In 2005, a group called Insani, which translated both commercial and doujin (think indie) visual novel video games from Japanese to English, founded and coordinated the first al|together translation festival. At al|together, the team at Insani along with other talented translators translated many interesting doujin visual novels from Japanese to English with the consent and approval of the original creators. The festival was such a success that it was also held in 2006 and 2008, with many more visual novels that would have otherwise been little-read outside of Japan becoming available to English-speaking readers.

Here at The New Leaf Journal, I plan to review most of the visual novels that were translated for the three al|together festivals. With the exception of Narcissu, most of the visual novels are relatively little-known here in the United States. All of the visual novels that I have looked at thus far are well-translated. A few are outstanding stories in their own right.

Screenshot from True Remembrance, a classic doujin visual novel translated into English by Insani in 2008
Screenshot from True Remembrance – arguably the crown jewel of the collection

In this post, I will go into more detail about the history of Insani and the al|together festivals, offer some context on Japanese visual novel translations over time, and list each of the impressive translations that came out of the festivals.

As I write articles about individual visual novels that were contributed to al|together, I will add links to this post pointing you to the new content. You can see the running series of reviews in our series category. I have also included a convenient list of completed reviews in this article.

What is a Visual Novel?

I will start with the basics for those of you who may not be familiar with visual novels. If you are already familiar with visual novels, you may gloss over this section.

A visual novel is a type of video game. Most visual novels feature still images of characters on backgrounds with dialogue. Consistent with the name of the genre, visual novels are something like books in game form.

Visual novels come in many forms and flavors.

Interactive vs Kinetic Visual Novels

Many visual novels involve player input beyond reading the story. The player may be called upon to make choices, complete mini games, click on-screen elements, use items, answer or not answer a phone, or gauge how much he or she trusts one character or another. Those are just some examples that I have come across over the years.

Other visual novels are kinetic. This is used to classify visual novels that invite no interaction from the player other than reading. Kinetic visual novels take the “novel” half of “visual novel” most seriously.

Among the al|together visual novels, we will encounter examples of both interactive and kinetic visual novels.

A Note on Sound Novels

Some visual novels are called sound novels. To be sure, I have never been entirely sure what constitutes a sound novel and how it is distinguishable from other visual novels. According to the video game site Giant Bomb, sound novels place a focus on reading over problem-solving and have a minimal visual presentation. That certainly describes the first visual novel I saw described as such, the Higurashi series – referenced once before here at The New Leaf Journal. With that being said, the Giant Bomb article notes that the sound novel category is not well-defined outside of Japan. A few of the al|together visual novels are described as sound novels by the translators, and I will note all such examples. However, for our practical purposes, I am more than comfortable placing the sound novels within the ambient of the broader visual novel category.

Branching Path Visual Novels vs Linear Visual Novels

Some visual novels have multiple paths, much like a “choose-your-own-adventure” story, while others have a linear, definite story. It goes without saying that kinetic visual novels are linear. Interactive visual novels may fall into both categories.

Many interactive visual novels have what are effectively linear stories. For example, the popular Danganronpa series (at least the first two entries) invites plenty of player interaction and puzzle solving, but they are ultimately much closer to being linear stories than branching path stories.

Others fall somewhere in between. For example, I reviewed Bad End here at The New Leaf Journal for Halloween 2020. Bad End technically has a large number of “endings” – but nearly all of these endings involve early deaths. The objective of the game is to avoid all those bad endings en route to the game’s true ending. Another visual novel that I reviewed, LoveChoice, presents multiple endings for each story, with one being clearly better than the alternatives.

Some more ambitious branching path games allow the player to see dramatically different stories based on his or her choices. Clannad, well-known and available on Steam, is a good example of a branching path visual novel wherein the player’s choices cause great variance in how a given play-through will transpire.

Many visual novels with more than one path include a “true ending.” That is, by completing certain conditions, a player may unlock the game’s true ending (usually the best of the endings).

