As part of a Top Secret Project, I bought and have been playing several Japanese visual novels lately.
(For those unfamiliar: a visual novel is something like a graphic adventure. The canonical example is a high school dating simulation, where the player talks with several girls in his class over the course of a few weeks, and whomever he spends the most time on becomes his girlfriend at the end. This is usually accompanied by a few scenes of the protagonist and the girlfriend having sex, to satisfy the [typically male] player’s prurient interests.)
I’ve read that visual novels have evolved from thinly-veiled opportunities to see cute anime girls naked into full-scale stories of blossoming young love. Based on my experience, it’s true. There’s been very little erotic content in any of the games I’ve played (thus far).
Tokimeki Check-In, for example, is a classic dating sim, so the characters have that 1980’s anime feel. The protagonist runs a mixed-gender hot springs spa, so there are various opportunities to accidentally see girls naked. As a result, it’s a less interesting game than the others, as the point of the game is, erm, rather obvious.
Snow Sakura, on the other hand, is a modern dating sim, where the protagonist has moved to Hokkaido (the north-most island of Japan), and is shivering through his first winter there. He’s surrounded by cute, odd girls. While it’s more of a traditional romance, the girls’ stories are revealed slowly, and the player gets plenty of time to appreciate each girl’s unique personality.
That’s one of the things I really appreciate about these games–it’s not just a few goofy scenes of high school life followed by sex with a girl. You spend some time with each girl establishing what you like about them, and genuinely falling in love with them.
Moreover, Snow Sakura is much more of a comedy. It’s genuinely funny.
Yo-jin-bo tells the story of a modern girl transported to Edo-era Japan. It’s a reverse harem series (a girl surrounded by cute guys), but more importantly, it appears to have the most intricate story of this set. The player has very little to do; even the limited, multiple-choice questions are few and far between. Moreover, this is a strictly PG-rated game. As a result, the show concentrates more on personalities and story than anything else.
Overall, I’m impressed. There are some genuinely good games out there.