Whether you are interested in visual novels or not will determine how this list will work for you. If you are an avid visual novel player/reader, this list will be very familiar to you, they are all well-known and widely praised. But if you have read only one or two, or a few, or none, then this list may be comprised of ten games you have never heard of. Some of these games contain adult themes, some of them are hardcore. If you do not read eroge by principle, you might not play some of them.

Anyway, if you have not played these games, especially the top 4, you are missing out. These games are all great experiences, and I am sure you will enjoy them. But why? Let us talk about that in each entry.

SFW? Yes.

I have a feeling that this would be the game that everyone would go "FAIL WHY IS NOT ON THE LIST MY HEART IS BROKEN REAG" if I had ultimately decided to leave it out. And I seriously did contemplate leaving it out, not because it is not an amazing game. It is. But... is it horror? Really? I was not scared, furthermore, I'm not sure what was supposed to scare me. Am I too jaded? Have I desensitized myself to something which is present in this game? Anyway, everyone seems to consider this game real scary so I submit to the opinion of the majority.

999 is a 2009 game developed by Chunsoft. It seems to be the inspiration behind Herman Cain's presidential campaign. Really? You didn't get that joke? That joke is soooo 2012. Anyway, it tells the story of nine people (or persons) kidnapped by someone called zero (it's also a number, get it? GET IT?) and they are abandoned on a ship and they have nine hours to escape or the ship will sink. They have to solve zero's puzzles and reach the door number nine to escape.

This game is amazing because of the character interactions. Each of them has a distinct personality, and convincing background, and a game of suspicions begins, but they have to work together in spite of this suspicion. It is a very interesting look at the psychology of the characters, and therefore a very compelling story.

But I still don't know what is scary about it.

SFW? No. You can play it in a way that it is, but come on.... you won't.

A 2005 PC game developed by 0verflow which was also later ported into PS2 and PSP. You are Makoto Ito, a high school student who is a child of a divorce and lives with his unseen mother and may become the love interest of various high school students who are also in the school.

The reason that I have put this on # 9 is that I had problem deciding if it was really horror or not. It could not be a horror story at all, because if you make all the correct choices along the way, you may not see any of the horrific things. But make terrible choices - and I promise you, you will make terrible choices if you're on your first playthrough without a walkthrough - you will end up with the bad endings, which are very infamously gory and violent and the game does become quite scary and dark. And I suggest you do so - it is not a nice experience if you're the type who identify with the main character too much, but if you want a good story, the dark path is much more rewarding.

This game is interesting because the choices matter much more than many other VNs. While in many other VNs the choices make no change at all, or you can pursue a relationship with all the girls in a single playthrough, here each choice changes the dynamic of the whole game and affects other characters too, and therefore makes the end result quite unpredictable. It's also prettier and more animation-like than most other VNs. It is overall an interesting experience that I recommend to everyone.

SFW? Yes.

This 1996 game is a dojin soft, which means an independent, usually nonprofit Japanese game. A "circle" called Team GrisGris developed this game with RPG maker for PC-9800. The story takes place in an school called Kisaragi Academy. There's a closed school in the campus called Heavenly Host in which a series of murders took place some years ago. One day, the students of Kisaragi perform a ritual which transforms them into an alternate reality into the Heavenly Host school, and now they are haunted by the ghosts there. It is now your job to navigate and survive. The game has been also remade and released for PC in 2008, PSP in 2010, and iOS in 2012. There has also been an anime adaptation.

This game takes credit for starting it all. It is the first indie horror game. There are many great indie horror games out there, and this game broke new grounds for them. Its anime-style graphics and intricate plot, the fact that you have to replay the game many times to get all the endings, you might abruptly face game overs, all and all built up a lot of ground for the genre of visual novels as a whole, and horror visual novel especially imitates this game a lot. There is no doubt that this game will go down in history as a major factor in the horror genre and video games as a whole.

It also stands up the test of time and it's really scary and fun, and also innovative even to this day, and you will enjoy it as much as those who enjoyed it back then. Sure, it might not be a masterpiece of characterizations and philosophical themes, but it is fun and entertaining as hell, so why not play it?

SFW? Yes.

The name actually means When the Seagulls Cry but in English it is named Umineko: When They Cry. It is actually a series of stories and this is the third installment. It was developed by 07th Expansion for PC in 2007. There has been various manga and a 26-episode anime adaptations of the series. It has sold a lot and it is critically well received.

Eighteen people are trapped on a secluded island in a mansion. Murders ensue. Now they you have to investigate and determine whether these murders are natural or supernatural.

