For Christmas Eve, I will review io [Christmas Eve], an English translation of a freeware Japanese visual novel of the same name. The original io [Christmas Eve] was created by Esuhara and released in Japan on August 29, 2005. The English translation was put together by Zalas and submitted to the al|together 2005 visual novel translation festival on October 11, 2005. This review of io [Christmas Eve] is part of my ongoing project to review nearly 30 freeware translations of independent Japanese visual novels that were submitted to the 2005, 2006, and 2008 al|together visual novel translation festivals. This is my sixteenth review of the project.
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.
As the name of io [Christmas Eve] suggests, the events of the story take place during the Christmas season. Two friends, Itsuki and Momiji, decide to cut school for a few days to play in the snow.
While they are building snowmen and snow houses, they meet a young girl named Kohime Havama, who joins their fun for several days leading up to Christmas. One of io [Christmas Eve]’s distinguishing points is that the bulk of its soundtrack comes from a little-known composer by the name of Ludwig von Beethoven.
Before continuing, I note from the outset that there are two unique aspects of io [Christmas Eve]. Firstly, it is one of only two al|together translations for which the translation is a patch for the original Japanese game file rather than a complete game in and of itself. Secondly, the patch on the al|together 2005 website no longer works. How, then, was I able to review it? How can you join me in reading it? Read on to find out. Much of the early part of the review will be devoted to these technical issues.
- io [Christmas Eve] Details
- Technical issues with the original al|together 2005 io [Christmas Eve] translation patch
- Downloading and running io [Christmas Eve]
- A few technical notes on io [Christmas Eve]
- General overview of io [Christmas Eve]
- io [Christmas Eve] Review
- What is io [Christmas Eve]’s relationship to io?
|io [Christmas Eve]
|October 11, 2005
|Visual Novel Database
|io [Christmas Eve]
|Original release date
|August 29, 2005
|September 27, 2006
Technical issues with the original al|together 2005 io [Christmas Eve] translation patch
(November 23, 2023 Updates: Added links to Midsummer Haze articles that were published after this review.)
I ordinarily provide the official download links for an al|together game and then offer a few notes on special issues about running them. However, io [Christmas Eve] is a special case, and it is the most complicated of the al|together games to get running next to Midsummer Haze.
Explaining why the original al|together 2005 patch no longer works
The first part of what makes io [Christmas Eve] an unusual case is that the translation is a patch for the original Japanese game. The previous 15 al|together visual novels that I reviewed were all standalone games, that is, the English games had no dependency on the original Japanese game. io [Christmas Eve] and al|together 2006’s Midsummer Haze are the only two entries from the three al|together festivals that were released as patches.
Both io [Christmas Eve] and Midsummer Haze have an annoying issue beyond the patch requirement. In Midsummer Haze’s case, the patch works as intended, but as I discussed in an article , the original Japanese version of the game was no longer online. I was ultimately successful in hunting a copy down (it is now available for download, and I will discuss that visual novel in more detail when I review it).
io [Christmas Eve] has the exact opposite problem of Midsummer Haze. Unlike many of the al|together games, the original Japanese io [Christmas Eve] remains available on Freem!, a popular Japanese platform for free games (it seems at first glance to be functionally similar to itch.io). Anyone can download the Japanese io [Christmas Eve] with no problem at all. Moreover, the original patch is available as a direct download from the original al|together 2005 site. What, then, could possibly be the problem?
The original patch no longer works.
The reason why the original patch no longer works can be found on the Freem! page for io [Christmas Eve]. The original visual novel was registered on Freem! on September 6, 2005. This date differs slightly from its Visual Novel Database release date, but the key point is that the date is earlier than the original al|together 2005 patch, which was made available in October 2005. However, astute readers will note a second date on Freem!: Updated: 2006-09-27.
The 2006 update of the original version broke the functionality of the English patch. The original patch would likely work on the original version of io [Christmas Eve], and perhaps someone out there still has that original. However, it is not available on Freem! or any other obvious place, so for all normal intents and purposes, we can consider the original al|together 2005 patch to be dead.
(Here, it is worth noting that io [Christmas Eve] was, unlike many (but not all) of the al|together translations, unofficial. That is, my understanding is that the developer did not express an opinion on the effort one way or another (there is one example of Insani pulling a game from al|together 2005 because the developer expressed disapproval of the translation).
