My latest recommendations for visual novels that take a few hours or less to read. This installment features a lot of mysteries and metatextuality, as well as some sexy cyborgs.
I Want to Pursue the Mean Side Character!
In the first release by new developer Tsun-Angelique, a young woman named Lily manages to get magically transported into a video game in order to pursue her favourite character, the intimidating but secretly sweet Beatrix. The story is told from Beatrix’s perspective, so a lot of humour comes from the dramatic irony of the reader understanding Lily’s references to the real world, while Beatrix is completely clueless. I felt like some of the text could have used another editing pass, but it’s nothing major, so it didn’t take away too much from my enjoyment of this cute little story. I’m looking forward to seeing what Tsun-Angelique creates next, especially if it has more adorable characters like Beatrix!
Full Service Shop
This submission to the most recent NaNoRenO is set in a utopian transhumanist future, and takes place in a clinic where cyborg customers can have their body mods serviced both technically and sexually. The player has the choice of either they/them or she/her pronouns for the protagonist, as well as three options for enhanced robotic genitals—alongside the two you’d typically expect, there’s also a touch pad with “cutting edge sensitivity technology.” There’s not much story beyond brief introductions to the four technicians you can choose to have install and test your parts for you, but if you want to read some erotica that’s inclusive of a variety of different identities, Full Service Shop is a great choice. My one minor issue was its unconventional soundtrack, which I found a bit too weird to want to listen to personally, but it certainly fits the futuristic setting. Check out developer Alexis Royce’s other games too for some more unconventional takes on sex and romance.
This one is a bit longer than the others and has a bit more gameplay, but I wanted to fit in a recommendation of it too! Developed by Miwashiba and translated by vgperson, 1bitheart is about a reclusive nerd named Nanashi who sets off on a quest to make friends after a mysterious stranger appears in his bedroom, and runs into a series of pretty silly sci-fi mysteries along the way. The one frustrating element of this game is that collecting all three endings could end up requiring you to do a lot of tedious replaying if you go into it not knowing how—I recommend looking up a guide so you can plan to take the most efficient path if you’re a completionist like me. But I loved everything else about this game’s bright and colourful aesthetic, Ace-Attorney-style argument mechanics, and adorably strange protagonist. The true ending might be a bit of a hassle to get, but it’s totally worth it.
Another 2020 NaNoRenO project, Dear Devere is an epistolary story about a Scottish woman in the 1930s who vents all her frustrations into a letter to no one and leaves it in the woods, only to receive an unexpected reply from a mysterious man named Devere. While there are no sprites in this VN, developer Katy133 does a lot with other kinds of art, especially some beautifully decorated envelopes that reveal a lot about the characters and their progressing relationship. The plot is a bit fast-paced, jumping from an initially slow and relaxing tone to a lot more violence and drama than I had expected pretty quickly, but it’s still a fun read that makes some interesting changes to the typical VN format. I would recommend it if you enjoy other games with epistolary elements, like Sylvan Disappearance or my own RE:BURN.
MetaWare High School
Technically, the full title of this game is MetaWare High School (Demo), but I want to make it clear that it’s not really a demo. Instead, it’s a strange, sad, and funny story that takes place in a demo, with a cast of characters who have become distressingly aware that they’re stuck in a game—and not even a complete one. While I appreciate the developers’ commitment to the bit, I also worry that the misleading title will make a lot of people skip this one, planning to just wait for a full release that actually already exists. Which would be too bad, since they’d miss out on a fun game that finds some unique ways to set itself apart even in the bizarrely oversaturated genre of visual novels doing metatextual commentary on the medium. One minor annoyance for me was that the text speed wasn’t adjustable, but having it fixed at one speed allows for a lot of good moments with characters cutting off each other’s dialogue or pausing in between lines that I might have missed if I was allowed to mess with the timing. Make sure that you get all the endings to unlock the true route in this one for a slow but satisfying conclusion.