January 05, 2008
by: James Jursudakul
NEWS: The company closes up their visual novel division after fifteen visual novel releases in North America.
Hiramaki International Group Inc. has formally released a statement announcing their withdrawal from the North American visual novel industry, stated as follows:
“Hirameki International Group, Inc. has decided to bow out of publishing
Interactive Visual Novels as of January 2, 2008.
We would like to thank you for all the support you have given us over the
years. We wish you all the best.
Hirameki International Group, Inc.”
Hirameki was one of only three publishers (not counting Nintendo of America’s and Capcom USA‘s release/releases for the Nintendo DS) that released visual novels in the North American market from the 2002 - 2007 period. The company made a strong and promising debut with their release of Phantom of Inferno in 2002, their most popular title which has garnered sales of over 12,000 copies as of July 2, 2007. At the company’s onset, their focus was on releasing visual novel titles for the DVD player, and along with Phantom of Inferno (which was also released for the DVD player), the company announced their intent to fifteen other titles on the DVD format at the E3 tradeshow in 2003 -- with all the titles except Hourglass of Summer (by Princess Soft) comprising of games from K-industry and Frontwing; however, many of the announced titles never saw the light of day in North America. Thanks to the overwhelming difficulties involved in producing visual novels for the DVD Video medium, only four of the announced titles - Amusement Park, Day of Love (Koiyoubi), Tea Society of a Witch, and Hourglass of Summer (which has sold over 3,500 copies as of July 2, 2007) - ended up being released.
Though originally announced for a release in North America, titles such as Canary and Separate Blue were among eleven of the initial titles that never saw a release.
Due to the difficulties, the Hirameki switched to a different medium for their releases and in the summer of 2005 announced their intent to bring visual novels to the PC - and one of the titles, Ai Yori Aoshi, even had an anime tie-in. Ai Yori Aoshi, their first PC visual novel title, was released on September 26, 2005, and then Ever 17 -The Out of Infinity-, one of the most popular and highest ranked visual novels in Japan, followed shortly after on December 20, 2005. In 2006 the company released the last of their DVD Video titles and also two bishonen-themed visual novels (all their previous releases were bishoujo titles). And though the company had a strong showing at various conventions in 2006, the company released but one title in 2007, Piece of Wonder, which also happened to be their final release.
Screenshot of KID's Ever 17 -The Out of Infinity-.
Although visual novels were garnering a bit more attention in 2006 - including the return of G-Collections and the entry of Kitty Media in the 18+ visual novel market - Hirameki was unfortunately met with a string of bad luck towards the end of the year. The company had planned on acquiring more titles from develop KID, but the developer unfortunately ended up declaring bankruptcy in late 2006; moreover, Hirameki was also met with a string of attacks on their message boards in mid-late 2007 which told of torrents to download all of Hirameki’s titles for free. Lastly, in 2006 one of Hirameki’s biggest distributors - musicland (which also comprises of Suncoast and Sam Goody) - ended closing up many of their stores, not to mention Best Buy had also decided to not carry any of Hirameki’s PC titles and refused to carry their release of Exodus Guilty Vol. 3 -Future- because of low sales of Vol. 2 -Past- (though Vol. 1 -Present-actually sold well at Best Buy).
Hirameki’s fold is unfortunate. The company had considerations of entering the console market, they had just touched the waters of digital distribution, the translation and production work were getting better, and they were even hoping to acquire Never 7 -The End of Infinity-, the prequel to Ever 17 -The Out of Infinity-. They were also the only company releasing all-ages visual novel titles. Mayhaps, one day, another company may decide to pick up where Hirameki left off. Though not all of Hirameki’s catalogue can be considered impressive, they did put out stellar, memorable, heart-felt stories such as Ever 17 -The Out of Infinity- and Hourglass of Summer, and for that, these pioneers, who have introduced many in North America to the wonderful world of visual novels - myself included - will sorely be missed.
Screenshot from Princess Soft's Hourglass of Summer.
source: Hirameki International Group Inc.