Unbeknownst to me when I started the al|together project in May 2021, there was no ready-to-use way to run the English version of io [Christmas Eve] without having the 2005 Japanese executable. However, by the time I looked into an issue, a fix had been created by a French visual novel group called Re*defined and made available on Kaisernet. Kaisernet is one of the best online resources about the ONScripter visual novel scripting engine, which most of the al|together 2005 games use, and it informed my articles on running ONScripter games on Linux. io [Christmas Eve] is written in KiriKiri rather than NScripter (Japanese) and ONScripter-EN (English), but Kaisernet helped rescue it nevertheless by hosting the fix patch.
Why did the 2006 io [Christmas Eve] update break the original patch? Kaisernet explains:
The game received an update a year after the release of the translation patch which caused the patched game to crash immediately after starting…
I can confirm this behavior from my testing.
How does the fix patch resolve the issue? I quote again from Kaisernet:
The fix consists of removing malfunctioning lines calling for an apparently nonexistent object called options2Menu. The XP3 archive was worked on with insani’s xp3tools-20060708 available at http://insani.org/tools/. The fix has been tested on Windows XP and Windows 10.
Let it be said that the fix has also been tested on Linux using the WINE compatibility layer and it works (mostly) as expected.
In short, the fix patch does not change anything about the original patch except for a technical issue which caused the 2006 version of io [Christmas Eve] to crash with the original patch. It is still the original Zalas translation produced for al|together 2005. Thus, while one could technically argue that this is not the exact patch contributed to al|together 2005, I will review it as one and the same.
With my introduction aside, you will need two downloads to run io [Christmas Eve]
(Note: If the link to the original game or the fix patch are not working, you can also download both from a carefully curated MEGA folder with all of the al|together and Insani translations. I recently contributed information about the fix patch to this preservation project.)
The battle is mostly done when you have the Japanese visual novel and the patch, but there are still a few mildly irritating issues regarding the installation. For those who have read my ONScripter guides (see running ONScripter-EN off system install on Linux, running locally, and extracting Windows .exe), note that those guides are not applicable here since io [Christmas Eve] is written in KiriKiri instead of ONScripter-EN. Moreover, unlike many of the al|together games, io [Christmas Eve] is Windows only, meaning that you must either actually run it on Windows or have a compatibility solution. In my case, I ran it on Linux on top of WINE.
In order to install the English version of io [Christmas Eve], you must put the patch in the same directory (or folder) as the Japanese ioCE.exe that you obtained from Freem! In this case, you install the Japanese game, not the patch (this process differs from Midsummer Haze, wherein the patch itself is an .exe).
io [Christmas Eve] requires a Japanese language environment to run. This is unsurprising in two respects. Firstly, all of the al|together games written in KiriKiri share the Japanese environment requirement (see my reviews of Summer, Cicadas, and the Girl and Until we Meet Again for two of the five total examples). Secondly, you are technically installing the Japanese .exe in this case. Instructions for configuring a Japanese environment will vary from system to system. Linux users can study my detailed article on setting on a Japanese language environment for WINE and Proton using three GUI tools, Lutris, Bottles, and PlayOnLinux (I used Lutris to install io [Christmas Eve]).
Provided that you follow the above steps, io [Christmas Eve] should install and run.
While I installed io [Christmas Eve] and played it without any serious issues, I do have a few minor notes and technical issues that I will address here to get out of the way before we finally begin discussing the visual novel itself. Note that I ran io [Christmas Eve] on Linux using WINE – so some of these issues may or may not apply for the majority of people who run it natively on Windows.
I recommend running io [Christmas Eve] in virtual desktop mode in WINE. In so doing, set the resolution of the virtual desktop to 640×480. This is easy to do with graphical tools such as Lutris and Bottles, and people who configure WINE through the command line can look up the necessary steps. While it runs fine outside of virtual desktop mode, I found that the top menu was always present, whereas it is hidden unless it is triggered in virtual desktop mode.
Other than the menu, I did not notice any differences in game-play – meaning that I recommend virtual desktop mode as a preference rather than a requirement (it was required for Until We Meet Again).
When I started io [Christmas Eve], I had no sound. I have played more than enough al|together visual novels to guess the issue – it uses MIDI files for sound. Fixing this was no problem. I started my Fluidsynth server, which I use to get sound from MIDI files, and the sound worked as expected. If your system does not handle MIDI by default, be aware that you will need to look into a solution. While I previously noted one example of an al|together game that was better without the MIDI-powered background music, io [Christmas Eve] very much needs its soundtrack.
(November 22, 2023 Note: I learned after reviewing io [Christmas Eve] that I could resolve the text display issues by installing the correct Japanese fonts. I detailed the steps in my subsequent review of Collage.)
