Tomoyo After ~It’s a Wonderful Life~
Little Busters (upcoming)
Eternal Fighter Zero
Pocket Kanon & Air
Generic Disclaimer: Of course I wouldn’t know how the bishoujo games industry truly works, so some info below may be wrong or misinterpreted. This feature is from an outsider’s point of view, namely, my point of view.
A wonderful success story. How did a company manage to create a whole industry out of themselves, releasing technically only a few games over a long time span?
They must have done great games.
The second bishoujo game based anime that I watched was Kanon. Back then, I still had dial-up, but despite slow download speeds, I still wanted to take a glimpse at the anime. I got 2 fansubbed episodes, and I was scampering for more, until I finally found an anime trader who got me the whole series. I liked the anime a bit.
And we all know how very successful the anime version of Air became. With lush animation, perfect voice acting, and a story which could only come from one of the best bishoujo game story makers around, Air has “hit” plastered all over it.
Actually, before Key was formed, the members were actually from another softhouse named Tactics. They had a bit of success by releasing One. As far as I know, One was a good game (with a bad anime version). It seems to tell a story of how you, the player, interacts with all these girls (as bishoujo gamers often do), but the twist here is that at some point the people around you start forgetting about you! Well that’s bound for a bit of drama.
After that, some members of Tactics left and formed a new company, hence named Key. Their upcoming release at that time was so heavily hyped. Great art, great music, and potentially great story had gamers impatient until its release. And the rest is history. Even now, Kanon is widely regarded as possibly the greatest bishoujo game ever. As defining as Final Fantasy is to RPG gaming, Kanon is the end-all-be-all standard when it comes to bishoujo games. The wonderful stories, the tragedies, the drama, everything Kanon is embraced by bishoujo fans everywhere.
Despite that, its equivalent anime conversion just didn’t reach that kind of hype, but is nevertheless a fair rendition of the game (but many argue that it would have been so much more).
It was only one game released by Key so far, and yet I had already sent major shockwaves around the industry. People started buying Kanon stuff. Kanon doujinshi, figures, cards, accessories, what have you. Kanon was already a mini-franchise.
And yet another game, 2 years later, sent even more shockwaves. Air was equally hyped and well recieved. Some would even say that it was better than Kanon. We all know the endearing, emotional, magical, and tragic stories based from what we’ve seen in the anime, but I bet the experience would be better in its original format of bishoujo game.
Key games are so popular that doujin groups have been making games in reference to Key’s games. Airrade (a shooting game), Eternal Fighter Zero (a fighting game), and Pocket Kanon & Air (a bomberman-type game) have been garnering their own share of popularity in reference to Key games.
Clannad seemed to be more hyped than ever, because of the huge success of Key in its first two games. However, there is a catch here. Key told fans that Clannad will not be an ero-game. Basically, it means that there will be no H content in the game, unlike their previous offerings. This may have opened up a bigger market for them, but purists may react somehow that they have not stuck into their traditional formula that made them hall-of-famers in the industry. Plus, multiple delays of release may have grown impatience towards the fans. As a result, Clannad was fairly successful, but possibly not as big as their previous games. Plus, it was overshadowed by a big game from another company that year, so no Game of the Year for them this time.
Planetarian, Key’s kinetic novel, is a short but sweet game. Actually, it’s not quite a game because there are no multiple story paths, and you’re basically sitting around for the ride. It had its share of popularity, not only among Japanese gamers, but also among international fans who got to play this game because a fan translation group completed its game patch for it to become English.
In response to the clamor of more Clannad (or rather H content for Clannad), Key has released Tomoyo After ~It’s a Wonderful Life~. Reportedly having adult content this time, maybe those purist fans will start flocking back.
Seems like Key is releasing stuff fast this time. After Tomoyo After (oof), Key has announced another new game in the works! Apparently it’s called Little Busters… hmm, weird name. Details are still sketchy at the moment, but it seems like they’re pushing another style away from their usual. With those seemingly happy character designs, I’m betting this title would be less on drama and more on the usual candy-pop high school settings we see very often nowadays.
I guess Key has proven over and over again that they could make great games that could be remembered long after it has come and gone.
UPDATE: I want to update this post!