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Nitpick: Visual Novel Woes

Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors Screenshot - 1054017

Much to my dismay I picked up 999: Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors and started blazing through. It’s not that I particularly hate the game, however, there are a lot of great games on my plate and there are still more coming out. Having been told of how great this game is by a great multitude, I gave it a chance. I was definitely not disappointed with what I had experienced except for one aspect. This problem is common in most visual novel games but for some reason no one thought to fix this in ALL games in the genre. What exactly is this problem you ask? One-speed text speed. To be more precise though for me it is slow text speed.

1Why exactly is this a problem? To be blunt, it’s a problem for people who have varying reading speeds compared to how fast the text is popping up on the screen. If you’re a slow reader then you would feel anxious that the text is popping up faster than what you can read. On the flip side if you’re a fast reader then you’re waiting impatiently for that next word, sentence, or paragraph to pop up. It’s both an annoyance and creates a frustrating problem because one would think that an interactive novel would cater to the needs of its reader. 

Using myself as an example let’s delve further into this problem shall we? I love reading books. I always appreciate the idea of taking reading in a different approach as long as it doesn’t insult me or annoy me. Take for example, visual novels offer a very different approach to reading due to the interactivity, as I mentioned earlier. What about it makes it interactive. Let’s use dialogue for instance. In a book all of the text is laid out in front of you and the pace is dictated by the reader and everything that’s interpreted from the book is situated by the reader. 

In a visual novel this isn’t the case. There are pauses during events to create a sense of suspense or drama. In addition the speed of a dialogue can characterize how a person feels. “I. Am. Scared.” Normally the periods would distinguish pauses and sets the tone for a piece of dialogue in a book. In a visual novel, one can simply write the dialogue as “I am scared” but can control when the words pop up allowing for that dramatic tone. It’s super exciting because it’s almost as if the text you’re reading is coming to life and truly bringing that sense of urgency. 

2In a sense you can say that visual novels are dynamic novels that draw in readers through its directed scenes. By directed scenes I mean in the sense that the designer of the game had a clear intent on how to direct scenes in the game almost like a movie. This is the upside to visual novels and its due to these examples that many people adore visual novels compared to its more flat and static text counterpart.

Having addressed what’s great about visual novels, let’s get back to the problem I brought up earlier! I mentioned text speed as a problem. While dialogue has reasons for having unchangeable text speed, narration should by no means have the excuse the inability to do so? Why does dialogue get a free pass and not narration? Dialogue brings characters to life by using the varying text speeds. For narration, this is not the case. The narration is a fixed pace that is giving the readers a descriptive analysis of what’s happening. In this sense the reader should have full freedom to proceed in however manner he or she wishes. After all, there is no characterization that could truly occur in a narration since it exists for that sole purpose. 

If anything would excuse the inability to control the text speed it would be that the visual novel is in first person. Even then, I strongly believe that there should be an option for one to control the speed at which the text flows as narration doesn’t have really have the need for varying speeds. There can still be dramatic pauses and stops to create a sense of urgency but for the most part this can be overlooked. 

3The Tales franchise has always been great for having multiple text speeds and it’s not even a visual novel! How can a game that is so text heavy not have the option to control the text speed. For the visual novel genre it’s criminal since the whole focus of the game is reading! One has to wonder if this is completely intentional because many designers feel the need to take the option of text speed away from the reader. Perhaps I don’t truly understand the reasoning behind it. Luckily you can fast forward through text after one beats the game with most visual novels. Still... it’s disappointing to say the least. 

999 is by no means a horrible game because of the lack of varying text-speed. In fact, nitpicking this aspect doesn’t even amount to anything since the act of nitpicking is to make something miniscule a big deal. There are other visual novel-esque games such as Phoenix Wright that violate this principle so it’s not a problem that is exclusive to 999 as I mentioned earlier. It still doesn’t excuse the games that fall prey to this crappy feature, which is the lack thereof. If you plan to play a visual-novel game, be prepared to submit to the game’s wishes no matter how much you may not like it. That’s what I had to do and it made me sad. 

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Simon Chun
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