Non-Ironic Visual Novels/Dating Sims

There’s Doki Doki Literature Club and this new KFC game that are parodying the visual novel genre. I’m more interested in dating sims/visual novels that are not trying be ironic or parodies. What are your favorites?

I really enjoyed Dream Daddy, which could have pretty easily tipped over into parody but managed to be touching and sweet instead, and I’ve heard good things from Austin about Heaven Will Be Mine. I hear that there are lots of good visual novels from queer voices out there, but I’d love some recommendations.

EXTREME MEATPUNKS FOREVER is a hella sincere visual novel about fighting fascism, I can’t recommend it enough.

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Hustle Cat is about working at a cat cafe and magic. You pick your character’s appearance (presets) and pronouns and you can date everyone. What I really like is all the characters have their own things going on and even if you don’t date someone, you still build meaningful friendships with them.

Hatoful Boyfriend is a visual novel a lot of people think is ironic or a parody but the thing is the game plays every single visual novel trope completely straight. Yes, you’re dating pigeons, but the writing remains completely sincere and the twists are really something. It’s sincerely one of my favorite visual novels because it was clearly written by someone who understands and enjoys visual novels.

(The sequel is also really good.)

The creators of Heaven Will Be Mine also made We Know the Devil, which I haven’t played yet, but I’ve heard good things about. Short, some horror.

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We Know the Devil is excellent, although it gets into some really dark stuff in places. Worth looking up trigger warnings.

Christine Love’s Analogue: A Hate Story is also really brutal in delving into the vileness of humanity, but is also very touching and worth playing. The recommendation to look up trigger warnings goes double.

Her game Don’t Take It Personally, Babe, It’s Just Not Your Story really affected me at the time I played it, and probably says a lot about player agency over the character you’re inhabiting, but it’s also really gross in a lot of ways that didn’t hit me the same way as a teenager. I cannot recommend it as a thing to play for fun, but there might be some value in looking at it critically? I am extremely curious about how Love feels about it in hindsight, given some of the critiques around the ways the more recent Ladykiller In A Bind doesn’t really address deception and consent where it seems like it really should. I haven’t played Ladykiller, so I can’t speak to that game at all.

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Second the serious rec of Hatoful Boyfriend, it’s honestly incredible. Also the bonus DLC Holiday Star has a lot of just amazing hilarity but then also some gorgeous art and some deep emotional stuff. Ten out of ten, Anghel for best bird.

Hustle Cat is also pretty good though one of the routes was pretty oof for me. Landry, jfc.

For VN + Puzzle, Black Closet is amaaaazing. You play the student president in a school with extremely high stakes and manage your party members to solve mysteries around the school to increase your sway. Some wild shit happens and there’s a good selection of ladies. Oh, it’s all lesbian romances, btw, aaaaand it’s great.

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The mention of Black Closet reminds me of two things:

  1. Austin led a quick look of the game on Giant Bomb:
  1. Austin was also on a Stream Friends playthrough of Long Live the Queen, which is also from the same studio that did Black Closet. Long Live the Queen is definitely in the vein of stat-building, decision making VNs where you will die a hundred times before you live.

(FYI, the content warning in the first video is NOT for the game, but some side chatter they get into.)

I’ve also heard Magical Diary (also by them) is also pretty good, but I haven’t played it myself.

I really enjoyed Butterfly Soup. It’s a story about an Asian American girl realizing her queerness. I played it entirely in 4-5 sessions during the worst class I’ve ever taken in college, a class so bad its name I can’t remember. I got nothing out of the class except a love for Butterfly Soup.

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Butterfly Soup is so good and everyone should play it. Everyone also please play We Know the Devil and Heaven Will Be Mine they’re amazing.

I have a deep dislike of Doki Doki Literature Club and it’s ilk even as a visual novel baby, not going to lie, which has made me much more curious about the genre recently.

I can co-sign a lot of stuff here. I’ll also add Hustle Cat to the list of recs. You play as the newest employee of a Cat Cafe with a ~dark and magical secret~ and also super hot employees. (its Safe For Work) Added bonus of having pronoun selection in the options (he/him, she/her or they/them) regardless of playing a protagonist with a set name and look.

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mostly seconding suggestions. We Know the Devil is my favorite game ever, Heaven Will Be Mine and Butterfly Soup are excellent, Black Closet is real neat.

new suggestion: Secret Little Haven . Its essentially about growing trans on the internet in the late 90s/early 00s

I actually dont think i know non-queer vns/dating sims that id recommend haha. (actually cant really think of any pure dating sims. id really be interested in a good wlw one)

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I’ll happily fourth the Butterfly Soup recommendation. It’s one of the funniest and most charming games I’ve ever played. Just browsing through the art book makes me laugh and remember the great time I had with it.

Also GENDERWRECKED, which is “a post-apocalyptic genderpunk visual novel about traveling broken lands and kissing/fighting/talking to monsters in an attempt to learn the true meaning of a mysterious force called GENDER” and I can’t describe it better than that blurb. It’s good and very funny and has a price of $6.66.

