Top 15 Best Visual Novels With Good Story

If I had a penny for every courtroom based visual novel...

What Are The Best Visual Novels With Good Storylines?

Visual novels are a genre that have stood the test of time over the past few decades, providing gamers with a more story-driven experience as opposed to the classic shooters they may be used to.

They are characterised by gorgeous art and unique UIs, amongst a plethora of characters to get attached to, and impact over the course of the story until you reach the multiple endings most visual novels tend to offer. Down below are some of the most impactful and unique visual novels in the genre to this day, where story, art and characters have come together to create an unforgettable experience for gamers all around the world.


1. Danganronpa Trilogy (2010-2017)

Well, if she has an alibi... 

The Danganronpa trilogy takes the player through a series of games surrounding the existence of Ultimate Students - students who possess an extreme natural talent in academic and practical fields who are asked to attend an academy to foster their skills, only to find that they have become tasked with the act of killing each other within the confines of a special school, called Hope’s Peak Academy, and getting away with it in a trial by fire in order to escape for good.

The first game, Trigger Happy Havoc, follows a student picked by chance, Makoto Naegi, to join the fifteen other students; the second game follows an individual called Hajime Hinata, who has an unknown talent, on an island tied to HPA; and the third game follows Kaede Akamatsu, the Ultimate Pianist, in the Academy for Gifted Juveniles.

The general gameplay follows you talking about general things with your classmates, such as the prospect of murder, or just how much better they are than the protagonist at what they do. Interspersed between these rare moments of calm come the bulk of the killing game, split up into the murders themselves, tastefully decorated with stylistic pink blood; the investigation of the murder by collecting clues or “truth bullets” if you will; and the trial itself, played out through heated non-stop debates and puzzle solving to find the culprit for all 6 odd chapters of all the games.

But be careful. If you get the right answer, as the series’ headmaster and mascot, Monokuma says, the culprit will be executed; but if you get the wrong answer, you’ll be the one being executed alongside your innocent friends while the killer goes free. Just something to keep in mind…


2. AI: The Somnium Files (2019)

Ah, this is what I was missing from my Psychology A Level course..

AI: The Somnium Files, is a visual novel that takes you, as AI, through a near-future Tokyo as he solves cases for a secret, experimental Tokyo police division, known as ABIS, partnered with his partner, Aiba. Except that Aiba isn’t a typical partner - she’s moreso a super-powered AI in the style of an eyeball that lives in AI’s left eye socket, transmitting information to his brain. 

On top of that, when you aren’t investigating the main case of the game, Aiba is also able to take on a humanoid form in the dream worlds she can take you to, powered by a Psync machine, in order to gain information from suspects who heard about the old adage of snitches getting stitches.

Along the way, AI and Aiba get caught up with the Yakuza, corrupt forms of government, and further tragedy - underpinned by a culprit who AI knows will strike again if left unchecked in society. With access to features like X-ray vision and enhanced zooming in mechanics, courtesy of Aiba, the surreal worlds you explore, through the Tokyo of reality and the dream worlds accompanying it, soon become familiar, if not gorgeous sights to take in with wholly unique character designs on the side.


3. Doki Doki Literature Club (2017)

If only my Literature classes had this level of emotional involvement.

Doki Doki Literature Club is told from the perspective of a high school student, who reluctantly joins a literature club by the request of his best friend, and proceeds not to engage in that much literature when he is given the option to pursue one of the four romantic leads in the game - Yuri, Natsuki, Sayori, or Monika.

Well, option wouldn’t be quite so accurate here. Though the game appears to be a light-hearted, bookish dating simulator, there is only one true option to love - and let’s just say if the player rejects her, things won’t end well for the other girls, the world falling into glitchy distortions and psychologically terrifying scenes that make the player regret their choice, whatever they do.

And in case the player wasn’t spooked enough… let’s just say that this game takes fourth wall breaking to the next level, actually becoming the inspiration for future games that also take interactibility with the player (and their laptop) to new heights.


4. VA-11 HALL-A (2016)

Sounds more interesting than the usual selection, right?

If high schoolers don’t have enough issues to deal with for one’s liking, then trying something like VA-11 HALL-A may be a better option. The player works as a bartender, making drinks for tired and soulless nine-to-fivers whose stories may not matter in the grand scheme of things , but are just as curious and interesting to delve into all the same.

Here’s the catch, though. The bartender doesn’t actually communicate with these people in the traditional way - instead, they make drinks that match the mood of their customers, allowing them to open up and say more about themselves and their struggles. In a world full of existential derealisations and larger-than-life issues, VA-11 HALL-A is a game that allows the player to feel good about seeing the personal growth and development of people who have lost their way in a complex world. The once one-off characters in video games are finally given a spotlight to shine, and it is definitely a memorable experience, to say the least.


5.  Ace Attorney (Trilogy) (2012)

This is literally every law student I have met so far.

The Ace Attorney Trilogy is not only a visual novel - rather, in a similar vein to Danganronpa, it is an investigation/courtroom simulator, with a greater level of realism than the latter. In this game, the player controls Phoenix Wright, a new defence attorney tasked with defending clients from prosecution, courtesy of the ruthless prosecutors on the other side. He’s armed with the powers of interrogation, limited evidence, and the testimonials of all kinds of witnesses in every case to punch holes in.

