Sound Novel (サウンドノベル) was a brand name for a series of text-based adventure games developed by Chunsoft. The games are like digital novels and involve reading a story that contains multiple endings which are reached after making simple choices, similar to a Choose Your Own Adventure book.
In terms of presentation, Chunsoft's sound novels have the story's text cover the entire screen, instead of being inside a textbox, and usually have an image behind the text showing what is being described. The games also place a heavy reliance on sound design, hence the franchise's name, with sound effects and music being used to create the titles' atmosphere. The visuals of Chunsoft's early sound novels were often minimalist in style, such as Kamaitachi no Yoru which represented its characters as blue silhouettes. However, later games such as Machi and 428 also used live-action photographs and video footage.
Chunsoft's Sound Novels
Koichi Nakamura, the founder of Chunsoft and the director of the first Sound Novel, has described that the goal of the series was to create a video game that would be accessible even to people that didn't know how to use a controller . With this goal in mind and Nakamura wanting to work on a smaller project, it was decided to adapt the fun of reading a novel into a video game format on the Super Famicom . The idea was to take advantage of the platform's advanced stereo sound chip to add atmosphere to the story while making the text itself more readable by using the Super Famicom's ability to render kainji characters, which had previously been impossible on the Famicom . Originally the presentation of Chunsoft's first sound novel, Otogirisou, was just going to be text on top of a graphic of a textured book page with the focus purely being on the story and audio experience. However, after concerns were issued about its presentation, Chunsoft decided to have different background graphics appear behind the text based on what was being described in the story . This would cement the presentation style used in all of Chunsoft's future sound novel titles.
Chunsoft's sound novel series started out modestly with Otogirisou steadily selling over time due to positive word of mouth . However, the franchise soon exploded with mainstream popularity when Kamaitachi no Yoru released in 1994, which would go on to sell 700,000 copies on the Super Famicom alone . Kamaitachi no Yoru was responsible for popularizing novel-style video games in Japan and would go on to serve as the progenitor to what the West knows as the visual novel genre, directly influencing the Leaf Visual Novel Series which coined the term .
The term "sound novel" is trademarked by Chunsoft but, despite this, fans often treat the term as a genre title and use it to classify games made by other developers that are similar to Chunsoft's. One of the earliest instances of a company mimicking Chunsoft's Sound Novel franchise is Athena's Yakochu for the Super Famicom which was released only a few months after Kamaitachi no Yoru in 1995. Examples of non-Chunsoft sound novels that are more well known in the West include titles such as the When They Cry titles developed by 07th Expansion, which label themselves as a sound novels, and Chrono Trigger's Satellaview exclusive sequel, Radical Dreamers.
- What is Game Design? Three Perspectives - Translation of an article from Game Hihyou magazine done by Shmuplations.
- Chunsoft 30th Anniversary Interview translated by Shmuplations.
- Bungle Bungle - The official website of Tatsuya Takahashi and Tooru Minazuki, creators of the Leaf Visual Novel Series.
- A Look Back at the "Sound Novel," a Genre that Created a Stir in the Industry by 小城由都 (ITmedia, 2006).