Visual novels: why you should read them, from the perspective of a complete beginner

{Here’s one of my regular head ups! It’s been a while since I had the chance to slip one in, but for a start this post is quite lengthy (not as long as the entire Umineko visual novel though haha)! Beware of spoilers for Higurashi and Umineko, as well as descriptions of some of their important story themes and elements used to enrich both the story and the experience that you might want to see for yourself first}

With summer drawing to a complete close, I feel as if both my mood and writing had taken a backseat to a wave of wish to do something and nothing at all, all at the same time. While this is not anything completely new, I suppose this is my way of taking nearly a month long vacation with no notice and a bucket full of summertime laziness. With nothing I particularly wanted to do, I quietly resided in my room, occasionally cooking, cleaning, but most of all, binging youtube and playing various gacha games that piqued my interest either newly or over the years. Among the mountain of drama and simple rant videos, I found myself enthralled by one that in detail and essence was a love letter to the visual novel series of Umineko no naku koro ni. Despite having watched the Higurashi no naku koro ni anime adaptation years ago, it did not slip my mind that they are some sort of sister series. One thing let to another and I was watching a video on the themes of depression and friendship amidst the violence in Higurashi, figuring out what really was at the heart of the series instead of laughing at the green haired yandere stabbing people (as it turns out the yandere part is quite of a misconception towards Shion, but this is not what I want to discuss today).

Let me backtrack a bit by saying that starting to read both Higurashi and Umineko was not my first rodeo in the visual novel side of things, but rather the first to the end one. Many years ago I actually found the visual novel of Narcissu on a place none other than Google play store! I’m a bit ashamed to admit that that was about where it ended, as the series did not capture my attention at that time and I stuck to just watching people talk about visual novels, their characters and plot, without ever playing them to any kind of arc or entire title completion. In this case, I’m a complete beginner dipping my toes into what is known as a complete behemoth length wise (Umineko) and splashing around in what a lot of people say is an edge fest from the now apparently not too stellar anime adaptation.

As of the writing of this post, I have finished the first arcs of both Umineko and Higurashi and have read/watched videos with some spoilers of the key elements of both of the stories (not the endings mind you, cause that would ruin the feel and enjoyment of them both). With the introduction finally out of the way:
This post will be separated into 3 main parts moving forward: why you should read these novels; some negatives to reading visual novels; the pitfalls of adaptations mixed with my excitement for the future release of the new Higurashi anime.

  • Pros of reading (these) visual novels:

One of the main draw ins for me was that I was able to go at my own speed. With multiple save slots, a visual novel is guaranteed to keep you in check with whatever route you attempt on going, especially when seeking multiple endings. A pro specific to my light novels of choice, is that both of them are linear, as the author, Ryukishi07 himself has stated, Higurashi for example is a sound novel. What this means in essence is that the reader is left as an observer instead of playing an active role in determining the twists and turns of the story. Some say, that choices make them more invested and leave them feeling the consequences and importance of their choices, but I have to both agree and disagree. For me personally, the choices in a game (I’ve played so many otome games during my life the dread and fear of picking the wrong one is etched into my brain) leave my anxious. Of course, having your choices matter is just as impactful as seeing your character in cutscenes in most games. (For example, something that was exempt from and commented/ otherwise mentioned quite a lot on in videos reviewing Borderlands 3).

Watching anime takes quite a bit of time, as I’m sure many are aware. Watching multiple season or just plain bad adaptations that change elements of the story or otherwise rush and distort it, take even longer.

When it comes to visual novels, it’s all presented in a neat little package. Of course, you have to read a lot more than you would have to with just the subtitles, but that comes with the title. Another important element of visual novels is that a lot of them come voiced and filled with all kinds of ambient and heart wrenching tracks! Umineko’s in this case is especially noteworthy, creating a wonderful setting for a scene or chapter presented and amplifies the emotion. Meanwhile Higurashi plays into your sense of fear and suspense, by ramping up the tense and downright creepy music when the story requires so.

