Visual novels often vary in length, and while bigger titles often have hours upon hours of gameplay, there is also a good number of indie VNs that can be as short as five minutes. As my log of visual novels I’ve played grows, I’ve noticed that the majority of them are under an hour-long, and I tend to enjoy these smaller titles more if the story manages to leave an impact on me. When it does, I find it impressive, because it’s not an easy feat to hook players and tell a story in a short amount of time. So the question is: what exactly makes these shorter titles so great?
If well executed, the shorter visual novels have the opportunity to tell a good story and perfect it. The creator can focus their energy on a small-scope project that gives them a strong chance to make something good. It goes without saying that when you put all your effort into one task or skill rather than a variety of skills, you are more likely to become a master of that one craft. I think that applies to shorter narratives and projects where the creator has a very reasonable scope to manage. And there is an endless number of creators who have accomplished this: Cafe in the Clouds, eden., Heir, and critter CATCH! are just a few remarkable titles that are under an hour long.
Another great thing about these games is that you don’t have to invest a lot of time in them. I finished Cafe in the Clouds in under thirty minutes, and yet that thirty minutes was probably some of the best time I’ve spent on visual novels. I don’t have a lot of free time to play longer titles, so I don’t often get the satisfaction of reaching the ending and the closure of the game’s story. That’s why shorter games are wonderful, because I can enjoy a story from the beginning to the end and feel complete. When I finished Cafe in the Clouds in one sitting, I felt inspired by the unique and fantastical story about dreams. The clock and cooking mini-games were challenging but unique and very entertaining. I once read a post online about how people don’t always want fifty-hour titles. Of course, we enjoy and appreciate them, but we don’t always have time for those and would do just fine with a well-made 1–5-hour story to pass the time.
I always say that visual novels have a charm to them. They tell a story in a unique way that no other form of media seems to do, and I have discovered that games under an hour or so have even more of a charm to them. That’s why I love game jam months, because I know there’s bound to be more works of art produced. Gidget & The Mysterious Thievery of Hoppity Town is a prime example of a shorter visual novel that leaves players completely enraptured by its adorable storyline, following a detective frog on her mission to investigate a mysterious crime.
In conclusion, games can be great at any length. It all boils down to what you’re in the mood for and if the game meets its potential. Does a VN need to be thirty to fifty or more hours long to be good? No, but there are wonderful games out there that are that long and tell a grand story. But VNs that are shorter can certainly be worthwhile as well. The above-mentioned titles should be enough evidence that small VNs can be rewarding, but if that isn’t enough proof and you’re the type of person who plays lengthy pieces, then I highly suggest trying a few smaller titles that are interesting to you; you might be surprised, because I sure was.