I had an issue with how the text in io [Christmas Eve] was displaying. Letters which dip (e.g., y, g, j, q, etc.) were cut off at the bottom. I encountered a similar issue in the previous KiriKiri visual novel that I reviewed, Until We Meet Again. In that case, I was able to resolve the issue (I explained the process in my review). The solution I used in Until We Meet Again did not work here because io [Christmas Eve] did not have the same font selection option. In the end, I did not find a solution – but I decided to play through io [Christmas Eve] anyway because it did not impair my ability to read the text. Moreover, the text alignment issue did not affect log mode (scrolling through history), so I could easily check if any words were ambiguous.
You will see examples of the text display issue I had in screenshots throughout the article. However, note that I did resolve the issue after reviewing io [Christmas Eve] per my update note above.
While the text issue described above did not affect log mode, I did notice that in some cases, scrolling up through the text history would result in garbled text. However, this issue disappeared by leaving and returning to log mode.
io [Christmas Eve] failed to launch about one out of every four times I attempted to start it. However, it never failed two consecutive times and I did not experience any crashes during game-play.
General overview of io [Christmas Eve]
Having spent a great deal of time explaining how to run io [Christmas Eve], I now introduce the visual novel itself. As per my tradition, I turn first to the al|together 2005 festival introduction:
One man. One woman. One little girl. And in their midst, a lot of the second movement of Beethoven’s 8th piano sonata. The narrative voice in this story can and will change abruptly in between characters,but this is thought to be an intentional jarring device.
The description is vague, but not inaccurate. I will keep this review free of spoilers that would ruin the experience for first-time readers, but I can provide a bit more detail as to what the game is about.
Our story begins on December 20 of an unspecified year (the setting appears to be contemporary – familiar to people who would have been reading the story in the first instance in 2005). Itsuki and Momiji – two students (note: although it is unspecified, Itsuki and Momiji behave like college students) – are talking about the cold weather on a school roof when it begins to snow.
This inspires them to cut class and play in the snow, thinking of snow-related activities including snowball fights, building snowmen, and building a kamakura (snow hut). Mixed into the stories are interludes typing about the events of io [Christmas Eve].
We see Itsuki and Momiji carry out their snow plans while skipping class for a few days. While playing, they meet a young girl named Kohime Havama and invite her to join in their snow-related fun. She joins in earnest but always leaves in the late afternoon/early evening. Their fun continues through Christmas Eve, but regular visual novel readers may pick up on something melancholy below the surface – especially with the occasional interludes from the future.
Section re-written on November 23, 2023: Although I figured out how to resolve the text-display issue after I published this review, I opted to not play through the novel again to collect new screenshots. Thus, when you see the screenshots, note that the issues with how certain letters display can be easily fixed. In any event, the font issues I had did not impair my ability to read the novel’s script.
I spent a decent amount of time fiddling with the game’s settings and taking screenshots, but io [Christmas Eve] is a decently long visual novel by al|together standards (albeit, short by visual novel standards). There is a single estimate of 21 minutes on Visual Novel Database, but I can confirm that is way off base. I will venture that it should take most readers somewhere in the neighborhood of one hour to read.
io [Christmas Eve] is a kinetic visual novel – meaning it has no choices or player interaction beyond advancing the text. Despite there being no choices, there is a “back to the previous choice” option under “System” on the game’s top-bar menu, but it cannot be selected.
It always notes the specific day in the past on which an event is transpiring, and io [Christmas Eve] also contains a final act and a very brief postscript.
io [Christmas Eve] has several recognizable hallmarks of a visual novel written in KiriKiri. For example, I instantly recognized the in-game menu as being KiriKiri, a style that persists even in modern commercial games written in KiriKiri.
However, apart from the menu, some UI elements, and the default fonts, io [Christmas Eve] looks quite a bit like games written in NScripter, which was the most common scripting language for the Japanese visual novels that were translated for al|together. Text runs from the top of the screen to the bottom, overlaying the backgrounds and character portraits.
The backgrounds are a mix of drawn backgrounds and modified photographs. See some examples below:
The backgrounds are adequate, but a bit limited – especially for the scenes where the characters are playing in the snow or killing time in their snow hut.
The story is told mostly, but not exclusively, from Itsuki’s perspective. The only two characters who receive portraits are Itsuki’s friend, Momiji, and the young girl who joins them, Kohime Havama.
Momiji’s design is lacking in several respects. Although she has by far the most screen-time, her design lacks emotional range. She almost always stands cross-armed with her head slightly tilted and a faint smile.