The Meaning of “Doujin”

The term “doujin” is Japanese and refers to “a group of people who share an interest, activity, or hobby.” In the visual novel context, it generally refers to a visual novel created by an individual hobbyist or a small circle. For our purposes, you can think of a doujin visual novel as something similar to an indie video game in the United States. The idea is far from unfamiliar here, many American visual novels are effectively “doujin” projects.

Doujin visual novels are distinguishable from visual novels created by professional game studios, although some individuals who develop and write doujin visual novels may be professional in one respect or another.

All of the al|together visual novel translations were of free doujin visual novels from Japan. Furthermore, all of the translations were done with the consent, and in some cases cooperation,of the original creators.

Insani and the History of the al|together Festivals

Insani translated its last visual novels as a group in the autumn of 2008, closing the final al|together festival. Most of Insani’s website is still live, as are the websites for the three al|together festivals. With that, all of their translations are still available to download, although downloading some of the files can be an arduous process. Before examining the games that they translated and the significance of those translations, let us take a brief look at the history of Insani and the al|together festivals.

About Insani

Insani described itself as “a small unit focused on translating both commercial and doujin visual novels.” Insani translated both commercial and doujin visual novels. Its website includes several translations of commercial visual novel trials mixed in with complete doujin trials.

The Insani team organized the inaugural al|together festival in 2005, and it was the largest contributor of visual novel translations to the 2006 and 2008 festivals. In addition to translating visual novels, the team at Insani focused on mentoring less experienced translators in order “to give rise to a generation of ethical visual novel translators.”

Insani discussed its translation philosophy on its FAQ page. Insani stated that it did not focus on delivering “literal” translations. Instead, it sought to hew closely to the original spirit and structure of the Japanese while making it read naturally in English.

Below, you will find the Insani team-members as of 2008, listed on the Insani website:

  • Seung Park (co-founder)
  • Edward Keyes (co-founder)
  • Lee Massi
  • Irene Ying
  • Chris St. Louis
  • Erik Sjoberg
  • Nanatuha

About al|together

The al|together festivals were doujin translation festivals organized by members of the English-visual novel translation community. Although the About Page specifies “eroge translation community” – “eroge” refers to visual novels with sex scenes – the vast majority of al|together visual novels are not eroge. The About Page for the inaugural festival stated that the idea was prompted by Insani’s successful translation of Narcissu – which is today the only visual novel from the project that is available on Steam.

2006 produced the most translations of the three festivals. Insani itself was responsible for all of the contributions to the last al|together festival in 2008.

In going through the visual novel translations below, I will sort the contributions by al|together festival.

al|together Festival Home Pages:

Why Am I Doing This Project?

Screenshot from Flood of Tears, a 2001 Japanese doujin visual novel that was translated into English by Insani in 2006
The protagonist of Flood of Tears (see al|together 2006) asks Hina, the girl on screen, a question – what is it with whyever in the localizations?

These days, popular commercial visual novels from Japan are officially translated with regularity into English. Just a decade ago, Steam and other mainstream video game distributors and platforms had very few Japanese visual novels. Now there is no shortage.

The al|together festivals came at a time when officially translated Japanese visual novels in English were still relatively rare. Insani and the other translators who were involved were in the vanguard of Japanese-to-English visual novel translations.

Rediscovering an Important Project

With the exception of Narcissu, most of the al|together visual novels are little known in the United States today. This is unfortunate on two levels. For one, all of the visual novels submitted to al|together read very well in English – better than many contemporary commercial efforts. Secondly, while the visual novels themselves are of varying quality, much like visual novels released subsequently, a few of them are genuinely excellent and well-worth reading. Of the few that I have already played, I must single out the truly unique Crimsoness and the wonderful True Remembrance as visual novels that all visual novel fans, and many non-visual novel fans, should try. Thirdly, all of these visual novels were ethically translated with the full consent of their original creators, and they are sitting online for free waiting to be downloaded and read/played.

Through this project, I hope to introduce readers to a unique project from quite a few years ago and highlight some terrific visual novels that more people should read and enjoy.

