Visual novels are one of the most interesting genres of video games due to their emphasis on story and presentation over interactivity and game mechanics.
This means there are plenty of visual novel storylines that simply wouldn’t work in any other genre, allowing visual novel creators to explore unique perspectives and art styles.
We’ll be updating this list in the future with new titles, so make sure to check back and let us know if we missed any games!
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Platforms: Windows, PS4, Nintendo Switch, Mac, iOS
Necrobarista tells the story of a group of friends who decide to open a café that exists between the world of the living and the dead.
It ends up being the perfect pit stop for the journeying deceased, providing them with a safe space to come to terms with their demise and reconcile before moving on to the afterlife.
As an alchemic barista, you’ll get to know each character’s story, their motivations, flaws, and witness their perspectives on dying evolve before they take their last sip.
Each episode lasts roughly 20-30 minutes, making it perfect for playing in short bursts, and the game’s 3D presentation complete with fully animated characters is a refreshing approach to the genre.
Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Trilogy
Platforms: Windows, PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, iOS, Android
Ace Attorney is one of the best visual novel detective series around, and you can pick up the first three games in a remastered collection for PC and consoles.
In it, you closely follow the titular lawyer Phoenix Wright along with his various peers as they investigate legal cases and defend clients in court.
Each case functions like a multi-layered puzzle whose solution can only be discovered by collecting evidence, cross-examining witnesses, and finding inconsistencies in their testimonies.
While the series is best known for its eccentric cast of characters and witty writing, it also does a great job executing its detective-style gameplay to the point you’ll feel genuinely invested in each case.
Platforms: Windows, PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, Linux, Mac
Taking place in a high school for monsters, the visual novel Monster Prom has you scrambling to secure a date for the big dance only three weeks away.
Despite the limited timeframe, the story moves at a reasonably relaxed pace, giving you time to soak up its unique humor and an emotionally expressive cast of characters.
Along the way, you’ll have the chance to buy gifts for your potential new beau, purchase new abilities to wow your crush, and compete with friends thanks to the game’s online multiplayer mode.
It’ll take multiple playthroughs to see everything Monster Prom has to offer, and there are numerous expansions and sequels that build off of the mechanics of the original.
The House in Fata Morgana
Platforms: Windows, PS4, Nintendo Switch, iOS
While most visual novel stories can be hit or miss, The House in Fata Morgana takes the genre to new heights with a captivating story that will keep you hooked all the way until the credits roll.
You play as a man with amnesia who finds himself in a sprawling mansion filled with mysterious doors rumored to behold the tragedies of people who lived there throughout history.
Most of the game is spent skipping back and forth through time while also blending different video game genres so smoothly you may not even notice at first.
This is further complemented by a carefully translated and localized script and one of the best visual novel soundtracks we’ve had the pleasure of listening to.
Senren Banka is a visual novel dating sim set in an old Japanese village called Hoori, which has turned into a tourist hotspot over the years due to its gorgeous vistas and hot springs.
The village is also home to the Murasamemaru, a mysterious ancient blade embedded in rock that no one’s been able to pull out for decades.
Naturally, your character ends up breaking the sword in half when he goes to pull it out, resulting in you having to marry the shrine’s magical maiden to make things right.
The rest of the game is spent trying to connect with the fabled maiden while also learning about Hoori’s history and many secrets.
Across the Grooves
Platforms: Windows, Nintendo Switch, Mac
Art is pretty important when it comes to visual novels, so it’s worth mentioning that Across the Grooves really nails the painterly hand-drawn look it’s going for.
It also happens to have a compelling mystery that encourages you to keep peeling it apart, layer by layer, until you get to the center.
The story focuses on Alice, a woman living a boring life before a mysterious record arrives on her doorstep and kicks off a trek across Europe to track down an ex-lover.
Every choice you make shapes Alice’s story, resulting in one of several possible endings that warrants multiple playthroughs.
Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc
Platforms: Windows, PS4, Android, iOS
Eager to study at the prestigious Hope’s Peak Academy, a group of teens quickly realize they’re all pawns in a sinister game concocted by an evil bear named Monokuma.
Now trapped in the would-be school, the students are forced to play by Monokuma’s rules, where the only way to escape is to murder a classmate and get away with it.
One by one, students start getting killed, prompting you to search for clues, interview key witnesses, and interrogate potential suspects before arriving at a conclusion.
Should you accuse the wrong person, everyone dies, and the real culprit walks free; however, if you guess correctly, only the murderer gets punished, and everyone else gets to ‘graduate.’
Doki Doki Literature Club!
