MikeG’s 2013 Visual Novel of the Year

As you hopefully know already from last week’s epic run of GOTY goodness capped by Twinfinite’s official Games of the Year, there were a ton of games from 2013 that deserve at least a little bit of spotlight. Some moreso than others, but we all had our favorites from the year.

On the first day of 2014, we’ll take a look at some of the top three visual novels released in 2013 (yes, there were at least three) and possibly crown one to rule them all!

Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Dual Destinies

phoenix wright ace attorney dual destinies

Dual Destinies is a great way to start this off. It’s a comfortable franchise in the West, cemented in its ways as a courtroom thriller that has steadily raised the stakes over the years culminating in the series’ first ‘Mature’ raiting as Phoenix Wright gets back in the lawyer game only to find the courtroom riddled with corruption.

While the core gameplay itself remains largely unchanged (narrative/clue gathering and courtroom drama), Dual Destinies continues the tradition of a riveting story rife with murder and mystery. Adding a new gameplay element to the trials of gauging witnesses’ emotions, this latest game brings back all the old favorites and introduces a few new characters as well.

With the writing and characterization remains top-notch, and the CSI-like quality of the story’s cases keep the series from growing too stale, Dual Destinies is a solid contender.

Yumina the Ethereal

Preparing for combat deep in a dungeon in Yumina the Ethereal.

Preparing for combat deep in a dungeon in Yumina the Ethereal.

Back in August, an 18+ visual novel-hybrid-JRPG was released by JASTUSA. Aside from the fans of the medium, no one really noticed.

Yet this game isn’t one to pass by without a second glance. Easily weighing in at over 70 hours of gameplay, Yumina the Ethereal features an extensive branching narrative resulting in three very different stories told in an incredible furturistic setting that is a world on its own.

What separates Yumina from the pack is its JRPG gameplay seen in the screencap above. Incorporating a turn-based combat system, Yumina the Ethereal tells the story of Ayumu, a seemingly random high schooler thrust into a war for the student council president election. Fought via visualized “debates,” the player must guide their party of characters through challenging battles.

Yumina the Ethereal has everything a visual novel could want: good characters, a great setting, a plethora of erotic content, catchy music, and an extended combat system containing even more tales of dragons and dungeons within. A solid game.

Dysfunctional Systems: Learning to Manage Chaos

dysfunctional systems learning to manage chaos

Dischan, a Western indie developer of visual novels, has been on the indie radar before. With Learning to Manage Chaos making it to Steam, its taken off in a great way. Featuring incredible artwork and writing, the first title in the Dysfunctional Systems series rocks hard.

Telling the story of Winter Harrison against a groovy background score, Learning to Manage Chaos details a world in which the world humans know is not the only one. Travelling across other planes of existence, Winter is confronted with problems beyond her experience as she shadows a professional “mediator,” one who keeps these problems from affecting their own dimension.

Learning to Manage Chaos, while being a great story, also manages to be a compelling social commentary in its “outside” perspective on a number of issues. It’s short, but the series promises to be episodic so the continuation is hopefully imminent.

The Best of 2013

It was a good year for visual novels, and despite some supremely bad releases fans had a lot to enjoy. As for the number one of 2013:
Yumina the Ethereal takes the cake! *confetti*

This one takes home the gold for breaking away from the traditional format and doing it well. While the standard visual novel read-click-read-click-choose a choice-click-read style of gameplay isn’t inherently bad, mixing up the formula can be a very risky thing. For a medium struggling to gain even more popularity in the West, this is very important and those shining examples of success deserve their glory.

Here’s to 2014!

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