That her expression seldom changes in any meaningful way to match her dialogue contributes to the difficulty in determining whether she or Itsuki is speaking in certain exchanges.
Momiji’s character portrait is a bit androgynous (one could mistake it for that of a slightly feminine boy), but this is not reflected in her dialogue – which is distinctly feminine (contrast with the heroine of Night of the Forget-Me-Nots). Her portrait does not quite match the CG art (more on that below). She is depicted as wearing a sailor uniform – and while you can see the collar under her coat, some of the flourishes are missing.
Kohime’s design is of similar quality to Momiji’s, but she benefits from being a more expressive. Kohime’s portrait looks more like her appearance in the CG scenes than does Momiji’s.
Finally, io [Christmas Eve] has a couple of CG scenes which I re-print below, including one that depicts Itsuki as well.
The CG scenes are not high quality by al|together standards, but they give us a better idea of how the author envisioned the characters than do the portraits of Momiji and Kohime. The visual novel would have benefited from having a few more CG scenes to highlight milestones in the snowy construction adventures.
There are a couple of effects – for example one instance wherein the picture shakes to depict high wind. These are not used often, but represent welcome changes of pace when they do appear.
While io [Christmas Eve]’s visuals provide little to comment on, its music is unique among the al|together projects. The soundtrack is dominated by the second movement of Beethoven’s 8th piano sonata, which plays during the scenes where Itsuki and Momiji (often with Kohime) are playing in the snow. The piece is long enough to loop and be used to match specific scenes without feeling repetitive, and there are occasional breaks in the music (the future interludes) which also work well. I dare say that the use of Beethoven is the most memorable aspect of io [Christmas Eve], and one thing that sets it apart from the crowd. Later in the game, there are a few non-classical music pieces which work well enough in context but are not notable.
I preface all of my translation assessments by making clear that I do not speak Japanese. For this reason, even though I do have the Japanese version of io [Christmas Eve], I would not be able to read it such that I could compare the original text to Zalas’s translation.
Like all of the al|together translations I have read thus far, io [Christmas Eve] reads well and reads better than a good number of commercial visual novels. I did not take note of any examples of particularly awkward dialogue or cases where the meaning of what was being said was unclear. To the extent there was some confusion, I will venture that it was more a product of the original script than the translation. One interesting point is that Zalas kept a few Japanese terms that some other translators might have translated more aggressively. For example, he could have translated Kamakura, here referring to snow huts, as snow huts, but he kept it as it was (the meaning is clear to attentive readers). There are a couple of similar cases – I have no complaints.
In some ways, io [Christmas Eve] is a simple, straight-forward story of two young adults and one kid playing in the snow. In other ways, it is an experimental piece with narrative whiplash (the future interludes) and a conclusion which was in part foreshadowed but in part came out of left field.
Astute readers will likely pick up that neither Itsuki nor Momiji is the true star of io [Christmas Eve]. However, the two friends drive events forward and have the vast majority of the dialogue, so their characterization is significant. Both characters were likable. It is clear that Itsuki and Momiji are close friends with similar interests, but we see little things in the dialogue that distinguish them from one another. However, even while granting that their roles in the overarching story of io [Christmas Eve] were somewhat limited (despite the screen-time), I would have liked to know a bit more about them generally. What exactly were their school circumstances? How long had they been friends? Did they live with their families? We are not given much context about characters we spend a good amount of time with. Moreover, while I noted that they do have traits which distinguish them, Momiji’s character was under-developed – perhaps not aided by her portrait’s lack of expressiveness.
Although Kohime has less screen-time than Itsuki and Momiji for most of io [Christmas Eve], we ultimately learn more about her than we do about the older duo and have a more clear and distinct idea of her character. While parts of her overall situation are heavily foreshadowed from her first appearance onward, her actions throughout the game are ultimately placed into context by the end of it.
(I will note for the record that Kohime comes with certain flags that should be hard to miss for people with a passing familiarity with popular trends in visual novel writing.)
One general issue I had with the writing of io [Christmas Eve] was that it was sometimes difficult to determine who was speaking, especially when Itsuki, Momiji, and Kohime were present. This issue I attributed more to the original script than the translation – although that is just my hunch. The al|together translators have noted that the active speaker is, in some novels, more obvious in the original Japanese than in English translations.
