Virtual literature’s never been easier to find
Visual novels have found a bit of a home on the Nintendo Switch. The combination of portability and easy pick-up, put-down feel of the Switch goes really well with long, involved, engrossing visual novels. Ever since I got mine, I’ve read a good amount of VNs on it, whether in a hotel bed, on the couch, or on a plane.
This harmony makes visual novels a bit more approachable, and it helps that the genre seems to be drawing in more and more interest. With mainstays like Ace Attorney or surprise hits like Paranormasight, there’s a lot to find. But also a lot to sift through, especially if you’re new and looking for a specific kind of story to ease you in.
So, I decided to throw together a list with that in mind. These are 20 fantastic visual novels to try, whether you’re a newcomer to the genre, or just looking for something a little different. Of note: I’m trying to keep this list mostly to a traditional VN interpretation. (I brought up “what’s a visual novel” in Slack and it started a mild conflict.) So if you’re wondering where fantastic games like 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim are, there’s a decent chance I excluded them, in the interest of keeping this list narrow and focused. (I do wholeheartedly endorse 13 Sentinels though.)
With that in mind, let’s open up the Switch library and talk about some visual novels.
The House in Fata Morgana
Why not start the list off with a heavy hitter? The House in Fata Morgana: Dreams of the Revenants Edition brings the 2012 classic to the Nintendo Switch with both the main story and a bevy of extra content. After waking up in a strange, eerie mansion, you relive the lives of various people with the assistance of an unnamed maid. Events will intertwine across history, with lots of intrigue and suspense. If you like period dramas and/or ghost stories, this will probably be up your alley, as it’s also frequently hailed as one of the better visual novels out there on the market.
Okay, I’m twisting the rules a bit, mostly because many of these series are in collections like the Danganronpa Decadence physical version for Switch (each entry is available individually on the eShop). Each entry in the series centers on some sort of killing game, where the best and brightest students are locked in a location and told they can only leave if they “graduate.” As in, kill a fellow student and get away with it in the ensuing trial. Your job is to find the culprit! Alongside roaming the world and hanging out with characters for social links between murder investigations, there’s also a bunch of trials with minigames to help you find the truth. It’s a compelling, interesting series that pulls a few fantastic left-field twists out.
Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Trilogy
Chances are, if you’re reading this and already read some visual novels before, the Ace Attorney series is what got you in. That was certainly my case anyways, as the original run of Phoenix Wright games on the Nintendo DS opened me up to the genre. With the collection on Nintendo Switch, it’s easy to play the trilogy of Ace Attorney entries that set the stage for many to follow after. As defense lawyer Phoenix Wright, you have to defend your client from going to jail. Individual cases are good fun, but they also wind together throughout the whole trilogy in ways that make this a very, very fun read. Absolutely recommended for cautious first-timers looking for a visual novel for their Switch.
The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles
If you’re looking for something that feels a hair more modern, then head back in time for the historical fiction take on Ace Attorney. The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles follows Ryunosuke Naruhodo, as he gets swept up in courtroom drama in the late 19th century. This particular version packs the two Great Ace Attorney games together into a duology that is, honestly, still some of my favorite storytelling on the Switch. It’s a roller-coaster of ups and downs, with some great sleuthing and deducing, memorable characters, and incredible payoffs in the second game’s trials. It’s good for newcomers, but an absolute no-brainer if you liked the original Ace Attorney and want some more.
Another classic and often-recommended visual novel, Steins;Gate is the story of an amateur scientist who accidentally discovers a method for time manipulation. Obviously, this leads to some complications. Different branches and alterations get messy, and Rintaro Okabe has to try and figure out a way to fix everything. The Elite version packs in animations from the also-popular anime adaptation, which is good; I really like the art of Steins;Gate, but the last time I went back to it, the early hours wore on a bit. With a little bit of polish and an ideal form factor, it’s much easier to see why this made such an impact.
A relative newcomer compared to some of the games on this list, Paranormasight is a haunting meta-narrative about several people gathered in the Sumida Ward of Tokyo, Japan. All of them have reasons for being there, mostly centered around the Rite of Resurrection; a promise that, if they indulge in some cursed entanglements, they can bring someone back to life. Things don’t go so neatly, however. While “horror VN” might lead you to think this is all about the scares (and there are some good ones, to be clear), this is really a good get for those who like the meta-narrative twists of games like NieR: Automata or Undertale. Square Enix’s VN is a sleeper gem of the year with some serious legacy behind it.
