold on the island of Rokkenjima. Are you a good enough sleuth to figure out what’s really going on?

Umineko is beloved by visual novel readers. The translation is a little finicky at times, and the art might leave something to be desired, but the story can and will hook you, and surprise you over and over and over. If you make it to the end, it will change your life. But that will take like, a hundred hours so you should get started right away. You might spend your entire time in isolation just reading Umineko.

If you don’t want to read the VN, the manga is an okay alternative. The anime SUCKS do not watch. 

WARNING: Umineko contains graphic death, violence, and depictions of domestic abuse and child abuse and all the shit that comes with toxic patriarchy. Scenes of isolation and helplessness. The ending is happy though. Kinda.

The House in Fata Morgana

  • Platform: PC/Mac/PS4/PSVita
  • Price: $25
  • Time Investment: Less than Umineko, but still a lot.
  • Edgy Rating: 5/5

In the forest, there’s a mansion. It never seems to be in one place, or in one time. It’s there when you need it, and a witch lives inside. There’s a maid that takes care of the place. She’ll show you around.

The House in Fata Morgana is a dark, gothic story that follows several characters who arrive in this mysterious mansion and the horrible things that happen to them there. It’s a story that seems simple at the surface until layers of the narrative are drawn back over time, offering clarity. There is a LOT of reading, and a lot of difficult content, but it’s a long and eventually uplifting story about cycles of abuse and revenge. 

WARNING: The House in Fata Morgana contains graphic death, mutilation, homophobia, sexual violence and all that horrible stuff. Depiction of a plague. It has a happy ending though. 

ENIGMA: splash image with a blue haired girl with her head tucked under the chin of a blonde man.

ENIGMA:

  • Platform: PC/Mac(?)
  • Price: $15
  • Time Investment: 30 hours maybe
  • Edgy Rating: 2/5 

Maybe a little too close to home, or maybe just close to home enough? Protagonist Chester finds his way to a little island named Chester in the middle of nowhere. He’s a victim of a worldwide epidemic, but the residents of the island have never heard of such a thing. The island is completely cut off from the outside world, but in the center of the land is a mysterious forest with the same name as the disease that is killing him: Enigma.

ENIGMA: is Chester’s cheerful end-of-life tour of an island. He meets its people, makes friends, forms bonds, but will never be able to escape his coming fate. ENIGMA: is a bittersweet meditation of slice-of-life moments in the day to day, and what the simple sway of a single person in your life can do. This game really means a lot to me and I want more people to read it. 

WARNING: ENIGMA: contains a life-threatening epidemic, and a character facing death.

Analogue: A Hate Story splash image showing a girl in a hanbok being hugged from behind by another girl with a hidden face.

Analogue: A Hate Story (and the sequel, Hate Plus)

  • Platform: PC/Mac
  • Price: $10 each, $20 total
  • Time Investment: Analogue can be finished in an afternoon, but Hate Plus, by design, takes 1-2 hours over three days.
  • Edgy Rating: 3/5

In the 25th century, an intergalactic colony ship named the Mugunghwa went missing on its way to colonize a new planet. Thousands of years later, it’s found, and you are the space detective who gets to find out what happened to it. Logging into the interface, you find and uncover things with your peppy AI sidekick, *Hyun-ae.

Over time, you unlock the tragic story of a ship where organization broke down thanks to idealized nostalgia, and became a patriarchal fascist regime. The sequel to Analogue, Hate Plus engages with this subject matter again, from a different perspective. Christine Love’s strong worldbuilding sets a stage for a honed drama about Really Bad Politics.

Splash images for The Silver Case, with a mosiac of faces and shots from in-game events.

The Silver Case

  • Platform: PC/Mac/PS4/PSVita
  • Price: $10, but the sequel, the 25th ward, is $30
  • Time Investment: Not bad. Probably 30 hours or so?
  • Edgy Rating: 4/5

A series of brutal murders have started taking place in the 24 Wards, and as a member of the Heinous Crimes Unit, it’s your job to figure out what’s going on. The murders highly resemble the work of assassin for the state, Kamui Uehara, who has been in a mental institution for years.

The Silver Case is the first independent game by the auteur, Suda51, genius behind No More Heroes and Killer7. Recent references in Travis Strikes Again and The 25th Ward draw the two IPs together into what fans call the “Sudaverse”, or the “Kill The Past” series. These games aren’t for everyone, as they can be very strange fever dreams, but if you like Suda51’s work, you should definitely give it a try. It’s been a few years since I read through The Silver Case for the first time, so maybe it’s time to give it another go.

Warning for terrorism, murder, violence, and never really understanding what’s going on.

Visual Novels I am Going to Play/Read

Join me on these things I haven’t read yet that I hope to? I can’t say much about them since I haven’t read them yet, but I can’t wait to give them a go. Wanna play them with me?

  • Your Turn to Die
  • Murder By Numbers
  • A.I The Somnium Files
  • 428: Shibuya Scramble

Feel free to add more suggestions in the comments!

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: