Some would say that there is no difficulty in the genre of Visual Novels, but I feel like that’s wrong. To be more precise, I think it’s all about the execution. With enough branching paths and game-play elements, even an interactive story can become its own challenge.
A great example of a sprawling, multi-ended Visual Novel is a PC game called Long Live the Queen.
Developed and published by Hanako Games back in 2012, this Visual Novel is a combination of both a Choose Your Own Adventure game and an RPG.
You begin the game after the untimely death of the Queen of Nova, and you are given control of 14 year old Elodie, the now upcoming Queen. The goal is to help her survive all 40 weeks of her schooling before she can get to her coronation ceremony. And this is really, REALLY hard because it seems like every Duke, Duchess, and Lord on the Earth secretly wants her head on a platter so they can be ruler of the kingdom. The odds are that Elodie will die. A lot. There’s a special epilogue for every possible death or failure state you can stumble into, and you can even collect them like badges of honor. Cute, horrifying badges of honor.
But you as a player can (potentially) stop that! You can do more than just pick responses to story elements in this game, because this is where the RPG stuff comes in.
Every start of the week, you can (depending on Elodie’s mood) pick a couple classes for her to study. When Elodie studies, she gains points in that area and levels up, like an RPG character. And the skills you teach her will help her as the weeks go on, since the number of actions and choices you can make opens up the more skilled Elodie is. For example, if you make her study about Court Manners, she is capable of making better choices when speaking with nobles, potentially avoiding a conflict or even gaining allies. Learning some skills gives her additional outfits to boost her abilities, or unlocks new things for her to do on weekends.
The game also does a lot of hidden “stat checks” during a week’s events, where you aren’t able to make direct choices, and Elodie can only rely on what she’s learned so far to escape a potentially bad situation. To keep the player from learning what to do in advance, it does not specifically say what Elodie potentially missed, only that she failed a certain stat’s check. This forces the player to either keep moving on, or reset the game to an earlier save to figure out what the check was about. Some of the stat checks will cause an instant death to Elodie (like the infamous Chocolate Death that almost everyone seems to trip up on their first run of the game)
Long Live the Queen has a huge amount of paths to take for every possible play-style you want to use, it just takes a few tries to learn where all the death traps are. When I did my first play-through, Elodie ended up thrown in her own prison cell after a rebellion, but in my second run, I ended up defeating an opposing army and saving the kingdom by focusing more on military and naval tactics. And those are just two of the many, many endings hidden in this strange mix of an interactive media and point system.