AI: The Somnium Files / Nirvana Initiative
The Zero Escape series has, sadly, still not made it over to the Nintendo Switch. We do have another series from writer Kotaro Uchikoshi, though: AI: The Somnium Files. The first follows Date, an investigator for a special crime unit that’s able to brain-dive into people’s memories to elicit information. The first is good, but the follow-up Nirvana Initiative is where I felt the series truly hit its stride. Shifting the focus to two protagonists, the Nirvana Initiative has a lot of that twisting, winding narrative you’d want, plus some genuinely great puzzle room concepts. It’s standalone, so you can play Nirvana without playing the first, but both are certainly worth your time.
This is a personal favorite of mine, and one I wish got a bit more chatter, so here we are. Raging Loop sees protagonist Haruaki Fusaishi stuck on the road, leading him to wander into a remote village in rural Japan, Yasumizu. Here he befriends some locals and gets ready to head back out on his way, when oh no, the mist rolls in, and now he’s wrapped up in a yearly ritual of the feast, where a villager becomes the embodiment of a death god and kills another each night until they’re found. Yes, it’s a game of Werewolf. But it’s a surprisingly well-told story around this classic set-up. A few weird tone issues aside, this is definitely one to look into for some further reading.
What more do you need to know about VA-11 Hall-A: Cyberpunk Bartender Action than a title and screenshot could suggest? It’s a visual novel-meets-bartender sim, with an instantly recognizable look. It’s got a UI that would feel at home on the PC-98. It packs in heavy anime inspiration, alongside a plethora of goofs and gags. It’s got some heart, too. And an absolutely solid soundtrack, to boot. Do you want to serve drinks in a cyberpunk future to a bunch of anime girls? This is the game you want to play. For more like it, check out the less alcohol-infused Coffee Talk.
The Silver Case 2425
While you might know Goichi Suda for his work on killer7 or No More Heroes, there was a point-and-click adventure that came before it all. The Silver Case 2425 is a collection of The Silver Case series, which combines all the disparate and strange elements you’d be looking for in a Suda game. You’ll follow three perspectives to track down the truth behind a series of supposed suicides. Like the other murder-mysteries on here, there’s plenty of twists and turns to uncover. But the reason to pick up The Silver Case is not just story alone, but the vibes. It’s got a style and aesthetic that keeps fresh as the story goes along, where I never really felt like I was just reading text, but also taking in an over-stimulus of visuals in the best way.
Famicom Detective Club
This collection of two Famicom Detective Club games is a bit of a historical pick, if nothing else. Nintendo’s remakes of the original Famicom mysteries are absolutely gorgeous, paying homage to a series that carved the path for many to follow. It’s a two-pack, with The Missing Heir following a rich family’s tragedy and The Girl Who Stands Behind digging into the supernatural horror elements. Two distinctly different flavors, but it’s a really neat way to see how the medium has evolved, and even how old pieces of it still hold up today.
Another personal favorite of mine, Necrobarista dumps you into the Terminal, a hipster coffee bar that also serves as a segue between life and death. For one night, the dead are allowed to hang out among the living here, getting some coffee and exploring the meaning of it all. It’s not just the emotional story that really caught me, but the way it’s told. Route 59’s approach takes as much from film and anime as it does from visual novels, using text as a visual and framing the camera as conversations bounce around. It’s stylish, memorable, and might even make you tear up a bit.
Collar x Malice
For this Switch visual novel list, I knew I would need to include at least one otome game. For those who don’t know, that’s a genre that’s generally focused on dating cute anime boys. I am, admittedly, not a knowledgeable connoisseur of these games, so I turned to the internet’s experts for guidance, and one game kept popping up: Collar x Malice. You play as a young police officer who, after an attack, has a venomous collar attached to their neck. Your best chances, it seems, rest with five different hot cops who can help you figure out what’s happening. I know this list has been a bit crime-and-mystery heavy, but I really like the premise here, and the art looks great too. This seems like an obvious get if you’re into the boy-dating subgenre with a solid narrative hook.
