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‘Visual Novel’ Games Get a Second Chance When You Remove the Sex Scenes

‘Visual Novel’ Games Get a Second Chance When You Remove the Sex Scenes:

Censorship has become something of a rallying cry in the last year or so for the scorned consumer of animated titillation. Games like Dead Or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball 3 and Tokyo Mirage Sessions have been the subject of manifestos and public bemoaning, whether it’s over a moderated American release or no release at all.

The more games that come to our shores, the more fans have had to deal with these issues, as there’s little doubt from anyone that sentiments on sexuality differ between Japan and America. Nowhere is this more prevalent than in visual novels, a genre of games focused on written storytelling with accompanying illustrations and animations.

These modern Choose Your Own Adventure games have been around since the earliest days of games, and in Japan especially, the medium has blossomed. It was a chance to explore writing in games, even deeper than the text-laden role-playing adventures could. Stories that couldn’t be told with “traditional” gameplay, through jumps, kicks and punches could be translated into the written word, while still falling under the massive umbrella of game.

Muv-Luv, after a successful KickStarter is being re-released on Steam and other platforms, was an opus of this time. Authors in visual novels were beginning to experiment with postmodern concepts, subverting expectations and trying to branch out further into what one could do with the form, and Muv-Luv embodied all of that. It features a massive plot twist, clever writing, excellent art, and the final entry in the trilogy called Alternative is widely considered one of the best visual novels written.

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It also contains sexual content of varying degrees, with poor dialogue and sex scenes for the sake of sex scenes, ramping up to the obscene and unnecessary in a later entry. It builds up incredibly compelling female protagonists, only to put them into neatly defined routes with an “easter egg” sexual encounter for each one.

It’s endemic of an era in visual novels, one that has plagued the medium as it gets brought forward to the modern era. While the medium flourished in terms of creativity, it struggled to find a foothold, and so it took the one it could grasp onto: creating “eroge,” or erotic content.

Many “classics” of visual novels fall under this category besides just Muv-Luv; Fate/Stay Night, Grisaia, Baldr Sky and more all have eroge content of some kind. Fans even often lament the writing of these, noting how authors like the Fate series’ Nasu struggle to write scenes well, and rumors persist of him handing them off to other staff members, though confirmation is difficult to find.

So a re-release of these classics raises an interesting problem, one that you have to wrestle with: in what manner do you preserve these games, while also trying to address the inherent baggage they carry? The current answer, as shown with the adaptations of Muv-Luv and Grisaia, is to remove the eroge content, either leaving it to an official or unofficial patch to restore that content if the user decides they want it. It’s a response that has some feeling scorned, deprived of the story they wanted. Muv-Luv is by all means a great story, but times have changed, and its Steam release isn’t censorship; it’s a second chance.

GROWING PAINS

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Visual novels have grown a lot since those early days. Series like Phoenix Wright, Zero Escape and Danganronpa have found a home outside of Japan, selling well in America and Europe. Each features well-written storylines, excellent art and incredible presentation, much like those mentioned above. But beyond just being excellent games, these are also stories I can carry around with me, play in public spaces and freely recommend to friends. They’re ones I’m unafraid of vocally supporting, because there isn’t a long list of caveats that follow.

In contrast, the older era of visual novels suffers from these scenes, with most being at-best culminations of a budding romance, and at worst, sudden deviations from the story. In some, it even seems like the author had a timer next to their desk, and it dinged loudly: “you better get some nudity into this part or your novel won’t sell.” The writing reflects that, and many visual novels dip incredibly in quality the second the focus shifts to titillation over mental stimulation. Chances are, if the story isn’t lacking for its absence, it didn’t have much place to begin with; and in the case of many re-reads I’ve done on “all-ages” versions, their existence was rarely missed.

There’s certainly value to having adult content in games—some visual novels, even, like Katawa Shoujo and School Days, benefit from using them as a storytelling device. Games like The Witcher and Mass Effect have shown a more mature approach to sex, or at least addressing that it’s something more than a circus put on for the audience, to enjoy in only the most primal sense.

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The idea that I could finally feel good about recommending one of my favorite visual novels to a friend, without the baggage of “but”s and “uh”s accompanying it, is something this genre has sorely needed. Like a good book, visual novels often spread by word-of-mouth; friends and colleagues telling others “hey, you need to play this” does more than any front-page Steam ad. If my recommendation comes with the caveat of “at some point, this story will divert into a random threesome in a forest, where three inexperienced teens suddenly turn into seasoned performers and it’s justified as a ‘transfer of mana,’” it’s closer to an insult in their taste of literature.

There’s a place and time for sexual content, even the silly, fun kind—HuniePop and others have shown that much, and serve to fill that exact role. So maybe it’s time we accept that visual novels have risen above shoehorned sex scenes, and celebrate the idea that more people can get into this awesome medium and read the classics without having to suffer through the muck. Muv-Luv, Fate/Stay Night, Tsukihime—these visual novels deserve every ounce of respect they get, and no one should miss them simply because of the time they were written in.


Eric Van Allen is a Texas boy and freelance writer who can be seen at IGN, Paste, Playboy and other outlets. You can follow his work and ramblings on Twitter at @seamoosi.

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