Back in December 2020, I came up with the idea to review nearly all of the 31 doujin Japanese visual novels translated and contributed to the 2005, 2006, and 2008 al|together Festivals. I introduced my project in April 2021 and slowly got to work translating the novels. It ended up taking me close to three years and was not without fits and starts, but I finally finished playing all 31 al|together novels to completion and writing reviews of 29 of them (I omitted two for content reasons).
You can learn more about my al|together project by reading my project introduction article. That article includes a running list of our completed al|together reviews. I have a dedicated collection post with links to all of our al|together articles, including reviews, essays, and short posts.
Somewhere along the line, I thought it would be fun to publish a final evaluation – a review of sorts. This post introduces my final al|together review project.
(Note: I will still write additional articles and analysis pieces about the al|together novels and translations. This review only closes the chapter on my original project to review each novel individually.)
I decided to rank all of the al|together novels, including the two that I did not formally review at The New Leaf Journal, from 1 to 31. Because discussing 31 visual novels in a single article would be unwieldy, I decided to break the project into three along with a separate category-specific awards post:
I will also publish an article comparing my ranking to the aggregate scores on Visual Novel Database after publishing the final part of my review.
For each novel, I will include two additional pieces of ranking information. First, I will note how the novel ranks when compared to its al|together festival peers. For example, Narcissu will include information about where it ranks among al|together 2005 translations while Crimsoness will include information about where it ranks among al|together 2008 translations. Second, I will include information about where each novel ranks among novels of similar length. I created four separate “length tiers”:
- Long (More than 90 minutes)
- Medium-Long (50 Minutes-90 Minutes)
- Medium-Short (20 Minutes-50 Minutes)
- Very Short (Less than 20 Minutes)
There are a number of borderline tier cases. I used my discretion in deciding on length tiers, but note that individual reader experiences may vary. In the end, each of the four tiers has either eight or nine novels.
I explained in an article on review scoring systems for media that it is important to define one’s criteria. While this project is ranking al|together novels against one another instead of giving them 1-5 or 1-10 scores, it is still important for me to give readers an idea of what precisely I am evaluating and how I am weighting different factors in creating my ranking.
I am individually ranking the English al|together translations as completed projects. I am not evaluating the translation process, but instead the end-product of the translations. There are two reasons for this. Firstly, I cannot read Japanese so I am in no position to offer a technical translation analysis (I encourage you to read Insani’s web blog and al|together 2008 essays for interesting translation discussions). Secondly, even if I could evaluate the translation process – I am more interested in the final products of the translations.
I tend to favor stories when ranking visual novels. I am specifically interested in visual novels that have a clear idea or message and deliver it in a coherent way. For this reason, I do not disfavor kinetic, non-interactive visual novels. However, I do appreciate novels with interesting interactive elements – especially given the limitations that freeware developers in Japan worked under in the mid 2000s, and you will find that I gave a couple of novels with limited stories high marks for being fun to play as games. Moreover, while my personal rating criteria weighs stories most heavily, I am taking into account that the visual novel/sound novel medium necessarily has an audio-visual element, which distinguishes it from media such as books and comics. Despite my weighing writing as the most significant factor, I will consider novels that go above and beyond in the audio-visual sphere.
The al|together novels vary widely in length. The shortest ones can be completed in less than 10 minutes while the longest ones should take most readers more than 4 hours. I evaluate each novel in and of itself, and readers will find that the novels close to the top of my ranking come in many different lengths. With that being said, the upper-echelons of my ranking ultimately favored longer novels, which is consistent with the idea that the longer pieces had more upside than the very short ones.
Finally, I will consider certain additional factors. One is design polish – if a novel has interesting, well-designed menus and a coherent, branded look, that is a small factor I will consider and one that can tip the scale in some close cases. A few novels include post-game Easter Eggs, which I will consider as interactive elements. Finally, I will also consider whether a novel is fun. There are a couple of cases where I boosted a novel simply because it was fun to read and/or play.
The ranking project represents my subjective assessment of the al|together translations on their merits as completed English visual novels. As I noted above, individual readers will likely disagree on some of my choices – but I hope that the ranking, in conjunction with my individual novel reviews, shines a much needed light on 31 interesting freeware doujin visual novels from mid-2000s Japan and the terrific translation efforts that went into bringing them to an English-reading audience. Note that each ranking points to my in-depth review for each novel (with two exceptions) and these reviews include information about how you can download and play the novel for free.