The recently announced Marvel's Midnight Suns looks to be an atypical superhero affair. Games like Batman: Arkham and Spider-Man are notorious for letting players step into the suits of famous comic book heroes, and that's that sort of experience folks have come to expect from games starring superheroes. Despite this deviance from the norm, Marvel's Midnight Suns seems to be shaping up nicely. It looks like an engaging hybrid of XCOM and Slay The Spire, and its willingness to exist in a genre that many hero-based games aren't familiar with begs the question of what other genres superhero games should explore next.
While not necessarily one's first, second, or even third choice, the visual novel genre seems like a perfect fit for comic-inspired games. Like comics, visual novels are rather character-driven, rife with dialogue, and feature distinct artwork that aids in telling a story. With all of these similarities in mind, it would be fascinating to see companies like DC or Marvel test the waters of this game genre with a few of their own heroes.Considering how popular digital comics are already, it would make sense to take them one step further.
Using Comic Book Art Styles in Visual Novels
Video games inspired by comic books have experimented with various art styles over the years. Some, like Batman: Arkham or Injustice, boast photorealistic aesthetics. Titles like Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3, on the other hand,feature more cartoonish and exaggerated styles evocative of classic comic books. While every art style has its fans, criticism doesn't follow far behind, in large part due to the style used being compared to the source material.
Obviously, the need for unique art styles arises due to technical limitations. For games rendered in 3D — which many licensed hero games are — it's either impossible or simply too difficult to make a video game look exactly like a comic book. However, visual novels seem capable of coming pretty darn close.
Thanks to the generally static nature of characters and environments within visual novels, there are significantly fewer elements to animate, and thus, fewer obstacles in faithfully adapting a particular art style. Developers wouldn't necessarily have to worry about ensuring a 3D model of Superman looks like he's fresh out of Action Comics #1 from all angles if all that will ever be visible of him is a front profile; an artist could simply draw a profile of Superman to be featured in the game.
As many visual novels incorporate hand-drawn art, big comic book publishers delving into this realm could collaborate with renowned comic book artists like Jim Lee, Alex Ross, or the illustration team of Gurihiru to bring familiar visuals to these new stories. It's easy to imagine a title employing such talent being the most faithful video game adaptation of a comic book in history — visually, at least.
Using Visual Novels Explore Different Sides of Superheroes
Onto the "novel" portion of the genre's title, it goes without saying that these games have a lot of written dialogue. Much time is spent talking to other characters, and while that may sound like a boring route for a superhero game to take, such an approach could be fairly engaging – especially when considering what exactly people like about superheroes nowadays.
Even more than the incredible powers, flashy suits, and witty one-liners, audiences around the globe have become entranced with superheroes' personalities since Iron Man kicked off the MCU in 2008. Folks were haunted by the end of Avengers: Infinity War. People cried tears of sorrow during Tony Stark's sacrifice in Endgame, and shed tears of joy upon seeing Steve Rogers finally get his happy ending in that same movie. All of this is because the MCU has turned superheroes into more than just a thing for nerds; mainstream audiences care more about these characters than they ever have before because they empathize with them and the issues they face.
A visual novel inspired by Spider-Man or Daredevil surely wouldn't be able to emulate what it's like to swing around New York City or brawl in Hell's Kitchen, but such games could effectively portray the internal struggles that these heroes face. How difficult is it for Peter Parker to balance his two lives? What kind of strain does being a lawyer by day, vigilante by night take on Matt Murdock? These are questions that would likely be answered passively during cutscenes in a run-of-the-mill action game, but could be better explored through a visual novel's gameplay, given the genre's stronger focus on story and characters.
Marvel's Midnight Suns will launch in March 2022 for PC, PS4, PS5, Switch, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X/S.