I was honestly a bit torn on this one, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention CLANNAD. It’s arguably one of the most recognizable stories from developer Key, following third-year high school student Okazaki Tomoya, dealing with the direction his life has taken, and meeting a variety of anime girls along the way. It’s a love story but with a lot of heart, and everyone who’s made it to the end usually has good things to say about it. I have not, as the writing has always just wore on me. You can’t ignore CLANNAD‘s historical importance though, and I think if you want an easy-going, slice-of-life story with some gut-punches as it goes further in, CLANNAD and its side stories may be worth your time investment.
Witch on the Holy Night
Speaking of genre pillars, writer Kinoko Nasu’s Fate, Tsukihime, and other related works are absolutely massive. But while we’ve seen plenty of the spin-offs and related games, the original visual novels haven’t made their way over (yet). What we do have, though, is Witch on the Holy Night, a well-received story that takes place within the broader Nasu-verse. I’m only a little ways in at the time of writing, but so far, it has everything you’d want from this particular subset; absolutely gorgeous visuals and lots of magical fighting. Witch on the Holy Night is solid on art alone, but the writing also looks to put it as a solid recommendation for anyone wanting a little more action in their Switch visual novels.
For the (literally) more Annapurna take on the genre, let’s turn to If Found. This tale follows two stories. In one, astronaut-scientist Cassiopeia heads to Planet X, only to find a black hole that will soon destroy Earth. Back on Earth in the journal portion, we follow Kasio, a transgender woman who’s just finished her Master’s degree and is headed back home to Achill Island, Ireland. It’s not an emotionally easy read, as it’s got some real heart-rending moments and a tense final act, along with lots of family drama. But if you’re down to explore that narrative territory, I think you’ll find something quite special in the pages of If Found.
Okay, this is where I twist my rules a bit. Gnosia is, arguably, more of an RPG or management game than a “proper” visual novel. But after some internal discussion, we felt it passed the VN vibe check. And also, it’s a particular favorite of mine. Gnosia is, like Raging Loop, framed around a Werewolf-style social deduction game. But rather than a narrative framing for a traditional VN-style story, it plays out in story segments, as you literally fight debate battles each day to determine who is the intruding Gnosia on-board the ship. From gorgeous art to underrated soundtrack, to some highly memorable characters that endear themselves to you through text and their individual debate quirks, this is one for folks who want a heavier helping of buttons to push and game to play amid their visual novel reading.
Doki Doki Literature Club Plus
Okay, I know at least a few people scrolled pretty far down this list wondering, “where’s DDLC?” Yes, Doki Doki Literature Club is on here. Yes, it’s worth reading. It’s got some neat twists, and feels like a good representation of what the medium can do with its framing devices. It’s also neat this visual novel got put on Switch and other consoles, considering all the hijinks happening that, to me, felt best-suited to PC. That said, there are caveats. I do think Doki Doki Literature Club relies heavily on its surprises, so don’t read up too much on it, unless you feel you need a content warning; in that case, please do look for that online. I also wouldn’t recommend anyone play this as their first VN. That’s my personal recommendation, but I do think it’s better to have some familiarity with the format going in.
We Know The Devil
Three teens named Neptune, Jupiter, and Venus are at summer camp, and they have one task left ahead of them. They have to spend 12 hours in a cabin in the woods, waiting for the devil. Will they live or die? Well, that might just depend on what you do. We Know The Devil is a short, interesting game that could probably fill just one evening, but leave you thinking about it for a while. It’s also priced at $6.66. Very good. Sadly, Pillow Fight and Worst Girls Games’ also excellent VN Heaven Will Be Mine is not on Switch, but do seek it out if you enjoy this eerie night in the woods.
Let’s close the list of Nintendo Switch visual novels off with a selection from our own Zoey Handley. This romance VN is all about two people falling in love while figuring themselves out, and while it’s not heavily choice-driven, it does have multiple endings. This story about two mages learning their crafts, while also sneaking out of detention to attend the local Sunflower Festival, seems like a good time for those who want a little love in their virtual life.