Simply put, visual novels are video games. I know, mixing "novel" with "video game" seems a bit odd, but visual novels are not at all like graphic novels, manga, or anything else in print. Here's an excerpt from Wikipedia's entry:
A visual novel is an interactive fiction game featuring mostly static graphics, usually with anime-style art, or occasionally live-action stills or video footage. As the name might suggest, they resemble mixed-media novels or tableau vivant stage plays.Beyond the style in art being a big difference, there is also background music, sound effects, and even voice acting that goes into a visual novel. But visual novels aren't like your standard games, either. There is usually minimal interactivity (the focus is on the story-telling side rather than the gameplay) aside from clicking to move the text along. However, they can have minigames to move the story along, or even have several points in the game where you must make a choice that could alter the rest of the story. Most visual novels have multiple endings, with a majority being "bad endings." So there is a sense of "If I don't do this right, I'll die and have to start the level over," that you get in most video games.
Unfortunately for visual novel fans, most of these games remain in Japan and never even get translated. There are a few ones that make it into America-- remember Phoenix Wright, anyone? You know. The one where you're a Los Angeles criminal lawyer... (It's always murder, isn't it? It's never something over health insurance or a class action lawsuit.) Yes, my favorite game series certainly qualifies as a visual novel. Although there are no voice overs, there certainly is a good amount of reading. Beyond that, there's also the visual novels that made it into the anime scene-- Higurashi no Naku Koro Ni, Clannad, Air, to name a few.
For those of us that like electronic books, this is certainly a great option. It's a digital book that comes with free music! Who doesn't like that? (Well, arguably when you pay for it, you pay the royalties to listen to it...) Of course, you can't ignore the large number of erotic visual novels... Again, who doesn't like that?
Perhaps I'll review a few of them to introduce the genre to you guys. Or maybe I've already sparked your interest?
See you next time.