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Karifean's Blog of Visual Novels

A Compilation of Important Companies and Writers

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I've been planning on doing this for a while. With how the amount of localizations has been skyrocketing I figured it might be good to make a post introducing the various developers that I consider to be the most important and relevant in this growing industry of visual novels in the west for the time being. This way perhaps newcomers can have an idea of what to expect from whom, and where to look for what.

When describing notable works, green text is for visual novels that have received an official localization, blue text is for visual novels with an upcoming official localization, teal text is for visual novel series with a localization in progress (but unfinished), yellow text is for visual novels with unofficial translations and red text is for untranslated visual novels. Visual novels with mandatory adult content (meaning either there is no English all-ages release or patch, or adult content is a major part of the story) are marked with an asterisk (*).

To start us off, let's begin with what is probably THE most influential developer of visual novels.

Key / VisualArt's

Notable works: Kanon, AIR, CLANNAD, planetarian, Little Busters!, Rewrite

In Short
+ Long visual novels with a variety of writers
+ Good slice-of-life and humor
+ Emotional payoff
+ Excellent music without exception
+ Very likable characters
+ Some godlike final routes
- Rather formulaic and predictable
- Can get overly melodramatic at times
- Drags a lot if you don't like the slice-of-life bits
- Supernatural elements in realistic settings can be jarring
- Cultivated "Key Magic" of superconvenient happy endings

There are some visual novels you've probably heard of even if you don't know what a visual novel is supposed to be. A notable fraction of them are developed by Key. The company is most well-known for writing very long and extensive galge (games with a male protagonist and several female heroines with story routes to play through) that start out focusing on normal everyday life before eventually branching off into individual routes with a lot of heavily emotional character- and relationship-focused drama. Their stories also often have some supernatural elements to them, so although they are generally grounded in reality you may find yourself reading about curses or ghosts too at some points.

Key visual novels are published by VisualArt's and almost always written by multiple people, but the writer that sticks out the most is Jun Maeda, who is responsible for a lot of the story content the company is famous for, such as AIR's Air route, CLANNAD's After Story and Little Busters!' Refrain route.

Seeing as how they're basically my favorite VN developer out there (together with 07th which we'll get to in a bit) I might make another post properly introducing them sometimes, but for now I'll try to keep it short.

Although Key has built up a reputation as being the company that writes stories that will make you cry, and it did manage to tear down my emotional walls, what I consider to be their greatest strength is writing simple but earnest coming-of-age stories with adorable, lovable characters. It definitely helps that their games always have memorable soundtracks.

While their stories do turn predictable fast as soon as you're a bit genre-savvy, that's not a bad thing here; they have a formula that works and, as the recently released Harmonia shows, there's no need to make any fundamental changes. They have an array of long games that are all rather similar in many respects and if you like one of them, you'll probably like the rest. That being said, this also means that if you have a problem with their concept, you can pretty much forget about all of them. Except maybe Rewrite which is more or less its own thing, partly because while it was released under the Key brand, it was actually a collaboration between Key, Ryukishi07 and Romeo Tanaka. Speaking of which...

Romeo Tanaka

Notable works: Rewrite, Cross†Channel*, Yume Miru Kusuri*, Kana ~Imouto~*

Romeo Tanaka is one of the writers that usually gets very high praise for his prose. Unfortunately that means a lot of the beauty of his works is lost in translation, or so I'm told. Personally I still enjoyed the hell out of Rewrite and thought Cross†Channel was one of the most interesting and disturbing things I'd ever read, so that hardly means you can't enjoy his stories in English as well.

You may also know him as the writer of "Jinrui ga suitai shimasita" or Humanity Has Declined. Overall I just rarely hear anything bad about his writing or anything he's written - Yume Miru Kusuri and Kana ~Imouto~ are two visual novels that although I haven't read I've seen a lot of good reviews for. And while his works are usually... smurfed up in some form or another, if you like his style I'd wager you're probably gonna like his other works.

Besides Romeo Tanaka, another somewhat famous writer was involved in the creation of Rewrite; Ryukishi07 of 07th Expansion. And if you know me, you probably know that in my eyes Ryukishi07 and his works are absolutely incredible.

