Update Notice: I published my review At Summer’s End on December 17, 2022 (as promised at the end of this article). I published my review of A Dream of Summer on September 26, 2023 (later than planned). Other than adding this update with links to my reviews, I am leaving the text of this article as it was when I first published it.

I am currently in the midst of a project to review close to 30 freeware Japanese visual novels that were translated into English as part of three al|together festivals which took place in 2005, 2006, and 2008 (see project overview). As of the writing of this article (December 10, 2022), I have reviewed 12 al|together translations – leaving the project just over 1/3 complete. In my planner, I marked off December 17 for the lucky 13th visual novel to be reviewed, and I selected Milk Cat’s At Summer’s End for the honor. This visual novel was originally published in Japan exactly 19 years ago to the day on December 17, 2003, and it has as its theme the change of seasons (albeit from summer to autumn instead of from autumn to winter).

In November, I had tentatively planned to read At Summer’s End in December and thus extracted what I thought was the game’s directory into my Games folder in my home directory. I tested it briefly to see if it required MIDI for sound (in which case I would have likely run the Windows version instead), and I found that it did not (thank goodness). Satisfied with the test, I did not touch the game directory again until I decided to start reading At Summer’s End on December 9, 2022, when I had a bit of a lull in my work.

(Part of why I had time on December 9 was because I was waiting for my friend to finish Umineko When They Cry chapter 5 before I started 6 – but that story can be left for a later article.)

In light of the fact that I recalled seeing a 39 minute read-time estimate for the visual novel on the Visual Novel Database, I did not anticipate that reading At Summer’s End and collecting screenshots would be an especially time-consuming project (however, I will note that all of the visual novel reviews are time-consuming when compared to most of my ordinary articles). But while At Summer’s End does not look like it would be a difficult review in and of itself, I have at least three other al|together reviews planned for December 23 and 24, so it was in my best interest to get my reading done ahead of time.

On December 9, I changed into the game directory I created for At Summer’s End, modified the game.id file, and then executed ONScripter-EN in the directory to launch the game.

Before we continue, I must confess that when I started playing what I thought was At Summer’s End, I was not thinking about the visual novel by name. To be sure, I remember, to some extent or another, every visual novel in the al|together project – especially those that I have read. But the ones that I have not read yet – especially from the 2005 and 2006 festivals – can run together a bit. Another important point (for this story at least) is that I do not have all of the al|together visual novels installed. I have all of the installers, but I generally install them when I am ready to play them (whether that means setting up the game directory for Linux or actually installing a Windows game on top of WINE).

In any event, I launched a game.

There were immediately some signs that something was off. Firstly, I had remembered from the brief descriptions of At Summer’s End, or at least of the game I was thinking of but not by name, that it was set toward the end of summer. Yet the game I was playing was set in July and it did not take long for the main character to caution another character about the risk of heat stroke.

Should I have been suspicious? Perhaps. But I was too busy being impressed by the fact that whatever I was playing had voice acting. None of the first twelve al|together visual novels I looked at had voice acting. Wild stuff man. That was before the main character started providing hair color analysis – which was of great interest to your favorite 2D anime person hair color anthropologist.

The protagonist in "A Dream of Summer" visual novel talks about his delinquent friend's red hair.

I brushed off my concerns about the fact that the visual novel was set in July and kept reading. Maybe there would be a time skip or something.

The problem, however, became impossible to not wonder about when I realized that I had been playing for about one hour and had yet to see a single ending. To be sure, I was taking time to explore the menu, fiddle with the sound settings, and take screenshots for a future review – so I was not playing at max-speed. Still, however, if the Visual Novel Database estimate of about 40 minutes was accurate, there was no way it would have taken me that long even with digressions. Something was amiss.

I double checked the title of my game I was playing and saw that it was A Dream of Summer. Now you know right here that I was playing the wrong visual novel – but remember that I was still not really thinking of the game by name at this point. But I was suspicious – so I looked up A Dream of Summer in the Visual Novel Database.

The Visual Novel Database time estimate for A Dream of Summer was nearly three hours. Moreover, there were certain details about A Dream of Summer in its VNDB entry that I remembered – I had no doubt that I had started the wrong visual novel.

Well no matter, I finished the route I was on to reach the first ending.

After finishing, I went to the al|together 2006 page and found the actual game that I had been looking for – At Summer’s End, and I confirmed on the Visual Novel Database that my recollection of it was correct.

One funny thing about the error is that both At Summer’s End and A Dream of Summer were created by the same independent visual novel circle, Milk Cat. Moreover, they were both al|together 2006 translations, meaning that regardless of when I review them, I will review both at The New Leaf Journal. At Summer’s End was the first Milk Cat visual novel and A Dream of Summer the second. I discovered while looking into the matter that Milk Cat is still producing games (rare for the al|together circles), but that the original Japanese version of At Summer’s End is no longer available.

That At Summer’s End was Milk Cat’s first visual novel related to another sign I had overlooked while playing A Dream of Summer – the character art for the latter is much better than for the former.

Now that I have played part of A Dream of Summer, will I change my review plans? Can you expect a winter-time A Dream of Summer review (it would be seasonal for our Australian readers, however).

I did think briefly about going all in on A Dream of Summer, but I decided that I will publish my review of that game in July. A Dream of Summer takes place in mid-July and specifies the dates. Moreover, it has a very heavy summer aesthetic. I like the idea of publishing it in the summer (I am targeting finishing all of the remaining winter al|together games by February or early March). In addition to my seasonal preference, A Dream of Summer requires more work than most of the reviews. I have to test all of the choices, find an apparently hidden mini-game in it, and also play a new web-based version that Milk Cat made available beginning in 2018. In light of all of the games that I already plan to review in December, A Dream of Summer would be an undue time-sink.

Title screen for At Summer's End, a freeware Japanese visual novel.
Ready to roll with the game I intended to review.

Thus, I will proceed with my original plan to read At Summer’s End and publish a review on December 17, before proceeding to work on the rest of the December reviews on my schedule. If you are reading this well before July, you can bookmark mid-July to learn about my thoughts on A Dream of Summer, one of the more ambitious al|together entries.