Steam has begun to censor mature visual novels on their storefront despite past reassurances that they would allow adult games that didn’t break its rules. This is undoubtedly worrisome, as there are plenty of fantastic stories that shouldn’t be dismissed due to some art that is determined “racy.”
The news also serves as a reminder that there are plenty of fantastic visual novels currently available on PC. While these games won’t give players the same rush that an action-heavy AAA title would on consoles, they do feature some of the most interesting stories in all of gaming. Plenty of them are highly interactive, as well, as they feature some inventive gameplay systems alongside plenty of text to read.
As such, I’ve put together a list of the 15 best PC visual novels that every gamer should play. Check out my recommendations below!
Best PC Visual Novels: Best Visual Novels for Steam, GOG, itch.io, and More
While it definitely isn’t a “fun” game to play, Actual Sunlight is an uncomfortable, yet true, portrayal of how depression impacts life. It’s a brilliant title written by Will O’Neill, and a showcase that games can elicit more than simple emotions. I also recommend O’Neill’s latest game, Little Red Lie, which brilliantly tackles themes of deception and financial instability.
Few games capture the sweetness of a high school romance quite like Butterfly Soup. This short visual novel (it can be completed in an afternoon) is also packed with hilarious dialogue and some fantastic characters. Plus the heartfelt adventure is available for free on itch.io, so you have no reason not to play it.
The story of Tomoya Okazaki is one of the most popular visual novels (in fact it morphed into its own media franchise spanning light novels, manga, and anime) and for good reason. It tells a highly emotional tale with its coming of age narrative. The Steam release is particularly great as it features enhanced visuals and an in-game encyclopedia.
Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc
All three titles in the horror series are filled with gruesome deaths and an intriguing mystery to solve, but the original game has some of the most memorable twists and turns. Danganronpa manages to catch the player’s attention early on and then it never lets go until the credits roll. It’s a masterpiece in storytelling, and well worth playing.
Doki Doki Literature Club!
While it may look like a dating game, Doki Doki Literature Club! actually has some of the darkest twists of any visual novel. It manages to scare players in some truly inventive ways and is one of the more interesting PC releases in recent memory.
Emily is Away
The immediate draw of Emily is Away is in its excellent nostalgic framing of using an AOL Instant Messenger interface to tell its story. It does a wonderful job of telling a worthwhile story on top of a genius framework and manages to be quite the memorable title. If you dig it, there’s also an excellent sequel available.
While it may have gotten popular due to its absurd plot device (you’re a human dating pigeons), Hatoful Boyfriend has a lot more to offer than just silliness. Things really start to become interesting once the player begins to learn why the world is in its current state, and it becomes quite the interesting post-apocalyptic tale. Oh, and you get to date a bunch of cute birds, so what’s not to love?
This short-ish (it’s about six hours long) VN takes place in America during a new gold rush. While the backdrop is plenty interesting, the main draw is the relationship between the two main characters, Amber and Marina. The duo has an undeniable chemistry, and it becomes hard to stop playing as the game’s story continues on.
Long Live the Queen
While a lot of visual novels feature branching paths, Long Live the Queen has in-depth stat tracking sort of like a role-playing game. In it, players take control of a young Princess, and it’s up to them to make sure she’s ready for her newfound role of Queen after her mother passes away. While there’s plenty of story, it’s more of a strategy game as players have to successfully rule the kingdom without dying (which is much harder than it seems).
If you’re looking to date some cute anime girls then you can’t go wrong with Muv-Luv. Not only are the characters a joy to get to know, the overall story continues to evolve throughout its several arcs. It all concludes in the sequel, Muv-Luv Alternate, which ups the drama in some major unexpected ways!
The complex plot of Steins;Gate revolves around the idea of time travel, which becomes much more than just an unproven concept. Players eventually find themselves going into different timelines and trying to change the future. Meanwhile, Steins;Gate 0 takes place in an alternate future, and explores the relationships between humans and the artificial intelligence they use.
The 25th Ward: The Silver Case
Suda-51 is known as one of the most eccentric video game luminaries, and The Silver Case series might be his weirdest title. The interwoven story spans multiple perspectives, and features dozens of endings that range from the absurd (such as finishing the game by watching WrestleMania) to potentially linking it with other titles by Suda. You might not understand every single intricacy of its plot, but The Silver Case leaves quite an impact regardless.
Have you ever wanted to be a bartender in a cyberpunk future? Of course you have! VA-11 Hall-A allows players to live that life, and when they’re not mixing drinks to make customers happy, they’re learning more about the game’s fascinating world and characters. It’s a brilliant title that features everything from robot sex workers to sketchy journalists (that adjective might be redundant, though).
Visual novels are typically a single-player affair, but The Yawhg combines choose-your-own-adventure storytelling with a multiplayer twist. It works out brilliantly because of it, but it’s also a blast solo. The story of the evil Yawhg returning to the world also has a massive amount of replayability thanks to its use of randomly generated content.
Zero Escape: The Nonary Games
The Nonary Games is an enhanced collection of two of the best visual novels ever made (999: Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors and Virtue’s Last Reward). The two titles have some of the most memorable twists in all of gaming, and the story wraps up wonderfully in Zero Time Dilemma (which is also available on PC). It’s especially great for players that enjoy pseudo-science, as it wonderfully uses several science fiction tropes to flesh out its own world.