Fate/Stay Night (by Type Moon) is one of Japan’s most popular visual novels. While the actual game has, unfortunately, never been released outside of the country, the anime and manga adaptations have made it to the US, as have a couple of spin-off games.
Fate was also the first visual novel I played and is still my favorite in terms of both story and mechanics. As a game designer and a writer, there are a number of things I think Fate did better than most visual novels. Actually, better than any other visual novel I’ve played. Because of that, I used Fate as my template when designing the structure of Aurora’s Nightmare. Following are a few of the things I learned from Fate/Stay Night.
1. Give the Player Lots of Choices
Although player choices are a key element of the genre, many visual novels only give the player several choices over the course of the entire game. However, by my rough estimate, Fate has over 100. That makes Fate feel much more like an interactive experience or game, rather than just a digital book.
2. Keep the Common Route Short
In visual novel terms, the common route is the part of the game that takes place before any major branches split the story into drastically different routes. In some visual novels, the common route can easily last half the game or more. Fate’s, however, is considerably shorter. While that means more work for the writer, designer, and the like, it makes for much more diverse story paths and drastically reduces the amount of time the player has to spend skipping past previously read scenes.
3. A Set Route Order Has Advantages
Some visual novels let the player complete the major story branches in whatever order they want. Others, Fate included, lock a few decisions so that the player has to play through the routes in a set order. While that does limit player freedom a bit (though that’s less of an issue when the player has lots of other choices to make), it has a huge advantage. Since the writer knows what order the player will be going through the routes, there’s no need to repeat exposition on each route. You can also have the story of each route build on previous revelations, creating a much more interesting and dramatic plot progression.
4. Have Fun with Bad Endings
Players normally do their best to avoid bad endings. Fate, on the other hand, actually provides a couple of good reasons to actively seek them out. But I’ll save the details for a future post…