I Finally Found a Visual Novel that’s Better than Mushoku Tensei

It’s me, draggle, here with my latest excuse for failing miserably at anime blogging.

As you all could probably guess, I like anime. Like many in our circles, I also enjoy Japanese RPGS and manga. But I think light novels are dumb. And I don’t even care enough about figures or cosplay to bother insulting them. And visual novels… my god. What an atrocity. A crime against humanity?

I’ve tried to enjoy visual novels. Probably my first gentle introduction was Utawarerumono. Yes, it’s kind of an SRPG / visual novel hybrid so maybe it doesn’t count. That’s probably the only reason I managed to finish it. It certainly didn’t help my opinion of visual novels that I didn’t realize it was 18+ (I only downloaded it because I had enjoyed the anime without really researching it at all) and my roommate walked in right as the first sex scene started and my computer crashed. Awkward.

Since then I’ve tried to to read a number of visual novels. Kanon and Clannad. Tsukihime and Fate / Stay Night. Muv Luv. Cross something or other. And I’m sure I’m forgetting a few. I was tempted to try Grisaia after all the hilarious screenshots but I resisted. In the end, I hated every visual novel I ever played. Tsukihime and Fate / Stay Night were the only ones that I was able to get more than half an hour in. It’s just… long and boring. It’s like reading a book. Except the book is even more poorly written than your typical light novel. This shit makes Mushoku Tensei look like a literary masterpiece. And what’s worse, you can’t even skim through the boring parts. (Which is 95% of the writing. Even F/SN and Tsukihime… my god those fight scenes and sex scenes were awful.)

life_is_strange

Anyway, this brings us to the game I played this week. Life is Strange. My brother told me I needed to play it.

He was right.

It pretty much shattered all my judgmental opinions of visual novels and of video games as a general medium. Video games / visual novels always have dumb stories? Lol no. This is better than most books I’ve read. Video games / visual novels are better played with the volume turned off? Nope. First thing I did after I finished the game was went and downloaded the soundtrack. Video games / visual novels have atrocious voice acting? Nope. (Although Joyce and Warren in particular were a bit forced.)

The use of choice is amazing. Ordinarily in video games your choice is to either be Jesus Christ or turn into Hitler. In this game, for the vast majority of the choices… I had no idea what the right choice is. There’s also a great sense of immersion. I’ve felt more empathy than I’ve ever felt playing a video game before. I wasn’t myself, I was Max Fucking Caufield, Time Lord. It’s full of twists and turns. No character is as good or as awful as they seem.

And I don’t want to spoil anything, but the game is amazing thematically. It heads into some pretty dark places. But always with that glimmer of hope at the end of the tunnel…

I’m sure some people will dispute my labeling of Life is Strange as a visual novel. And sure, maybe it’s not. At least not what visual novels have been. But it’s definitely what a visual novel should be. (I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention the high school setting. This is in a high school setting and still has amazing characterizations and a fascinating story. Why is every manga and anime set at high school so dead and lifeless? American high school may be hell, but at least it’s not so unbelievably boring as the Japanese portrayal of high school…)

In short, absolutely amazing game. Deserves a Grammy and an Oscar and whatever the hell the other one is called. Go play it. With this and Undertale as just a starting point, this has already been the greatest year for video games in human history.

21 thoughts on “I Finally Found a Visual Novel that’s Better than Mushoku Tensei

  1. Dang it, draggle. I also started with Utawarerumono, but unlike you I knew it had the scenes. And among Japanese visual novels that I tried out (oops, was that redundant), it’s the only one I ever managed to finish. SRPG ftw!

    I have never seen a well articulated negative review of LIS, and I already got the game on Steam, what with the people recommending it to me. I’m looking forward to actually playing it (and witness the yuri feels??).

  2. You have the same opinion about Visual Novel as I am. I still amazed me that people can actually tell me about good writing in Fate Stay Night with a straight face. And I want to slap every assholes who said that Extra and all the expositions in Muv luv are necessary with my Forever War paperback. The current state of Japanese VNs is horrid. Even some relatively enjoyable VNs, like steins gate or Ever 17, are in desperate need of an editor.

    I enjoy SRPG like Fire Emblem though. The writing is…not good, but it has decent characters interactions and great game play. Have you try Super Robot Wars series yet? Those games are basically huge and entertaining cross-over mecha fanfics.

    Life is Strange seems interesting, but I will wait for the Steam sale. I still haven’t clear up my Steam backlog from the last sale. Damn, as a kid, I never thought there would be a day when I can buy ton of games and have no time to complete them .

    1. “people can actually tell me about good writing in Fate Stay Night with a straight face”

      THIS SO MUCH THIS.

      FFS. If anyone thinks F S/N has good writing the only thing I can suggest is go out and read an ACTUAL book. Anyone, pick at random, it’s still far more likely to have better writing than fucking F S/N. That was so freaking BORING. Also how the hell do you take the concept of being a wizard fighting a deadly battle with a legendary hero as your personal Pokémon and turn it into such a dull, yawn-inducing video game is totally beyond me.

