Visual Novel Patterns
The following are transcriptions (and enhancements) of some notes I wrote in a book. The book’s function has morphed so these notes were torn out. Fear not, they are preserved here!
This is a pattern found in Spike Chunsoft’s Zero Escape games. In it, players explore storylines in order to learn information that should help them walk the right path. This pattern can be narratively justified as time-travel, premonitions and even computer simulations.
Basic implementations include revisiting scenarios multiple times but with new branching options. Story data from prior scenarios can inform the players of the correct choices they need to make in order to succeed. Some of these choices can be locked away or lead to incorrect results until the prior scenario is encountered.
Static timelines are story narratives that do not change based on player input. What is dynamic however is how the player perceives these static timelines. The story is more or less on rails but the player chooses which track to see it unfold on.
A game that uses this pattern heavily is The Invisible Hours by Tequila Works. In it, multiple character interact with each other to form interdependent story arcs. By following these intersecting threads, the player can follow the story in a non-linear fashion.
In this pattern, the player’s actions affect the story narrative by changing how story events intersect. This type of narrative deals heavily with consequences of choices and how these play out and collide with each other. The player succeeds by ensuring all timelines are aligned correctly. Difficulty in this pattern is easy to scale up or down based on the number of timelines and number of events.
A visual novel that boasts Dynamic Timelines is Chunsoft’s 428 Shibuya Scramble. In this game, multiple timelines play out and influence each other. The player needs to determine cause and effect to ensure timelines don’t cut each other short. If timelines cannot proceed due to premature endings or lack of context, the story does not progress.
Pick from a Pool
This is a common pattern found in many games like the Ace Attorney series. Essentially, the story cannot progress until you make a correct combination of choices. The difficulty scales based on the size of the pool of choices, number of combinations to make and information given to the player. Ideally, you would set the narrative such that the player is not reduced to making random choices. The player should be able to make educated decisions and not rely on luck.
Another way of looking at this is with the key-gate trope. A locked gate bars narrative progress and it can only be cleared with a key. In this case, the key is “created” by narratively correct choices.