All three knives are middle-weights. All three are subject to the usual restrictions regarding Japanese knives -- in other words don't hack through bones or split chickens. All three have V edge geometry. The Hiro and Masamoto come from the factory with moderate asymmetry (~70/30 righty), I can't remember the Kikuichi's ratio of asymmetry offhand.
The Kikuichi is a bit more than 7 oz, the Hiromoto around 8oz, and the Masamoto is barely under 9oz.
I had four Hiromoto AS, two of them chef's knives, and was never impressed by them. The highlight of the AS is its core Aogami Super steel, which is good alright but a lot of things besides the alloy go into making a good knife, and the Hiro is otherwise mostly mediocre.
On top of that, it's san-mai and some people (me, for instance) get distinctly muted feeback. A friend of mine compared the sensation to wearing a condom; which is apt. On the other hand, san-mai knives construction allows for a relatively higher degree of stiffness, and the Hiromoto is indeed the stiffest of the three.
The Masamoto VG is another knife I've used a lot, but liked quite a bit more than the Hiromoto. The Masamoto VG has an excellent profile. If you like the Sabatier profile, you'll like the Masamoto VG's; Masamoto's is practically cloned from Sab's, but with a dropped tip. The handle is very comfortable, and the overall ergonomics are outstanding -- but it's not a lightweight. F&F is usually very good, but you want to watch out for problem handles. If you buy any western handled Masamoto, make sure you have someone give the handle for fit an extra inspection. CKtG's SOP BTW.
The blade alloy is either VG2 or something very much like it, and hardened to around the 58-59RCH level. That means the knife will take a good edge; edges will be extremely long wearing and won't need to see the stones too often; and the knife will take impact burring (i.e., get dinged out of true) as a result of ordinary use, but can be steeled back into true without worrying about chipping.
If you're seriously considering the Masamoto VG, you should also take a serious look at the MAC Pro. The two knives have almost everything in common. If the MAC's profile isn't quite as sweet, the blade is much stiffer. Both knives do a good job of combining Western and Japanese virtues, both fit nicely into the class of "first really good knife," and are each a great choice for someone who doesn't want to spend a lot of time thinking about knives
The Kikuichi is something of a wonder knife. Everything is at least very good, lots of things are excellent -- including the edge properties of the semi-stainless alloy. Very light for a yo-gyuto but able to handle squash, pineapple, etc., with aplomb. If the knife has weaknesses... it's that it's F&F and profile are only very good, and that it's not a $300+ laser.
Of the knives we're talking about, I'd guess the Hiromoto appeals more to people who are interested in knives, the MAC and Masamoto to people who focus on cooking, while the Kikuichi nicely splits the difference.
Those are some good choices, but... Most of the interesting chef's knives in the $175 - $225 price range are wa-gyuto. It's something of a niche for Richmond knives, and they have several great choices. For instance:
- The Richmond Ultimatum is particularly impressive as a versatile workhorse which has a really sweet profile and feel on the board, and laughs at jobs other 7oz knives fear. Got one in carbon, love it;
- The Richmond Laser is a great deal for a well made ultra-light knife; and
- The Richmond Laser AS is something of a no-brainer if you absotively, posilutely must have an Aogami Super san-mai. Sooooooooo much better than the Hiromoto.
Finally, try to keep some perspective when you consider the edge taking properties of one alloy compared to another. 95% of the game is sharpening skills.