Platforms: Windows, Linux, Mac
At first glance, Doki Doki Literature Club looks like your average visual novel dating sim, complete with attractive anime girls in tight-fitting school uniforms.
However, as you delve deeper into the story, you’ll start to encounter much darker themes akin to playing a psychological horror video game.
It’s a bit of a slow burn, with the most unsettling reveals tied to dating various characters and advancing the storyline with each, so it’s best to go in completely blind.
You can pick up Doki Doki Literature Club for free on Steam, though there’s also a paid DLC that includes the official soundtrack, high-res wallpapers, and concept art.
Platforms: Windows, Nintendo Switch, iOS
Visual novels do a great job at tugging at our emotional heartstrings about sensitive topics, such as automation’s ever-increasing grasp on modern societies.
In Neo Cab, you play as Lina, the last human cab driver in a world where AI-operated drivers have taken over, resulting in a massive disconnect between human interactions.
Driving around the lonely streets of Los Ojos, you’ll encounter an assortment of bizarre and relatable companions in need of a ride with stories to tell.
However, a much bigger mystery comes into play when your best friend goes missing, prompting Lina to start her own investigation while still trying to keep her eyes on the road ahead.
VA-11 Hall-A: Cyberpunk Bartender Action
Platforms: Windows, Linux, Mac
Becoming a cyberpunk bartender has its perks, or at least that’s what playing VA-11 Hall-A has led us to believe.
In it, you take on the role of a bartender employed at a cozy bar downtown called VA-11 HALL-A, or “Valhalla.”
Living in a futuristic dystopia where corporations reign supreme, your job entails accurately preparing sci-fi-inspired drinks for patrons by following specific recipes.
Do a good enough job, and you’ll be rewarded with great conversation from patrons eager to share their stories and insights on the world outside.
Platforms: PC, PS4, Nintendo Switch, iOS, Android
Raging Loop is a psychological horror visual novel about a young man who ends up stranded in a secluded village in the mountainous region of Japan.
The locals then force him to participate in an ominous tradition called the feast, and he soon learns that a vengeful werewolf is disguised among the townsfolk.
Bodies start to pile up, and Haruaki sets out to investigate what’s going on in order to put a stop to it and make it out alive.
It’s a lot more intense and action-heavy than many visual novels on this list, making it a must-play for horror fans who enjoy hanging on to the edge of their seat as terrifying events unfold on-screen.
AI: The Somnium Files
Platforms: Windows, PS4, Nintendo Switch
Another excellent detective visual novel recommendation worth checking out is AI: The Somnium Files, which throws an intriguing sci-fi premise into the mix.
You play as Date, a special task force police officer who becomes entangled in a serial killer case coined “the Cyclops Killer.”
Where things get interesting is Date has the ability to explore other peoples’ dreams, represented in-game by timed puzzle sections.
Like Necrobarista, the game uses fully animated 3D models and detailed environments that add to the overall immersion.
Platforms: Windows, PS4, iOS, Android
Admittedly a bit older than many of the games on this list, Steins;Gate is still a solid recommendation for anime visual novel fans with a gripping story you won’t be able to pull away from.
It centers on Okabe Rintarou, a mad scientist who stumbles upon a method for successfully time-traveling using just a microwave.
While the premise starts off innocent enough, the stakes get raised considerably upon realizing how serious the consequences for time-traveling are in the game’s world.
Most interactions take place via a trigger system where different characters will call or text the player’s phone; choosing to answer or ignore these requests will impact the story and shape the final outcome.
Zero Escape: The Nonary Games
Platforms: Windows, PS4, iOS
The Zero Escape series is worth checking out for visual novel fans who love sci-fi, adventure, puzzle-solving, and unraveling a good mystery.
The Nonary Games includes the first two entries in the series, 999: Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors, and Virtue’s Last Reward, remastered and updated with new features.
The story centers around an escape-the-room premise in which nine people find themselves forced to participate in a sinister game of chance orchestrated by a figure known only as Zero.
As tensions rise, the victims begin to question whether they can trust one another while racing to escape before they end up dead themselves.
Platforms: Windows, Nintendo Switch
Another visual novel based on a popular anime, Little Busters originally had a limited release in Japan until 2017, when the game received an English translation for audiences worldwide.
In it, you play as an unfortunate young man suffering from narcolepsy and poor strength named Riki, whose parents passed away when he was a child.
Riki is joined by his childhood friends, who join together to form the Little Busters: a team of fictional heroes on a quest to seek out and defeat evil.
It becomes clear that not everything is as it seems, and Riki and his friends will have to face their greatest obstacle yet, with multiple outcomes depending on the player’s actions throughout the game.