Codex Gamicus
Type Joint stock company
Founded 1998
Headquarters Osaka, Japan
Products Visual novels
Parent Company

Key is a Japanese visual novel studio under Visual Art's, known for making dramatic and plot-oriented visual novels. Kanon was Key's debut release, which combined an elaborate storyline, an up-to-date anime-style drawing style, and a musical score which helped to set the mood for the game. Key's second game, Air had a similar if not more complex storyline to Kanon and a more thorough gameplay. Both Kanon and Air were originally produced as eroge, but had non-erotic console ports released for the Dreamcast, PlayStation 2, and PlayStation Portable. As of July 2007, Key has released six games, and has worked in the past with Interchannel, and Prototype for the consumer port releases of previous Key titles.

Every soundtrack that is released based from one of Key's titles is on a record label called Key Sounds Label. There are other albums on the label not directly related to the visual novels, such as two albums by Lia and one by Eufonius. The albums on this label have music composed by members from Key, such as Jun Maeda, and Shinji Orito. Three of Key's works, Kanon, Air and Clannad, have been made into anime. Key supervised the production of these anime while working with two animation studios, Toei Animation, and Kyoto Animation. Toei Animation animated the first Kanon TV anime series, the Air movie and the Clannad movie. Kyoto Animation animated the Air TV anime series, the second Kanon TV anime series, and the Clannad TV anime series.


Before forming Key, the founding members worked for another visual novel development company called Tactics. At the time of Dōsei's production, Tactics' first game, only two of Key's original staff worked on the game: Itaru Hinoue as art director and Shinji Orito as musical composer. After Dōsei, the rest of Key's founding staff joined Tactics and contributed to two more games: Moon., and One: Kagayaku Kisetsu e. After the release of One, these developers transferred to Visual Art's where they created their debut title Kanon in 1999. Kanon was an eroge, though the scenes containing sexual intercourse were kept to a minimum. This gave the player more of a focus on the characters' stories and on the visuals and music, especially for a visual novel at the time of its release. A year later, in 2000, Key released their second game Air, which was also an adult game and similar in storytelling to Kanon.

In 2001, Visual Art's created the record label Key Sounds Label. The music albums released by Key after this were put under this label, meaning that this does not include the first three albums which were released before it was officially formed. The first album on this label was Humanity..., though the only direct connection to Key's works is that it contains a remixed version of the opening theme to Air. The albums under this label are composed by Key's signature composers: Jun Maeda, Shinji Orito and Magome Togoshi. Three of the albums feature songs sung by Lia and one other, Love Song, features the singer Riya from Eufonius. Three drama CDs have been released as well.

The third game named Clannad is a visual novel similar to Key's previous games, but is entirely clean, without any adult content. Clannad was meant to be released in 2002, but was delayed, leading to the game finally being released in 2004. Seven months after Clannad's release, Key released their shortest game, Planetarian: Chiisana Hoshi no Yume, in late 2004. Planetarian, in contrast to Key's past games, is a linear visual novel that does not require the user to make a choice, but to sit back and enjoy the story; this is what is referred to as a kinetic novel. The company's fifth game was Tomoyo After: It's a Wonderful Life, an eroge and sequel of sorts to Clannad released in 2005. Key released their sixth game, Little Busters!, on July 27, 2007.

Comiket involvement[]

File:Key's booth at Comiket 71.jpg

Key's booth at Comiket 71 (December 2006).

Comiket, short for Comic Market, is a large comic convention held twice a year in Tokyo, Japan during August and December, which are referred to as the summer and winter Comic Markets respectively. Key has been an active participant in the convention since Comiket 57 in December 1999, where they sold Kanon-related products (as Kanon was their only release at the time); one such product was a Zippo lighter. The first Air-related products Key sold at Comiket were at Comiket 59 in December 2000. Typical products include: postcards, telephone cards, calendars, and posters. The products Key sells at Comiket are all related to the visual novels the company produces.

Key, through Visual Art's, generally participates at the winter Comiket in conjunction with other brands under Visual Art's, but has been known to appear at the summer Comiket too, such as with Comiket 70 in August 2006 where they sold Planetarian: Chiisana Hoshi no Yume related products. The combined total of the products Key sells at a given Comiket range in price between 3,000 yen (about US$27) and 5,000 yen (about US$45). This includes the selling of music albums released under Key's record label Key Sounds Label which has been releasing albums since Comiket 60 in August 2001 with the release of the label's first two albums, Humanity... and Natsukage / nostalgia.

