Visual novels feature what are arguably some of the most unique, engaging experiences in all of gaming, but which are the best ones to pick up and play? We’ve curated a list of nine of the best visual novels to play on Switch and Steam in 2023.
Visual novels have always been somewhat of a niche genre, often feeling like they offer more of a passive experience than the more active roles in typical video games.
Despite this, the genre has steadily been growing in mainstream popularity in recent years, meaning that there are more narrative-driven visual novels than ever before to play on Switch and Steam.
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Whether you’re discovering the genre for the first time, or simply want a new story to experience, here are nine of the best visual novels to play on Switch and Steam in 2023.
Alternatively, you can also check out our Best Mario games and Best Games like Animal Crossing lists for more Switch titles.
Clannad is an essential visual novel for any fan of the genre.
If you’re already a fan of visual novels, Clannad is a quintessential visual novel to play. A slice-of-life story centered around protagonist, Tomoya Okazaki, from his adolescence all the way to adulthood, the narrative follows Okazaki as he develops relationships with five girls whose problems he helps to solve.
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There are various plotlines to experience in the game, with multiple endings available depending on the choices the player has made throughout the story. If you want to see every single plotline in its entirety, you’ll have to complete multiple playthroughs — making Clannad great for replayability.
The majority of Clannad’s gameplay is spent reading narrative and dialogue descriptions which are accompanied by charming anime-inspired visuals. Overall, Clannad is a fantastic game full of drama that players can spend hours upon hours with.
Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc
Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc is an iconic murder mystery that kicked off a beloved franchise.
In Danganrompa: Trigger Happy Havoc, you take control of Makoto Naegi, an average teenager who has been selected to attend the prestigious Hope’s Peak Academy after his name was drawn from a countrywide lottery — making him the Ultimate Lucky Student.
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Things quickly take a turn for the sinister when Makoto arrives and he and his fellow students are locked in and addressed by Monokuma (a remote-control bear who claims to be the Headmaster).
Monokuma reveals that they must remain in the school for the rest of their lives, and a student can only leave if one condition is met: they successfully murder another person without being caught. If the killer remains undiscovered at the end of the investigation, the entire class will be executed, with only the murderer being allowed to ‘graduate.’
This premise makes Danganronpa one of the most engaging murder mysteries in gaming. Whenever a body is found, you’ll begin investigating crime scenes and compiling evidence before undertaking intense mini-game-filled ‘class trials’ in an effort to find the killer and survive.
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Doki Doki Literature Club
Doki Doki Literature Club is a dating sim where everything’s not quite as it seems.
Doki Doki Literature Club has become one of the most widely known visual novels thanks to its gripping narrative twists and deceptive nature. The game is presented and played as a traditional dating simulator, with the protagonist joining his high school literature club and meeting its four members at the beginning of the game.
The dialogue-driven light-hearted story soon mutates into something much darker before the player is thrust into a psychological fourth-wall-breaking experience. It’s difficult to define what makes Doki Doki Literature Club so gripping without entering spoiler territory, but rest assured this game is nothing like it initially seems.
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With multiple endings to discover, vibrant visuals, and striking plot twists, this visual novel is a must-play in 2023 for anyone who has yet to pick it up.
Steins;Gate is one of the most successful visual novels of all time.
Steins;Gate is a visual novel that’s so well crafted it was responsible for inspiring one of the most successful Sci-Fi anime of all time. The 2011 series was based directly on the 2009 visual novel, so if you’re a big fan of the show — or simply want to experience the story in the most immersive manner — then picking up the original game is a no-brainer.
Part of the wider ‘Science Adventure’ franchise, Steins;Gate follows the eccentric Rintaro Okabe, a self-proclaimed mad scientist who, with the help of his friends, discovers and develops a piece of time-traveling technology. Throughout the course of the game, Rintaro travels back in time numerous in an attempt to alter bleak variations of the future.
Featuring an intense and emotional story, an iconic set of beloved characters, and fantastic Sci-Fi world-building, Steins;Gate is one of the best stories that a visual novel has to offer.
I Was A Teenage Exocolonist
I Was A Teenage Exocolonist was one of 2022’s best indie titles.
2022 was an incredible year for video games, from the genre-defining Elden Ring to surprise hits like Cult of the Lamb. Arguably one of the best indie games of the year was the fascinating but seemingly underrated I Was A Teenage Exocolonist.
This unique title immerses players in an exciting life simulator where the young protagonist spends their time living on an alien planet, brought to life with gorgeous watercolored artwork. Here, you’ll be interacting with fellow colonists throughout the game and are actively encouraged to build relationships with others.