Both of those are short and sweet. Here are some more well known, production heavy games if you’d like that:

  • Ace Attorney 1-3, sometimes (mistakenly) not thought of as VNs. Has good detective elements.
  • 999, a great thriller with lackluster sequels. The main writer has a new game, AI: The Somnium Files, out just last week which is apparently great, haven’t played it yet though.
  • Hakuoki, which I see now has more entries than I thought possible. I played the localized 3DS game, Memories of the Shinsengumi. Fall in love with or get rescued a lot by a pretty samurai~

Edit: Oh, how could I forget? The Sakura Wars series is a set of visual novel/turn based strategy games. I’ve played the fifth game, So Long My Love (one of my fav game titles ever), which got localized for Wii and PS2 and it’s really good both in the writing and tactics levels (IIRC it’s the same team at Sega which are behind the Valkyrie Chronicles series). A bit of trope town in character archetypes but they’re well written, dang it!

My favourite is Coming Out On Top which, despite the name, is not actually particularly about coming out.
It’s about You, The Protagonist, coming out to your roommates ahead of your final year of college and then stumbling into multiple hot dudes who want your attention - but you also (kinda) have to find time to maintain your friendship with your roommates and keep up your studies.
It’s charming, and sexy (read: NSFW) and funny, and dramatic at times (potential love interests include your college professor and your ‘straight’ roommate, these don’t run particularly smoothly, you’ll be shocked to hear!).

Monster Prom is not remotely a traditional visual novel - it’s a competitive dating sim? You can play it with up to four people, it’s quick and punchy, about raising your stats to successfully ask the monster classmate of your dreams to prom. It’s a lot of fun with a couple of friends. The characters are arguably quite shallow, but that works for what the game is?

I also want to shoutout Seventh Circle - it just came out this week, I haven’t really played it (a demo, ages ago?), but it’s about queer wizards or something. I’ll actually check it out at some point and be able to be a bit more specific probably!

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Winter Wolves has a ridiculously huge library to choose from of wildly varying quality, but their best stuff really sticks out. Right now, I’d highly recommend Loren the Amazon Princess and Seasons of the Wolf, RPG VNs set in their Aravorn fantasy setting. I’ve also heard good thing about the most recent entry in that line, Cursed Lands.

On the less impressive end of the spectrum is Chronofire Games. They’re mostly known for Highschool Romance, which is a crossdressing themed VN that’s not nearly as gross as that would imply yet surprisingly dull, and a fantasy themed follow-up with a gender bending premise called Magi Trials I haven’t played. I bring them up because I have been enjoying their latest game, Starlight Drifter, which tries to mix in space adventure scenarios alongside dating sim stuff. Absolutely none of it is fleshed out, but the art is fantastic (their main artist did some animation work for Skullgirls, apparently) and playing from event to event is still fun enough in the moment that the lack of polish isn’t a huge issue. Just be warned if you wanna play the game as a lesbian, there is an unskippable early scene where you and a future member of your crew get drunk and end up sleeping together. They could have made this a event based on choice but instead it seems to be mandatory and I have no idea why. It’s normally $20 so I would wait for a sale.

I feel like VA-11 Hall-A goes without saying. Same with We Know the Devil, Heaven Will Be Mine, and most everything Christine Love has done (especially now that Ladykiller removed a really awful scene in the harem end with the president).

I haven’t gotten around to it yet, but Starlight Vega looks really promising for a yuri VN, it’s about some girls accidentally summoning a demon. The art work is really nice, it looks like it was colored with colored pencils.

Scar of the Doll is a JVN, but one from 1999 that was only recently translated. It was written by the guy who would later become the scenario writer of Folklore and is extremely fascinating, even if playing it feels a bit weird. Has a cool use of photos, play the PC version and not the iOS version with new, less interesting art. It’s difficult to really get into why it’s so interesting, but the premise is that the main character is trying to find her sister, who was working for a lab that seemingly has no record of that sister ever existing.

If you want something a bit saucy, it’s worth looking into Lupiesoft, a small queer VN studio who made the extremely horny but very enjoyable Mutiny! (a ridiculous amount of monster girls), though you do have an option for something less explicit with Toko the Reject Demon. Only a sort of prologue is out, but it’s a really fun read and extremely gay. They have a new game coming out soon called Dizzy Hearts also worth looking into, it will involve elf princesses.

While I can’t offer up Gender Bender DNA Twister Extreme because it is a complete mess (thougth one of the most entertaining messes I have ever seen, it is wild), I can at least say the team’s follow up, Max’s Big Bust, is actually funny on purpose and has hugely improved art.

Hanako Games is another studio with an extremely rocky record (they stepped on their own feet constantly when people were frustrated with them using the t-slur in the title for one of their games based around a crossdressing main character, though they did eventually change it and seem genuinely sorry), and Long Live the Queen seems to be their only real hit and I kind of hate it? The gimmick is just that you die all the time, it’s not that interesting. Now I have enjoyed Magical Diary, an otome game with a few lesbian paths and even an additional class and grades system. You can make your own character, which is neat, and the writing is pretty fun and filled with all sorts of teenage angst I don’t seem often. I think they released another game in this series recently too.