Key Radio[]

Key began to produce an Internet radio show regarding the company with the first recording released on December 13, 2007. It is hosted by Itaru Hinoue and Shinji Orito of Key, and another woman by the name of Chiro who works for Pekoe, another visual novel studio under Visual Art's. Listeners can submit thoughts about the show and any requests they may have for the show, along with submitting questions to the host trio. The broadcasts are available via download on Key's official website and the radio show's official blog. The show has five corners, or parts, which starts with opening greetings from the hosts and goes onto thoughts and impressions that listeners have about the show. This moves on to an informal talk between the hosts, followed by a section where entries previously submitted by listeners concerning their enthusiasm for Key are read by the hosts. The fourth corner concerns answering questions that had been submitted by listeners, and the final corner has Orito playing the flute; listeners can submit suggestions for songs he is to play.

The first broadcast was originally over an hour long, but was cut down to thirty minutes. The main topic of discussion of the first broadcast was Key's products at Comiket 73 to be held in late December 2007. The second broadcast was an end-of-the-year special released on December 28, 2007 and was longer than the first broadcast at forty-one minutes and thirty seconds. The third broadcast was a New Year Expansion edition released on January 22, 2008 and ran for forty-three minutes and thirty seconds.



The main staff in Key are members that have had a hand in nearly every game released by Key and do the majority of the work involved. Jun Maeda has worked on the planning for the individual projects and was one of the main scenario writers; he has also composed music for all of Key's games except Planetarian.[1][2] Maeda was reported to say in the February 2007 issue of Comptiq that after the completion of Little Busters!, he would not be working on the scenario staff for Key any longer. However, in an interview in the December 2007 issue of Dengeki G's Magazine, Maeda said that he would still be working on the music for Key's next game.[3] Itaru Hinoue is Key's main artist and was the art director for Key's first three games.[4] Na-Ga, another prominent artist in the company, mainly worked with background art in earlier games, but with Little Busters! was given the position of co-art director with Hinoue.[5] Further computer graphics have been provided in the past by three graphic artists, Shinory, Mochisuke, and Minimo Yamada.[6][7] Key's main composer, Shinji Orito, has been with the company since Kanon.[8] With Maeda no longer contributing to the scenario, another scenario writer, Yūto Tonogawa, joined Key and first worked on the scenario in Little Busters!.


In addition to the main staff, there are others who have helped make the games released by Key. Tomotaka Fujii helped write the scenario for Air, working as a scenario assistant.[9] Eeji Komatsu worked as the art director for the kinetic novel Planetarian,[10] and another artist, Fumio, worked as the art director for Tomoyo After.[11] Further scenario writers include Leo Kashida, an outsourced writer who worked with Key on Tomoyo After and Little Busters!, and Chika Shirokiri, another outsourced writer who worked with Key on Little Busters!.[5][12] Two new composers named Manack and PMMK helped with the music in Little Busters!, and MintJam helped with arrangement.[5]


Many of Key's staff have left the company over time. Naoki Hisaya had worked as one of the main scenario writers for Kanon,[6] but once the project was complete, he left the company; Hisaya later provided the original concept for Sola. Another member of the staff that made Kanon was OdiakeS, a composer who has since left Key. OdiakeS returned to help in two music albums, one each released for Air and Clannad, but has done nothing with Key since 2004.[13] One of the staff members for Air, Takashi Ishikawa, only participated in this game as one of the scenario writers, but did not contribute in future games released by Key.[14] Ishikawa has since moved to another brand in Visual Art's as of 2000. Kai, one of the scenario writers, contributed in Air and Clannad, as did a different scenario writer named Tōya Okano. Kai moved to the company Ram under Visual Art's in 2004 and Okano moved to the company Giant Panda, also under Visual Art's the same year. Another scenario writer, Yūichi Suzumoto, worked with Key between Air and Planetarian. Suzumoto has since transferred to Leaf as of 2004 under the publisher Aquaplus. One of the original computer graphics artists, Miracle ☆ Mikipon, left after Clannad, and a different computer graphics artist, Torino, worked with Key from Kanon until Clannad. Mikipon had been working for Psycho under Nexton starting in 2004, but then moved onto the company Ham Ham Soft under Visual Art's; Torino left for Ram in 2004, also under Visual Art's.[15][16] Magome Togoshi had been with Key since Air, working as one of the signature composers, but left the company in October 2006.[17]


File:Promo yumemi.jpg

A promo character card of Yumemi Hoshino from Planetarian: Chiisana Hoshi no Yume from the Lycèe Trading Card Game.

