In recent years, indie developers have led the way in LGBTQ+ representation in visual novels. Through same-gender romance routes and options for choosing player characters’ gender, these developers have welcomed players to explore more diverse characters and relationships than earlier, often commercial, visual novels have portrayed before. Foxglove Games, a new developer on the scene and based in Europe, is working to add to this diversity of representation with their forthcoming visual novel Trouble Comes Twice. This new game, currently in development, offers players two distinct queer characters to play as, twin siblings Jace and Hazel.
I sat down with Clara and Melli of Foxglove Games to discuss their project and queer representation in visual novels.
What was the initial inspiration for the premise of Trouble Comes Twice?
Both: We didn’t have a specific source of inspiration. We both enjoy slice-of-life as a genre in general though, so we of course included some of our favorite tropes from the genre, e.g. childhood friends.
Other visual novels, particularly in the indie game realm, offer different gender options for the player when they first start playing. Trouble Comes Twice does this a bit differently from other games by giving the player two distinct protagonists to choose from: twins Jace and Hazel. Why did you choose this approach? How did it affect the development process? Since both protagonists can date any character, how does a love interest’s route look different depending on which twin you play?
Both: Usually in visual novels, the protagonist is always exactly the same regardless of which gender you choose to play as. Of course, gender-choice protagonists are also cool, but we thought it’d be fun to do something different and give players an opportunity to not only play as a boy or a girl, but two completely different characters who happen to be different genders. Since Hazel and Jace are twins, you still get to meet the other protagonist in every route and see a different side of them when you’re not playing as them.
Clara (Hazel’s writer): Keeping the protagonist’s personality and voice consistent between two different writers can be difficult, so designing one protagonist each helped us overcome this hurdle. Writing healthy family relationships is something we both enjoy and would love to see more of, so making our two protagonists be twins was a decision we made early in development. I think it’ll be a lot of fun for players to see how your sibling reacts to your relationship with the love interests in different routes and then compare it to how that sibling behaves when romancing those love interests themselves. For me, one of the hardest parts about writing a game with two protagonists is that it’s double the work. For players who only try one protagonist, it might not be noticeable how big the game is, but it’s actually over 300k words long just for the main routes.
Melli (Jace’s writer): When we first started brainstorming, we thought it’d be fun to have characters breaking the fourth wall and comment on stuff happening in the other character’s route. (If you’ve played the demo, you might have seen the chibi commentary scenes.) It’s also easier for us to split up the workload and get the tone for the protagonists right by writing one each rather than sharing the same protagonist. The routes look very different because they’re written from scratch without any shared scenes or text between the routes. The twins have different approaches to flirting and dating, as well as different dynamics with each love interest, definitely making it worth it for players to romance the same love interest with both protagonists.
Did writing about the relationships of the two bi/pan protagonists challenge how you think about gender and relationships, or even visual novels themselves, in any unexpected ways?
Clara: Many games I’ve played featuring “bi/pan” representation are actually just playersexual. It feels good to create a game where the main cast are all explicitly bi/pan in every route, regardless of who you decide to romance. While playersexuality is great for players – you never have to worry whether your favored love interest is attracted to you or not – I don’t think it should be treated as a “substitute” for actual bi/pan/polysexual characters. Though sexuality isn’t really discussed in Hazel’s route – she’s already come out long before the game starts and is confident in her sexuality – it’s still an explicit part of her identity and never “up for interpretation,” even when you romance the boys. That said, I’m not trying to claim our own project is perfect in any way. I think there is no such thing as “perfect” representation in the first place, but there is a lot I’ve learned from this project that I will continue to do – or avoid – when it comes to future games. Still, I hope our bisexual players will feel welcomed and included when playing Trouble Comes Twice.
Melli: It did for me. It can be challenging to think in the mindset of someone (Jace) who is bi, and has a family and friends who are already ready to accept him, but feels “pushed” to only show interest in women due to the heteronormative expectations of society.
The website for the game mentions that the two protagonists are in competition with each other to see who falls in love first. Are there any special ways this is worked into the choices in the game?
Both: We can’t say much about this because of spoilers. Your twin will have a different reaction depending on who you choose to date, but your twin never tries to romance the same person as you, so there are no love triangles between the twins and a love interest.
Do you hope this game inspires more developers to explore queer relationships and identities in new ways that you haven’t explored yet?
Clara: Of course! More (and good!) representation is so important, but there are many great upcoming LGBTQ-inclusive indie visual novels that people should be looking forward to already like Love Shore, ValiDATE, Call Me Under and Made Marion to name just a few. Making games takes time, especially if you’re on a limited budget, but I’m confident that as long as people continue to support their development, then more aspiring indie devs will feel motivated to create more inclusive games.
Melli: Hopefully! Everyone deserves games that represent themselves. LGBTQ+ people have been underrepresented and poorly represented in media for a long time. LGBTQ+ romances deserve to be represented in games of a variety of genres.
Queer themes seem to be explored more often in indie visual novels than in commercial ones. Do you think this will change as indie games build an audience that is looking for more diverse stories?
Melli: Clara and I talk about this a lot. I sure hope so, but I think it will be a slow process for bigger game companies.
Clara: I think we’re already seeing a little change, but I hope bigger companies will also be more inclusive, not only in-game, but also when it comes to the staff working behind-the-scenes on these games.
What are your favourite visual novels? Are there any you like that break from typical conventions of the genre?
Clara: I started playing VNs over ten years ago, so I have too many favorites to pick only one or two haha. Right now, I’m more into English visual novels. I like that they tend to feature strong female leads more often, which is something I absolutely love to see and hope to incorporate into our games with Foxglove.
Melli: Sorry, I can’t move on from Danganronpa haha. If you ask me about my fave visual novel, it’s gonna be Danganronpa. No competition there.