Umineko (When They Cry) – Umineko is a visual novel in the truest sense of the term. Meaning there’s no gameplay to speak of at all; the entire ‘game’ is just a matter of clicking through copious amounts of text and watching as the story unfold. Despite the sluggish start to the first three episodes, things pick up dramatically once the creepy stuff kicks in, and Umineko stands tall as one of the most intriguing and engaging visual novel stories we’ve ever played. That soundtrack too, though.
Higurashi (When They Cry) – Higurashi is a predecessor of sorts to Umineko, and while its story is just as gripping, we don’t recommend starting with this one unless you enjoyed what you saw of Umineko. Higurashi feels a lot more dated in terms of art design and voice acting, but if you’re a fan of the fantasy crime vibes you got from Umineko, you’ll feel right at home with this one.
Doki Doki Literature Club – Doki Doki Literature Club made serious waves when it released near the tail-end of 2017, and for good reason too. Developed by Team Salvato, this game turns the cutesy visual novel trope on its head by exploring darker themes and subject matter like self-harm and depression. It’s not a game for the faint of heart, but if you’re looking for a visual novel that breaks boundaries, this is worth a look.
999: 9 Hours, 9 Persons, 9 Doors – As the first entry to the marvelous Zero Escape trilogy by Kotaro Uchikoshi, 999 tells a killer story mixed with fun escape room puzzle gameplay. With nine people being trapped on a sinking ship, you have to solve various puzzles to try to escape, while also figuring out exactly why these characters were kidnapped in the first place. 999 has it all: a memorable soundtrack, a diverse cast of characters, and a seriously mind-blowing story that will leave you in shock long after the credits have rolled.
Zero Time Dilemma – Zero Time Dilemma serves as the bookend to the Zero Escape trilogy, and while it is recommended that you play through the not-as-good second game Virtue’s Last Reward before jumping into this, ZTD can still be enjoyed on its own. Everything the series has been building up to finally comes to a head in this final entry, complete with shocking revelations and crazy twists.
Danganronpa – The Danganronpa series has come to an end, which means that now is the perfect time to check out the first game if you haven’t already. Similar to the Ace Attorney series, Danganronpa’s story revolves around a series of class trials where a group of students gather together to try to figure out which of them has committed a murder in school.
VA-11 Hall-A: Cyberpunk Bartender Action – VA-11 Hall-A doesn’t exactly have a crazy twist or insane ending like most visual novels usually do, but this one stands out because of its atmospheric setting and awesome Ghost in the Shell vibes. You play as a bartender who listens to the troubles of various customers, all while mixing them drinks with cool names like Moonblast and Cobalt Velvet. Yum.
Steins;Gate – Steins;Gate’s premise is engaging right from the get-go. The story follows a group of tech-savvy students who discover that they have the ability to travel through time by messing around with emails and microwaves. Things quickly get out of hand as they attempt to push their boundaries and get wrapped up in a conspiracy that’s way over their heads.
Emily Is Away – Emily Is Away is a unique game that takes place entirely within an AOL messenger window. You take control of a male teenager as he goes through various stages of his life, all while holding a candle for a girl named Emily. It’s a bittersweet love story with multiple endings, and it evokes a strong sense of nostalgia for everyone who’s ever experienced the tension that comes watching your screen intently as your crush types a message online.
Emily Is Away Too – As the name suggests, Emily Is Away Too is the sequel to the successful AOL messenger visual novel. This time around, we take control of a new character who’s smitten with two very different girls. The endings are much more varied, and just because it’s a sequel doesn’t mean the magic of typing away in a messenger window is any less potent.
Muv-Luv – Muv-Luv is absolutely insane. Similar to Doki Doki Literature Club (even though Muv-Luv released first), the game tricks players into a false sense of security by taking on the appearance of a cute, slice-of-life dating sim. Things quickly take a turn for the worst when all is not what it seems. Widely considered to be one of, if not the best visual novel of all time, you shouldn’t pass up on this.
Dream Daddy: A Dad Dating Simulator – You probably won’t need any introduction to this one, but Dream Daddy is all about a single father moving to a new neighborhood with his daughter and finding himself faced with a ton of ridiculously attractive single dads available for dating. Underneath of all of that hanky panky romance, though, is a heartwarming story about the bond between a father and daughter. It’s a win-win for those who just want to date a bunch of attractive dads, and those who want a fun story about familial ties.
Hatoful Boyfriend – What starts off as a seemingly silly game about dating a bunch of birds quickly turns into a genuinely heartfelt story about love and humanity. Hatoful Boyfriend’s premise might appear contrived at first glance, but give it a chance, and you might find yourself emotionally wrecked by these pigeons.
Actual Sunlight – Actual Sunlight is probably one of the bleakest games you can find on Steam right now. Players take control of a depressed man who constantly asks himself why even bothers getting out of bed each morning when life just feels hopelessly sad and meaningless. It’s a difficult game to get through, and it’s utterly miserable. But keep going, and maybe you’ll help your character find some purpose in the end.
World End Economica – World End Economica is an interesting story that takes place in a futuristic sci-fi world where a boy named Haru decides to play the stock market in a bid to make money to start chase his dreams. What could go wrong, right? But because this is a thriller at its core, a lot can indeed go wrong.