07th Expansion

Notable works: Umineko When They Cry, Higurashi When They Cry, Rose Guns Days

In Short
+ Character Writing
+ Very long but well-crafted and complex stories
+ Philosophical and thought-provoking games
+ Portrays interesting subject matters from different sides
+ Atmosphere
~ Takes a high level of engagement and a lot of time to fully appreciate
- Prose in Japanese
- Bad tendency to repeat statements for emphasis
- Can get pushy about a certain ideology
- Those graphics

07th Expansion is a small doujin group with its core members consisting of only Ryukishi07 (scenario writer) and people close to him. As such their works tend to have pretty low production values - and it shows in their graphical style more than anything - but they're pretty much all Ryu's passion projects, which in turn shows in their length.

You may have heard of Higurashi before if you're into anime; it had a rather successful anime adaptation and still enjoys a major fan following. Umineko on the other hand had a trout anime adaptation and is more of a cult work with a smaller but very passionate fanbase (which I am a part of). Unfortunately 07th Expansion's popularity in Japan took a massive dive when Umineko was finished so their next games, Higanbana and Rose Guns Days, are rarely talked about. Still pretty damn good though!

In regards to style, Ryukishi's writing can be very hit or miss. Undoubtedly one of his biggest strengths is writing characters that feel human and natural; people with actual human flaws and also strengths. Even his more 'abstract' non-human characters are mostly still like that, and it manages to set up very interesting human conflicts with no black-and-white morality; especially themes of abuse are prominent and come up several times in different forms. His stories also at times get very complex while still remaining self-consistent which I can only admire. As for weaknesses, a lot of Japanese readers will tell you that his prose sucks real bad, although thankfully some of that seems to be lost in translation. What is not lost in translation however is the very bad habit of repeating statements over and over again for "emphasis"... and it doesn't really work and just makes quite a few scenes drag on a lot more than they should. Finally, Ryukishi can also get rather intense in his stories portray his standpoints and beliefs, especially in Umineko. If you dig it, it can be very thought-provoking, as it was for me, but if your beliefs don't align with his it can be a bit alienating.

Something that's pretty much unanimously agreed on whoever is that the soundtracks of 07th Expansions games (at least from Higurashi Kai onwards) are nothing short of great, and I very much agree. Not only does it have a lot of standout tracks, the OST also does a phenomenal job in helping to set up atmosphere and never fails to convey the mood of a scene. And especially in Higurashi and Umineko, both of which can get rather horrifying at times, this is used to great effect to instill a very unsettling feeling.

Only a short while ago, 07th Expansion released a new game, TRianThology, once again a collaboration of the same writers that also wrote Rewrite. It seems to take place in the same universe as the When They Cry games, so I'm very much hyped to read it as soon as it gets translated! For the time being, both Higurashi and Umineko are currently in the process of getting put on Steam, so why not start there?


Notable works: Saya no Uta*, Steins;Gate, ChäoS;HEAd

Nitro+ is a rather big developer in Japan and has their name attached to many a great novel. Saya no Uta, written by Gen Urobuchi, is often considered one of the best short visual novels out there and one of the few examples of the genre that doesn't have a slice-of-life-esque pacing. And who hasn't heard of the Sci;Adv series? Steins;Gate and its siblings are absolute classics.

There doesn't seem to be much consistency in what kind of visual novels they release, but if you're just looking for some good / acclaimed visual novels to read, might as well look into these.

If you're a fan of Steins;Gate, you'll definitely want to look into the upcoming Steins;Gate 0 English release by 5pb. Coming November 25th on the PS4 and Vita!


Notable works: Muv-Luv, Kimi ga Nozomu Eien*, Akane Maniax

If you're into visual novels even just a little bit, chances are you've heard of Muv-Luv which currently holds the spot of highest-rated visual novel on VNDB and went through an extremely successful localization kickstarter last year.

While I've only read Muv-Luv and none of their other works (because they're not translated >.<), my general impression is that a lot of the appeal in âge works is the way they undercut visual novel tropes and juxtapose them with storylines that are actually deadly serious, dealing with delicate subjects in a respectful manner while still having the same kind of anime aesthetic you'd see in the least memorable ecchi series imaginable. Their VNs do also have high production values though and details like characters moving around in 3D space and having their mouths move as they talk only helps to further your immersion.

