There are few creators in the Western visual novel industry who are as prolific as Ebi-Hime. Ever since her first game in 2013, Ebi-Hime has released over a dozen titles. Some, like the aptly named Sad Story of Emmeline Burns or Lucky Me, Lucky You have been the product of game jams – where developers create games from start to finish in a limited amount of time (usually a month). Others, like the expansive This World Unknown, took years from conception to release. Later this week will mark the 3rd anniversary of The Way We All Go, which was Ebi-Hime’s first Steam release and the first Ebi-Hime game published by Sekai Project.
To celebrate, we’ve got an exclusive interview with Ebi-Hime herself, and we’ll also be taking a quick look at her work over the years. All of Ebi-Hime’s games are on sale this week to celebrate the anniversary of TWWAG, so it’s the perfect time to start getting acquainted with her work, or pick up any missing titles to complete your collection.
Since it’s its anniversary, it only makes sense to start with The Way We All Go. To date, it remains one of Ebi-Hime’s longest and most complex works, with 21 different endings to reach. Many of them… are on the gorey side. TWWAG was a sort of love letter to the Higurashi series of visual novels, and the influence can be clearly seen in the multiple bloody fates that await the characters.
On the other end of the genre spectrum sit a slew of yuri titles, in a variety of styles and flavors. One of Ebi-Hime’s most iconic titles is Asphyxia, a yuri game wherein the heroines are all female versions of famous British poets. As silly as the premise might sound, the game is moody and dark, with the story revolving around an attempt to salvage a failing friendship. Another yuri game, Blackberry Honey, is Ebi-Hime’s most recent commercial release. Starring a cast of Victorian maids, there are glimpses of the same muse that inspired Asphyxia, though Ebi-Hime’s growth as a creator is far more evident. Blackberry Honey is her best game yet, in how all of the elements – art style, music, writing, and overall presentation – come together in a very cohesive manner. While she works with a variety of artists and musicians, Ebi-Hime has handled the writing and programming for all of her games.
That said, Ebi-Hime has been a master of atmosphere for years. One of her most popular titles to date is Sweetest Monster, which was released just over a year ago. It stars the mysterious catgirl, Bell, who follows – or nearly haunts – the luckless protagonist, Robin. Bell isn’t interested in anything as frivolous as cake, though. What she wants is Robin’s heart. Delightfully creepy, Sweetest Monster quickly rose to one of Ebi-Hime’s most talked about games. There’s even a light novel version in the works, featuring the previously unreleased prequel, Silent Melody.
While she always has at least several ideas at different stages of completion, Ebi-Hime’s next game is already announced. In fact, it’s very close to release. AIdol is a story of friendship, rather than romance. Though one of the starring characters is a virtual idol, it’s the small, human moments that make the game shine. Early readers have unanimously praised how strongly the game resonated with them – whether it’s heartwarming friendships or the coldly accurate depictions of anxiety.
Check out any of Ebi-Hime’s games and you’re unlikely to be disappointed. She’s got a plethora of free titles to start with, including some that can only be found on her itchio page. Enjoy this exclusive interview below, and be sure to check out AIdol when it’s released very soon!
Thanks for doing this interview. Please go ahead and introduce yourself, for anyone who might not know you.
My name is ebi and I’m a cute magical girl who’s forever seventeen years old ☆
It’s been almost three years now since The Way We All Go came out on Steam. How would you say your work has evolved thus far? Is there anything that you’d change about past games you’ve released?
I worked on The Way We All Go in my spare time while I was studying at university. I didn’t have much money I could put towards it, so most of the assets it uses are royalty free, there aren’t many sprite variations, and there are hardly any CGs. As I have a bit more money at my disposal now, I can make VNs with more custom assets that look more professional.
I think it would be nice if all of my past VNs had entirely custom backgrounds and music, and maybe more CGs… but I’ll channel this desire into making my future projects look better!
What are your thoughts on TWWAG in particular now?
I’m fond of The Way We All Go because it has so many choices and a lot of possible outcomes! I think it’s the most interactive VN I’ve made thus far, and I like that most of the choices significantly alter the dialogue.
However, I think it would be hard for me to write a story like that now, because long scripts tend to require more assets. I counted up the total number of backgrounds The Way We All Go has and there are over 50 of them. Commissioning 50 unique backgrounds for one VN would be pretty expensive, and the VN might not make enough money back to justify the expenditure. So a story like The Way We All Go (or This World Unknown) might only be possible for me right now by using royalty free photographic backgrounds…
When I write visual novel scripts, I always think about the scope of the story vs my budget and if I can afford all the assets it would need. If I can’t, I cut the story down. I didn’t really think about that when I made The Way We All Go because I didn’t need to commission backgrounds, and in the beginning I didn’t plan to sell it commercially at all. Maybe that’s why my newer stories tend to be shorter, but look nicer.
You’ve written a variety of different genres and types of stories. Would you say that there’s a common thread or idea that they all have in common?
