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The best visual novels that'll capture your imagination

10. Butterfly Soup

(Image credit: Brianna Lei)

Available on: PC 

Brianna Lei's indie visual novel Butterfly soup is a little gem of a game about Asian-American girls who play baseball and fall in love with each other. The premise instantly sold me before I started playing, but I didn't quite expect to be so moved by its story or to fall so hard for its characters. Packed full of humour (with genuine laugh-out-loud moments), heart, and wonderful artwork, the story follows a group of believable teenagers who bond through their shared experiences. Butterfly Soup's relatable characters and beautifully written story is sure to leave its mark on your heart and endlessly charm you. 

9. Heaven Will Be Mine

(Image credit: Pillow Fight Games)

Available on: PC 

Heaven Will be Mine explores some quite sensitive subjects, but that just makes Worst Girls Games and Pillow Fights Games' visual novel all the more noteworthy. Players can assume the role of three different mech pilots - Luna-Terra, Pluto, and Saturn - who each have their own personalities and skills. Through a series of conversations that play out on a UI that's designed to make you feel like you're in the cockpit of a  mech, you follow the story of the pilots as they try to navigate their way through an eight-day war against three different factions in a bid to fight for the future of humanity. Every pilot is on a different side, which offers a variety of different perspectives and issues. What makes it so notable, though, is how strong its storytelling is. The narrative is one of its strongest points, with so many metaphorical layers to uncover. Set in an alternate version of 1981, Heaven Will Be Mine is one of the most interesting recent visual novel additions to the ever-growing library, wrapped up in a distinctive art style, lots of smooching, and an absorbing exploration of relationships and connections. 

8. Neo Cab

(Image credit: Chance Agency)

Available on: PC, Nintendo Switch, iOS

Set in a neon-tinted futuristic world with serious cyberpunk vibes where automation rules, you play as Lina, the last human cab driver who finds herself having to work on the streets of Los Ojos where she's just recently relocated to. At the beginning of the game you reunite with your friend who you clearly have a dicey history with. With unresolved feelings hanging in the air, your friend gives you a feelgrid, which is like a futuristic mood ring in the form of a bracelet that will change colour depending on how Lina is feeling. Suddenly, though, the friend suddenly goes missing. As you work to find out what happened, you're forced to pick up passengers to keep the money coming in. You have to be careful what you say to those who get in your cab, though, because you can run the risk of hurting your star rating or affecting your emotional wellbeing. The style has so much appeal, and as a narrative driven adventure where your choices actually have an effect, it frames an engaging story about human connections through the conversations you have with passengers. 

7. Eliza

(Image credit: Zachtronics)

Available on: PC, Nintendo Switch

Zachtronic's visual novel explores the idea of using an AI therapy app called Eliza. The crux is that the AI programme is actually run by proxy workers who read from a script provided to them in real-time by the AI. One such proxy is Evelyn who you assume the role throughout the story. After burning out from her job in tech, Evelyn takes the job working for the app and while she has yet to face her own problems, she tries to help the people of Seattle with theirs. With a variety of different endings and plenty of interesting turns, Eliza is a thought-provoking visual novel that will make you question the power of technology and the dangers surrounding the idea of digital, AI-powered therapy. 

6. Hustle Cat

(Image credit: Date Nighto)

Available on: PC

What would you do if you landed yourself a job at a cat cafe only to discover all your colleagues transform into cats as soon as they leave at night? Well, that's exactly what you'll have to contend with in Hustle Cat, the delightful visual novel from Date Nighto. As Avery Grey, you start a job at a cat cafe called the Cat's Paw and the story  follows several different routes depending on the choices you make. There are six characters in total, with several different branching stories that will take you on an unexpected journey in the world of being a cat cafe employee. With lovely character filled with personality, you're sure to fall in love with at least one of the cast of characters you meet in the Cat's Paw. 

5. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Trilogy

(Image credit: Capcom)

Available on: PS4, Xbox One, PC, Nintendo Switch 

Objection! If you haven't played any of the Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney games, starting at the beginning is the best way to go, and rather helpfully the original trilogy recently got a nice remastered re-release for all of your court room needs. With some of the best localisation around, the Ace Attorney series is bursting with interesting storylines, endlessly expressive animations, creative character designs and generous helpings of humour and heart. Every case is filled with unexpected twists and turns, and as Phoenix Wright, your logic and reasoning will truly be put to the test to solve each case and make sure you get the verdict you want in the final courtroom showdown. By finding clues, piecing together evidence, and selecting the right answers, you'll be putting away criminals left right and centre. But the answers are never obvious, and it will put forward some challenging cases that some thought to solve. Being a lawyer was never so fun or challenging.

4. Clannad

(Image credit: Sekai Project)

Available on: PC, PS4

Originally released in Japan back in 2004, Clannad follows the story of a private high school student called Tomoya Okazaki who's distanced himself from his fellow students and keeps tragically loses his mother and struggles to handle his relationship with his alcoholic father. Okazaki meets a young girl called Nagisa Furukawa who's repeating the school year due to illness. Together the pair try to revive the school drama club and get to know lots of other students in the process. As one of the more moving visual novels. The story that unfolds handles some very deep and often sad topics, so it's best to go in expecting to shed a tear or two, but the journey it takes you one is hard to forget. 

3. Danganronpa Trigger Happy Havoc

(Image credit: NIS America)

Available on:  PC, PS4, PSVita

Mystery, murder, and high school collide in Chunsofts dark visual novel will turn you into a teenage detective when you get trapped in Hope's Peak Academy with your fellow students and the murderous bear Monokuma. And the only way out? Murder. Yeah, the nefarious little bear tries to turn the students against each other to gain their freedom, but just who is this bear and why are they trying to get the students to murder each other? It's up to you to find out. With deadly trials, gripping storytelling and plenty of memorable characters, Danganronpa has made a name for itself in the visual novel genre with good reason. The voice acting is superb, and chances are you'll be thinking about what transpired long after you've finished it. 

2. Zero Escape: The Nonary Games

(Image credit: Spike Chunsoft Co. )

Available on: PS4, PC, PSVita

Part of the fun of making choices in visual novels is seeing the different outcomes of the decisions you've made, good or bad. In Zero Escape: The Nonary Games, which bundles together remastered versions of two fantastic visual novels from developer Chunsoft, every choice puts the fate of the characters in your hands, which puts some pretty heavy behind them. The first game, Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors (999) was originally released in 2009 on the Nintendo DS and puts you in the shoes of college student Junpei and follows the story of nine main characters who are unwilling participants in the Nonary games run by a mysterious figure known as Zero. Each character is locked in a different room, and it's up to you to correctly work out how to get out of every room. The tagline "a million ways to die" should be enough to convince you that your choices really do matter. With text-based segments and challenging first-person puzzle solving, there are plenty of twists and turns throughout, and the sequel Virtue's Last Reward (which originally release on 3DS and PSVita) is just as engaging. When it comes to the Nonary games, the less you know going in, the better. 

1. Stein; Gate Elite

(Image credit: Spike Chunsoft)

Available on: PC, PS4 and Nintendo Switch 

A remake of the original Steins; Gate visual novel that released back in 2009, Steins; Gate Elite takes the already stellar original version and polishes it up with fully animated sequences from the anime series, as well as some tweaked features. As one of the most compelling stories that revolves around time travel, you follow the story of a group of students who uncover the means to travel through time using tech. If you're after a visual novel where choices matter, then look no further. As protagonist Ritaro Okabe who's a scientist of sorts, you journey through a mind-bending story in a bid to try and change the future by travelling through time reliving past days and carrying out different actions in a bid to alter its outcome. As a tale that explores how decisions can set us on different paths through life and affect the future, the intensely atmospheric visual novel offers one of the most engaging experiences in the genre to date. 

Heather Wald

I started out writing for the games section of a student-run website as an undergrad, and continued to write about games in my free time during retail and temp jobs for a number of years. Eventually, I earned an MA in magazine journalism at Cardiff University, and soon after got my first official role in the industry as a content editor for Stuff magazine. After writing about all things tech and games-related, I then did a brief stint as a freelancer before I landed my role as a staff writer here at GamesRadar+. Now I get to write features, previews, and reviews, and when I'm not doing that, you can usually find me lost in any one of the Dragon Age or Mass Effect games, tucking into another delightful indie, or drinking far too much tea for my own good.