You can also check out: my history with JRPGs
This is a post I was gonna do sooner or later but kept postponing and postponing it until… well, until Kai from Deluscar was kind enough to remind me of it. So I guess this is as good a time as any to write about this. And by “this”, I mean how I got started with visual novels, what I thought of them, what sparked that initial fire in me, and so on. Some of this information is already out there in the wild, scattered on Twitter, Reddit and buried somewhere in the depths of certain forums, but I figured it would be nice to have it all in one place.
In other words, story time! Please bear with me as I reminisce about the last 10 years of my life. Like some old man.
I started playing visual novels before I even knew about the term “visual novel”. How funny is that? Very, I assure you.
My first one was Narcissu, back when it was first released in English. VNDB tells me this occurred in The Year of Our Lord Two Thousand and Five, and this seems to coincide with my own memories, so it must be correct. I was a massive anime fan at the time — I was a young, nerdy teenager still in high school –, to the point that I would proudly refer to myself as an otaku (I would never do this today, in fact being called this would genuinely rub me the wrong way, but that is entirely different story for a different time).
At first, I didn’t really know what to make of it. I hesitated to call it a “game”, because what was I doing, really? Staring at the screen and advancing text to read more text. That’s not “playing” at all, no sir — “playing” is spending several hours cooped up in a room in front of a TV in the middle of summer trying to clear the Pharos Subterra in FF12, because that’s what real men do, right? So in the end, I decided to just call Narcissu… a story. That you sort of read on the computer. I vaguely remember having a hard time explaining it to a friend of mine back then. I was actually trying to get said friend to read it as well, because of how amazing and fantastic and bittersweet it was, and it gave me all the ~feels~ (*cringe*) in the world. In retrospect, I don’t think I would enjoy Narcissu as much as I did back in the day, but that’s beside the point — the point is that this was my first connection with a genre that would later became a fairly big part of my life.
You might think I took Narcissu as a stepping stone and embarked on an adventure to consume all the VN classics out there… and you’d be wrong. It wasn’t until a few years later that I took notice of a friend of mine talking excessively about these so called visual novel thingamajigs. Before this had all happened, I have to confess I was already the proud owner of DS Lite and a fan of the Phoenix Wright series, but back then it never really occurred to me to consider these games VNs. And while today, I absolutely do (sort of), we can probably skip the parts where I play through the first three games in the PW series because it really didn’t have much to do with my journey towards becoming the true VN Jedi Master that I am today. (you are cordially invited to snicker in response to that last bit)
No, my real, actual first exposure to the genre happened when I tried a game that said friend of mine held in high regard, primarily because I was, and still am, a self-confessed connoisseur of all things H.P. Lovecraft, having bought three massive, *massive* volumes entitled “The Complete Works of H.P. Lovecraft” and treating them as my bible. I even took them with me to university, lugging the heavy things around to read them between (or during…) lectures, all day every day. Later I would even watch the Nyaruko anime… feel free to judge me, you have every right to. So I’m guessing about 99% of you are going “oh he’s gonna bring up Saya no Uta any second now”, and yes, he is indeed going to bring up Saya no Uta in just a second, this Gare rapscallion. (The other 1% of you might have been thinking of Demonbane, but no.)
So as you can tell I was into twisted shit and as such, ate Saya right the fuck up. Haha, “ate”. That’s funny because in the VN you-know-what happens. Anyway, the entire thing just oozed a sinister sort of atmosphere, and it was fascinating seeing the protagonist descend into deeper and deeper levels of madness and fuckeduppery. It got to the point where I was actively rooting for the side characters to save the day because the actual MC is just whoa dude. My favorite ending remains not what people seem to consider the true end (at least I think so), but that other one with the mirror and the gun and you probably already know which ending that is. Yes the “true” end is all fine and romantic and all that jazz but by far the “mirror” ending is the one that screams “hey can you tell we like Lovecraft” the most to me, and consequently what I consider to be an extremely fitting conclusion to a story like this. Needless to say, I was impressed enough by Saya to crave more honey from the honey jar, so I looked at my checklist of “popular VNs lots of people seem to like” and saw Fate/stay Night there. Which takes us to the next chapter of this thrill ride of a retrospective adventure.
I wasn’t so sure about this, since at this point in time I had already watched the anime adaptation, which I soon dubbed “forgettable shit” and moved on with my life. However, people (read: one friend of mine) kept reassuring me that the visual novel is a lot better, so I should just read that. So I went into it with an open mind, and started the Fate route. I was actually sort of enjoying it! However, that enjoyment faded after a while, when the route just went on and on and on, and I was getting increasingly more bored and generally annoyed with a certain guy’s “get back in the kitchen Saber” antics, the story failed to grab my attention and Rin and Archer were the only characters I actually liked in the entire thing, the rest I just couldn’t care about.
And then Unlimited Blade Works happened. Despite all the shit I might talk about FSN, I enjoyed this route from start to finish. For one, I’ve always preferred Rin over Saber. And it had that one plot twist with Archer at the end that I’m sure we all remember. I was really digging that. Long story short, I loved the route and then went on to read Heaven’s Feel. Sadly, for me personally, it sort of suffered from Fate syndrome in the sense that I was intrigued at first but soon grew tremendously bored of the whole thing and just… stopped. And now you know why FSN is listed as “dropped” on my vndb.
I know what you’re thinking. I mean… look, Type-Moon fans, I love you. I really do. If you would invite me to frolick joyfully on the bank of the Seine, oh I would accept your invitation. I would accept and would bring homemade cookies as well, and we would have a lovely time together, you and I. I know I’ve just said some disagreeable things about a VN that you love dearly. However, you’ll have to find it in your heart to forgive me, mon cheri. UBW was good, at least.
So that was sort of a bitter (bittersweet?) experience I had with FSN, and it kinda turned me off VNs for a while. Some time after this I started seriously studying Japanese (this decision was completely unrelated to VNs, anime or anything game-related) and eventually got to a point where I could read stuff. I was, of course, playing Japanese games left and right in order to complement my studies (but I’ve already written a post about this), mostly just JRPGs on the PSP and such. During my search for reading material, I don’t quite remember how or why, but I also started searching around for visual novels, both on Google image search and Youtube.
And then I saw it. What, you may ask?
(Careful with this video btw, it contains some spoilers.)
The moment I heard the lines これは英雄の物語ではない, 英雄を志す者は無用である, I instantly had a feeling Muramasa would be something special. And I started reading it, and… well, you probably know the rest. Long story short, Muramasa is pretty much my #1 favorite VN right now.
The story goes on a bit more though, as it was something I read after Muramasa — Kara no Shoujo–, that made me want to write reviews. This really wasn’t going to be a review blog at all, but one time during my now habitual Google image searches, I saw a screenshot of that famous/infamous Glasgow grin scene of KnS, and that piqued my curiosity. Once I finished the novel I had a lot of things I wanted to say about it, which led to my first ever review on the site.
And that’s how visual novels changed a lot in me. So I guess it’s pretty lucky that I stumbled upon that one music video of Muramasa, eh? I never in my wildest dreams would’ve imagined that I would be reading stuff in Japanese and starting an entire blog about them, no less! I mean, really. And yet here I am, typing this, and here you are, reading it. Funny how life works sometimes.