Forgive me, I never thought we'd have to really go into this conversation at length. But it warrants some focus as we move on into the IndieGoGo campaign.
In the west, despite all our focus on not judging a book by it's cover, we inherently do just that. We're all pretty guilty of it. Some of it is done with experience. Like when you just know a movie is going to be terrible based on the trailer. Others it's done by a preconception of something based on what pop culture defines it to be.
When dealing with Visual Novels, the pop culture definition often overrides any preconception of what any consumer may make. Frankly because, anime and visual novels are so often seen in a negative light among peers, and it probably will never really be totally accepted. Which is it's own fault. There are plenty of smutty VNs out there just like there is plenty of smutty entertainment in general on TV these days. But that doesn't mean all of it is.
Anime unfortunately suffers from this more than other types of entertainment. Same with VNs because a lot of anime is based on VNs. So what you see in one appears in the other. It's easy to label both. The content creators often market to these communities.
As one who goes to Anime Expos, but at one time was an opponent of anime, it's easy to see how this thought process implants itself. It isn't hard to have a negative preconception if you've never had a chance to develop a positive one. Again, at times because the creators cater to a crowd that would evoke a negative mindset among the rest of society.
So lets look firstly at, dating sims and it's VN colleagues in crime.
When you get into the thick of what makes a visual novel, the genre divulges and splits a bit. You have your dating sims where you have to manage stats and affection levels, your more novel stories where you determine the outcome, and then your straight novel (Kinetic VN) where you don't decide anything.
Dating sim is a term which often becomes a blanket term in the west. In Japan where VNs began, they have a better understanding that a simple blanket term cannot apply to all VNs.
When you are playing a dating sim, you are actively pursuing a character in the story to the point you have to figure out what makes them happy. You have to improve not only your own stats but also get to know the character from strangers to lovers.
More Novel style stories, don't go this far but borrow a basic constant that certain things you do will make a person happy or mad with you. Hence you will make choices that may determine the outcome but it is never as micro managed as a dating sim. You often will watch the story more than actively play it. You don't have total control over the protagonist's actions. Like Katawa Shoujo as referenced below:
Then you have your Kinetic VNs, the straight novel stories. Like Over The Hills And Far Far Away:
Kinetic VNs are more straight up novels. No different outcomes/etc. They focus more on story elements than the others because essentially they are selling you on the story to overcome where other parts of it lack. Which isn't bad, it's a different style and different focus in storytelling.
Harems and Tropes
What can overlap and bounce from one style of VN to the next is story structure and just simple tropes which they all borrow. But frankly, if you look at western films, everyone borrows from everybody. Play The Old Republic's new Eternal Empire storyline and count how many times you have to escape from something blowing up under you. It's a very common trope.
Either way, it takes an understanding of what these story types traditionally bring.
When looking at Katawa Shoujo, you may instinctively think it is a harem at first glance. But while Katawa borrows a harem setting, it's story arcs are much more isolated after you've started down a respective branch. The harem vanishes and you cannot suddenly drop a story and see another.
Sometimes it is difficult to really recognize a harem because there are varying levels of harem stories.
It may be easier to tell a harem story from not when you look at anime.
Harem anime is very cliched, very tropey. You have a basic premise of having the most oblivious protagonist, either male or female (yes there are reverse harems), who gets a harem with those vying for their attention.
Frankly there isn't a lot of good original stories in the genre because they tend to reuse the same premises. Most tend to have one heroine or hero that stands out and is the favorite.
Few will spend an entire series where no one in the harem gets anywhere. Those shows tend to generate more ire because they basically wrap up back at the beginning and raise the question of what the point of the series was?
Even when you don't have a harem story there are a lot of harem tropes that cross over. Hot springs, beach episodes, tests of courage...the list goes on and on. Literally you can see some of these coming a mile away because they are so common.
Then you get into love triangles, which can sometimes be confused for harems. The most famous of which being the Tenchi Muyo series:
The show has a lot of harem elements but the core of it is the rivalry between Ryoko and Ayeka which forms a love triangle around Tenchi. Which the title then plays on because it literally means "No need for Tenchi." You could generate the entire story around Ryoko and Ayeka.
Where Dust and Air Sits
Dust and Air sits in a place that borrows a bit but also steps outside some of the tropes.
The original structure design from the story was actually inspired not by harem anime or VNs but by a mecha anime called Broken Blade.
Coming from a background where I once hated anime, then embraced it. I got to know all the tropes and styles very quickly. So when the premise of a VN based on GOIO was brought up and I was going to write the initial outline, I considered a lot of what made VNs so popular. From the different genre styles to how the structure of the VN would be.
Would a dating sim work or would kinetic be okay? In the end no matter how much I looked at the traditional VNs for a solution, I couldn't find one. The only thing I did know was, it had to have choices and I absolutely wanted to avoid dating sims at all cost because, to tell the truth, I don't like micro managing in them. I'm bad, I'll google a guide and beat it.
Thus enters Broken Blade. At the time,this series of anime movies had just been released. When I started analyzing the story structure, I found something that would work for a VN based in GOIO.
Broken Blade's backstory has all the elements that would function well in a VN. It then branches from there into each respective story for the factions in the war taking place.
So while all the heroes and heroines may interact with each other in the past under friendly terms, their cultures are much more powerful elements of change. On return to them, they won't have the same freedom to be friendly like they had before. Meaning they can't cross over easily into each other's world.
When that analysis was made, and compared to the GOIO world. The Guns VN, effectively had it's foundations set. We aren't a harem, we aren't a dating sim, but we borrow some basic foundation ideas.
Simply put, this is a visual novel. If we didn't have choice selections, we'd be a pure Kinetic VN. Our emphasis has always been on delivering our story. Hence why our stories are so big.
Hopefully this article was helpful and answers any questions you have regarding our story.