Video games can sometimes touch us in ways that we don’t expect. As of late, the medium has been pulling the heartstrings of gamers across the world, and visual novels are no exception to this rule. Games like Clannad and Kawata Shoujo often show up on fans’ lists of their favorite visual novels because of how powerful and emotional their stories can get. So, what are some other visual novels that’ll make you cry? Let’s find out!
Note: The list is in no particular order, so just because your favorite game appears at number 10 doesn’t mean it isn’t as good as number one!
10) planetarian ~the reverie of a little planet~
Platforms: Windows (Steam), Nintendo Switch
Any time you play a Key game, you can expect to shed a few tears by the time the credits start rolling. Famous for the aforementioned Clannad, the company has developed several other VNs, including a kinetic novel called planetarian ~the reverie of a little planet~.
The game takes place in a post-apocalyptic world. You play as a lonely Junker, a man who searches for artifacts amidst the rubble of a once-great civilization. While exploring a planetarium, you meet a robot named Hoshino who wishes to show the main character the stars. However, she can’t because the projector in the planetarium is broken. Together, the two go out on a mission to fix it.
Planetarian is very short, lasting about 3-4 hours with no choices. Yet despite its playtime, you’ll still end up being touched by its wonderful story.
9) Lucy -The Eternity She Wished For-
What if robots could feel emotions? That’s the question Lucy -The Eternity She Wished For- asks. Admittedly, that story isn’t new. We’ve seen stories like this before: a robot learning how to feel. I argue that, while the premise isn’t unique, that doesn’t make the game any less good.
In a society where robots are the norm and act as maids, you play as an 18-year-old boy who hates them. While walking home from school, he stops by the junkyard and sees a discarded android that’s going to be destroyed. Despite his hatred for androids, he ends up saving and repairing it. The robot awakens, introducing herself as Lucy, a robot that can perfectly mimic any human being. That’s how your life with Lucy begins.
Is Lucy really feeling emotional, or is she programmed to feel it? Should robots be dictated to housework, only acting as maids to humans? Lucy -The Eternity She Wished For- is a thought-provoking visual novel that’ll have you tearing up.
8) AI: The Somnium Files
An odd entry on the list, I’ll admit. Written and directed by the creator of the Zero Escape series, Kotaro Uchikoshi, AI: The Somnium Files is yet another fantastic mystery game.
You play as Kaname Date. He’s an amnesiac detective who is trying to solve a new string of killings by the Cyclops Killer. While the original killer is behind bars, it seems someone else is continuing his work.
Without spoiling anything, expect lots of twists and great character development with a ton of emotional depth. No one in this game is one-dimensional. Rather, they’re complex, realistic characters that players can connect with. I highly recommend giving AI: The Somnium Files a try, and I guarantee you that once you get to your first ending, you’ll be needing a tissue box.
7) The House in Fata Morgana
In The House in Fata Morgana, you’re a person who has no recollection of anything. You have no memories to look back on, and you don’t know who you are or who your family is. All you know is that you’re in an unfamiliar mansion with four doors. Behind each door is the life of a previous inhabitant of the house and the tragedy that fell upon them. Your job is to go through them all and learn what happened at this house.
Despite the warning the game gives you, it still manages to lull you into a false sense of security that everything is going to be okay. Then, it sweeps the rug right from under you, making you remember that you aren’t here for a joyride, you’re here for a tragic tale.
If you’re looking for a gothic setting and a little bit of Shakespearean tragedy, then The House in Fata Morgana is your game.
6) 428: Shibuya Scramble
Another odd entry. What can I say? I like to be unique.
In 428: Shibuya Scramble, a girl named Maria gets kidnapped at a college party and is being held for ransom. During the trade-off, things go horribly wrong, and the simple plot turns into something so much bigger and menacing. I wish I could go into more detail, but telling you anything beyond that would spoil the fun.
