In recent years, visual novels are starting to get a solid foothold in the western markets, with most famous titles, such as Clannad, Muv-Luv, and Steins;Gate receiving English translations and making their ways to Steam and other distribution platforms. While VNs is a pretty small niche in US and Europe, when compared to their position in Japan and Korea, we can expect only seeing more of them hitting the digital stores and bringing more attention to the genre from English-speaking audiences. Also, more and more indie developers from the western countries attempt to enter the market with their own products, often with very solid results.
Still, while the PC and consoles seem to receive their fair share of content when it goes to visual novels, one platform greatly suited to this kind of games is strangely underutilized – that of mobile devices. What makes it especially puzzling is that while many sexually explicit games would have no chance to get past Google’s and Apple’s censorship, for everything else, most phones and tablets should be much more convenient than a PC, with their mobility and easy translation of VN interface to touch controls.
Thankfully, while the market for VNs on Android and iOS is still strangely limited, it’s not a barren wasteland either, mostly thanks to the western developers. It this short list we’ll present you the best visual novels available on the mobile platforms for free. After all, very few things beat free entertainment.
The famous kinetic novel about two terminal cancer patients going together on the last adventure isn’t a typical relaxing story to read on a bus. Still, this free VN is considered one of the best examples of the genre, with meaningful and engaging plot and high production values. It doesn’t offer branching paths or other flashy game mechanics, but if you’re looking for an emotional and thought-provoking story, there’re few better positions on the market, free of otherwise. While the mobile port seems to suffer from technical issues, those don’t affect everyone and the game is available on PC, also for free.
Soviet Games’ famous visual novel about a mysterious pioneer camp and finding meaning in life is closer to what you would typically expect from the genre. With its focus on romance and supernatural intrigue, at first glance, it provides an experience similar to that on many Japanese productions. What sets it apart though is imaginative, bold storytelling and an impressive amount of routes for players to choose from. For a free game, it offers an incredible amount of content – with 6+ hours for a single playthrough and 13 different, often highly distinct endings, it can keep you entertained for many, many hours. That, along with the good-quality art, music and memorable characters makes it an amazing catch for a free game and a must-read for every VN fan out there.
Download for Android:
This unconventional love story is an artistically and technically simple, but manage to deliver a memorable and touching plot, showing that interesting premise and good writing can be much more important for a VN than having a professional team of developers. While slow paced and often too-insistent on keeping the player in the dark to not spoil the main plot twist, it’s still a great read, mostly thanks to relatable characters and emotional impact of the romantic subplot. It takes around 7 hours to finish and should leave you with a lot of warm feelings.
Download for Android:
Trick and Treat
Visually very simple, this Spanish VN is above all an interesting formal experiment, in which new routes unlock consistently after every playthrough, giving the player new options and presenting more context to the story. Entering a haunted forest on a Halloween night, you will guide the protagonist through multiple deaths and failures, in order to find the way to lift the curse and discover the “true ending”. Only a few hours long, even when unlocking all the hidden content, it’s a great short read with an imaginative story and mostly good writing, even if it suffers from a subpar English translation.
Stellaren is a visual novel that like few other represents a triumph of good writing over technical limitations. Graphically minimalistic, with a clunky interface and a rather mediocre space fighter mini-game tacked on, it nevertheless manages to deliver a surprisingly involving, dark sci-fi story that feels like it belongs with a mainstream, high-budget project, rather than a work of one indie programmer. Good characters, genuinely surprising plot twists and continuously high stakes will make it hard for you to look away from the screen. If you enjoy the story and the style of this game, its sequel, Stellaren: Acrux and a low-fantasy visual novel Antares by the same developer are also available for free, both in App Store and Google Play. Although, unlike Stellaren itself, they follow the kinetic novel format, without any player choices.
I hope you enjoyed these recommendations, and, above all, have fun reading!