In general they're a company I recommend looking out for especially once you're a bit familiar with VN tropes and clichés and enjoy a good deconstruction - and in Muv-Luv's case, an epic plot on a massive scale on top of that.


Notable works: Fate/Stay Night, Tsukihime, Mahoutsukai no Yoru

Ah, Type-Moon. If you haven't heard of them - Fate/Stay Night, THE most popular visual novel ever, Tsukihime, possibly THE most influential visual novel ever along with Kanon - truly you've been living under a rock. So should you read them? Well if you want to experience an incredibly important piece of visual novel history there's no way around it. But if that's not important to you? Well... in that case it's up for debate.

The only Type-Moon novel I've read is Fate/Stay Night. It honestly has one of the most unique ways of using the visual novel medium I've ever seen. In three different routes it has a plot with the same general setting and plot points go in completely different directions. Still, while F/SN does do some cool things, I'd say it's not a must-read. It kind of mirrors my current feelings on Neon Genesis Evangelion. While enjoyable I don't really think it stands out above the rest, but it's importance to the industry as a whole is undeniable.

So do you like a flashy magic battle royale with historical heroic figures fighting one another? Well then F/SN might be right up your alley.

As for the other games, since I haven't played them I asked Ultima Shadow to give his opinion on them.

This is what he had to say regarding Tsukihime:

Quote Originally Posted by Ultima Shadow
It's very similar to Fate in many ways. It's more or less an action-packed ride where battles and intense moments carry the plot. Many characters are interesting and well-written and most dialouges are good too, but even so, you ultimately read for the tense moments that make you jump to the edge of your seat. The entire setting is pretty much made for ”action” and if you were to remove that, you'd be left with very little… just like Fate.

The one point where Tsukihime lacks a bit compared to Fate is the music and sound effect department, which does make a notable difference if you were to compare the two. But hey, it was pretty much the game that set the foundation for what Type-Moon is today, so there was a pretty big difference in available resources before and after.
And this regarding Mahoutsukai no Yoru:

Quote Originally Posted by Ultima Shadow
I've only read a very small part of the entire Mahoyo plot, but going by what I've read... I can say that Mahoyo manages to be far more entertaining than Fate and Tsukihime when it comes to the "everyday life".

A big part of this is because the main character is soooo much more interesting. Like, I'm biased and I like certain types of characters and all that, but seriously... Aoko has so much more personality than both Shirou and Shiki. To the point where I'd probably enjoy reading Mahoyo from begining to end without anything action-filled actually happening.

Worth noting about Mahoyo; it's written (as far as I've read anyway) in third person, rather than first-person. And that does kinda fit better with Aoko's character I'd say.
Spike Chunsoft

Notable works: Danganronpa Series, Zero Escape Series

Probably the most well-known developer in the west. I don't have much to say about it, and I don't think I have to. Danganronpa and Zero Escape are very popular series and definitely worth looking into for not just fans of visual novels, but really anyone. Given their popularity you'll find many reviews on the internet eloquently explaining the positives and negatives of these series much better than I ever could.

Might as well take this opportunity to bring up two games not by Spike Chunsoft but perhaps interesting for fans of their games (the Zero Escape series in particular): Ever17 and Root Double. Ever17 is basically the spiritual predecessor of the ZE series and while it lacks the oppressive atmosphere it makes up for that by having phenomenal execution of its twists. Finding it seems to be pretty hard right now though. Root Double on the other hand is VERY similar in style to the Zero Escape games (minus the puzzles) and I personally like it better due to its higher focus on characters and world building, but in spite of getting an official localization a while back it got criminally overlooked. Please, if you like Spike Chunsoft's games, consider giving it a shot.


Notable works: The Devil on G-string, Sharin no Kuni Himawari no Shoujo*

The best way I can describe AKABEiSOFT2 novels is as such: they're entertaining as smurf and do some pretty neat stuff with their narratives. G-senjou is such a damn good reading experience I put it on the same level as CLANNAD and Tomoyo After, two stories that have touched me deeply. Sharin no Kuni is a very similar kind of story, a bit stronger in some aspects, a bit weaker in others, and overall if you like G-senjou you'll probably like Sharin no Kuni (though the opposite doesn't necessarily hold true).