It’s never been more satisfying to solve mystery after mystery, doing what professional detectives and investigators can’t in an extremely high-stakes courtroom, where prosecution rates are notoriously high. Every case has players with their head held high after it’s over, knowing they beat near impossible odds for the sake of the client.

The entire trilogy is like this, and from the very first case (despite its comedic energy) has you hooked into this new world, and the mystery that stems from a singular piece of evidence from the first trial…


6. Steins;Gate (2018)

Internet warriors can't even compete with this one..

Steins;Gate is a sci-fi style visual novel that follows the mad scientist student, Rintarou Okabe (alias: Hououin Kyouma) and his friends (AKA: people who can put up with his delusions of grandeur) as they discover the means to travel back to the past - a power that students should definitely not have - to observe the impacts of differences within diverging timelines in reality.

Multiverses and Parallel universes are no longer just hypotheticals, they are a part of reality, and something to quickly get immersed in as every divergence gets more and more convoluted and intense than the last.

But mistakes are certainly costly, if one isn’t into the idea of seeing their friends die over and over again, so being careful (or not) with the details is a must when playing through this classic visual novel.


7. Zero Escape Series (2009-2016)

Finally, an infinite water source!

Spike Chunsoft appears to be obsessed with making games where the lives of participants hang in the balance, and the Zero Escape Series is no exception (Note: The third game in the trilogy is developed by Chime.)

In Zero escape, the eponymous Zero captures nine individuals and forces them to play life-or-death games - when the player character isn’t talking to their fellow detainees, they are put through the wringer in the escape sections of the game, with each game having their own unique mechanics when it comes to opening the doors that slowly lead to the freedom of the player, depending on their decision making skills,

From numbers (1-9) on watches where the combination of the people whose digital root numbers add up to certain door numbers that allow them to open (1 + 3 + 7 = 11; 1 + 1 = 2, meaning that door 2 can be opened by 1, 3 and 7), or colours on watches that, when mixed, open doors as well, the mechanics really keep the player engaged as they try to escape a premature fate, while choosing to trust or distrust the others around them as they look for a way out - by any means necessary.


8. Bad End Theatre (2021)

Look at how cute they are! Nothing bad will happen to them, right..?

As the name suggests, no matter what you choose in the Bad End Theatre, things won’t really end well for the player, or their companions. However, NonnonNami, the creator (And composer and programmer and artist) behind this, offers six-hundred illustrations in order to ease the blow behind all the downer endings available.  

Yet, the game is so compelling that people play this game to completion just to see the sheer variety of ways things go wrong for each character, between the Hero, Maiden, Underling and Overlord. 

To find the true ending of the game amidst every other one, you have to play over and over again to unlock new characteristics for every character to progress, learning about them and their motivations behind their given, vague titles. You choose a characteristic for every character to display in the next run, and watch the melancholy unfold before your very eyes every single run. 

And if things get too complex to follow, you have a handy little flowchart marking your progress through all the endings.


9. Monster Prom (2018)

A live reaction of me at University, every day.

If you have been through the ultimate social test that is Prom (hi, American audience), be prepared to live through another, albeit more aesthetic version in Monster Prom. You’re thrust into this world exactly three weeks before Prom, and in a stark reflection of reality, it is considered social humiliation to go alone, so your only option is to find a date.

You have a choice of six dashing monsters, all with their own issues and traits - like a literal gorgon, or a shockingly self aware hipster vampire, or undead beings that take issue with the stereotype of being slow and braindead, and mitigate it by taking something called ecto-cocaine. 

Your character develops over the course of your three weeks, stats upgrading depending on who you hang out with and where, between boldness, money, charm, creativity and smarts, all of which increase your chances with your potential suitors in the runup to prom.

However, Monster Prom doesn’t stop there, as it introduces online multiplayer, and the mechanic of only allowing one person into each location - and God help you if you like the same monster as someone else.



10. The House in Fata Morgana (2012)

My cat when I leave the house for longer than half an hour.

The House in Fata Morgana is a visual novel set in a gorgeous, ethereal mansion, where you awaken as an amnesiac spirit, and somehow also the new master of the mansion. However, before you have the time to process this, you encounter a maid whose appearance has remained unchanged over centuries. You explore the mansion through varying time periods - across 1603, 1707, 1869 and 1099 to uncover the lost memories of the spirit and explore what exactly happened to the inhabitants of each time period.

From two aristocratic siblings residing in the mansion, an amnesiac man living in the basement, to high and mighty businessmen, to a mysterious white-haired girl, those who inhabit the mansion have their own deep, interconnected stories. And all of this is complete with semi-realistic art with extremely detailed rendering, seeming akin to brightened oil paintings that match the dream-like and ambiguous tone of the story you are guided through as the spirit you play as rediscovers its sense of self through the lives of the residents before you.


11. Song of Saya (Saya no Uta) (2003)

Simply too good to be true...

