Interpreting/subverting the database: Character-conveyed narrative in Japanese visual novel PC games


visual novel
Sōkō Akki Muramasa
game studies
database consumption

How to Cite

Bruno, L. P. “Interpreting/Subverting the Database: Character-Conveyed Narrative in Japanese Visual Novel PC Games”. Mutual Images Journal, no. 3, Dec. 2017, pp. 92-122, doi:10.32926/2017.3.bru.inter.


This article examines Japanese visual novel games, an under-researched game genre whose main feature is character-driven prose storylines in light of existing scholarship on characters and manga/anime aesthetics (Azuma 2007 & 2009; Galbraith 2009 & 2011; Nozawa 2013; Kacsuk 2016). It offers a brief overview of the visual novel game genre as a game genre where the presence of characters constituted by what Azuma (2007; 2009) defined as ‘database elements’, character building blocks which, by virtue of their commonality within fan culture, constitute each an access point and an expression of the wider fan culture as a whole. In turn, fans develop enthusiastic reactions to these fantasy elements, the so-called moe phenomenon (Galbraith 2009). Moe is an open-ended phenomenon which runs as the basis for the development of emphatic bonds with characters within visual novels.
Examining visual novel games under the framework provided by Espen Aarseth (2012) for the analysis of narrative within games, characters’ constitutive database elements are examined, exploring them as being present at both the representational level and, due to the open-ended nature of the bond of empathy developed between the character and the player, the simulation level. The constant presence of database element-constituted characters on the screen makes visual novels’ narrations dependent on characters, whose database elements are each an open window through which the setting and narration of the game is conveyed to the player through character identity.
This process is demonstrated through the examination of Sok? Akki Muramasa (Nitroplus 2009), a visual novel game whose various storylines turn the player’s expected consumption of characters against them, and by doing so reinforce both the character’s identity and the importance of the game’s narration.
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