Are you interested in visual novels that have a retro feel? Ones that evoke nostalgia for the early 2000s, or even the decades prior to that? If so, these three visual novels are a blast from the past!
Platforms: Windows, Linux (itch.io)
Mayan ! is a psychological horror visual novel about a troubled girl and the MC’s conversations with her. The game’s vibrant yellow, diamond-dotted color scheme is reminiscent of prior decades. The scene takes place in a retro, 1970s-era living room. To top it off, the text and dialogue play alongside a computery-blip noise, similar to the kind you hear in Ace Attorney. These digital sound effects date back to Super Nintendo games like The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past and were used as a substitute for voice acting. There are still games that do this today, which gives them a retro feel.
Mayan ! is a very short visual novel; my first playthrough lasted about ten minutes. There are four different protagonists you can choose from, with gender and skin tone variations. The story has a lot of mysteries to unravel because you don’t know who you are or who the pink-haired girl you are talking to is. You have to find out by navigating the many different dialogue choices. I won’t spoil any details since the game only lasts a few minutes per session, but I recommend it for anyone looking for a yandere experience with a splash of retro ambiance.
Platforms: Windows, Mac, Linux (itch.io)
Relive the 2005 Windows XP experience in so obscure;, which takes place in a virtual simulation of chat conversations. The game is about friendship and the online high schooler experience.
The game starts off by having you signing into MZN Messenger (strikingly similar to Windows MSN Messenger), and an acoustic early-2000s tune plays in the background that gives you a very warm sense of the olden days. The songs have white background noise, the kind that you’d hear in dated songs recorded with microphones that didn’t filter out the excess noise. The faded, distant echo of the music just further gives it a nostalgic essence.
I’m a 1994 baby, so the pop culture of 2005 is a somewhat distant but still tangible memory for someone who was eleven years old, but I think no matter what generation you come from, this game is going to give you a flashback experience to the mid-2000s and what it felt like to navigate computer life back then. This game allows the player to choose between four different profile photos where you can identify the renamable protagonist (Sam). I like that the conversations between Sam and Brandon discuss how therapeutic it is to socialize online. These two strangers inevitably end up finding solace in talking to each other online, and players can participate in the chat by choosing the dialogue options that frequently pop up.
You and I and the Long, Long Drive
Platforms: Browser (itch.io)
Experience intergalactic travel to the planet Pluto in this 80s-style browser game. You and I and the Long, Long Drive is a visual novel that takes place in outer space and follows two characters on their road trip to Pluto. This is a linear story with a play session that lasts about fifteen minutes.
The first thing that captured my attention with this game was the adorable pixel artwork designed in neon pink and blue. This color scheme is so satisfying, it makes me want to celebrate my playthrough completion at an old-fashioned diner. I like how they separate the characters’ dialogue by assigning them one of these two colors. Other than the bright neon colors that give this game its retro essence, you progress through the game using your arrow keys.
Although you can download this game through the itch app and launch directly from it, I don’t recommend doing this because you will experience the game without sound. Playing directly in your browser seems to be the best option. Overall, I loved the thought-provoking conversations between the two characters about being loved by others, identity, and our hopes and dreams. The topics these two contemplate are something I think most of us experience, so I thought the story was easy for me to connect to. Even though the story takes place in a futuristic sci-fi world, I love how relatable this game and the interactions are.