Kindred Spirits on the Roof is the most lesbian game that has ever existed, a genuinely huge JVN that got pulled off of steam briefly because school uniforms (Steam is goddamn ridiculous) but is back up now.

Highway Blossoms is also very gay.

The Cherry Tree High series is more a sort of roleplay/sim thing, but the second game in it, I! My! Girls! is a straight up kinetic novel that reuses the sprites from the first game for a really well done character drama/comedy sort of thing.

There’s also the work of ebi-hime, who does a lot of VNs, mainly about gay girls (write what you know), though she’s also done some horror stuff, plus some melancholy, slice of life stuff. Oh, and one het VN that seems to be about dating a single mom (the main character is 23, and it genuinely looks like a cute game).

I would also say look out for two up-and-coming VNs currently in development, Vengeful Heart (a cyberpunk drama about a water corporation and a quest for revenge) and Coffee Talk (an urban fantasy themed VA-11 like). Both are extremely promising.

OH! I almost forgot that Kotaro Uchikoshi has a new game out! He did the Zero Escape series, which includes 9 Persons 9 Hours 9 Doors, one of my favorite games ever. It’s called AI: The Somnium Files, and it recently started getting attention because there’s a scene in it where one of the main characters talks about how cool she thinks the LGBT+ community is (as in you can literally hear her say LGBT in the Japanese audio). The game itself is a sci-fi murder mystery.

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Seconding pretty much everything listed above already. I discovered visual novels with Ace Attorney, 999 and Analogue a Hate Story, and it’s my favorite genre nowadays.
Here are some shorter ones that are still very much worth it:

Watch Me Jump is the adaptation of a play about a sports scandal surrounding a bisexual athlete in the WNBA. The graphics are… not splendid, but the story gets really tense and gripping.

Rose of Winter is about a young knight escorting different princes across a fantasy land and maybe falling in love with them. It’s cute and absolutely wholesome.

Red Embrace is Urban Fantasy noir, about discovering a secret society of vampires and hanging out with sexy vampire boys. The studio recently released a sequel, Red Embrace Hollywood, I haven’t played it yet.

MoaCube made Cinders, a retelling of Cinderella, and Solstice, where you play several characters investigating a mysterious city under a dome in the frozen lands. The two protagonists have separate goals, which make the choices you pick as you alternate between them really interesting.

Highway Blossoms and Heart of the Woods have some great lesbian romance and beautiful prose, the first one in a roadtrip across the US, the second in a mystical forest somewhere in Europe. Both take place in modern times with grounded and relatable characters.

Dog of Dracula: Barbecue Densetsu and Cyber Monogatari are absurdist shitposts about the noir and the cyberpunk genres but they make me laugh. Some of the nonsense one-liners will haunt my brain forever.

fault: milestone is a fantasy adventure series with very nice production values about an exiled princess and her bodyguard traveling to reclaim her country. The world building is interesting, the characters are likeable and some of the visual effects they do with a moving “camera” are impressive.

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As others have already mentioned Kotaro Uchikoshi makes great thrillers. In addition to Zero Escape and the newly released AI: The Somnium Files, he was also a main writer on the Infinity Series. Ever17: The Out of Infinity, the only game in the series officially released in English, is infamous for being an absolute mind bender. I think that game is the one that sparked the fanbase for him which has been growing ever since. The other games in that series are just as wild though, and they all have fan translations. Remember11: The Age of Infinity is my personal favorite. He also made Punchline which… stars a person who gets superpowers if they see panties but if they see them three times in quick succession the world explodes. So take that for what you will.

I also recently played 428 Shibuya Scramble which I really enjoyed. It switches between several peoples perspectives during a single day in Tokyo while a terrorist plot is unfolding. It features actual photographs of actors instead of being drawn, which is a nice change of pace from the type of games that usually get localized. It can be a bit frustrating to figure out how to get out of a bad end with so many characters doing things at the same time, but fun none the less.

Finally I’d recommend Banshee’s Last Cry. A story about people stuck in a cabin during a snowstorm, and then people start getting murdered. Played that one a while ago and it’s a nice quick read.

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Thanks for all of these great recommendations! Looking forward to trying a bunch of these out!

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I’ve been on a hardcore VN kick and you know what’s odd to me is I can’t find anywhere that keeps up with the scene? Maybe I’m just not googling the right things, but I would love a blog that tracks the VN scene, especially with a focus on the queer games. I’ve found the Novel Not New podcast but it didn’t click with me very much.

VNs are honestly an exciting space for queer people. It reminds me of this podcaster I like who said something about the similarly-queer-friendly podcast space, that “Any gay with a microphone thinks they can make a podcast these days, and you know what, they’re right, more queer podcasts.” VNs feel like that space to me.

Podcasts are way better covered tho.

If you want to jump into the deep end and read a story about witches and generational trauma, there’s always Umineko no Naku Koro Ni

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