According to Satoshi Todome's work, A History of Adult Games, Key's impact on the visual novel, or rather primarily the adult game, world stems from before Key was formed and most of the founding members of Key worked for Tactics under Nexton.[18] Due to an influence by Leaf's visual novel To Heart released in 1997, the developers at Tactics created a simple formula for a game: a comedic first half with a heart-warming romantic middle followed by a tragic separation and finally an emotional reunion formed what is known as a "crying game". The main purpose of such a game is to make the player feel for the characters and make them cry due to emotional scenarios which serves to leave a bigger impact on the player after the game is over.[18] Tactics' second title One: Kagayaku Kisetsu e was created based on this formula.

After One was complete, the development team quit Tactics to form Key where they developed their first title Kanon also based upon on this formula.[18] Kanon was "heavily hyped [and] had gamers impatient until its release. It was only one game released by Key so far, and yet [it] had already sent major shockwaves around the industry. And yet another game [Air], two years later, sent even more shockwaves. Air was equally hyped and well received."[19] The success of One and Kanon on Key's formula to create a "crying game" was later adopted by other visual novel developing companys which were influenced by this formula. Examples of this include: Kana: Little Sister by Digital Object, the Memories Off series by KID, D.C. ~Da Capo~ by Circus, Snow by Studio Mebius (also under Visual Art's), and Wind: A Breath of Heart by Minori.[18]

Key is one of seventeen brands under Visual Art's with games included in the Lycèe Trading Card Game published by Broccoli. Characters from Key's first five games were included in the first three out of four Visual Art's card sets.[20][21][22][23] There are also seven out of fifty-five rare promotional cards with characters from Key titles.[24] Other big-name visual novel companies included in the card game include: AliceSoft, August, Leaf, Navel, and Type-Moon.[25]

Leaf, Key BBS[]

A bulletin board system (BBS) based on the interface of the large Japanese Internet forum 2channel (2ch) was formed on January 26 2000 named "Leaf, Key BBS" (leaf,key掲示板 leaf,key Keijiban?), otherwise nicknamed as "Leaf-Key Board" (葉鍵板 Ha-Kagi Ita?).[26][27] The board originated from 2ch's video game discussion board due to a dispute involving the game Kizuato in December 1999;[26] Kizuato was an early game of another visual novel producing company named Leaf. Ultimately, fans of the game moved to 2ch's adult game board, but there was not much resolution, and at the time Key fans on the board were being shunned for discussions on Kanon and, at the time, Key's upcoming game Air. This resulted finally with the Leaf and Key fans moving away from 2ch and forming again on the PINKchannel Internet forum.[27] The board serves as a discussion board for anything related to Leaf and Key. This includes the games the companies produce, but also the companies themselves and the staff that make up those companies. The BBS gets approximately 1500 posts per day as of November 2007. Like 2ch, the board has a default anonymous posting setting, and the defalt name is "Nanashi-san Dayomon" (名無しさんだよもん?, lit. Mr. Nameless-dayomon), a reference to the heroine Mizuka Nagamori from One: Kagayaku Kisetsu e who uses the words "dayo" and "mon" frequently.[27]


  1. Untranslated quote: 自分の書いた曲では一番気に入ってます。
    Translated quote: "Out of the songs I wrote myself, I like this one the most."
    Kanon Original Soundtrack booklet, page 4.
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  3. "Jun Maeda and Shinji Orito Interview", Dengeki G's Magazine (MediaWorks), October 30 2007 
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  8. Untranslated quote: サウンド担当 折戸伸治
    Translated quote: "Sound Director Shinji Orito."
    Kanon Original Soundtrack booklet, page 5.
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  18. 18.0 18.1 18.2 18.3 Template:Citeweb
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