Indieview #15 — ebi-hime, Games Developer

Welcome to the fifteenth issue of Indieview! Indieview is an interview series where I speak with a special guest who works on personal or business projects related to games, whether they’re an artist, a composer, a streamer, a writer, or otherwise.

This week I’m joined by someone I’ve been a fan of for a long time, and that is visual novel developer ebi-hime! Chances are if you’re a fan of visual novels and play plenty of them on Steam, you’ll have come across one of her titles. She tackles a multitude of genres, and no two games of hers are the same, and you can check out her titles here on Steam.

My Dear Prince

Mitch: Is there anything you’d like to add to your intro?

Ebi: Hi! I’m ebi, and I’ve been writing VNs for… um, about eight years now, I think? Wow, that sure is a long time…

I spend the vast majority of my time writing, and when I’m not writing, I’m usually thinking about writing! When I’m not completely absorbed in my own projects, I’ll sometimes read books and other VNs, too.

I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was a child, so I’m glad I was able to make my dream come true in some capacity. I’m very thankful to all the people who read my stories; it really does mean the world to me!

Thank you very much!

Mitch: I’m happy you’ve been able to write — and so much, too!

Let’s say someone is reading this and finding out about your work for the very first time, what would you recommend they play from your catalog first? Obviously it’s a little difficult with so many genres, but I’m going to say Blackberry Honey, myself.

Ebi: I’m not sure, to be honest. I think it depends on what this prospective ‘somebody’ is most interested in. If you specifically want to read a yuri VN, Blackberry Honey would probably be a good starting point, but if you’d rather read a BxG VN, The Language of Love would be your best bet. If you want something gloomy and introspective, without much in the way of romance, The Mermaid of Zennor or Lynne would be good picks, and Sweetest Monster leans more towards psychological horror.

Given I write a variety of different romantic pairings and genres, I think it’s highly probable that people might find some of my VNs appealing, while being utterly uninterested in the others. As such, I can’t really give a suggestion; I think prospective readers should read the synopses of my projects and decide for themselves which they find the most appealing!

Blackberry Honey

Mitch: How do you select the genre and tone of your next game?

Ebi: It kind of depends on my mood. If I’ve written a lot of yuri VNs in a short space of time, I might think, ‘it would be nice to write a BxG story for a change’ — or, if I’ve written several things that are set in the modern day, I’ll think, ‘it would be fun to write something in a more historical setting’. I don’t put much thought into what my audience might find appealing; I mostly work on whatever I want at any given time.

I’ve been jotting all my ideas down on a word document these last three (some of these ideas are more detailed than others), and I’m forever adding to it. I have a lot more stories I want to write yet; it’s mostly a question of if/when I’m able to find the time to do that.

Mitch: Is there any one game that you are particularly proud of? I’m curious!

Ebi: Probably Empty Horizons, if we’re solely talking about the writing. I’m very fond of the relationship between the two leads, Mireille and Lyon. Their back and forth banter was a lot of fun to write! I also reworked and edited almost every single line of this story about six or seven times, so I think the writing flows rather nicely. It’s actually my only VN I can reread without wanting to rewrite everything, so I’d consider that an accomplishment!

If we’re taking all aspects of the VN into account, such as the writing, art, sound design, and UI, I think I’d go with Blackberry Honey. It’s an older VN, at this point, given it was released in 2017, but I think it looks the sleekest. I’m particularly fond of the UI; the UI artist did a great job. I’m a little less enthused about the pacing of the story, and I regret now that I didn’t give some of the side characters more development, but I’ll keep trying to improve my storytelling skills!

Sweetest Monster

Mitch: I like that answer — reader, make sure you go through ebi’s Steam page for something to your liking!

Each game has a very different art style! Do you base the art style on that specific game? Would you be able to tell us more about the artists who work on them?

