Let’s talk about VR visual novels: How good are they? How do they compare to 2D visual novels? Are they worth the investment on a VR headset? And what are the titles currently available on VR (as of 2020)?
VR Visual Novels Currently on the Market:
There are a handful of other VR visual novels on the market, but they’re mostly just fan-service or extremely poorly rated ones (or both). Nothing wrong with that if you’re into that kinda stuff.
Here’s a small list of VR visual novels on the market:
- Tokyo Chronos
- Innocent Forest 1 & 2 (these are pretty good, but only ~2 hours long)
- Koikatsu Party VR
- CUSTOM ORDER MAID 3D2 It’s a Night Magic
- Angels & Demigods – SciFi VR Visual Novel
(These are all available on Steam, but you might have to log into Steam in order to see them as they are age-restricted).
For fans looking for a good story, the only VR visual novel that delivers this is Tokyo Chronos.
It is by large margins, the most successful VR visual novel, receiving tonnes of positive press and high ratings (90%+) in Oculus and Steam stores.
To the average gamer, Tokyo Chronos might not be anything special as there are wayyy more immersive VR experiences out there, but to us visual novel fans it was a gift from God. Not only did it deliver an excellent, heartfelt story, but it bought a lot of eyes onto the genre, demonstrating the potential of this medium on VR.
It All Began With a Kickstarter
Tokyo Chronos was developed by a very small indie studio called MyDearest. In 2018, they launched a Kickstarter to raise funds for the game – they were virtually unknown at the time but managed to raise over 90k in funds.
They released the game in March 2019. When it came out, it exceeded all expectations, delivering beautiful character art, decent backgrounds, top-notch voice acting and music, and a story on par with the very best 2D visual novels. Tokyo Chronos was essentially a AAA visual novel developed by a tiny indie studio.
Seriously, it’s very underrated because it’s on VR. If you search for top VN lists or search for it on VNDB, you won’t find it being mentioned anywhere. But I’ve played a lot of visual novels including Zero Escape (all 3 games), Danganronpa (the whole series), Higurashi, G-Senjou no Maou, Saya no Uta, Kara no Shojo, Steins;Gate and I think this game belongs in this top tier of visual novels.
How do VR Visual Novels Compare to Standard VNs?
The answer: it’s much better.
This shouldn’t come as surprise if you’re a VR user, as almost everything is ten times better on VR. But why is it so much better?
The short answer: it’s way more immersive.
The long answer:
1. The Characters Are More Human
In VR, you actually feel like you’re talking to the characters; you are with them on the journey. They’re next to you, in front of you, experiencing the same events as you and interacting directly with you.
This can make you like the characters more. 2D sprites and backgrounds can never replicate that feeling. A tropey, 5/10 character on 2D can feel like a 7/10 character on VR.
2. More Intimacy
Intimate scenes play such a huge role in the VN genre, but unfortunately, most times, they come off as cheesy for me. Very rarely do I enjoy them if it’s on a 2D screen, but VR is a different story.
In VR, when a character hugs you, you feel an emotional connection with the character – like you’re hugging them in real life.
Intimate scenes are just far better on VR, I just wished Tokyo Chronos utilized them more. But in the future, we’ll definitely be seeing more of it.
3. Less fluff and no descriptive text
Since you’re right there in the world, you don’t need to be told how a building looks or how a character reacted to your actions. You get to see everything with your own eyes. Descriptive text is really boring (for me at least), so I’m glad they don’t exist in VR VNs.
4. OP/ED Songs in VR
Hell yeah! Watching the opening and ending credits on virtual reality is a brand new experience and pretty awesome, especially if you like watching them on 2D.
5. Suspense is better
On a 2D screen whenever a murder occurs I might feel scared and feel bad for the character I like, but for the most part, I continue reading on as normal (unless it’s Kara no Shoujo which is an exception). On VR, when I anticipate a dead body, I freeze for a bit and slow my reading down because I get so nervous. This is compounded by the fact that I’m more invested in the characters as they feel more real in VR. When you like a character, you care more about what happens to them.
VR Visual Novels Compared to Games
Some people say VNs don’t have a place in VR, because VR is all about immersion and visual novels ruin the immersion by making you read.
As a VN fan, I couldn’t disagree more. If I had to choose to have my visual novels on 2D or VR, I’d straight up choose VR. If you think visual novels don’t have a place in VR, you never liked visual novels in the first place. Period.
But more than that, VNs have several advantages over actual VR games. Let’s compare it to a story driven game on VR: Lone Echo.
Pros of VR VNs:
- No motion sickness! Lone Echo made me incredibly nauseous. Whilst it had an innovative locomotion scheme, using your arms to move through a zero-gravity space is incredibly motion sickness-inducing and isn’t for everybody. Some people never overcome the feeling of VR motion sickness (luckily I did). You won’t have this problem playing VNs because there’s almost no movement at all. It’s like Beat Saber.
- Visual novels require very little hardware and can be run on mobile headsets. This is especially important in the future as we move towards wireless portable headsets like the Quest. The Quest does NOT currently support Lone Echo. It’s a huge advantage for a game to be able to run wirelessly from the headset itself without relying on a powerful VR-ready PC. In Japan, this is even more prevalent as most gaming takes place on mobile devices. It’s possible that in the future we’ll see an extremely cheap and portable VR headset designed for light games/movies like this.
- It can be created on a smaller budget, as it has fewer animations and less gameplay & interactions with the environment. Tokyo Chronos was made with a 90k Kickstarter and a small indie studio, which is quite impressive for a 20 hour game with a 10 character cast and full voice acting. Lone Echo, on the other hand, has 4 characters, is under 10 hours in length and was developed by a company with over 200 employees.
- Greater focus on the story: Since writers don’t need to worry about things like gameplay getting in the way.
Cons of VR VNs:
No interaction and overall less immersive: Not being able to interact with the world and having text float in front of your face makes the game less immersive. I admit Lone Echo trumps Tokyo Chronos in terms of immersion. I felt the one thing lacking in Tokyo Chronos was the ability to interact with the world and characters, which would’ve made the experience much more enjoyable. Oh well…
Maybe VNs in the future will allow us to do that. Also, there’ll certainly be hybrid visual novels with gameplay coming out in the future. I think if well-executed, a VN can be nearly as immersive as any game.
Is it Worth Buying a Headset For?
If you’re a weeb, I can say Tokyo Chronos is the best VR anime experience you’ll ever have. But, if your only goal is to get a VR headset just for visual novels, you’ll be disappointed as it’s the only anime game with a good story.
Still, some headsets are pretty cheap. If you’re just looking to play visual novels and watch movies, I recommend grabbing an Oculus Go which can run plenty of light games including Tokyo Chronos.
Regardless, there are plenty of experiences outside of visual novels on this medium and in a few years time, VR is going to become mainstream – mark my words. So my recommendation is: Pick up a good headset and enjoy what VR has to offer as a whole (here’s what you’re missing out on). But if you only care about anime and visual novels, then grab the ones I mentioned.
The Future of VNs
Overall, the immersion on Tokyo Chronos is next-level compared to a 2D novel. VR is truly the next step for visual novels.
MyDearest are close to releasing Altdeus: Beyond Chronos, the sequel to Tokyo Chronos and if you’re a visual novel fan, this is a series you do not want to miss out on.
The visual novel medium is actually dying in Japan, with declining sales numbers over the recent years. This is mainly due to a lack of innovation and a lot of copy & paste fan service games, but I’m more optimistic about the future than ever. I think VR will revive this medium.