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Reading Simulators And Grindstones

Visual novels and JRPGs

I've been trying to broaden my horizons recently. On the game side of life, that has involved playing JRPGs and visual novels. These are things that I have very little experience with and I have not been having a very good time. Is this a case of not having acquired the taste yet or do I have entirely the wrong palate?

I'm using the phrase 'Reading Simulators' for a very specific reason: whenever I see criticism of walking simulators that goes along the lines, NOT A PROPER GAME, I immediately think of my visual novel experience. They're games in which I click through dialogue sequences and very occasionally make a choice. The backgrounds are usually static, as are character portraits, and the writing is generally delivered as a series of short phrases.

Even the most non-linear walking simulators, if they are well-designed in terms of their environments and plot, give me a sense of exploring a new place. I love that. Visiting places that don't exist, or that I'd otherwise never have a chance to walk through, is one of the great joys of gaming for me. The gap between a driving simulator, like American Truck Simulator, and a walking simulator isn't all that great as far as I'm concerned. It's about being a tourist in an imaginary space, or a recreation of a real space.

I enjoy playing with Google Streetview but I'd rather play a good walking simulator, but I'd rather read a novel than play a visual novel. Which is odd, because I do like a lot of interactive fiction, whether it's at the fringes of the genre (Fallen London, 80 Days) or in the more traditional Infocom style. Puzzles, weird worlds, weirder logic.

Over the last few months, I've been exploring another genre of game I'm unfamiliar with: JRPGs. I've tried some Final Fantasies, I've dipped my toe into Legend of Heroes and I've taken a look at Tales of Symphonia. Nothing caught my attention and there was little to convince me that the entire genre shouldn't be safely filed in the same corner of my brain that I reserve for young adult novels and their adaptations – broad characterisation, a hero's journey, storytelling that seems fated to populate Tvtropes pages with new hyperlinks rather than to convey anything interesting.

Damn, these things have put me in a bad mood. I tried Corpse Party last night because people had told me it was this genuinely creepy cult horror thing, and it looks like something that has been rescued from an obscure corner of the internet and dropped onto Steam (there as a PSP version, which ruins that framing somewhat).

I've been clicking through a lot of dialogue that seems half teen drama and half Scooby Doo. Occasionally there are references to pee and itchy butts. I don't hate Corpse Party yet but I suspect I will before the end. It's an interesting middle ground between a visual novel and a JRPG and it contains many of the things I dislike about both, though no grindy combat so far.

Help me, readers. I don't want to dismiss entire genres. Where are the good visual novels? Where are the good JRPGs?

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