There are five characters you control. Often times, having multiple protagonists can muddle the storyline. Yet, this game does it masterfully and manages to make all five storylines converge and come together at the very end. Each character is given the amount of time that’s needed for you to care about them in the 30+ hour emotional roller-coaster that is this game. You’ll laugh, you’ll get angry, and you’ll most definitely cry. I know I did. Multiple times.
5) YOU LEFT ME.
Platforms: Windows/Mac/Linux (itch.io)
Game developer Angela He is known to tackle very tough subject matter in all her games with grace; we recently reviewed one of her games, missed messages, a beautiful, well-told game about suicide and depression. While I adore that game to bits and pieces, this one honestly takes the number one spot for me.
YOU LEFT ME. is a game about loneliness, depression, and trying to move on. It isn’t easy to move on in this game, though, and that’s what so great about it. No one can simply move on from a tragic loss or a traumatizing event; it’s almost like an uphill battle where you keep tumbling down halfway up. Despite the surreal visuals that are essentially are a trademark of He’s games, YOU LEFT ME. and her other games are grounded in reality, leaving a heavy impact on readers.
4) her tears were my light
With a title like her tears were my light, you expect the game to play with your heartstrings a little bit. Made for NaNoRenO 2016, her tears were my light is a short love story that focuses on time and space. Within the game, time seemingly means nothing as the protagonist can move forward or backwards. However, is that gift truly a gift? Can it eventually become a curse?
I highly recommend checking out the game if you have an hour and love sappy love stories.
3) The Shadows That Run Alongside Our Car
Platforms: Windows/Mac/Linux (itch.io)
The Shadows That Run Alongside Our Car is an interesting visual novel whose twist I won’t spoil here. Essentially, you play as either the driver or passenger in a car. They’re complete strangers going down a long, barren road. Yet, as time passes on, these two strangers begin to open up, and their thoughts start to eat away at them. Their shadows begin to appear. They have no one but each other and this car. How will they choose to spend their time together? Will they remain strangers forever or find companionship with each other?
It’s a wonderful game that, just like our previous entry, plays with time and how we choose to spend it.
2) The Last Birdling
As the title suggests, this game deals with conflict. The humans have nearly wiped out a species called birdlings. Only two remain: Bimonia and her mother.
Bimonia meets a human girl named Tayo when they’re children. As children, we often ignore the conflicts and the world around us entirely. Yet, as they grow older, reality hits them all like a ton of bricks. The world continues to try and drive a wedge between their friendship because the two races can’t co-exist. At least, they think they can’t. The Last Birdling takes us from the childhood to adulthood of these two characters, their perspectives changing throughout the game in order to properly gain both points of view of what’s going on around them.
While the story is based on a fictional setting, it’s subject matter can hit home with some players who have gone through similar experiences.
1) Bokuten – Why I Became an Angel
Platforms: Windows (Steam [All Ages], MangaGamer [18+])
Before I became a visual novel developer and “critic,” so to speak, I always looked down on visual novels that contained even an ounce of erotic or ecchi content. Admittedly, I felt like they only relied on the physical assets and sexual interactions between characters for their so-called “story,” and that they could never be more than that.
I’m glad to say that I’ve changed, and it’s games like Bokuten – Why I Became an Angel that helped sway me.
Bokuten – Why I Became an Angel focuses on Tomoe, a protagonist who’s given up on love and happiness. He eventually meets his polar opposite, Aine, an angel who mends broken hearts with her magical guitar. The two meet after Tomoe shoots Aine out of the sky. As a result, our happy-go-lucky angel isn’t able to do her job. So, the apathetic Tomoe has to do it for her!
There are four girls you can pursue, including Aine herself. Each route deals with its own subject matter. At the end of it all, the entire cast wants to be happy, I think it’s something we all want out of life: happiness. However, life isn’t easy. Yet, if we continue to remain hopeful, we’ll be able to achieve our happy ending.