A few months ago, I picked up the 2022 Queer Games Bundle—a group effort by a team of LGBTQ+ creators on itch.io to promote each other’s projects while raising funds to be split between all participants. Among the many creative works included in the bundle, I was especially happy to find so many visual novels that include transgender and non-binary characters, from abstract metaphorical stories to realist depictions of contemporary issues to supernatural adventures in which some of the cast happens to be trans. In this post, I’ve compiled my thoughts on just a few of those fun, unique, and occasionally touching VNs. Whether you’re looking for LGBTQ+ representation or just something generally good to read, give some of these a try and support the queer indie game developers who are out there working hard to tell great stories on a small budget! I hope you find something you enjoy.
Created for the 2021 Nonbinary Game Jam, Wolf’s Wool is a unique and abstract tale about breaking free from the societal constructs that dictate behaviour and self-expression. The story is written like a fable at first, as it establishes the rules of the strange world the protagonist lives in—but the writing style changes as the setting expands to include the rebels who have escaped from that world, with its eventual endings including much more modern and realist dialogue between the protagonist and the old friend who shepherds them into greater understanding of their own identity. This creative approach to storytelling is supplemented with expressive, colourful artwork, and a soundscape that creates the perfect mysterious atmosphere. Check this one out for an engrossing read that really sets itself apart from other visual novels out there.
Peyton’s Post-Op Visits
Another 2021 game jam project, this one is a short and sweet story about two old friends reconnecting over shared experiences. The two main characters, Peyton and Marcus, were college roommates; but while Peyton has been openly transgender for many years, Marcus just came out recently. When Peyton learns via social media that Marcus is recovering from top surgery, he offers to visit and keep him company, and the two forge a renewed bond as they discuss their queer identities and the unique difficulties that can add to life as a young adult. Similar to One Night Hot Springs, there are some educational elements to the way this VN addresses transgender issues, but it’s all expressed through dialogue that feels natural enough to avoid getting too didactic about it. I think the representation in this one will be especially helpful to any readers who are considering the pros and cons of medical transition.
A Potion For Chamomile
This VN follows two witches, Lavender and Chamomile, on a quest to obtain the rare ingredients for a transformation potion to change Chamomile’s body into one she’s happier and more comfortable with. At first the two don’t get along, with professional potion-brewer Lavender claiming that she’s only in it for the money, but their relationship becomes much closer along the way. I felt that some parts of this game’s world and the characters’ relationships could have been fleshed out a bit more, and it also stuck me as the kind of story that would lend itself well to some minor gameplay elements—for instance, I would have loved to click around a map to take the witches to each of the destinations on their quest! But if you want a short and cute read full of fun and colourful character designs, as well as some representation of both queer identities and chronic illness, then A Potion for Chamomile is the VN for you.
Sons of the Hunt
Sons of the Hunt begins on a cold winter’s day in Vermont, with the story’s nameable protagonist dragging his three reluctant friends through the snow on a search for Bigfoot. The group includes a teenage trans guy, Lori, in this gang of obnoxious-but-lovable scamps who spend a lot of time bickering and complaining, but still ultimately have each other’s backs. All the characters have vibrant and expressive sprite art that really sets the game apart visually; I especially liked the protagonist, who looks amusingly like an anime villain with his fogged-up glasses and sharp teeth as he leads his friends on their woodland trek. I also enjoyed the blend of horror and comedy. I’d love to see these developers revisit the same characters again to explore their backstories and relationships further, as well as the mysteries surrounding the cryptid terrorizing the woods!
Finally, this erotic occult adventure centers around a non-binary college student named Leo, their mysterious new rommate Dagger, and the rest of their eclectic social group as they explore young adult life, queer identities and relationships, and maybe also some kind of witchcraft. The game has an in-depth choice mechanic wherein various dialogue options pop up throughout conversations, while the player can also always choose to simply keep reading without making any choice in particular and see what happens. Some of the characters come across like they’re trying a bit too hard to be dark, edgy, and unique, but that definitely makes them realistic for their age group, and keeps them all memorable in their own ways. And I always appreciate reading VNs that include realistic and healthy depictions of BDSM! I’d recommend this one if you’re interested in that kind of erotica, or if you just want to read about the weird and wild stuff that this strange cast of characters get up to in six weeks of their chaotic lives.