If you ask me they're some of the safest bets and easiest VNs to recommend to a newcomers. G-senjou in particular is my favorite newbie recommendation. I like to call it the Death Note of visual novels, except this one actually has a damn good ending =P But yeah, the main thing that makes me love them is they're just so damn entertaining and awesome to read.


Notable works: ef - A Fairy Tale of the Two*, eden* - They were only two, on the planet, Supipara

minori works have a rather distinct feel to them, part of which is surely their artstyle which is rather consistent across their different works. eden* is a good entry point to get acquainted with their general style, leading into ef which is their biggest translated work (so far). You may be familiar with ef thanks to the Shaft anime adaptation which has a reputation of being a pretty damn good adaptation, making use of the anime medium to convey things in a manner that lives up to the VN. It's definitely worth looking into if you liked eden*... although I haven't found any all ages patch so far.

Supipara is only currently in the process of localization, but enjoys a pretty decent reputation as well. So if you like minori works you have that to look forward to.


Notable works: Sekien no Inganock -What a Beautiful People-, Shikkoku no Sharnoth -What a Beautiful Tomorrow, Ourai no Gahkthun -What a Shining Braves-, Forest

Liar-soft works have a very distinct feel to them. When you want something that separates itself from the same old and tired anime aesthetic and atmosphere, I'd recommend giving them a try. I've only read Shikkoku no Sharnoth myself but it was quite unlike anything else I'd read, and I've heard quite a lot of praise for Sekien no Inganock, especially for its character writing. The writer, Hikaru Sakurai, seems to be held in quite regard; he also worked on the script for the Gakkou Gurashi anime adaptation in case you've seen that show.

While the games officially remain largely confined to Japan, Ourai no Gahkthun actually received an official localization, but among Liar-soft fans Inganock and Sharnoth are spoken of much more highly, so it might be better to get your hands on those. So while the "What a Beautiful X" series is loosely connected mostly in lore and can be read out of order, starting with Inganock is probably still the best idea.

One thing I should probably mention though is that the games sometimes have minigames which can be pretty annoying and frustrating, at least the one in Sharnoth was and I haven't heard much good about the others either. I'd advise to at least take skipping them into consideration - which in turn is sometimes only possible in certain versions of the game, like the Full Voice Reborn version of Sharnoth. You miss out on minor story-related scenes this way but it's not worth making the experience frustrating for.

Front Wing

Notable works: Grisaia Series, Himawari, Island

Front Wing is mostly popular for their Grisaia series of visual novels which has enjoyed immense popularity in the western VN community, with Grisaia no Kajitsu (The Fruit of Grisaia) currently taking up a spot as one of THE most popular visual novels. And I do agree it's worth looking into if you want to read a galge with a good balance of humorous and serious content.

Not much besides Grisaia really stands out among their works, but Front Wing have expressed their intention of bringing more of their works overseas, and they've also recently stepped into the localization industry as a publisher themselves! They attempted to make a "Sharin no Kuni, Himawari no Shoujo" localization happen through a kickstarter although that one quickly failed and they're trying to bring it back better than ever right now. Don't know how well that'll work out but maybe it's worth keeping an eye on if Sharin no Kuni does turn out good. But mostly I'd say it's better to simply keep an eye on their own games.


Notable works: Edelweiss*, Kira☆Kira, Deardrops*, Bokuten - Why I Became an Angel

Having not read any of their works myself I can only talk about what I heard and gathered about these works second-hand. The people I've asked generally described Overdrive's works as enjoyable galge albeit nothing too special. Edelweiss sounds like a nukige from the VNDB description but really isn't that at all, it's more of a fun times with friends kind of story. Kira☆Kira and Deardrops are both stories with a heavy emphasis on music as a general topic (with both having a musical band as a cast of characters as far as I know). They might not end up topping your favorites list, but they're still good visual novels to give a read when you have some time. It only helps that they're all officially localized.

And if you end up liking the novels, you have Bokuten to look forward to which seems to be pretty much the same kind of game.