Ebi: I try to match the art style of my VNs to the tone and the genre of the story. For cute, silly stories that use a lot of anime tropes, like My Dear Prince, I’ll use a suitably ‘moe’ anime artstyle, and for more gloomy/grounded projects like Sweetest Monster, I’ll go for something with a more muted colour palette. Maybe it’s just me, but I think Sweetest Monster would look pretty strange if it had the same artstyle as My Dear Prince!

As for the artists themselves, many of them aren’t too involved in my projects. I write my artists lists of all the artwork I’ll need per project, often with quotes from the story and reference images, and the artists will draw the pieces I need to my specifications, but it’s rare they’ll read my stories. I wouldn’t really expect them to, either, given my stories are my passion projects, not theirs; to them, they must seem like just another job haha ;;

I know a few of my artists to read my stories, and some of them offer feedback (I’ve had a couple point typos out to me, too, which is appreciated), but I’d say the majority don’t do this.

Rituals in the Dark

Mitch: I love how so many of your games are LGBTQ+! This isn’t a question, but I wanted to thank you for the good representation.

Ebi: Thank you very much!

I feel like I gravitate towards writing yuri stories naturally, as I like romance narratives, and as a woman myself, I’m more comfortable writing female characters (particularly when it comes to 1st person narrators) over male ones. I often worry my male characters don’t feel fully believable, no matter how many times I attempt them. I always feel like I have to push myself out of my comfort zone when I’m working on stories with male leads, or even male love interests — but experimentation is fun, too!

Mitch: For what it’s worth I’ve enjoyed your male characters, but I’m certainly my familiar with your female characters.

Your next game, Embraced by Autumn, is coming out later this year, and it features a crossdressing protagonist. Can I ask about the story you want to tell with this title, please? (P.S, reader, you can and should wishlist this now!)

Ebi: Embraced By Autumn is a story set in France in the 1890s, which features a crossdressing protagonist, Marcel, who for various reasons has to attend his aunt’s all-girls’ boarding school in the countryside. It has four distinctly different routes, a lot of very pretty background art, and it’s the longest project I’ve worked on in quite a long time. I put a lot of love and care into it, so I hope people enjoy it, if they choose to check it out!

I had two main inspirations when writing Autumn. The story is, to put it simply, a crossover between Caramel Box’s 2005 BxG VN Otoboku and Colette’s 1900 Claudine novels. Autumn has the same premise as Otoboku, but the setting, some of the character archetypes, and the general writing style borrow significantly more from Claudine. I really love the lush, lyrical descriptions of the French countryside in Claudine, and I wanted to try and capture that ‘atmosphere’ in one of my own VNs. I hope I was successful!

Embraced by Autumn

Mitch: I was already excited, but that genuinely sounds like such fascinating inspiration — I’m not too familiar with them, but I think I might check them out for myself, thank you!

Yuri is a common theme across many of your works, but again, they differ quite a lot past that, yet they still feel very unmistakably ebi-hime. What do you think it is about your games that make them clearly yours? (Someone will read this and think “well, she made them, so…” so I am clearing that up now!)

Ebi: Well, I made them, so… What more can I say?!

To answer more earnestly, most writers will have a certain ‘style’ they write in, and certain words/phrases they like to use, even when writing in different genres. It’s also common for similar themes to be present across an individual writer’s body of work, as most people have certain topics they’re more interested in exploring than others. This is only to be expected, I think, and would apply to almost every writer; not just me!

That’s a bit of a boring answer though, I’m sorry haha ;;

Mitch: Apologies if this is an ignorant question, but are the games made exclusively by you, or is ebi-hime a team? I’m unsure and have always been curious!

Ebi: There’s only one ebi! I plan, write, and code my visual novels myself (generally; I occasionally get other people help with bits and pieces of the code), then commission artists and composers to handle the parts I can’t. The name ‘ebi-hime’ refers to one person, which is me!

All of my VNs are collaborative effort, in that I don’t do everything myself (and for good reason — my art is terrible lol), but I don’t have a fixed ‘team’; I commission different people depending on the mood + tone of each individual project.

nothing & nowhere

Mitch: I know even detailing commissions can be hard work sometimes, so I am in awe that you’re ultimately a one-woman team when it comes down to it.

