The Future of Visual Novels?

Today Mr Aldo Donnaloia was kind enough to take a few minutes out of his hectic day to speak with me about Hirameki International.  Hirameki publishes interactive visual novels, and they’ve been in business for six years.  Some of their titles are Animamundi, Phantom of the Inferno, and the just released Yo-Jin-Bo.

I asked Mr Donnaloia how Hirameki decides which titles to license.  He shared that cost is, obviously, a factor. Some of the better known titles are financially out of reach, so they are trying to build a relationship with new, smaller companies in Japan.  They had success with the title Ever 17,  but the company that created it  went bankrupt, ending what might have been a promising relationship.  This is just one of the many frustrations that they’ve endured the past few years.

The biggest problem facing Hirameki International is getting their product out in front of the public.  The concept of visual novels fascinates me, and I have been aware of Hirameki, seeing their displays at several cons, but none of their titles caught my eye until I saw Animamundi listed at The Right Stuf.  I have only seen their titles at TRSI and cons, and until Animamundi, I mistakenly believed that their releases were all dating sims.  Animamundi is  gothic horror, with yaoi elements tossed in.  Yo-Jin-Bo is a time travel adventure, and the cover impressed me enough that I added it to my con purchases.

In marketing the titles,  Mr Donnaloia indicated that they were having a great deal of success selling their products through Musicland.  Unfortunately, another bankruptcy would sting Hirameki.  They have tried to get their product into Best Buy, but buying policies are frustrating their efforts.  Because they are PC titles, the DVD buyer can’t buy them, and the PC buyers seems uncertain of what to make of them.  Efforts to bundle titles together, with the DVD titles on top, have proven unsuccessful.  With the success of manga and anime in general, I am amazed that the larger retailers are so hesitant to give the titles shelf space.  Price may be an obstacle, but I don’t think that 39.99 is unreasonable for a product that offers 20 hours of entertainment.  It’s about what I would expect to pay for a video game, and with the right push, I think these titles would appeal to both gamers and anime/manga fans.

Maybe the concept of visual novels is too alien for US retailers.  If so, I remind them of the Choose Your Own Adventure books that were once wildly popular.  These are interactive stories with colorful graphics, music and voice acting.  I think there’s a market for these titles, and I will be disappointed if Hirameki is forced to abandon their efforts to bring them over for our consumption.  Have any of you read any visual novels?  What’s your take on them as a viable seller in the US?

X-posted to the MangaCast.

9 thoughts on “The Future of Visual Novels?

  • May 11, 2007 at 10:18 pm

    Price may be an obstacle, but I don’t think that 39.99 is unreasonable for a product that offers 20 hours of entertainment.

    Keep in mind that many visual novels can even offer more than that. For example, Ever17 offers plenty of replay value – indeed, replays are necessary to finish off the game.

    Furthermore, visual novels do not seem to appeal to your traditional gamer. Take, for example, Radical Dreamers; despite the fact that its main draw is an integration of combat into a visual novel-type exhibition, a small percentage of people have been so spoiled by current-generation experiences that they laud the idea of ‘reading a game’.

    However, there are plenty of people (such as you and I) who do enjoy that prospect, but apparently the medium is still hard to sell – especially when piracy is rampant, even with $10 works that have been fan translated.

    In spite of all that, I still think that visual novels can succeed in America. Just through slow (and painful) growth. ^^;

  • May 11, 2007 at 10:28 pm

    I’ve played games like the Higurashi series and numerous other “eroge”.

    It’s a generalization, but the ideal market for PC games in the United States aren’t the types that would happily sit down with a book, or otherwise read reams of text (Clannad is about 63,000 lines of text, and Higurashi in total is probably more).

    Given the Western trend of games towards ever-more flashier, interactive, and freestyle action, it’s hard to see a market for what essentially are e-books with static pictures and music.

    The main attraction of visual novels, at least for me, are their strong plotlines and occasionally very deep characters. However, plot alone cannot move copies of games off shelves here in the US.

  • May 11, 2007 at 10:43 pm

    Spiritsnare – Thanks for all of the informative links!  I had no idea there was a text game for Chrono Trigger!

    Eleutheria – The problem with these titles, I believe, is that there is no clear cut audience for them.  Will gamers like them?  Manga fans?  Anime fans?  I agree that lots of people don’t like to read tons of text, and that is a hurdle that needs to be overcome.  Finding, and then making these titles available to a viable audience is clearly an up-hill battle. 

  • May 12, 2007 at 2:00 am

    If they were available on something like amazon, then i’d start buying them. Frankly this the first time i’d heard that there was a legit visual novel licensing company in n. america. 

  • May 12, 2007 at 9:37 am

    I bought Yo-Jin-Bo through Rightstuf and was pretty happy with what I got — but I wish there was more stuff like it coming out (girl-aimed, non-yaoi, romantically themed games).  I think that there are plenty of anime fans who would give visual novels a chance if they were more widely available, though I can see where retailers would be hesitant since there’s not much appeal beyond that niche market.

  • May 12, 2007 at 10:45 am

    Sorael – Many of their titles are available through Amazon.  Just do a search on Hirameki and you’ll get a listing of most of their titles.

    Senna –  I agree with you!  It would be great if there were more shoujo type titles available.  I also think that people would be willing to give the titles a try if they could actually find them in the store.  It’s one of the joys of impulse purchases!

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  • March 26, 2008 at 7:12 pm

    Sad news, but they went bankrupt.And here I am, a lover of visual novel (yes, romantic visual novels. XD) games stuck without any way to play them (can’t read Japanese).I find it curious they’re so hesitant to sell the stuff as well. The company might’ve made it otherwise. I’m SURE it’s a GREAT GREAT genre. I mean, look what people said before. How can comic books with strange pictures, strange style (reading backwards!), and little text be entertaining, let alone enlightening? How can you learn anything from them?  As we all know, manga then became huge. It’s more popular than the regular comic books now. It’s different certainly, but people who won’t try it are just plain stupid. Success with Asian culture lately should’ve helped push this genre. Regardless of where it came from, it fascinating and actually a great genre of game.

  • February 14, 2010 at 10:10 am

    I have 109 visual novels XD (I played approximately 10% haha, Im more like a collector) and I dont like that Hirameki International makes +18 visual novels to +17 (without sexual content) thats the most frustrating thing from this company sorry for my bad english

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