Communication games

By “Communication game” I mean something like Animal Crossing, Harvest Moon, or Chulip. I’m not going to try too hard to give a good definition, but to give you a better idea of what I’m talking about: every NPC should have some kind of story (even if it’s implicit, like in Animal Crossing), there shouldn’t be battles, and any kind of “adventure” is kept to a minimum. These are games about talking to fictional characters and in some cases living a life. Somehow this description also applies to visual novels/dating sims, but I feel like there is a big difference in approach between these genres beyond the ability to freely walk around. I guess when compared to a visual novel a communication game is more gamey? In the sense that there is either minimal story, or the game can be fun even if you totally ignore the story and just interact with random NPCs.

This is one of my favorite kinds of games, but I really can’t think of that many examples of them. So I wanted to see if any of you IC people know of some deeper cuts in the “communication games” sphere. Specifically I’m curious about pre-Animal Crossing communication games. I feel like this is something that might have been explored in a limited way on 90s Japanese PCs?

I’m also interested in a more general conversation about these games. Despite how massively popular Animal Crossing is, it still in some ways feels to me like an extremely polished prototype of an unfinished idea. How can we make games purely about talking to people deeper/more fun/do things they’ve never done before?

By the way, feel free to ignore the criteria I gave above if it seems sensible to do so. For example, Shenmue could totally count as a communication game. No one plays Shenmue for the battles, I’m pretty sure.

Ihatovo Monogatari

wonderful little game


@saddleblasters#7719 No one plays Shenmue for the battles, I’m pretty sure

For me the fights in Shenmue were compelling because they are such a drastic break from the milieu/flow. You get so engrossed in the "communication game" aspect that when a fight breaks out they feel tense and uncertain, you have all these dimly understood combat controls to deal with now.

I‘d say attack of the friday monsters is one, as well as boku no natsuyasumi, which is by the same director. attack of the friday monsters has card combat but it’s so light that I don‘t really count it, plus it’s mostly a metaphor??

I‘m glad you made this thread, @saddleblasters, because I agree with your analysis of Animal Crossing. It’s a series I love, but as far as it‘s come, it still feels slightly underbaked in certain aspects, and I do wish it had more competition, because that might make it try a little harder. It feels like a series that isn’t trying very hard, to me, which is in keeping with its themes, but it could be “deeper” and more rewarding than it is.

The Boku no Natsuyasumi games and Attack of the Friday Monsters are solid recommendations, for sure. There's also The Sims, which has apparently come a long way in the last 20 years. But it's kind of a weird one, because the conversations among characters in the game still take place using "Simlish," which is something I can't really stand listening to lol.

Moon is a game that's mostly about walking around and talking to people, so that's worth checking out.

Also, I spent a lot of hours playing Stardew Valley, which I found to be a satisfying experience. In fact, I wish Animal Crossing would mimic Stardew Valley a bit more. Characters in town have jobs and backstories, which makes interacting with them more rewarding, compared to the random little jokes and "character traits" that the animals in AC have.

There's also that weird Tomodachi Life series Nintendo does, as well as Sennen Kazoku, which came out in 2005.

It's arguably more of a virtual pet, but the idea of watching a family live on a real-time clock feels like a staple of this "communication" genre. You play as Cupid, and influence the family members' interactions. It's one of the only GBA cartridges that requires an internal battery.

And of course there's Magician's Quest for the DS, which is basically Animal Crossing but with magic.

None of these games came before Animal Crossing, though, so I'd also like to know about more historical examples!

A Short Hike was a recent one of these that really blew me away. It fits your criteria:

  • 1. All NPCs all have their own little stories and unique place either in your world or the world at large.
  • 2. There are no battles.
  • 3. There is an adventure that you're on but it's very low stakes and moves at your own pace.
  • A thing I love about it is that the activities you find to do in the game really do come down to talking to people and then taking the initiative to remember the requests, remember where the NPC is, and to go out of your way to go back to them to finish. That's a pretty key part of these "communication games" for me. I want to feel like I'm actively taking note of and trying to keep straight all the different weirdos I come across and what they want. I don't necessarily want a check list(though something like an in-game journal a la Shenmue is okay). This is one of the reasons I actually bounced pretty hard off of New Horizons despite being a die-hard AC fan since the first game. I don't want the endless lists and tasks that they assigned me to do. I liked my lazy game. I liked my mundane tasks. I didn't like chasing endless numbers and totals and goals. Paying off my house and acquiring new clothing/furniture was enough. New Horizons lost a bit of something that made those games special to me. Turned it into too much of a spreadsheet and less of a cute little world I felt like I dropped into.

    A Short Hike is also just an absolute joy to play and traverse. Flying in it feels great, the little mini games are fun, it looks great, it has funny writing. A real gem.

    @sabertoothalex#7791 Seconded. One of the best games from the past couple of years, for sure.

    Which reminds me, A Night in the Woods also fits these criteria, and that's another recent game that I loved.

    has anyone had a chance to play else heart.break? seems like it was on a similar wavelength but have not played it myself

    A lot of good recommendations! And a lot of reminders of games I'd wanted to play but forgot about.