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As well as the visual novel segments, Exocolonist also features elements of overworld exploration and an engaging card game that puts a unique spin on the typical decision-making that often drives visual novel experiences.
There’s nothing else out there quite like I Was A Teenage Exocolonist, and it’s truly a hidden gem that everyone should try in 2023.
AI: The Sominum Files
AI: The Somnium Files is a murder mystery visual novel with immersive puzzle-solving elements.
Murder mysteries are one of the most common premises when it comes to visual novel storytelling, and Spike Chunsoft’s AI: The Sominum Files doesn’t shy away from the formula but it does provide a unique spin on detective gameplay.
Set in a futuristic Tokyo, AI: The Sominum Files follows Special Agent Kaname Date, a detective of the Advanced Brain Investigation Squad. After a brutal murder takes place, Kaname is assigned to investigate the crime through the process of ‘Psyncing’ — an ability in which somebody can enter and explore another’s Sominum or ‘dream world’ in order to discover the true intentions of those who may be involved with the case.
He is joined by an artificial intelligence named Alba who can hack electronic devices and provide Kaname with X-Ray and Night Vision. She also acts as his avatar during Psyncing sequences, where the player takes control of her during puzzle-solving tasks.
Coffee Talk is a charming visual novel.
Coffee Talk is a game with a very simple premise, but an extremely charming experience at that. You are a barista at Coffee Talk — a small shop located in Seattle, Washington. Throughout the course of the game, you serve various patrons of the shop while listening to their stories and concerns.
The fictionized Seattle where Coffee Talk is based just happens to be home to many fantasy races, so during your time behind the counter, you’ll spend time with mermaids, elves, and orcs (to name just a few).
The majority of Coffee Talk’s gameplay is presented as a traditional visual novel with a dialogue-lead narrative, but this will periodically be interrupted by a mini-game where you’ll have to prepare drinks for customers. What’s more, the game’s plot can be affected in different ways depending on what recipes the player chooses to make.
With an average playtime of just four hours, Coffee Talk is a perfect visual novel for anyone wanting a short (but complete) experience.
Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Trilogy
The Phoenix Wright franchise is a gripping legal drama told in visual novel form.
Capcom’s Phoenix Wright franchise is one of the most celebrated visual novels of the past two decades. Originally starting life on the Game Boy in 2001 with its first entry, the series went on to become a cult hit and fans were overjoyed when the first three games were ported to modern consoles in 2019 as The Phoenix Wright Trilogy.
These games chronicle the adventures of the titular Phoenix ‘Nick’ Wright, a rookie defense attorney who aims to have all of his clients deemed ‘not guilty’ in court. Each case begins with a point-and-click investigation during which the player must gather evidence and information pertaining to the crime. The second phase of gameplay is the courtroom trial, where Phoenix presents his defense to the court by cross-examining witnesses and answering questions.
It’s a franchise that turns the typical visual novel crime drama on its head by taking a deep dive into the legal side of things. The crimes are incredibly intriguing, and Phoenix meets a colorful cast of characters in each entry that only makes the experience even more enjoyable.
Completing all three games in the trilogy will take approximately 60 hours in total, so this collection is a great pick-up for players looking to sink their time into a new series.
Digimon Survive offers a dark twist on a beloved franchise.
While 2022 was certainly huge for Pokemon, it also saw the long-awaited return of another beloved creature-collecting franchise to the gaming space: Digimon. Much like the original Adventure anime, Digimon Survive follows a group of kids who are transported to the Digital World during their summer vacation. What makes Survive unique, however, is its dark and sinister tone.
This is a game that’s primarily presented as a visual novel where you play as Takuma, the game’s resident google-wearing protagonist. After Takuma and his classmates find themselves trapped in a mysterious world that mirrors their own reality, they each meet their new Digimon partners and set out to find their way back home. On your journey, you’ll also take part in grid-based combat by using the various recruitable Digimon you can find across the island.
Throughout the story, Takuma has to interact with his classmates and make difficult decisions that will ultimately affect the outcome of the story. Despite being based on a childhood series, Digimon Survive is certainly not for kids — it’s a game that’s not afraid to address mature themes and consistently features a horror undertone that’s inspired by Japanese folklore.
Whether you’re a diehard Digimon fan or want to tackle a heavier story with multiple endings, Digimon Survive is one of the best visual novels available in 2023.
That’s our list of the best visual novels to play on Switch and Steam in 2023! For more game recommendations, check out more of our lists below:
Best animal games | Best LGBTQ+ games | Best open-world games | Best Metal Gear games | Best Assassin’s Creed games | Best Call of Duty games | Best MMO games to play in 2023 | Best Naruto games | Best Steam Deck games