How to make a good visual novel

12/03/2013

I suppose you're here because you wanna make a visual novel of your own, huh?

And that's awesome! Really. I remember when I first started reading VNs. I was so interested in them that I wanted to make one too. So I understand that you probably feel the same way I felt before.

However. there is one problem.

How to do it?

Believe it or not, it's pretty easy to start creating your own visual novel. The real challenge is how to make a good one that people would actually play or read. That's what you should focus on for now.

I am not an advanced creator or anything, haha, as a matter of fact, I have only one game under my belt. And a short game at that too. But I have a few things to share to those who are interested in this new-ish form of art, so... feel free to read this article if you wish.

Let's get down to the basics before anything else. Firstly, what do you need to make a visual novel?

ART

A VN (visual novel) is not a VN without the visual part. Without the art, it's just a novel, just like how you'd read a book on your computer. That's all it would be.

seasons of love how to make a visual novel
Seasons of Love screenshot, with free sprites from Tokudaya.
Art is extremely important in a visual novel. It technically has a big-- if not straight out huge-- impact on the game. Many readers, especially the newer ones, tend to choose the visual novels they play based on how good the art is. You don't want to lose potential readers just because of low-quality and poorly-drawn art, do you?

Then again, that's another problem. What if you're not the artsy kind of person? Like me. Haha. I'm not a good artist, so I can't make my own sprites or my own backgrounds. :( That's a shame, and to be honest, I'm trying to learn how. As a starting visual novel maker, you need to get used to the feeling of creating a VN first. It's okay to use free resources for your projects you know, and it can help you gain some experience in this VN-making life.

Here are some free art (sprites and BGs) from the OELVN wiki. Even though the stuff posted here are free, be sure to read the Terms of Use when choosing free stuff for your game, and to give credit when you do use them. You wouldn't want to unknowingly steal someone else's property. :)

STORY

This is an extremely important part of a VN. I dare say that it's the one aspiring creators should focus most on.

A dedicated reader will still go through your VN even without high-quality art, (but not so bad that it'll be a pain to see) but few genuine fanatics of this sub-genre will struggle through a visual novel with a bad writing and barely understandable story.

And it's not just the story that's important. You must be careful about your grammar, punctuation, figures of speech, etc. It's hard to read a book with sentences like, "she played in the playground. Wid the children whose, are there." I know, I know, that's an extreme example. But you get my point. Haha.

A visual novel without a coherent story and a well-thought out plot doesn't have much going for it I believe.

MUSIC

Some people seem to think that music isn't a very important part of VN making, but truthfully, it's a vital part in setting the ambiance or the "feel" of the story.

For example, in a horror type VN, what would be the perfect way to set the mood for the scares? With music of course, preferably the scary type. ;)

It works with romance visual novels as well. What could possibly heighten the romantic factor in the story more than some sweet, melodious song or music? Exactly.

You should also learn how to use sound effects well. They can certainly add to the punch in your VN if utilized properly.

Again, here are some free resources from the OELVN wiki. You can also use music from Mr. Kevin MacLeod's site, Incompetech, which I personally love by the way. Don't overuse his music though, since there are lots of other VNs out there who use the same sounds. Still, his tracks are quite pretty, you might want to check them out. Again, don't forget to check out the license for his music. Sound effects are also available from SoundJay.

ENGINE

Last but not the least, you have to think about what you need to finally create the visual novel of your dream. You have amazing art, check. You have a superb story, check. You have some kick-ass music, check. But even if you combine all of these in a single folder on your computer, you still won't be able to create a VN without an engine that will allow you to do just that.

Luckily, there are many engines you could pick from in making your own VN.

REN'PY

Ren'Py is probably the most commonly used engine for freeware VNs. It's a little hard for newbies to get used to, but it allows absolute customization and easy scripting. You just have to learn some basic python codes, but it's relatively easy to learn if you keep up with it.

how to make a visual novel renpy
Ren'Py engine
One thing you have to keep in mind is that sometimes, it can be so frustrating and confusing to code! I'm not an experienced coder by any chance, but there were some moments in my VN-making times where I felt like giving up because of the headaches caused by the countless flags and routes that I had to program and organize. I personally call those times Programmer's Hell. Lol. I don't know where I got the idea, but... that term refers to the feeling of being trapped among all the snippets of codes in the scripts. Stuck in programmer's hell.

how to make a visual novel renpy
Basic "programming" in Ren'Py using jEdit. From the Ren'Py tutorial.
Though admittedly, compared to real programming, Renpy is just a piece of cake, so go ahead and try it. It's quite fun once you get the hang of it. :)

NOVELTY

Novelty, on the other hand, is for beginners who want to invest their time in writing, scripting, and drawing rather than programming the visual novel. It's a lot easier to use, I heard. I haven't given it a try yet in terms of actual VN production, but I checked it out and it does seem pretty easy to use. A lot easier than Ren'Py, although the latter provides more options for customization.

how to make a visual novel novelty
screenshot of Novelty's homepage
In the end, it's up to you to choose your own engine. Either one is fine and good, but Ren'Py is better for coders while Novelty is more beginner-friendly.

BASS

By the way, another option is BassNovel, although I think it's an online visual novel creator. There are available free sprites and backgrounds in this site as well. I can't say much about it as of this article's writing since I don't know much about this site. All I know is that there are free resources. Haha. Still, you should use those at your own risk and don't forget to give credit!

how to make a good visual novel bassnovel
Bassnovel homepage

ATTITUDE

Lastly, you need to have the proper attitude. I think this is also an important aspect. Creating a VN takes a lot of time, hard work, and even sleep, so you have to be patient and actually passionate about it in order to make it work. It doesn't matter if it takes you months or even years to complete it; just do it. Motivation is the key to finishing a visual novel. Even if the whole world is against you in the production - for whatever reason that could possibly be - if you are determined to do it, then you will finish it. You have to have the right attitude to face all the problems that could come with this.

Whatever may happen, always have a smile on your face and keep moving forward. This is not just about visual novels, but about life in general. You'll never reach anything if you give up easily. Just strive and strive, and you'll reap the fruits of your labor. In this case, a sweet, sweet visual novel you can call your own.

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Okay, so that's it. Those are just the basic things you need in making a VN. Haha, I hope you got something out of it. Also, this is just the first part. Please watch out for the next article!

Thanks for reading!

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