    @yeso#7723 Ihatovo Monogatari

    This game looks absolutely amazing. I wonder what the story was behind how this got made? Scanning through the developers' other games, it doesn't look like they ever did anything like this again.

    Maybe I'll play through it this weekend.


    @exodus#7752 attack of the friday monsters has card combat but it’s so light that I don’t really count it

    I feel like a lot of these kinds of games are going to have some kind vestigial combat system just because some producer decided "We can't make a game without combat!" Of course, I haven't played Attack of the Friday Monsters, so that might not be what's happening in this case. I'll have to check it out.

    @whatsarobot I really like the way Sennen Kazoku looks! A lot of these communication games feel like "virtual pets with substance" to me. There's a similar feeling of caring for something and watching it slowly grow, but it's all interconnected with characters and stories.


    @sabertoothalex#7791 A Short Hike

    You're probably the fifth or sixth person who's recommended this to me, so maybe I'll finally play it! I've kept myself from watching any videos of it, or even seeing any screenshots, but from the way people talk about it, it definitely seems like a really good example of these sorts of games.


    @yeso#7802 has anyone had a chance to play else heart.break?

    Somebody literally gifted this to me on Steam because he wanted to talk about it with me, and I, being the biggest jerk in the world, never played it! It definitely looks neat. Maybe someday I'll play it.

    I want to contribute to this thread, but a lot of the examples I‘d want to name have already been taken, and the definitions and where to draw the lines for this genre are eluding me. For example, a lot of these games (especially farming sims like Harvest Moon) are systematized to varying degrees through narrative progression, and the line between communication game, visual novel, dating/raising/etc. sim isn’t always clear (see: Persona, Fuuraiki). Anyway, onto the games I could come up with:

  • - Captain Rainbow is specifically about a washed-up hero trying to do good for a closely knit community, a la think Chulip or Moon.
  • - *Yuuyami Doori Tankentai* is a much darker take on the concept. You play as three high school students (you choose which one you want to control each day) going about their completely ordinary high school lives. As the game goes on, though, "completely ordinary" slowly unfolds into "crushingly unnerving."
  • - *Boku no Camp Jou* may be worth looking into. I don't know too much about it, but from what I can tell, the basic premise is *Harvest Moon* but as a summer camp rather than a farm.
  • - And while I'm on the pronoun, I'll mention *Bokura no Kazoku*, a spin-off to *Boku no Natsuyasumi*.
  • - *Gregory Horror Show* is kind of like *Chulip* in that it ties narrative progression to getting close to well-defined NPCs. The main difference is a more abstracted, cartoony, lightly horror-themed aesthetic compared to *Chulip*'s quirky reality.
  • - ....Would *Majora's Mask* count as a communication game? It should at least be adjacent.
  • >

    @saddleblasters#7808 This game looks absolutely amazing. I wonder what the story was behind how this got made? Scanning through the developers’ other games, it doesn’t look like they ever did anything like this again.

    It was basically a passion project for the president of the studio.

    Ihatovo Monogatari is based on the works of a prestigious writer/poet named Kenji Miyazawa—he wrote a lot of fable-type stories that toed the line between rural Japan and straight fantasy, with "Ihatovo" being a sort of catch-all term for the idyll typically portrayed in his writing. Most of the adaptations, including this game, tend to Ghibli them up, but some of them can be fairly blunt or stark.

    More than anything else, the game was lauded for its music—it got a symphonic arrangement in the mid-'90s alongside the likes of Dragon Quest and Chrono Trigger, and it also led to composer Tsukasa Tawada being tapped to become the official arranger and sound designer for a bunch of late-'90s/early-'00s DQ games.

    I think the early section of Yakuza 3 where you just help run the orphanage on Okinawa could work for the topic. There‘s probably a couple of fights in there I’m not remembering, but the overall vibe is real chill and the main focus is on the personalities of the kids and the people in town


    @gsk#7832 It was basically a passion project for the president of the studio.

    and ty for this info. Knew 0 about this game so I appreciate the context


    I‘ve been really interested in Yuuyami Doori Tankentai for a while but my Japanese is most likely too poor for it to be an enjoyable experience. I really wish it’d get picked up for a translation or something. Seems unlikely, but hey, Moon finally did.

    @donrumata#7993 Huh, I wasn't aware of Yuuyami Doori Tankentai, but it looks real nice. Thanks!

    It also reminded me of a DS game I played a long time ago called Sakura Note:

    This is a gorgeous little game, centered around a kid and his family in Tokyo, and trying to become the hero in "rescuing" the girl he kind of has a crush on. Similar to Attack of the Friday Monsters, it has an unobtrusive battle system that barely even counts as a battle system. It also has music by Nobuo Uematsu! And it was designed by Akira Ueda, who worked on Moon and some old Love-de-Lic (and later) Grasshopper Manufacture stuff.

    And you know what? Holy heck. Disco Elysium definitely counts as a communication game. That's all you do in that game, is communicate with people (and yourself).