Without saying so much as to spoil the story for potential first-time readers, io [Christmas Eve] is a game with three parts. There are scenes wherein Momiji, Itsuki, and Kohime play in the snow, future interludes with someone typing recollections, and a final part which ties things together. The descriptions of the three characters playing in the snow were well-done, and it was amusing to see Itsuki and Momiji alternate between losing themselves in the excitement and being lulled into missing more than just one day of school by their laziness. Their genuine openness to embracing Kohime and showing her a good time was also expressed well through the dialogue. While the al|together 2005 introduction suggested that the future interludes and certain narrative shifts were jarring, I thought they worked well to foreshadow what transpire in the game’s final section (most readers will pick up on some of what is being anticipated).
I came away feeling nonplussed about the final part of io [Christmas Eve], which served as its conclusion and thematic punch. While I am especially limited in what I can say to avoid giving away too much, I do note that the team (or individual) behind io [Christmas Eve] liked one of the recurring themes we often see in many of the al|together-translated visual novels. Those who carefully follow the story will see the main part of the conclusion coming, but I will give the game credit for trying to do something interesting with another part. However, while I do give points for creativity, io [Christmas Eve] did not do quite enough in the build-up to make the surprise in its conclusion feel like it truly followed from the first 85-90% of the story. Perhaps some will disagree and think that the future interludes sold it more than I think they did, but the effect to me was incongruent.
What is io [Christmas Eve]’s relationship to io?
io [Christmas Eve] contains a short postscript which is unlocked after finishing the main story. See the following screenshot:
Esuhara, the creator, writes:
With this, the curtains draw to a close for io’s alternate story, [Christmas Eve].
I just finished reviewing Plain Song Christmas Special, which the creator, Eno Yamamoto Ten, described as an alternate story for his first work, Plain Song. However, in that case, Christmas Special was a slapstick parody whereas Plain Song takes a serious note. (Aside: Plain Song Christmas Special makes for interesting reading alongside io [Christmas Eve], despite the fact that they are not related.) io [Christmas Eve] is a serious and self-contained piece, what could this mean?
Visual Novel Database lists two games created by Esuhara. One is io [Christmas Eve] and the other is io. What makes this odd, however, is that io [Christmas Eve] predates io by one year – the main (non-alternate) story was released on August 30, 2006, whereas [Christmas Eve] was originally released on August 29, 2005. This was alluded to in the postscript:
io, like its predecessor alternate story, is available on Freem! However, unlike io [Christmas Eve], it was not translated into English. A site called VNDB Review offered the following synopsis of io: https://vndbreview.blogspot.com/2020/03/vn-of-month-august-2006-eve-new.html
Main character is a normal school student who suddenly reunites with his sister. He spends time with his sibling and classmates happily not knowing that the world is about to end. Young people have to go through the biggest crisis in their lives.
Although I have not read, much less installed, io, I have a hunch as to how io [Christmas Eve] might be an alternate side-story – this hunch relates to the way the conclusion of [Christmas Eve] was portrayed and what I think may be behind the end of the world in io. However, there appears to be very little written about io (I note that Freem! has only a single review from 2008), so all I can do is speculate. If I set up a good solution for live-translating visual novels, I may take a look at io down the line and see if I can plausibly get through it.
In any event, io [Christmas Eve] stands alone as a completed work – just as it was released as one in the first instance.
(Note: I slightly modified the conclusion section on November 22, 2023, to account for some changes deeper into my al|together project.)
Being simple in some ways and unusual in others makes io [Christmas Eve] a bit difficult to evaluate for me. Its strength is in reporting the joyful fun of the three protagonists playing in the snow. Its conclusion, while largely foreshadowed, did not quite work for me, and its decision to not provide us with enough to formulate a strong feel for the two characters who have the most screen time holds it back. Its visuals are on the plain side, but I give io [Christmas Eve] high marks for how it effectively and credibly used a single Beethoven piece as its main soundtrack.
I enjoyed io‘s first half for the most part, notwithstanding its visual shortcomings and some blemishes in writing the two main speaking characters. Over the course of my reading, I found that the story meandered and, as I noted above, the conclusion was odd albeit not without foreshadowing.
I can see readers coming away from io with different impressions. While it has issues, there are some points to recommend it. Its use of classical music is unique among the al|together pieces and fairly well done. For those who have no interest in visual novels generally, it is largely free of anime and manga-specific tropes that would be unfamiliar to the uninitiated and, until the very end, it tells a down-to-Earth story.
However, in offering a highly qualified recommendation, I cannot discount the number of steps it takes to install and actually run io [Christmas Eve]. While I did not ultimately have difficulty with it, that is only because I had already learned how to complete all of the steps over the last year. There are, to be sure, many easier al|together visual novels to get up and running.