Another important part comes with almost all types media, but I couldn’t hold back on not ranting about the stories of the novels in question. The variety is stunning in these works alone. Filled to the brim with playful banter and fun games in Higurashi, the author does not fail to contrast those fun times with chilling ghost stories and the increasing suspicion that the main character starts to feel towards his friends. A lot of factors come it to play, but the reality that a lot of these characters hide scars under their cheerful facades is heartbreaking. The main strength however, in my opinion, of Higurashi is not only the contrast between the mundane and the tension filled with fear and suspicion or even the intense violence. It all lies in how Higurashi makes you long for the usual, their regular playful banter as a group of friends, in the end, understanding and supporting one another throughout whatever life had given them makes us as the reader sympathize and appreciate the simple times.

Umineko on the other hand is a different kind of story with a lot of the same elements. Mutual understanding between two distinct characters is no stranger in Umineko, from the daughter who acts childish and sometimes downright creepy all due to her wish to be happy with her mother and her mother, who just wants to make her daughter happy all while suffering intense bouts of anger toward her and regret for her actions. Love, mystery, violence and understanding another, all of it can be found in a single visual novel. But how can it all be true? I’m sure if all was as perfect as described, everyone would be reading them…

  • Cons to reading visual novels

The length is a major factor. The Higurashi anime in all of it’s entirety is around 23-24 hours (give or take cause of a mountain of OVAs), while the visual novels are a whopping 60! Umineko is no better there, as the visual novel spans up to 80 hours, while the anime is sometimes described as “just watch the opening song, it’s pretty good”.

The time indicators alone should give you a good vision of how much reading one would need to do to finish either one. While I couldn’t find the exact word counts in English, just for comparisons sake, Fate being known for its length is at 3,850,000, while Umineko towers with its 5,857,280 japanese characters. By this measurement, if Fate has a word count of around 1 million, we can only imagine what a work like the Lord of the rings trilogy (473k word count) would look like next to Umineko.

Another con, specific to both Umineko and Higurashi is throughout the series, the cast of characters remains the same and some people could get bored of it, despite the twists of both the narrative and the characters themselves whether obvious or hidden for further reveal. At the same time, while I was somewhat dreading starting the 2nd arcs, I was pleasantly surprised by the turns of events that kept the story fresh. The violence however, remains on the higher degree as it was before, so if you’re not into stuff like torture, intense situations filled with physical or psychological stress, please refer to the tags before reading!

  • The pitfalls of adaptations of such visual novels and my excitement for the upcoming Higurashi anime

Time restrictions are never good for any adaptations, but whether an episode is 24 minutes or 5, it all boils down to the amount of episodes dedicated to an “arc” so to say. It took me around 5-6 hours to finish the 1st arc of Higurashi in its entirety (with all the extra content) and I baffled to say the least when I learned how much it takes up in the anime. A measly 4 episodes to all the changes, new information and subtle character dynamic shifts seems like insanity after I had thoroughly read the arc myself, so now I can understand the distaste that the visual novel readers sometimes have towards the anime. A lot of things without a doubt, got cut or rushed. Umineko’s anime adaptation, as far as I’ve heard, suffered greatly from it.

Another example of this is the 2006 Fate adaptation, which is often regarded with a kind of pity over something that didn’t age quite as well as we would’ve hoped, which could be said of the original Higurashi anime to an extent, in my humble opinion.

For this very reason, I’m both excited for and a bit scared of the new and upcoming Higurashi anime adaptation. The animation, along with the lovely and familiar character designs, so far look lovely from the trailers alone. Without a doubt, finally starting to read the visual novels lead to most of my excitement and even hype for the series, and I want to try my best to try and stay as optimistic as I can!

I hope this post helped to shed some light on visual novels in general from the viewpoint of a beginner, some problems regarding their adaptations, and the series I’ve grown to really like!

3 thoughts on “Visual novels: why you should read them, from the perspective of a complete beginner

  1. I’ve tried to write a few times on the particular challenges of adapting visual Novels. When you’ve played them you can often see the stitches of reassembled story lines. It’s why single route VNs like Higurashi tend to fare better inn my opinion. Excellent post in any case. Gave me a hankering for picking up a new VN.

    Like

  2. I also started with Narcissu and haven’t actually gotten far since there. I also don’t think I finished it, since the free version I installed on my phone was pretty glitchy. If I recall correctly, it didn’t really give you options to choose throughout the story, which makes it kind of limiting as a VN.

    Nice points, and I should really get going on the VN classics, Fate and Umineko being two that I have a fairly strong interest in!

    Liked by 1 person

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