What I love about this game is the fact that it's Gothic. My love of the horror genre is actually rooted in my fascination with the Gothic novel as a teenager, with novels such as The Castle of Otranto, Vathek, and the queen of them all, Anne Radcliffe. And everything that there is to love about these novels is present here. Dark, mysterious mansion? Check. Over the top characters who are not deep but fascinating nevertheless - vulnerable damsels in distress, hilariously villainous villains? Check! Looming sense of danger? Check! A creepy mystery with unknown origins? Check! How can people not love this genre - and by extension, this game?

Also, this game is similar to another famous novel - And then There Were None by Agatha Christie, which is, in my humble opinion, her best one.

SFW? Nope.

This 1998 game developed by C's Ware is another game with historical significance. Its English translation helped spark interest for the genre in the west. The story of yet another poorly-supervised horny student, one with a poor health record (that's also popular in the genre). Ranmaru Hibikiya is his uncle's spy in a school, and although he is skeptical about the investigations, but soon he is trapped in a series of supernatural events and mysteries that just get ugly.

Divid-Dead is not a flawless game. While some of the hentai scenes are integral to the part, some are just there to be there. The pacing is not balanced - some parts are boring [oh forgive me SSpecter!] because nothing happens and you have to labor through useless dialogues. Then the game suddenly becomes violent and scary and then suddenly a light-hearted porn scene.

But you still should play it because the advantages outweigh the disadvantages. That is, if you are a plot-junkey like I am. The plot is a labyrinth, and it gets more and more confusing, mysterious, and scary the further the game goes. People constantly acquire new personalities and change loyalties, every clue leads to multiple new mysteries, every answer brings up new questions. It's a rubic cube of questions. And you have to play the game multiple times to understand the story fully.

SFW? Not at all. Not even a single bit.

With a name which sounds like a Death Metal album by the Cannibal Corpse, you know what to expect from a game with that name and sure as hell it doesn't disappoint. Developed by Black Cyc, this game also involves a student (Kyouji Jinno), who is also parentless (they are abroad) (you better get used to unsupervised high school libertines if you want to get into VNs), and also goes out of his way to woo the delicate race, but the game is not a high school dating sim because soon the elements of occultism and detective stories enter the frame, and he becomes the investigator of myths surrounding a monster who kills women on the forest on the behalf of his creepy aunt.

So, is this game violent? It is. Is there rape, murder, gore, and many other horrific events, there is. Is the violence over the top? It is. Is the sex gratuitous and disgusting? It sure as hell is. Then should you play it if you are not a psychopath? You should. The story is extremely compelling. It is so suspenseful, so engaging, that you are glued to your chair before the screen and you have nightmares every night. The game doesn't let you go. The mystery is so horrifying that you just have to - simply have to - go on and find out the answer. The twists are all meaningful, and there is a great theme of loyalty and friendship undercurrent as well. The characters are real people. This game is not a needlessly violent festival of rape, it is a great story.

However, if you are the type who cannot stand the high levels of violent material and disturbing sexual imagery, stir clear of this game, but you're missing out.

SFW? Yes.

A 2008 game eveloped by WorkJam and released exclusively for the DS. A fictional country ruled by a military dictatorship is at war. It follows the story of two protagonists who try to uncover their past. You start as a girl with amnesia who has to solve puzzles. The central mood of the game is mystery and ambiguity, and that is the driving motivation for you to play it, to unweave the mystery little by little with patience and trial and error.

This game is psychological, its story is mature and creepy. Maybe no other DS game (including 999) is so creepy and scary. It is also one of the few games that utilizes the full potential of the dual screen feature of DS. One screen shows a computer-generated image with a pretty good graphic (for DS) and the other a pretty hand drawn picture, and you can always see the map and then the writings and dialogues. It's the most convenient way to play a VN.

The horror of this game is the embodiment of a mature and artistic attitude towards horror. There is no over the top violence (it is violent thought), no scare jumps, nothing. The game is actually quite slow. The horror creeps in from the atmosphere, the sensation of loss and confusion, the compelling mystery at the core, which build up to make you feel like an alien in a hostile world. It is psychological in the true sense of the word - it targets your weak spots as a human and builds its monument of fear there.

Do yourself a favor and do not miss this amazing, enigmatic experience.

SFW? No.

A 2008 game developed by Liar-soft, a sequel to other "What a Beautiful" games. Fans of the series might chew my head off but I like this one more than Inganock- WAY more. Anyway, you are Mary Clarissa Christie, a girl in London in 1905, she suddenly develops a case of heterochromia - one of her blue eyes turn yellow. She begins to see visions and you have to uncover a mystery.

The plot of this game is incredibly complex. Not only there is a complex puzzle yo have to unweave patiently, that you have to repeat the game again and again, but there is more. A great immersive atmosphere, which leaves you in a state of awe and sublime in every step, enriched by steampunk and fantasy elements, a rich mythology behind the game, and its highly allusive nature. Like every other literary masterpiece, every line and word can be analyzed.

