This ended up being Amy’s Top Five Visual Novels of 2021 because that’s most of what I played this year — not to say there weren’t some great releases in a wide range of genres that other Noisy Pixel writers have covered! Even just focusing on VNs, there were plenty of titles I added to my backlog and never had time to finish, some of which might have ended up on this list. But really, “too many interesting-looking English visual novels are coming out nowadays” is a good problem to have, so I’m not complaining.
5. Guilty Parade
I reviewed the first two episodes of visual novel/point & click hybrid Guilty Parade early in the year, and was drawn in by the quirky ensemble cast and unusual, atmospheric alternate history setting. The third installment (of a planned five) was released in December, is even better, revealing more of the mysteries of the world and the characters’ backstories and starting to bring the two protagonists’ narratives together. It’s a really unique and fascinating game, and I hope a bigger English-speaking audience discovers it in time for the next episode.
4. Buried Stars
K-pop idol murder mystery Buried Stars takes a few hours to really get going, but once the tension ramps up, it’s a gripping story that puts a human face on social media drama. The dynamic art direction stays interesting despite the limited, claustrophobic setting, and the investigation gameplay, based on finding keywords to discuss with your costars, gradually reveals their secrets and struggles. I’ll probably buy a Switch eventually, but in the meantime, I’m grateful for cool games like this getting ported to Steam.
3. The Blind of the New World
In the futuristic setting of The Blind of the New World, everything from food to fashion is augmented with holographic displays, which people can perceive using corneal implants, leaving the protagonist, whose implant has failed, feeling lonely and isolated. An emotionally intimate and metaphorical story that gains more complexity with each alternate ending, touching on issues of disability, artistic expression, and human connection in an increasingly technological world.
Mamiya is a dark and poignant visual novel about young people struggling with existential dread who are lured to self-destruction by a mysterious figure only they can see. There’s a sense of surreality and timelessness, as well as underlying meta elements that give me big Umineko vibes, but at the same time the story manages to feel grounded and relatable. And while it deals with heavy subjects like trauma and abuse, the ending still leaves a glimmer of hope. A beautifully written and complex story that I’ll definitely be rereading to put all the pieces together.
1. DRAMAtical Murder
Cyberpunk boys love VN DRAMAtical Murder may have first been released nearly a decade ago, but it still holds up as one of the best looking and sounding visual novels I’ve played, and it’s great to finally have an official English release with a translation that breathes new life into familiar characters. (Koujaku saying “bro” is unironically a great TL choice don’t @ me.) A must-read for boys love fans, but anyone who’s into weird stories about the intersection of human identity and technology should enjoy it. Hopefully this year we’ll also get the fandisc.
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