One of the strengths of visual novels is that they're typically character-focused, and often about choosing which members of an engaging cast you'd like to spend time with—whether romantically or otherwise—and how you'd like to see that play out. They're games about people, and they let us get to know those people with a thoroughness that only actual novels and some long-running TV shows match. But they can also be great mysteries, comedies, horror, and even true stories.
What book would you like to see turned into a visual novel? What book would be improved by character portraits, maybe a few branching plot options and romances or just the ability to shout OBJECTION over that one bit you hate? And as an additional bonus question, do you have a favorite visual novel? Here's our team's answers, let us know yours in the comments.
James Davenport: Opportunity, Montana by Brad Tyer
OK, so, it's probably my choice because it's what I'm reading, but visual novels are a perfect fit for historical fiction. I'd love to see a human take on the environmental nightmare that is Opportunity, Montana, a small town adjacent to where one of the biggest mining companies of the 20th century used to smelt copper. The ensuing air pollution, in combination with excessive dumping upstream in Butte, made a lush river valley a toxic wasteland where nothing could grow. In the following years, Butte and most of the Clark Fork river were declared a Superfund site, aka a massive environmental disaster in which the responsible parties were required to pay. But as part of the cleanup, a bunch of toxic sediment carried downriver was dumped back near Opportunity, a town still affected by the actions of dead capitalists from decades back. It's a morally grey tale about recent American history that needs greater exposure, especially with the planet on fire. Where should that waste go? Where can it go? The player could take on the role of someone involved in cleanup decisions, someone with good intentions and strained choices. Is it possible to do the right thing under the weight of so much bureaucracy?
Anyway, I want more rural, environmentally bent fiction. Visual novels are a fitting template for bouncing tough choices off the player, and while I know the genre typically involves romance, how about an affair with the dang earth? We can give it anime eyes if we gotta.
As for my favorite visual novel, I loved the first Danganronpa. High schoolers murdering one another is my favorite sub-subgenre.
Lauren Morton: The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
This may be an off-the-wall answer but when I turned around and looked at my bookshelf mostly packed with standard fantasy novels, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is what caught my eye. All of the wacky aliens and other inexplicably sentient creatures in Hitchhiker's would be amusing to see in the format of a 2D visual novel.
Yes, I know it's already a movie but just imagine poor Arthur traipsing through the universe with his towel in a format that, unlike cinema, has much more freedom to mess with ideas of linearity and agency. There could be silly visual gags. Unexplained scene changes. Long monologues by whales falling from the sky. Douglas Adams' sense of humor would be right at home in a visual novel.
As for my own favorite VN, I've hardly ever played one. I've been told I would really enjoy Tokyo Dark and just haven't gotten around to it.
Christopher Livingston: The Discworld novels by Terry Pratchett
As a general request: Please make more games based on Terry Pratchett's fantasy novels. It's a stunningly massive amount of material, and it's very nearly all wonderful, and there have been so few games based on it. There should be open-world RPGs and tons of episodic adventure games and MMOs and I don't even care what else. Make a MOBA. Make a mobile puzzle game. Battle royale. Just make Terry Pratchett's words into games. And shows and movies, too!
Visual novels would be a good fit, there are lots of memorable characters, clever dialogue, and even a bit of romance. I think visual novels would be a nearly perfect way to explore some of the stories and humor and magic of Discworld.
Andy Kelly: Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie
The Danganronpa series is proof that a visual novel is a great way to tell a detective story, so it's about time Poirot starred in one. I've been reading a bunch of Agatha Christie lately, and something like Murder on the Orient Express would work brilliantly as a visual novel. A contained location, a variety of personalities, and lots of tense, simmering relationships to provide drama. Then, as Poirot, you could investigate the murder, piecing together your case for the big showdown at the end.
Of course, the twist in this story is a pretty badly kept secret, so I'd be cool with an alternate take on the tale, maybe with a bit of romance thrown in, 'cause visual novels need romance. I love Danganronpa and I would be delighted to see that format used to tell a Christie-style mystery.
Alice Newcome-Beill: A Safe Girl to Love by Casey Plett
While we have seen an excellent rise in trans representation in visual novels in recent years, thanks to games like Dream Daddy and Blood Pact, A book I would love to see turned into a visual novel and a part of my essential reading during coming out was A Safe Girl to Love by Casey Plett. The series of short stories following a variety of different characters voiced in drastically different styles would lend itself well to a visual novel, and I'm always down to see more varied representation in games.
One of my first experiences with visual novels was the endearingly nostalgic, Digital: A Love Story. A text-input based romance ensconced in the nostalgia and mystery of the early internet. Available for free and strangely evocative, I highly recommend it to fans of the genre, or anyone just looking for something different.
Steven Messner: The Broken Earth Trilogy by N. K. Jemisin
I would read the hell out of a series of visual novels based on The Broken Earth Trilogy by N. K. Jemisin. At this point, I'm sure everyone at PC Gamer is tired of me raving about these fantasy novels, but they're some of the most innovative, exciting books I've read in the past couple of years. There's so much good worldbuilding and character development that I think they'd be a natural fit for a visual novel, but a big part of why I'd like to see them adapted is to better visualize what these characters and the world they inhabit actually looks like—or at least on artist's interpretation of it. Jemisin does a great job of describing characters and settings, but there are parts that are so alien that I sometimes struggle to keep up.
My only concern would be that the fun twist of the first novel might be given away by having physical representations of some of the chief characters, but the whole series would make for an epic read as a visual novel.