There are also some minigames! You have to survive by escaping from monsters in a turned based game. So it's not all reading!

This game is truly avant-garde. You need patience and effort to understand it - but it's worth it.

SFW? No.

Literally meaning "Saya's Song", written by Gen Urobuchi and developed by Nitroplus and released in 2003. Fuminori Sakisaka, a medical student, receives a brain damage in a car accident and he develops a case of agnosia (copy/pasted from Wikipedia: " a loss of ability to recognize objects, persons, sounds, shapes, or smells while the specific sense is not defective nor is there any significant memory loss.") But it's not the normal agnosia, as he perceives everything through a warped veil. The world appears to him like hell, with a black sky, fleshy buildings, and gory streets, and he perceives other humans as monsters. But then he meets Saya, a girl who looks human and beautiful in this grotesque world. He wants to stay with her in her quest to look for her father, and she agrees. They embark on a quest together.

You have to be able to tolerate much to go through this game. This includes the grotesque imagery, shocking and frankly disturbing sadistic sex scenes, unsettling music and sound, and the psychological burden of playing through one of the cruelest and scary games and stories of all time.

But then again, this is horror at its best. The gradual death of humanity, the way that the atmospheric mercilessness of the story numbs you and instills a psychological fear that will stay with you. "Fatigue" is usually an emotion not brought up in a compliment to a game - but if the works of art are supposed to let us experience all there is to humanity, from the darkest to the lightest, Saya no Uta will wear you down and weaken you, and that is why it's great.

This is an experience of madness - a bleak, nihilistic look at human nature. In writing it is reminiscent of the cruelty Marquis de Sade, in visuals, of surrealist horror. If you are not weak, it is one of the best journeys through the madness you can find.

SFW? No.

Developed by Innocent Grey in 2008, this game puts you in the shoes of Reiji Tokisaka. He was a police officer but he quit in a series of grotesque murders which took the life of his beloved fiance, and became a private eye. Now his old friend and colleague recruits his help to investigate a new series of murders similar to the old ones. At the same time, Toko Kuchiki, a high school student who studies at the same school that the murders take place in, asks Reiji to find her "true self". The events of the past and present become entangled in more than one disturbing ways.

This game is more than its complex and intricate plot. Sure, the abundance of choices will make you play through the game many times and get stuck at moments many times before making the correct choices advancing through the plot. But in spite of that ultimately the plot and the central puzzle are not as complex as games like Divi-Dead or What a Beautiful Tomorrow. The central mystery is gripping and intense and certainly very scary, but there's more to this game. Sure, the scepter of the serial murders is very scary, and you follow the story with gripping fear, but that's not what makes this game great.

Behind the veil of blood, gore, a series of rather unnecessary porn scenes and some necessary ones, this game is an incredibly human story of grief, loss, and identity. Richly allusive, deeply symbolic, at its core it tells the story of husbands mourning their wives, wives mourning their husbands, children mourning their parents, people asking who they are and what is their place in a cruel and unloving world, trying to define themselves, trying to find their "true self", sometimes willing to go to incredible violent lengths - sometimes gone mad. It is a story of unfulfilled dreams and unrealized dreams.

Toko Kuchiki remains one of the best written characters of all time, as she is all that there is to a typical character of horror detective story but more- much more- she is vulnerable and strong. Reiji is not a simple detective and perv, he is a human who filters the world through incredibly human eyes, and whether it's his stoic sister, or the grieving inn-keeper, we discover that each of these characters are human, they are like us, and their condition shows the tragedy of humanity. As the game ends, as we approach the climax, it is not the depth of horror or excitement that the game takes us to, like normal horror detective stories strive to, it is the depth of sorrow, and empathy.

This is why I select this game as number one. I am a great fan of the works that take us into the darkest and the least desirable realms of our psyche, and Saya no Uto is such a game. But nothing beats a great paradox in art: behind the curtain of blood and gore and mindless porn, beyond all the murders and disturbing imagery, Kara no Shoujo is an incredibly humane game- with nothing but love for the embattled and unfortunate entity that is human.

Many people believe that VNs are inferior to books and games. They are not books and they are not games. They are an unfortunate hybrid without identity, a mindless gore and porn festival for juvenile people without conscience or human decency. If you suffer from such prejudices, you harm no one but yourself. The truth is, although the main body of VNs might be just that (and in what art isn't? 90% of movies, books, and mainstream games are crap too), VN as a new, yet uncensored media provides opportunities for real artists to venture into the grounds and make experiments that would be impossible in any other market.

Some of the games on this list are just entertaining stuff. Some are masterpieces (the top four). A form of art needs no better argument than the works of art - and these are undoubtedly such.

List by Nazifpour (04/24/2013)

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