The term "sound novel" (サウンドノベル) originates from Chunsoft's popular Sound Novel franchise, which began with the Super Famicom release of Otogirisou in 1992, but eventually grew into its own genre with many companies mimicking the style of Chunsoft's games. However, the term itself, "sound novel," is trademarked by Chunsoft so other developers seldom use the word to classify their own games and Japanese fans often use the term "novel game" to describe the genre it inspired.
Sound novels are basically gamified digital books that evolved out of the Japanese adventure genre. They focus mainly on reading instead of problem solving, with text usually covering the entire screen and other visuals often being de-emphasized or minimalist in style. Interactions are limited to making choices that lead to different endings but there are some titles that have linear narratives with no choice making. As may be expected from the genre's name, sound and music are also heavily used to immerses the player in the story.
The genre gained mainstream popularity in Japan during the mid-1990s after the release of Chunsoft's Kamaitachi no Yoru in 1994. Because of the game's success, the genre went through a boom period on the Super Famicom and was also fairly active on platforms like the original PlayStation.
However, since "sound novel" was trademarked by Chunsoft, the term was seldom used by other developers. All kinds of labels were used to classify these 3rd-party sound novels with one of the most popular being Leaf's Visual Novel Series. Leaf altered the sound novel concept to be more focused on visuals and it eventually inspired imitators of its own, which are often classified as visual novels in the West. Eventually, the novel genre also found new life within the Japanese doujin scene of the early 2000s. Graphic engines like KiriKiri and NScripter made it easier for amateur creators to make their own novel games which lead to the creation of popular titles like Type-Moon's Tsukihime and 07th Expansion's Higurashi.
Over time, the term "novel game" began to be used by Japanese fans to collectively classify these novel-like adventure games while developers today simply label them as "adventure games." Outside of Japan, "visual novel" is often used as a catch-all term for any kind of Japanese novel game and the sound novel term is almost never used since none of the titles from the 90s boom ever left Japan. Even in Japan itself, the sound novel term has, for the most part, fallen out of use due to Chunsoft no longer releasing new entries in their Sound Novel franchise. Instead the term is almost exclusively used for titles that were made during the boom in the 90s or titles that are directly copying the presentation of those titles.
- Japanese Wikipedia Page
- Nico Nico Pedia Page