    EDIT: Then there's Houkago Shounen (Afterschool Boy), which is pretty clearly Konami's attempt at a Boku no Natsuyasumi. I never got around to playing this one, but I always wanted to. Maybe one of these days.


    It's one of the many situations where I wish I had any sort of hacking skill so I could do the translation myself. (I certainly have the Japanese skill, probably.)

    I‘m in the midst of a hard mode playthrough of Pathologic 2 and am thinking about it (and the original) under this rubric. I think it fits, which is strange to say bc it’s way way more player-hostile in terms of mood and mechanics than any of the other games cited.

    Anyone played it? I suspect I'm the only one degenerate enough to be a pathologic 2 fan. But wrt to "'communication games" - the main activity of the game is walking around a bela tarr style village and having cryptic, ominous conversations with townspeople, and following the plot threads that result. There is an "arc" to the plot, but it's really up to the player to follow up on things

    There's also a relationship aspect to the game. Your reputation with individual townspeople, and with neighborhoods in the village changes depending on your actions

    There is some combat in the game, but it feels more experiential and less like something you need to succeed at to "win"

    Can a stressful weirdo horror game be a "communication game" or do they have to be more chill?

    @Video_Game_King#8005 You can always find a hacker type with no japanese skill! if they can get you the strings, they can integrate them after you translate it all, so… you should find somebody!

    @yeso#8204 Hi, sorry for taking a few days to reply to this.

    Yes! The Pathologic games seem like excellent examples of what I'm going for. From your description, I think I really need to play Pathologic 2. Weird and dark fits perfectly with my concept of what a communication game is. It's good that you suggested this game, since up until most of the games we've thought of have been light and cutesy, which is definitely not the only sort of experience that works with this.

    I would love to play some more "literary" communication games. What I'm thinking of is games that have very complicated characters that describe themselves in ambiguous ways, where the "gameplay" is all about carefully trying to comprehend what you're given and try to understand the mental states of different characters. I feel like it might sound like I'm just describing Ace Attorney or Danganronpa, but I guess I'd like it all to be tied into less clear cut objectives? And I'd like more complicated themes? And to be able to freely move my character around, instead of just being locked into a visual novel style system.

    So, essentially, I want to play an Animal Crossing-style clock-based game that has just enough small tasks to make me turn the game on each day and bump into the different characters inhabiting that world, with all the characters having interlocking Ace Attorney style micro-stories -- and I'd like it all to be written by a master novelist who's trying to do a little bit more than just entertain me.

    I just remembered the game Swery is working on right now, "The Good Life". Maybe that's a step towards what I'm looking for?

    One of my favorite novels of all time is Rulin Waishi/The Scholars, by Wu Jingzi. It's just dozens of tiny interconnected stories about scholars and wannabe-scholars, trying to make their way through the imperial exam system, and doing all sorts of terrible things. I'll have to read through the book a dozen times if I'm ever going to understand some of what's in there. There's all sorts poems interspersed throughout the pages since, you know, scholars like to while their days away composing poetry.

    I remember when I was reading that book for the first time, it felt just like playing Animal Crossing, if Animal Crossing were about something. Before bed each night I'd check in on what the characters were doing now, peak in on what they were talking about, slowly watch as characters disappear and are replaced by other characters, only for the old characters to appear again dozens of chapters later.

    I felt the same with Dream of the Red Chamber -- leisurely paced fragments of characters changing so slowly that you only notice after they've already turned into someone else, all leading up to something big, sad, and terrible.

    So I'd like it if there were a game like that. There probably will be eventually! A lot of people have clearly tried similar things. Making a game is just such a big and complicated ordeal though. It'll probably be awhile until I have exactly what I want. Though I think with games like Disco Elysium and Pathologic 2, people might be getting better at making these sorts of games.

    I'm glad I made this thread! It's given me a good list of games to play as research, since, I might as well admit that I am slowly working on my own communication game, though it will be years until it will be anything worth showing to people, and there's no way it's ever going to get close to being what I truly want to play. Oh well!

    @saddleblasters#8438 I can‘t remember whether you’ve played Disco Elysium or not, but I can‘t imagine you not vibing with it. It sounds like exactly what you’re describing here! Personally, it‘s the most rewarding video game experience I’ve had in a long darn time.

    It's got:

  • - complicated characters that describe themselves in ambiguous ways
  • - “gameplay” that is all about carefully trying to comprehend what you’re given and trying to understand the mental states of different characters (but especially yourself!)
  • - writing that feels closer to a novel than anything I've ever encountered in a game before
  • All that's missing is the clock system.

    Pathologic 2 also sounds really cool though.

    @whatsarobot#8443 Yeah, I am pretty certain that I'll like Disco Elysium!

    I guess I should just force myself to play it. I am always slightly apprehensive about starting 20+ hour long games, which maybe contradicts what I just said about wanting long, leisurely paced experiences.

    Well, I'll play it soon. I'll probably feel like an idiot for not starting it months ago!

    @saddleblasters#8445 DE works well in 20-30 min intervals like reading a book on a bus commute for ex. I had almost zero free time when I played through it recently and the style and pace lends itself to short sessions, if that helps reduce your apprehension