      1. You’re underestimating how many shit books there are in print, especially popular ones. 50 shades of puke is one of them.

        No, not ‘any book’. Most are trash. F S/N does its job into serving the fantasy genre, but it is completely disgenuous to say everything is better from physical books, when you’d have to disregard the vast majority of physical books to do so.

        1. Ah, I didn’t mean “actual” as in necessarily “physical”. But about there being shit books… absolutely true, mind you, but I find that the ones that are truly awful are comparably few if you go to a decent bookshop and avoid the stuff (like cheap romance novels) that only sells at newsagents. Of course you can still find Twilight or 50 Shades of Gray, but for the rest, I think you’re still more likely than not to find something that has a bare minimum of competence writing-wise. I mean, I could mention out of the top of my head a lot of video games that have better writing than F S/N. Having repetitive plots or stock characters is another thing. A lot of novels are far from being masterpieces of course, but that doesn’t mean they lack the basic understanding of how not to bore a reader to tears with endless, pointless details and pretentious bullshit like F S/N does.

        2. (then maybe I’m simply biased because I don’t realize I don’t even come close to touching the ACTUALLY awful books)

    2. Yep, I’ve played Super Robot Wars! Never actually finished one though. Ugh I have the same problem with the Steam sales.

  3. Yeah, most visual novels just have:
    -bad writing, but think it’s ok because they are games/manga/anime but think it’s ok, because they have graphics music and gameplay
    – bad or at least very repetitive graphics and music, but think it’s ok, because they are games/novels more than anime/manga
    -little to no gameplay (or bad gameplay), but think it’s ok, because they are more like novels/anime/manga

    Often all three together.

    It’s not that the medium is bad, all aspects can be developed and interesting experiences can be created, they just rarely are
    tl:dr the medium is good, the industry (mostly) sucks

    1. Exactly. It’s like they’re worse in every individual component, just all the terribleness is shoved together so it becomes better somehow???

    1. Oh no I forgot about that one! That was pretty good. Only did the blind girl route, I really should do the others someday…

  4. Have you ever tried “To the Moon”? It’s made with RPG Maker and looks like an old Final Fantasy but in practice it’s a Visual Novel (it’s not even an adventure because there aren’t any puzzles to speak of, and almost no choices either). But the music is amazing and the story is as gut-wrenching and well written as they get. Think “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” meets “Vanilla Sky” and you’re somehow there.

    1. To the Moon was okay, but I wasn’t impressed. I liked Analog story much better and Long Live the Queen in the OELVN genre. I have serious reservations about reading Life is Strange after researching the plot. Practically half of visual novels include time loops and butterfly effects, and there’s too much childish emotions and acting. I prefer to keep my visual novels and 3D adventure games separate too (you can’t have it both ways!)

      For original Japanese Visual Novels I played a bunch of the major translated ones (finished 14 and attempted twice that number), and even more ero. At first I was really sold on the novelty and gimmicks and could overlook the bad writing, but I used to read old sci-fi as a kid, which used to be little more than a vessel for ideas and were often not particularly well written. Now I’m really jaded about and turned off by the horrible writing.

      I actually liked Fate/Stay Night a lot, you just have to hold the control key, bookmark stuff, and actively use your imagination when the writing fails. I gradually wanted to read something better though, and so many people told me Muv-Luv Alternative, Cross Channel, and Yuno were masterpieces, but I was dissatisfied after finishing all of them. That’s how I decided I don’t have any respect for the popular visual novel critics, and decided I had outgrown the genre, unless something much better comes.

      If I ever try to read a new non-ero it would have to be Higurashi: When they Cry, except I know the plot from watching the anime multiple times so why bother?

      1. I would try playing Life is Strange before you dismiss it. Yes, lots of things involve time loops, but it’s about much more than that. And yes, there are childish emotions… because the characters are children.

        1. I did play “Life is Strange.” It’s for casuals, and I’m still raging about how the ending shoehorned me into only one route for the “feels,” and I just couldn’t buy that Chloe’s existence was important enough to trigger a tornado because of mystical powers we don’t understand, blah blah. Other visual novels/dating sims have given a lot more interesting alternatives without turning utterly linear at the end.

          Overall I enjoyed Steins;Gate and Muv Luv Alternative much more.

          1. What’s wrong with being for “casuals”? I for one liked how it shoehorned you into one route, I don’t want to spend hours and hours playing all the different routes in VNs, I can barely stand one route. Just give me the best route and make it really good. If you are even attempting to explain to yourself a mystical tornado caused by a time travelling paradox then you are doing something wrong.

  5. Might I suggest reading some of the stuff Urobuchi Gen made. I hear Song of Saya and Phantom: Requeim of the Phantom to be pretty good (albeit a bit twisted)

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