Visual Novel Developers Aren’t Laughing at Palworld’s Predictable April Fools’ Joke

Visual novels are more than a punchline.

key art from Palworld More Than Just Pals April Fools game

Every year, you can count on video game publishers to fill their social media feeds with jokes on April 1 to delight and mostly annoy their fans. But of all the April Fools’ traditions in gaming, one that seems easiest to rely on is the dating sim hoax. Whether it’s a fake mockup or an actual released parody game, titles from Valorant to Endless Space to Nier Reincarnation have used dating sims as the butt of their April Fools’ jokes. And while many see them as harmless fun, some visual novel creators think the joke is a form of punching down on an already maligned genre.

“Most April Fool's visual novels aren't made out of a sincere love and respect for the genre, but out of the tired perception that visual novels are wacky generic anime highschool hijinks and nothing more,” Mado, a spokesperson for yuri visual novel developer Studio Élan, tells Inverse. “They perpetuate the idea that visual novels are inherently less valuable or impactful than ‘real’ video games — especially if they contain romance and adult themes.”

Palworld is the latest game to join the most tiresome April Fools’ Day craze.

This year, it was the creator of Palworld that took its turn making the familiar joke. Developer Pocketpair shared the trailer for a dating sim called Palworld ~More Than Just Pals~ on social media. Despite a professional-looking video, More Than Just Pals isn’t a real game. It also falls into the exact tropes Studio Élan’s Mado points out are so common in this type of joke — Palworld’s fake visual novel is set in a high school and treats a game about romance as inherently ridiculous.

Palworld is this weird amalgamation of a ton of other games that has made a ton of money,” Colin Cummings, a freelance community developer whose game credits include the visual novel Solace State and RPG Citizen Sleeper, tells Inverse. “They shouldn't punch down on other indies and instead should be taking this opportunity to lift up a genre that should get more love. By joking about it, it sort of throws a whole genre under the proverbial bus.”

The problem may not be any single visual novel parody, but their repetition. Visual novels are already looked down on by some gamers who either see their straightforward focus on narrative as a detriment or have the misconception that all the genre has to offer is titillation. By joining in on the joke, publishers further undermine a genre that’s already misunderstood by the public.

Studio Élan makes sweet, sometimes fantastical stories of romance between women.

Studio Élan

“When big corporations use visual novels as a medium for their April Fools’ jokes, it helps reinforce that the entire medium is a joke in and of itself,” Arimia, another Studio Élan spokesperson, tells Inverse. “Why not make an RPG Maker game? Or a small side scroller? Or a MUD project? Why always visual novels, and why are they always specifically romance visual novels? Is there something inherently funny about people wanting to play games about romance?”

For Arimia, the insistence on using dating sims in particular as a punchline has a clear cause.

“It feels reminiscent to me of how easily people shrug off the mobile gaming market for adults, namely women, just because in their eyes they're not ‘real’ games,” Arimia says. “Because a lot of people view all visual novels as dating sims and romance is seen as more feminine, it becomes easier for people to shrug them off and consider them all a joke rather than engage with the medium unironically.”

Just as they’re often associated with femininity, visual novels can also be an outlet for other marginalized creators, which could explain why they’re targets for a segment of the gaming audience that’s outspoken against any attempt to improve diversity.

“The accessibility and low production costs behind visual novels have helped marginalized people share the stories they want to tell in a way that other storytelling vehicles can't,” Mado says. That point is borne out by a look at the indie storefront, where one of the most common tags shared among visual novels is “LGBT.”

The praise for Baldur’s Gate 3’s handling of romance could signal that players are ready for more love stories in games.

Larian Studio

But while visual novels still face stigma for their associations with femininity, queerness, and romance (whether those perceptions are true or not), mainstream games are starting to embrace some of those same elements.

Baldur's Gate 3 was praised for its intricate romance routes between Tav and their companions,” Mado says. “So why can't visual novels with the same level of intricacy receive the same respect?”

It’s possible that could signal a shift toward more interest in games deeply invested in romance, which may in turn help visual novels get the respect their developers say they deserve. Until then, the developers Inverse spoke to urge players to give a shot to games that take the genre seriously — even if they started as jokes themselves.

“I've seen a handful of April Fools’ visual novels that felt very earnest and sincere which were delights to see,” Arimia says, pointing to the detective visual novel The Murder of Sonic the Hedgehog, released last year on April Fools’ Day.

While they’re often a punchline, visual novels like Heaven Will Be Mine offer some of the best stories in gaming.

Pillow Fight

“There are a ton of great visual novels out there that do storytelling beautifully, like Worst Girl Games' Heaven Will Be Mine, which I will shout out at every opportunity,” Cummings says.

Regardless of the individual game, Mado says the work of visual novel creators ought to get more respect than they’re shown by their peers reducing an entire genre to a punchline.

“No matter if they make goofy wish-fulfillment fantasies or raw, complex, introspective works, these developers deserve better than to have their efforts reduced to shallow, derivative jokes.”

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