The Song of Saya is certainly not an experience for the faint of heart. That being said, it deserves a spot on this list for just how insane it can get - starting with a protagonist, Fuminori, who loses his parents in a car crash and is on the brink of death, the visual novel takes you on a journey through his process of healing via experimental surgeries, the last ditch attempts to save him.

Of course, they work, the visual novel would be very short if Fuminori died right then and there, but at the cost of his former perception of reality, displayed through richly graphic illustrations of gore and bloody wads of flesh meant to represent humans. Only one being is safe from the gore-tinted glasses Fuminori wears, which is how the rest of the story incidentally descends into more chaos than it already has. 

A tale of love twisted in all kinds of ways, coupled with gorgeous, yet intense art makes Saya no Uta thoroughly engaging for the very reason that it’s hard to put it down without wondering just how much more disturbing the plot can get. 



12. CLANNAD (2004)

Now hang on a minute...

CLANNAD follows the story of the delinquent student Tomoya Okazaki through his teenage years through to adulthood, as he meets people in his town that start to have a healthy impact on his life outside of the world he’s gotten used to - one that beats him down. Between students, townspeople, staff of the school, everyone has their own story to tell and share - leading to seamless attachments with some of the people he never got to know before.. With over 100,000 lines of content, every character has their time to shine with their own lives impacting Tomoya’s in turn.

Every route has their own hidden gems of story, each with memorable moments and depth that goes beyond the typical stereotypes of anime characters, such as the huffy tsundere type, or the socially awkward and reticent one.

And, with 80 hours of content, it’s easy to get immersed in the world of CLANNAD, with a final true ending being your reward for becoming wrapped up in the lives of everyone around you.



13. Necrobarista (2019)

I may be dead with no memories to speak of, but you know what? I trust 'em.

If serving only the living in VA-11 Hall-A was not enough for you, Necrobarista takes it to the next level with The Terminal. Interestingly located in Melbourne, The Terminal served both the living and the dead, with the latter only having 24 hours to reside amongst the living before their time is truly up. However, The Terminal isn’t content with just letting the dead stay for 24 hours, and as such, have acquired some form of debt for letting patrons stay for over the limit - which the Council of the Dead aren’t happy about. 

There is no true protagonist to follow - rather, the Terminal as a setting uses its plethora of characters beyond the one we are introduced to first, to tell its story of overcoming a debt it has acquired. There is no narration, only dialogue, which allows for a greater sense of immersion between all the playable chapters, which, despite being relatively short, have characters with remembering - from the first soul we are introduced to, Krishan, to the boss of the cafe, Maddy, to the lovable Ashley and her robot inventions that roam the cafe

Necrobarista is also rendered in 3D, unique for the visual novel style, with text overlaying the heads of the current speaker, different kinds of lighting, and different camera angles for each scene. Truly, Necrobarista is worth giving a try for its beautiful environments and cinematic-like world alone.


14. GNOSIA (2019)

I mean, this feels familiar...

GNOSIA feels like the love child between Town of Salem and Among Us, being a visual novel social deduction game where you try and find alien creatures called Gnosias on board a spaceship. You as the player work alongside a generated group of NPCs to suss out the impo- the Gnosia creatures to put them in cryo-sleep, a surprisingly humane way to take out an alien threat.

Every character has allocated roles, alongside the Gnosia, to make things a little more interesting - from doctors who can investigate NPCs frozen by the Gnosias, to Guardian Angels who can protect high risk targets, to the Bug whose role is just to stay alive and destroy the universe at the end - which is infinitely more dangerous than anything else, including Gnosias, but I digress. 

And on top of everything, there are also timeloops that provide backstory for the universe and the NPCs on board that allow you to start discovering the secrets behind the base story, the Gnosia plague that started all this to begin with, and how you keep reliving these time loops with different people taking on the identity of the Gnosias and how many people are on board.

It’s almost meta, the way the game explores different settings for social deduction style games, which offers an unforgettable spin on the genre, making GNOSIA definitely worthy of being checked out. 


15. Amnesia: Memories (2015)

POV: You live in the UK.

As per the name, you, with a name you can customise, wake up with all of your memories gone. (Shocker.) But at least you aren’t alone in the world - or rather, alone in your head, as a horned boy called Orion has taken up residence, and won’t leave until you can get your memories back. 

Through Amnesia: Memories, you explore 4 different worlds based on card suits: The Heart World, the Spade World, the Clover World and the Diamond World, all of whom that have strange (yet dashing) gentlemen that claim to be your lover, and ultimately help you start to regain your memories, as well as the secrets of the lovers in each world.

Through the detailed worlds with card game based aesthetics, and gorgeous character designs to get attached to, there is certainly a game to really get lost into here, something worth exploring just to find the mysteries of not only your own head, but the mysteries of your self-proclaimed lovers as well.

I am not a discriminate gamer. I will play what is put in front of me, but I can't promise I'll be good at them. :)
Gamer Since: 2010
Favorite Genre: RPG
Currently Playing: Cyberpunk 2077
Top 3 Favorite Games:Portal 2, Danganronpa Trigger Happy Havoc:, Mirrors Edge Catalyst

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