I enjoy writing unhealthy romantic relationships that don’t work/have no chance of working (like Asphyxia) because these kinds of narratives lend themselves well to melodrama. I’ve also written a few relationships with large age gaps that end badly (Sweetest Monster, Six Days of Snow) because this seems rather true to life, going by my own personal experience and the experiences of others.
I’m not sure if there’s one common idea shared between all my stories, as I’ve written a lot of different things. If there is, maybe it would be ‘try and be nice to others where you can, and don’t dismiss their worries even if you don’t think they’re important’.
You’ve said you really like fluffy, moe shows and content to help you relax. Do you think you’ll ever write something like that yourself? So far the closest would probably be Strawberry Vinegar.
I already have finished writing several cute and light-hearted scripts! The only question is when I’ll get all the assets to start putting them together.
Is there a game of yours that you’d consider your favorite? And if so, why? Similarly, is there one that you’re most proud of?
In terms of pure writing style, I think Empty Horizons is the best. It’s the only VN of mine that I can actually reread without wanting to shift the word order of my sentences around.
In terms of the overall presentation, I suppose Blackberry Honey. I think the sprite art, background art, and UI work really nicely together! I’m especially proud of the scrolling textboxes I coded for the music menu, gallery, and the scene recollection screens. I’d never coded anything like that before, and I was surprised I actually managed to make it work.
What are some of your favorites from other forms of media? Books, music, games, etc.
My favourite books are probably We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson, Mother Night by Kurt Vonnegut, and I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith. Most of my favourite books tend to be written after the 1900s, because I find anything written before that to be kind of tedious and slow-moving (though I’m fond of some Victorian gothic horror).
I don’t really watch TV or play video games. My favourite video game, outside of Persona 4 and FFX, is probably Theme Hospital…
As for music, I like The Cure, The Jesus and Mary Chain, and Sparks!
What inspired you to work on visual novels as opposed to another medium, like “regular” novels?
Umineko was the first visual novel I read, and it got me into the medium. Even now, Umineko is still my favourite VN. The way the writing, the music, the art, and the special effects work together to tell a story is really special!
I think VNs can be more engrossing than books (which I also enjoy reading) when they’re done well, and I like that they’re text-based because it gives you time to stop and pause and take things in, unlike movies.
Also, from a purely pragmatic standpoint, I think it’s easier to publish a visual novel than a book.
Do you have any advice for people who want to start making their own visual novels? Is there anything you wish that you’d known when you began?
Start small, don’t spend too much money in the beginning, and don’t expect your first project to be a major success. My first few VNs were made with free stock assets I found from the internet or MMD models that I edited myself in PMD Editor. It might be slow-going in the beginning, but if you keep at it over a long period of time, you should eventually start to see some results!
AIdol is coming out really soon, so I have one last question about favorites: Who’s your favorite character in AIdol, and why?
It would feel strange picking out a favourite character in AIdol because I didn’t invent any of the characters myself. None of them really feel like they belong to me, even though I wrote them. I’m not too attached to any of the cast in the same way I get attached to my own characters, but I liked writing Hotaru and Ryouichi. I think Hotaru is a very cool, level-headed character who has a bit of a sarcastic side, and Ryouichi is fun because he’s very annoying.
Any hints or teasers you could give as to future projects you’re working on? Additionally, do you have any pipe dreams or goals, stuff that you’d like to do or see happen someday, even if it’s not something you’re actively working towards?
I don’t like talking about my current projects unless I’ve made significant progress on them. For example, I don’t think I spoke about Blackberry Honey on my social media until I’d written the bulk of the script.
I don’t want to get people’s hopes up for a project only to disappoint them, because it’s not uncommon for me to outright drop a story if I don’t like the direction it’s going on. I abandoned one script after writing 80,000 words of it and getting 3 scenes away from the ending, so I don’t always trust myself with these things… Maybe I’ll come back and finish that someday!
There are a lot of different types of stories I’d like to write in the future, though! I get new ideas every couple of weeks, and I jot them down in a word document so I don’t forget them. I’d like to write another VN with a lot of choices and branches like The Way We All Go, and I also want to write a romance story with older characters who are in their late 20s/30s because I feel like there aren’t many of those around.
To end things, do you have any message you’d like to give to your fans?
Honestly, I never expected to sell any of my VNs. I’ve been writing and uploading my stories to the internet from the age of 11, but I never thought I could make any money from it. As such, I’m very grateful that people are actually willing to buy my VNs
I’ve always wanted to be a writer, and everybody who purchases my commercial VNs, or reads and leaves nice comments on my free VNs, have helped make this dream come true! I really do appreciate it, and I couldn’t have done it without you!
I hope I can continue writing for a long time, because I still have a lot more stories I want to write, and I don’t think I’ll run out of ideas for a while ☆
Be sure to follow Ebi-Hime on Twitter to keep up with all her latest projects and updates! Twitter.com/ebihimes