One of the first styles of film to become popular in America was Film Noir. Back in the days of black and white film the overarching monologue of the narrator and the minimalist silhouettes of the characters on a shadowy background were used to adapt some of the greatest mystery stories told even by today’s standards. After a while the minimalist style was built upon to create great classics of cinema and have gone on to even inspire the genre of Neo-Noir.
But I hear you ask what does this have to do with Visual Novels?
I can almost guarantee that a large portion of the visual novels you’ve played (if any) follow a similar, if not the same, story structure as these films. It’s not just one thing that shows this similarity. For instance if the over-arching monologue of the narrator was the only thing similar then technically any first-person story could be compared as similar.
Was it the minimalist style visual novels used to emulate a not-quite-film, not-quite-novel medium that makes it similar? Somewhat, but along with these two aspect is the story element which through it we can see the true relation noir has with visual novels.
This is the element of mystery.
Whether your visual novel is completely story-based or (like most VNs) character driven by the certain heroine arcs, it would be difficult to find a single story that has any form of conflict without a pinch of mystery. This leaves the main character(s) to play detective which is a common trope for main characters in film noir. Generally this comes in the form of a heroine’s past, a secret creating conflict between characters that the main character must figure out or simply the twist of who ever is behind the true conflict in the story. In my opinion this is why visual novels, like film noir, is a very good way of portraying thriller and mystery stories.
Even if it is just a small component of the story as a whole, the mystery encourages the main character to question certain things allowing for a much more compelling and proactive protagonist. It triggers intrigue in the minor characters and even allows the twists for which many visual novels are popular for. When comparing the elements of a first person narrator, minimalist visuals and mystery in the plot it’s not hard to see the similarities between the visual novels and noir mysteries.