A few of your titles deal with anxiety and depression and generally wanting to be accepted, and whilst these are heavy topics, I generally find them inspiring in your works, and find them to feel quite raw and relatable. Can I ask why this is quite a common theme in your work?

Ebi: I think these are fairly universal topics that a lot of people can relate to, so it seems natural to include such topics in my stories! I also like writing stories about very intense, messy, and sometimes uncomfortable interpersonal relationships, so it’s what I tend to gravitate towards. My favourite characters tend to be my more ‘damaged’ ones, haha ;;

Mitch: I feel that, it can certainly be easier to write that sort of story as opposed to something generally happy, haha.

A few of your games are available on consoles now too! What’s it like having some of your titles featured on Playstation and Nintendo Switch? I actually played Strawberry Vinegar on PS4/5!

Ebi: I think it’s very cool that my VNs are more widely accessible to more people — especially on a handheld console like the Switch, where people can carry it out and about. I personally prefer to read books curled up in bed, or in the bath, so having a portable device to read VNs on seems very convenient!

…Not that I’m advocating people to take their Switch into the bathtub; I don’t want to be held liable in case anybody destroys their Switch ;;

The Mermaid of Zennor

Mitch: I have 100% played my Switch several times in the bath, but now I know where to place the blame if I drop it! …my own idiot self…

Are you a psychological horror fan? Some of your works including The Mermaid of Zennor, Sweetest Monster and The Way We All Go are genuinely unsettling!

Ebi: One of my favourite authors is Shirley Jackson, who’s known for her dark, unsettling, generally misanthropic stories, so I suppose I’m fond of this genre! I like We Have Always Lived in the Castle in particular; the atmosphere is very eerie, and it’s positively dripping with disdain for humanity in general. It’s such a cheerful read, really!

I wouldn’t personally categorise Mermaid as ‘psychological horror’, though. It has some unsettling elements, but it’s not trying to evoke the same emotional response as Sweetest Monster. Sweetest Monster is definitely the most unpleasant story I’ve written thus far, I think (though one of the stories I’m working on currently is giving it a run for its money…)

Embraced by Autumn

Mitch: Ahh, my bad! Although I agree Sweetest Monster has been your most unsettling work to date. That ending still plays on my mind a bit…

You’ve been doing this for a long time now — or, at least, it feels like a long time since I was introduced to your work. What inspired you to use video games to tell your stories?

Ebi: Reading Umineko by Ryukishi07. It was the very first VN I ever read, almost ten years ago now, and I was completely taken with it the moment I started reading.

I’ve been a big reader from a pretty young age, but I devoted most of my attention to books. I thought it was incredible that a grandiose, sprawling epic like Umineko existed, with art and flashy effects to heighten the tense moments, and sound effects, and music… !

(Umineko has really, really good music, by the way; the OST is huge, and it’s full of very hype and intense pieces.)

I feel like Umineko is the type of story that couldn’t exist without being a VN. Ryukishi’s art is kind of crude (though honestly, I think it’s appealing!), but all the extreme character expressions, combined with their ‘choreography’ during the fight scenes, makes the text shine. There’s also the red/blue/golden text, the layers of ‘meta-ness’ with all the different narrators/perspectives which are shown visually through screen overlays, and the fact the story is really dense and word-heavy. I think, to work as a novel, a lot of it would have to be pared down.

I got so invested in Umineko’s story, and the art + music + SFX employed to tell it, that it inspired me to write VNs of my own. I wouldn’t be writing VNs if it wasn’t for Umineko, so I owe it a lot!

The Fairy’s Song

Mitch: I need to play Umineko — it’s on my to play list! I’ll get to it, one day…

After Embraced by Autumn, could you say what other stories, themes and settings you’d like to tackle?

Ebi: Other than Autumn, I’m working on a couple of other projects which are in various states of semi-completion.

