Visual Novels vs. Dating Simulation Games

VNs Vs. Dating Sims

A wide­ly skewed image of the visu­al nov­el genre. and a com­mon­ly incor­rect usage of the term “dat­ing sim­u­la­tion,” keeps peo­ple from try­ing out an oth­er­wise excel­lent method of storytelling.

Take the rather recent “Katawa Shou­jo,” for instance. Many peo­ple went in think­ing it was a “dat­ing sim” about dis­abled girls. While the sto­ry is about dis­abled girls, it is not a dat­ing sim­u­la­tion game. It’s intend­ed to be an emo­tion­al visu­al nov­el that will break even the most wicked of souls (it’s actu­al­ly rather aver­age). Call­ing it a dat­ing sim­u­la­tion game is as cor­rect as call­ing Half-Life 2 an RPG. Or Eiken a “good ani­me” (ha ha). Which is why I felt like mak­ing this post, “Visu­al Nov­els vs. Dat­ing Sim­u­la­tion Games.” For all you savvy folks out there, this post isn’t to put down one or the oth­er, but to educate.

With­in this post, I will post both the sim­i­lar­i­ties and dif­fer­ences between visu­al nov­els and dat­ing sims, and hope to take down any mis­con­cep­tions about the for­mer by form­ing a clear descrip­tion of what the lat­ter real­ly is.

Lots and lots of girls

Lots and Lots of Girls/Boys

One major and recur­ring attribute that’s preva­lent in many visu­al nov­els and all dat­ing sims is the cast of non-playable char­ac­ters of a spe­cif­ic gen­der, and of course, the meth­ods used to get onto their “path” and trig­ger their “sto­ry flags”. In Japan, games (regard­less of genre) that revolve around romance for a spe­cif­ic gen­der are called otome games (games aimed at girls) and gal games (game aimed at boys).

How­ev­er, while dat­ing sims have to be about the dat­ing aspect, visu­al nov­els aren’t lim­it­ed to just romance with a bunch of option­al char­ac­ters. Ace Attor­ney, for exam­ple, is a visu­al nov­el, revolv­ing around mys­ter­ies. Saya no Uta (writ­ten by Gen Urobuchi, the same guy that wrote Puel­la Magi Mado­ka Mag­i­ca) was a Love­craft­ian hor­ror-styled visu­al nov­el that has such a ter­ri­fy­ing plot, and a night­mare fuel-induced romance, that it could­n’t pos­si­bly be called an gal game.



Anoth­er com­mon source of mis­con­cep­tion is the fact that CERO 18+ visu­al nov­els, dat­ing sims, and plain ol’ sex games are col­lec­tive­ly referred to as eroge (erot­ic games) in Japan. This leads to peo­ple think­ing that erot­ic visu­al nov­els = per­vert­ed dat­ing sims. Or visu­al nov­els in gen­er­al being just porn.

It’s kind of like if a per­son came across a hen­tai man­ga, and then just assumes that man­ga in gen­er­al is just erot­ic con­tent. Or if some­one came across Bible Black and assumed every ani­me was about rit­u­al­is­tic and hor­ri­fy­ing sex.

It should be not­ed that there is a dif­fer­ence between an 18+ visu­al nov­el, which may have a small per­cent­age of pornog­ra­phy and focus­es more on sto­ry, and a nukige, a visu­al nov­el that specif­i­cal­ly focus­es on erot­ic con­tent and oth­er sex­u­al fetish­es. Also note that not all dat­ing sims are porn either (Sena’s beloved Love­Plus comes to mind).


Stats, Stats, Stats, REBERU APPU

One major dif­fer­ence between a visu­al nov­el and a dat­ing sim­u­la­tion game is the fact that dat­ing sim­u­la­tions are more… sand­boxy and sta­tis­tics-based, so to speak. In most cas­es, you may have a choice of point dis­tri­b­u­tion between any of your MC’s attrib­ut­es (charm, physique, etc.), get­ting at girls/boys in any loca­tion of your choos­ing, get­ting their num­bers, rais­ing their “affec­tion”, and depend­ing on whether or not it’s one of those games, you may freely engage in sex­u­al activ­i­ty with that char­ac­ter any time you like.

Visu­al nov­els, how­ev­er, are exact­ly what they sound like. They’re sto­ries with visu­als that accom­pa­ny them, and usu­al­ly they’re like choose-your-own-adven­ture books. They’re no dif­fer­ent than ani­me, man­ga, or nov­els, except there’s no unfor­tu­nate artis­tic restric­tions in the medi­um except for budget.

Little Busters! is awesome

Unlike ani­me, there are no time restric­tions. Unlike nov­els, there are plen­ty of pic­tures. And unlike man­ga, there are usu­al­ly voic­es. So if you’re afraid to try out visu­al nov­els because you think they car­ry the same “I’m get­ting vir­tu­al girlfriends!”-stigma as dat­ing sims, don’t be. Depend­ing on the sto­ry, you’re get­ting into an expe­ri­ence with enter­tain­ment val­ue that’s just as artis­ti­cal­ly viable as TV shows or comics.

Remem­ber, some great ani­me like AIR, Steins;Gate, and CLANNAD were orig­i­nal­ly visu­al novels! =)

5 thoughts on “Visual Novels vs. Dating Simulation Games

  1. Har, har, har!!!
    Tru­ly a beau­ti­ful way to explain the differences!!!
    Will show this to every per­son I intro­duce Visu­al Nov­els to. Thanks!!!
    You’ve made my life easier!!!
    Har, har, har!!! ( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°)

  2. That real­ly was a great expla­na­tion. I watch a good amount of ani­me and I recent­ly got into VN’s for some of the shows I real­ly liked, Like Fate/Stay Night. But after watch­ing The World God Only Knows, I won­dered what the dif­fer­ence between the games he was play­ing and the VN’s I’ve played was. Summed it up nice for me, thanks!

  3. what an awe­some expla­na­tion bro, i always thought they were one and the same since i am just get­ting into this kind of cul­ture. I real­ly wish that there is a branch between VN and dat­ing sim where it has a good sto­ry but awe­some game­play as well, such as imag­ine clan­nad with ten times more dia­logue choic­es is a dream of mine

    1. @Angry nerd: There are plen­ty of VNs on the Nin­ten­do DS that has game­play inter­mixed with sto­ry. There’s Ace Attor­ney, Zero Escape: Virtue’s Last Reward, etc. Rewrite also has a lot of dia­logue choic­es like what you’re describ­ing, that might be up your alley. 🙂

  4. A good way of explain­ing it sim­ply ^_^

    I love VN’s, espe­cial­ly those who focus on a good sto­ry, recent­ly fin­ished G‑Senjou no Maou, It ALMOST(notice the cap­i­tal let­ter) got me cry­ing. Such a beau­ti­ful piece of art. I real­ly don’t under­stand why so many view it as a neg­a­tive thing from the get go. :/

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