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From the original article: Text Adventures: The Story of Visual Novels in America

This is another niche topic, but that I figured would bring the right perspective that some people might be needing.

The article is a big one, and it's an interesting read all the way through, particularly if you care about how people think of good scripts, text, and, well, reading.

I'll have to cut it into the most relevant parts, but of course, jump to the original article to get the full experience. :)


I had wondered for years just what it meant for a game to be little more than text on a screen. It wasn't until the release of Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney for the Nintendo DS that I finally understood just what I had been missing. Here was a game that relied solely on the strength of its script to make an impression, a facet that is key to the genre. Many games are lucky to have any plot at all, let alone a decent one, and yet the success of the Ace Attorney series hinged on players being enthralled by its tale.

(...) Despite the Ace Attorney series finding an audience in the West, it never seemed large enough to guarantee a localization for future installments. The people enjoying the games was certainly small in size, especially when considering the effort that goes into localization.(...)

While the genre found itself on platforms like the Super Famicom and PlayStation, its first home was always on Japanese PCs. Even now, in the age of Steam, Japanese developed PC games have trouble in making their way over to North America. While visual novels thrive in their native land, the process of finding a publisher or group willing to localize these works is difficult. With the genre unable to make its presence known in the West through a steady stream of releases, early standouts like Phoenix Wright and Professor Layton weren't enough to prove that visual novels were a bankable property.


It's difficult to pinpoint exact reasons for why the genre failed to find a home in North America through those early years, but considering how fickle Japanese publishers were in regards to what was brought over to the West, it's possible the blame falls on their own hesitance. In an era when publishers made alterations to games based off of perceptions of the North American market (Final Fantasy IV's easier difficulty for example), it's possible that the genre was skipped over for being too difficult or wordy for Western tastes. 

Then came the Nintendo DS.

(...) Tom Lipschultz, who serves as XSEED Games' Localization Specialist, feels that it wasn't just the popularity of those handhelds that brought VNs to our shores. He believes that there was a sea change in the early 2000s, with a wider acceptance of "art house gaming", retro revivals, and indie games. "Though a lot of people still consider games to be primarily the realm of young children, more and more people are beginning to recognize it as a valid artistic medium," Lipschultz explains. "And those people are willing to explore all the possible ways in which that medium can be used for artistic expression."

(...) To have Tom Lipschultz tell it, the work that goes into a visual novel is very rewarding for himself and his peers. "When dealing with games that rely more on the 'tell, don't show' mentality," Lipschultz tells me, "there's a ton of text that serves to set the mood through visceral description of things like a chill in the air, a crumbling wall, etc. It may not sound exciting, but translating stuff like that requires a totally different thought process than translating dialogue." Lipschultz worked on XSEED's Corpse Party games, a series that demands a proper translation to sell its blood-soaked locales to the players. "We kind of have to read the Japanese, visualize what it's describing, then find the right words to reconstruct that image in English." The reward comes from that process, Lipschultz explains, noting he finds his work in the genre incredibly creative and challenging.

"A visual novel lives and dies by its story and characters," says Phoenix Spaulding, the editor of the Danganronpa series for Nippon Ichi Software America, "so as a writer by trade I really enjoy the fact that the writing aspect is so crucial to a player's enjoyment of the game...I definitely enjoy that challenge and pressure to excel." 

(...) Spaulding believes that visual novels serve as a great reminder that there's an audience out there that craves a good story, regardless of how much gameplay there is to support it. (...)

(...) Bateman's handiwork in dealing with long conversations that range from frozen Egyptian princesses to Schrödinger's cat. While he's ecstatic from the characterization and dialog offered from these works, the genre has also taught him the value of brevity. 

"Visual novels tend to be extremely wordy," Bateman tells me, "and as a writer it's very easy to get caught up writing and writing and writing, and using all sorts of exciting words." He says there's a lot of importance in the phrase "less is more", and that in working in localization, he's learned that his career is dependent on succinctness.


Brief interruption here for a moment: I've felt that considerably when working with localizations. I don't always agree with the way expert companies handle it, but I've noticed a strong inclination towards rewriting than anything else.


(...) When it comes to dialogue, knowing the character he's writing for allows him to "give them a little more 'oomph' to correspond with known quirks traits, habits, etc." As for descriptive text, the words that describe the environment or an action, Lipschultz says these come to him as little more than an "info dump." He finds it necessary to be on his toes when it comes to to descriptive text, as it runs the chance of killing the mood. 

"And the mood," Lipschultz says, "is everything in a visual novel."

(...) it's the fans currently enjoying the genre that have a large effect on its future. Through the likes of social media, praise for works like XBlaze is a far better tool to raise awareness than ads "or debatably insane localization editors proselytizing on their Twitter account."

(...) Kickstarter is proving to be a new avenue for localization groups. Exogenesis ~Perils of Rebirth~, WORLD END ECONOMiCA -Complete-, and Sunrider are successful examples of fans willing to support smaller studios with the localization of visual novels. In those cases, the financial support for the Kickstarters blew past their expectations, often resulting in the game being brought to more platforms. This kind of effort proves that the market is there, and that its audience is starved for content. 

(...) Despite being relatively new on our shores, I'm playing some of the greatest works the genre has ever had. It's surprising that I can finally commend a game for its story, and should visual novels continue to grow in popularity, the effect they could have on the industry as a whole is undeniable. 


Ok, I had a few different intentions with this sharing. I believe it opens up our eyes a bit to different work opportunities, besides being an interesting subject.

Particularly, I pinpointed a few things:

  • There is, and has always been, a growing market for visual novels, which are mostly composed of text, and good text at that.
  • Writing skills come up as being the most important considerations when working with localizations, and not just of games.
  • There is a difficulty in finding people who are willing to localize these materials. That means work opportunity for you.
  • Visual novels are akin to literature. If you are into literature and would like to get into the world of gaming, too, this is an opportunity for you. And vice versa.
  • There are alternative ways of being funded, besides being hired by a client. Kickstarter campaigns might be used, too. Just a thought.

Do check the full article and tell us what you think!

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