In relation to Overdrive I would be amiss not to mention Setoguchi Ren'ya, formerly an in-house writer, now apparently working freelance under a pseudonym. He wrote for Kira☆Kira and also worked on a novel called "Swan Song" which enjoys a reputation as one of the most thought-provoking and emotionally heaviest visual novels out there, taking place in a situation where basic human society has collapsed. I haven't read it, but it's high up on my list of things to read as soon as possible, so I might be able to give you a better idea of what to expect from it in the future.

Christine Love

Notable works: Digital: A Love Story, Analogue: A Hate Story, Hate Plus

One of the very few Original English Language Visual Novel (OELVN) writers that actually made a name for themselves! Christine Love's works are probably the best-known of them all besides Katawa Shoujo. Her visual novels are pretty unique in style as they're never just the traditional text in a box over sprites but always seem to have an additional sort of interactivity to them. Digital: A Love Story takes you back to an era when BBS conversations were the way to go. The Hate series has you sifting through diary pages of people long dead, trying to reconstruct the history of what happened to them through these fragments. And "Don't take it personally, babe, it just ain't your story" (yes that's the name of a VN) has you playing a teacher who spies on his students' private conversations.

While the games do sound conceptually interesting I never found any of them to be too enticing, but that's just me. They're quite easily available and cheap so if you feel like something you're not getting anywhere else, why not give them a look?


Notable works: Narcissu Series, Ame no Marginal

Due to Narcissu 1 and 2 being on Steam for free, Stage-nana has gotten a bit of exposure in the scene. Their works are nothing particularly ambitious, but not a major time sink either, and the short time spent reading them is time well spent. If you liked Narcissu, it's recommended to look into Ame no Marginal. You'll probably enjoy it as well.


Now let's go off the deep end and into writers and companies that haven't seen a single translation so far but which are still worth looking out for in the future (or the present if you can read Japanese) if you want to find some really good stuff, at least if the opinions of people on the internet are to be believed.


Notable works: Subarashiki Hibi*, Sakura no Uta*

There are no two VNs currently higher on my "I want to read this so badly" list than these two, Subarashiki Hibi and Sakura no Uta. The amount of pretty much unanimous good I've heard about them from people who can actually read Japanese is staggering. They both seem to have gratuitous H scenes from what I've heard, but smurf it. If I ever do learn Japanese well enough to give them a shot I'd read them in a heartbeat; I have them sitting on my shelf so there's nothing stopping me but my own incapability of reading the language =P

A localization of Subarashiki Hibi was actually announced but for all intents and purposes at this point it might as well be coming out in 2020. Don't hold your breath on it appearing on the Steam Store anytime remotely soon.

Aquaplus / Leaf

Notable works: White Album (2), Utawarerumono, Tears to Tiara

Aquaplus - with Leaf being their 18+ branch - is a name you'll hear pop up a lot in talks about untranslated VN, mostly because of a little novel called White Album 2. A game that's made quite a name for itself probably mostly because it comes in two chapters only the first of which has received an anime adaptation (and a WIP translation) so everyone who's ever seen it is in a constant state of craving the continuation. From what I gathered White Album is best described as a mature kind of romance character drama.

As for Aquaplus' other games, being a publisher there's not much consistency in what they put out, but they do have a number of other drama-centric VNs, like Tears to Tiara and Tenshi no Inai 12-gatsu. And then there's Utawarerumono which is something else entirely: a hybrid between a Strategy RPG and a Visual Novel. Supposedly having both a pretty good story and pretty good gameplay. So if you're into that there's that too I suppose!


Rather recently, the visual novel community has gone into conniptions not just once, but twice, with the announcement of upcoming localizations for Baldr Sky and Dies irae, two rather notorious VNs for their own reasons. Baldr Sky is said to have some of the best gameplay in the genre. I don't really know what to make of that, but the notoriety of the visual novel makes me hope for the best regarding that comment! As for Dies irae, it's one of those novels that defined an entire genre. To quote a friend of mine, it's "the epitome of: chuuni; philosophy; dialogue; amazing characters; beautiful prose; and super epic plot."

They're both considered classics and I'll definitely look into them once they're out, and if you're interested in games with a lot of hype surrounding them I definitely recommend doing the same. The Dies irae localization project in particular is gonna be on Kickstarter very soon to gauge (and build) interest it seems, so be on the lookout for that!


That's it for now. Hope you enjoyed this introduction and found it useful in some way or another!