The Walking Dead and Visual Novels

Some people like to slap the term "visual novel" on just about any game with a semblance of a story. The latest target for their misguided labeling is Telltale’s video game adaptation of The Walking Dead. Unlike Phoenix Wright where I can see why someone would call it a VN, The Walking Dead isn’t even close. It’s a completely standard Western-style graphical adventure game all the way through.

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Like visual novels, TWD is primarily story-focused and very dialogue heavy. Very much unlike visual novels however is the presentation of the dialogue. It’s fully voice acted with no written text in sight (unless you explicitly turn on subtitles), making the label of visual novel rather dubious from the get to. This style of presentation effectively forces the player to wait on the voice acting, limiting the length of the script.

TWD also has choices and a branching narrative. Some people like to associate this with visual novels even though adventure and role-playing games have been using both for decades. Most of the choices in TWD are of the role-playing kind — primarily determining your personality and how other characters perceive you. Visual novels with many role-playing choices exist (Cinders comes to mind), but they’re the exception rather than the rule. Each episode of TWD also has several ‘important’ choices, but even though the game makes a big deal out of them, their influence is pretty much cosmetic and they don’t affect the main (linear) plot.

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People comparing TWD to a visual novel also seem to forget almost half of the total play time consists of (very easy) point-and-click adventure game puzzles. These puzzles seem to be mostly filler; not interesting enough to stand on their own, but required for pacing reasons. Even if the puzzles are a little bland, they certainly still exist.

Action scenes create tension using quick time events — pretty much the least VN-like gameplay element imaginable. Nearly every dialog choice in the game being is timed, even the conversation options during some random casual chat.

There’s no written text, branching is only cosmetic, the choices are RPG-style and point-and-click adventure gameplay takes up (nearly) half of the total play time. The Walking Dead is a good adventure game with engaging cinematic cutscenes, but I don’t really see where the visual novel comparison even comes from.

Oh well…

5 thoughts on “The Walking Dead and Visual Novels

  1. So true. I hate seeing gamers just randomly slap VN on almost anything that doesn’t involve cutscenes or similar.

    Out of curiosity have you played Hoshizora no Memoria -Wish upon a shooting star-?

      • Well i’m sure you’ll love it cause since I been reading it I kept on planning on porting it to VNDS for android. By the way any suggestions for new novels? I recently got Otoboku but I haven’t started it yet since and I been re-reading the Sagara family.

  2. The Japanese lump adventure games and visual novels together, so it doesn’t matter if westerners do the same either.

    • Visual novels are considered a subgenre of adventure games. The distinction between visual novels and ‘normal’ adventure games can be important in setting expectations. Some people don’t want gameplay, just the story, while others prefer lots of interactivity. Using “visual novel” only for adventure games with little to no gameplay helps make a distinction. If you start applying the label to regular adventure games, it loses most of its usefulness.

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