A visual novel is a primarily text based game featuring mostly static graphics (sometimes with idle character animations). Character sprites of characters appear on screen but generally there’s hordes of text and pictures. Think of it as an interactive manga or graphic novel. Most of the ‘game’ is spent reading walls of text then occasionally having the player make a decision which affects what happens, and eventually, the outcome of the game. Some examples are Steins;Gate and Fate/Stay Night. However, lots more visual novels have come to gaming platforms that involve the same formula with large gameplay segments and decision making. For example, Danganronpa and Virtue's Last Reward. It’s still debatable if visual novels like Fate/Stay Night and Steins;Gate are games but the other two are DEFINITELY video games.
Another reason why people should be playing visual novels is because they offer some of the best types of gameplay. Brain stimulating gameplay. Ace Attorney: Phoenix Wright is a game where you take on the role of a rookie defense attorney. Every episode is a different murder case and you must investigate, interrogate and then prove your client innocent in court. The player has to pay attention to the information they’re given, sort it out and determine when to present the right pieces of evidence to contradictory statements made by NPCs (Non Player Characters). Professor Layton offers similar intellectual gameplay by constantly bombarding the player with tons of diverse puzzles to solve. For example a math problem or a puzzle that requires the player to use deductive reasoning in order to find the correct answer. Of course other games have puzzles and brain teaser segments but not many games center their gameplay on brain activity, actively believing in the player's competence. Professor Layton and Phoenix Wright were even popular enough to get a crossover game that combined both law cases and puzzle solving.
Danganronpa is one of the visual novel that feels the most like a video game. Exploration (free roaming), RPG leveling up systems, equipping skills, investigation segments, puzzle solving, retaining and applying information and mini-games that take skill. Danganronpa is about 15 students at the prestigious Hope's Peak Academy, the greatest school in the world. But it’s truly a place full of despair. The only way to graduate is to murder one of your classmates and get away with it! After a murder takes place, the principal holds a class trial where the class tries to figure out whodunit. If the class accuses the correct person only the killer is executed. If they guess incorrectly everyone but the 'blackened' is executed. This game is the most well rounded visual novel, it has everything. Walls of text, plot, good characters, brain stimulation and actual skill based gameplay.
In summation, while I get that visual novel can be a bit intimidating to get into, I highly recommend you try some. There are so many types that cover various genres. They are story rich, offer great brain food, compelling characters with depth and you should give some a chance. Ace Attorney, Professor Layton, Dangaronpa, Steins;Gate, Fate/stay night, Valhalla or the Zero Escape series are some great places to start. There’s a visual novel out there with your name on it, waiting to be discovered.