Who Invented Visual Novels? 

As we dive into the world of stories, we might wonder, ‘Who invented visual novels?’ This question leads us to explore the rich history of these interactive stories.

Visual novels have been around since the 1980s and come in many different forms and iterations. They encompass lots of genres and have had their fair share of controversy and praise. While some say that a visual novel has too much reading and too little action to be considered games, it’s not a stretch to say that they can be works of storytelling art in their execution. The history of visual novels can be traced back to one man who’s had a long and storied career in game development. He only created one other game before introducing the world to visual novels. 

Yuji Horii 

Yuji Horii was born on January 6th, 1954, in Sumoto, Hyogo, Japan. He graduated from Waseda University with a degree in literature and went to work as a writer. Yuji worked as a freelance writer for comics, magazines, and newspapers. He also wrote for the Famicon Shinken video game column. His work was featured in Weekly Shonen Jump from 1985 to 1988. Before that happened, he explored his love of video games by entering into a contest sponsored by Enix. This would motivate him to become a video game designer and that would inform his career for decades to come. 

Enix Game Programming Contest 

Enix Corporation was a Japanese media publisher that was founded in 1975 and existed until 2003 (when it was merged with another video game developer to become Square Enix). It was founded by Yasuhiro Fukushima, who was a business entrepreneur. He decided to invest his capital into the emerging video game market after a failed attempt at becoming a national chain. This led to the creation of a game programming competition called “Enix Game Hobby Program Contest.” Yasuhiro was looking for game proposals and advertised the contest in both computer and manga magazines. He also offered a grand prize of ¥1,000,000. The winners would have their game prototypes published by Enix. The contest would end with three winners and three new games for Enix to publish. A self-trained programmer by the name of Kazuro Morita won with his simulation game Morita’s Battlefield. Designer Koichi Nakamura won with his puzzle game Door Door. Finally, Yuri Horii, a writer, won with his sports game Love Tennis Match. All three men would go on to have relationships with Enix and both Yuri and Kazuro would work directly for them for large parts of their careers. The games would also earn Enix millions of yen in sales. 

The Portopia Serial Murder Case 

Yuji’s very next game was the first visual novel to ever be created. It was titled “The Portopia Serial Murder Case” and was designed, programmed, and created by Yuji himself. It was the first of his mystery trilogy and would inspire Hideo Kojima to go into video game programming later. The game was first released on the NEC PC-6001 computer and has been ported to PC, the Famicon, and mobile platforms. It’s a first-person mystery where the player is tasked with solving a murder. It worked on a verb-noun parser system that necessitated the entry of specific words and phrases to progress through the game. It also featured nonlinear gameplay which gave the player multiple ways to beat the game. That also gave the game multiple endings that the player could unlock. The gameplay itself had the main character traveling to different locations within the game’s open world and making choices. These affected the dialogues that were available, as well as the outcome. There were many red herrings to make the player accuse the wrong person, which would force the character to reopen the case and continue playing. All of these aspects of the game are mainstays of the visual novel genre. 

Dragon Quest 

Three years later, in 1986, Yuji would create another unique and beloved video game series called Dragon Quest. It was inspired by role playing games like Wizardry and Ultima, which he’s a fan of. The original Dragon Quest was also a roleplaying game with gameplay mechanics that have been described as simplistic and spartan. The player takes control of a hero who leaves his village to fight Dragonlord. It begins with the player’s objective and adds in smaller objectives to build the player’s strength and other attributes. In order to play through the game, the player has to earn experience points and gold by beating smaller enemies. These enemies can be found outside of towns and in dungeons. The open world game had no limitations on where the player could go. Instead, the enemies would increase in difficulty as the player got closer to Dragonlord. This is a gameplay aspect that’s still heavily used in modern day RPGs. The enemies would also appear in random encounters rather than in specific areas. In each battle, the player can choose from four commands, fight, run, spell, and item. Dragon Quest went on to ports for mobile, Nintendo 3DS, PS4, Nintendo Switch, and many others. 

Yuji Horii Legacy 

Yuji Horii is now in his 70s and still creating video games. His Dragon Quest game turned into a long running series that’s still being published today. He’s also created more visual novels, as well as party games for Nintendo. His newest game, Dragon Quest XII: The Flames of Fate, was announced in 2021 and is still being developed. Yuji has promised that the game will have a darker tone than his other offerings and feature more meaningful choices. He received an award in 2009 for his games, as well as a lifetime achievement award at the 2022 Game Developers Conference. 

Conclusion: Yuji Horii Created The Visual Novels Game Format 

Yuji Horii created the visual novel and he’s been making videos games ever since. Considering his work in writing, it’s no surprise that he invented a gaming genre that relies so heavily on stories and reading. His work has influenced generations of video game creators and the choices he made for The Portopia Serial Murder Case are still used in VN games to this day. His RPGs are known around the world and he’s still making brand new games in his 70s.