When I think about my childhood, it’s hard to visualize it without the above 8-bit. In fact, I’m not sure I know anyone who don’t know the most iconic Italian not named Corleone or Balboa. And without Mario M. Mario, I would argue that gaming would not have reached the zenith it now sits at. Every industry has its own iconography; that symbol or person brings back a feeling of nostalgia so strong it defines entire generations and in every gaming console generation, there have been efforts to recreate that great icon that would define the times.

With that said, I think it’s time for this long-time, console gamer to ask what clearly isn’t an obvious question: who is the Mario of English Visual Novels?

Now I know I already ruffled a good deal of feathers just with that question and the retort is now, ‘Well WHY should their be a ‘Mario’ for EVNs? We don’t need that!’ Well come by the fire ham bone and I’ll explain why you’re wrong. What you should remember is that no one is introduced to gaming’s best right off the bat. It would be the equivalent of never swimming a day in your life and suddenly attempting a ten meter dive into an Olympic swimming pool. Regardless of how ‘easy’ (and hot) Abby Johnston makes it look, if you’re not trained you’ll break your neck on the diving platform and you’ll be dead before you hit the water.

Which is why you don’t start in the Olympic pool, you start in the family lake or neighborhood pool. There’s no pressure for greatness or insane competitiveness. It’s familiar, fun and something that will let you experience the basics of swimming. And if you want to be more competitive, there are larger pools for it. Now, since the VNs Now audience is very intelligent, I’m sure you see where this is going and I won’t extend the metaphor any longer than I have to. But it is important to remember that every genre of entertainment is intimidating to the new viewer/reader/listener. If people got into gaming strictly to play Elder Scrolls or Dark Souls, there wouldn’t be a lot of gamers. Which is why all of the gaming icons are usually the equivalent of the neighborhood lake.

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That isn’t to say that the gaming icons hosts ‘silly’ or ‘kiddy’, but rather they’re the easiest to get into. The story of Halo, for example, has a decent amount of meat on it but it’s only to give context to an experience instead of just as a vehicle for multiplayer (coughCODcough). In fact, to make all of this more personal, I was a hardcore Nintendo kid who didn’t go much further than the Mario-Zelda-MegaMan nexus until my Mom bought me an Xbox AND Halo 2. That is what expanded my gaming interests and eventually led me to discover my favorite game: Knights of the Old Republic.

And my story isn’t an isolated incident. Hell, I’d go so far to say it is the standard. As gaming has grown into a more accepted hobby, the icons of the past have grown into household names. People who have never played a game before in their life can hum the themes of both World 1-1 and 1-2 from the original game and knows that the playable character of Legend of Zelda is actually Link and exactly what happens to Aerith by game’s end. And because of that, these characters will always have a place in our culture as the starting point not only to a hobby worth persevering, but a business and audience that should be taken seriously.

The power of a solid ‘Mario’ that not only grabs your interests but your imagination is difficult to reproduce…and I know that because the gaming industry have stuck to the model for nearly thirty years. From Mario and Sonic all the way to Master Chief and Nathan Drake, who I would argue stole the crown from Final Fantasy for PlayStation, the industry wouldn’t keep going back to this well if it wasn’t effective. And yet, while millions of gamers world-wide defend the honor of the icons they grew up with to such severity that companies are actually going backward to recreate the old-school feel of Mario and Sonic, the EVN community seems slow to pick up on this.

To be fair, the same could be said for Japanese Visual Novels. I mean, really, what iconic character could represent everything great about the genre to the uninformed? Well, going strictly from sales figures, that would be Misuzu Kamio from Air…yeeeeaaaah. If I have to explain to you why Super Moe Princess here isn’t a viable candidate for this particular job in the West, then allow me to welcome you to VNs Now because this is your first time on the site. Though I’m sure the fans of the character and game enjoy the influence she’s had, most people will see her, laugh and never touch the actual game.

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‘But JP! Why are you trying to make us just like everyone else?’

I’m not. Unless you’re building Otome Game #570612348, I’m not asking for the actual content of the games to change. What I am saying is that you’re about to be written off.

“Officially localized and released visual novels are few in number. That and also makers that actively try to spread the Japanese-born visual novel game genre to the West are few in number too. Perhaps for that reason, I feel that there are also few Western-made visual novels. Of course there are visual novel creators out there in the world, but not to the extent that you could say the visual novel genre is commonplace.” – ‘Fujisan’, Moenovel

“It’s no secret that visual novels lack a solid market here in the West. Even with the surprise success of such titles as the outstanding Zero Escape series, visual novels remain mostly out of the spotlight.” -RPGFan

The narrative being developed is that while there are a few ragtag groups in the West doing ‘something’, no one has made a claim on the market: which makes it open territory. As a console gamer, trust me on this one; if that thought is allowed to take root then everyone who has busted their ass so far to make quality EVNs while be tossed by the minute the greater media find a decent enough Japanese title to define what visual novels are in the West. And we will only have ourselves to blame because we don’t have the excuse of being born on the other side of the world. We can’t claim ignorance on the business side of gaming because pretty much everyone here, in one degree or another, is a gamer. We ALL understand what needs to be done, but few actually wants to be the pariah that pushes a niche gaming community into a recognized niche gaming community.

That’s where I come in.

I’ll be going a bit more into this in time, but what everyone needs to know right now is that this site is going to start looking for the EVN Mario along with the other billion things I have planned. I don’t take this lightly…and I’m sure many think I shouldn’t undertake it at all: but it will happen. There should be one visual novel series we can all rally behind and hold up as a standard, a flagship if you will, to those who have no understanding of the medium. And I will do so, without fail.

Of course, you can help the process. Comment below, follow me on Twitter or Tumblr and tell me what you think of this little plot. I’m sure the responses I get for this will be very interesting…very, very interesting. Until then JP3: OUT.

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About Author

Founder of VNs Now.com. Long-Time Reader, Amateur Writer and Chef and Gundam Enthusiast. Opinions are Steve's, Facts are Mine.