The first of these projects would be All Ashes and Illusions: a BxG VN set in an Arabian-inspired world. The story centres around Yuel, a young prince (later king) with an unhealthy attachment to his childhood nursemaid, Safiya. Unable to let Safiya go, Yuel indulges in his obsession, and commits a lot of awful, depraved acts in a misguided attempt to win her affections. I think Yuel is probably my most deranged protagonist to date; he’s absolutely not a nice person. Ashes is very grim, and working on it for long stretches of time makes me feel mentally drained, which I’m hoping is a good thing… Maybe? I think the story makes quite the impact, at the very least.

The second project is Salome’s Kiss: a GxG VN set in Victorian England, in a crumbling manor house in the marshes. The main character, Letitia, begins to work as a governess for a girl called Genevieve, and between them, a clandestine relationship develops. Meanwhile, there are unsettling rumours that Genevieve’s father, the reclusive Arthur, has been abusing the female servants; one of whom seems particularly distraught. This, like Ashes, is a rather dark story, which draws upon a lot of 19th century gothic lit for inspiration.

I’m also working on a sequel to Sweetest Monster, and a handful of other projects which I haven’t announced yet. I’ll share more details on my social media later, when I’ve released Ashes and Salome. I’m hoping they should both be done by the end of the year!

The End of an Actress

Mitch: They all sound very interesting — I’m unsure if I missed it, but I had no idea you were working on a Sweetest Monster sequel! Count me in, but I am a little pre-emptively terrified, haha.

What would you say to people who want to follow in your footsteps? I can’t speak for everyone else, but your work was some of the first Indie visual novels I was introduced to, and I’m sure it isn’t just me!

Ebi: If you have an idea you want to write, you should sit down and write it! You can worry about editing and prettying it up later; it’s more important to just try and get your idea down in words, no matter how imperfect these words might be. There’s no such thing as a ‘perfect’ story in any event, and it’s not possible to polish up a script that doesn’t exist!

Mitch: Where are the best places to find you if people want to keep up with you and your work?

Ebi: Probably my Twitter account (@ebihimes); that’s where I’m the most active. I also have a Tumblr account, but I use it maybe once every couple of months. I don’t have a Discord server or a website or anything fancy like that, though I’ve been meaning to look into getting a website for a couple of years…

I’m pretty good at procrastinating ;;

Blackberry Honey

Mitch: Final question — what visual novels are a must to check out?

Ebi: Umineko is my favourite VN of all-time by a large margin, so I’d love it if more people could check it out! I know Ryukishi07’s works are fairly well-known already (particularly Higurashi), but I think Umineko is his masterpiece! The characters are all so well-developed (apart from maybe, like, Gohda), the plot has a lot of depth and nuance, and the overarching theme about ‘the truth’ and its slippery nature are thought-provoking. I think it’s the only VN I’ve read which managed to make me cry, too (though Key’s Planetarian came pretty close).

I’d also recommend the ever-popular The House in Fata Morgana for being almost as good (but not quite as good… in my opinion haha ;;) as Umineko. That’s another intriguing VN, with really gorgeous art.

I’ll also throw in a recommendation for Because We’re Here by Studio Elfriede, a multi-part otome VN set during a fictionalized version of WW1. It’s not finished yet, but it has some of my favourite writing in any VN I’ve ever read. It manages to be funny while being simultaneously heartbreaking, and despite having such a huge cast of characters, they’re all pretty well-developed. I’ve been waiting for the next part in this series for over a year; I hope it comes out soon! I want to read it!

Mitch: Thank you for the recommendations! I recently bought a physical copy of The House in Fata Morgana for Switch (which isn’t actually printed yet), so I’m very excited to play that in particular when it does come! And thanks so much for being a guest on Indieview, ebi, it means a lot to me that I was able to speak with you.

I hope you’ve enjoyed Indieview #15 with ebi-hime. I’ll be back with another Indieview in the near future, so thanks for reading, thank you to my guest, and I hope to see you all again soon!

Writing a novel | Communications Associate at Funimation UK | Hang around for #Indieview, Otome, and maybe a little more!