If anyone involved with Insani or al|together sees this article, I hope that there is some way to make many of the games easier for people to find and download. What do I mean? I explain in the my upcoming section on downloading the stories..

Clearing My Own Backlog

Furthermore, I have been meaning to play many of these for years. Let this project be my excuse to stop procrastinating.

A Note on My Reviews

At the moment, I plan to review most of the visual novels listed here. I may opt not to review some that I listed for one reason or another. Furthermore, I have not tested all of the visual novels to ensure that I can run them without any issue through Wine (a Windows compatibility layer for Linux), so some attempts at reviews could be held up due to technical issues. One example is the three visual novels from al|together 2006 that require a Japanese-language environment to run, despite being fully translated into English.

Downloading the Visual Novels

(I re-wrote this section on November 16, 2022)

The al|together visual novels all remain available to download from their respective festival sites. In the case of al|together 2006 (note there are two exceptions) and a couple of the al|together 2008 visual novels, the games are available as direct downloads. However, the rest of the visual novels are only available as torrent downloads.

There is good reason for al|together to have favored torrents. Distributing games in this way reduced the load on their servers and was conducive to preserving the downloads well into the future. However, anyone with passing familiarity with torrents should be aware that in cases where few people download and seed a torrent, the torrent can be difficult to obtain.

The al|together torrents are a mixed bag. Some of the more popular visual novels such as Narcissu (2005) or Insani’s non-al|together project, True Rememberance (2008) are easy to obtain via torrent. Other games, such as Red Shift (2006) are quite difficult to obtain via torrent. From my experience, none of the torrents are dead, but downloading the less popular ones requires patience.

Moreover, two of the visual novels, io Christmas Eve (2005) and Midsummer Haze (2006) are technically impossible to run if one just looks at the al|together site because the translations are patches for the original Japanese visual novels, which are no longer readily available.

I have obtained all of the al|together visual novels. In each of my reviews, I describe the current download situation in some detail — so I recommend reading my reviews for specific information about games that you are interested in. Here, I will offer some general notes about how to obtain these visual novels.

Firstly, if you are willing and able, I recommend trying to obtain the visual novels via torrent and seeding the torrents that you acquire. I am working on this myself. The reason for this is because most people who discover these games will be directed to the official sites. Reviving (as a matter of speech) the more temperamental torrents will increase access to these games until better solutions are available.

Secondly, many of the visual novels are available for direct download from Kaisernet, an authoritative website on NScripter and ONScripter, the languages that most of the al|together visual novels are written in. This includes a number of visual novels that are only available through finicky torrents. Do note that Kaisernet only offers Windows downloads, but see the next subsection for an explanation of how you can run these natively on Linux, MacOS, and BSD. See the full list of downloads here.

Finally, a group of visual novel enthusiasts have collected all of the Insani and al|together downloads on Mega (see link). I contributed to finding the original Japanese Manatsu no Kogeru, which is required to use the Midsummer Haze translation. At the moment, the MEGA collection is the only way I know of to obtain the Japanese versions of Midsummer Haze and io Christmas Eve. I recommend it for that purposes while recommending that you should check the official al|together sites and Kaisernet first to see if you can obtain the other visual novels that way.

Visual Novel Database, the internet’s leading resource on visual novels, includes pages for every one of the al|together games (as well as nearly 40,000 other visual novels from around the world). It includes download links for each game. In most cases, the download links point to the official portals, but in some cases, Visual Novel Database includes other download options or links to play a couple of the games online. You will find the VNDB link for each game in my reviews.

Finally, while looking for Manatsu no Kagerou, I found a torrent download which includes all of the al|together 2006 games. It is not necessary beyond Manatsu no Kagerou because most of the al|together 2006 entries are still available as direct downloads and the ones that are not available as direct downloads are available as such on Kaisernet, but for those who are able, it may be worth seeding the torrent to increase the availability of Manatsu no Kagerou.

Running the Visual Novels

(Added on November 16, 2022.)

All of the al|together visual novels are available for Windows. Most also have Linux and MacOS versions. I will note that from my initial tests, the Windows .exe games all work on Linux under WINE without any noticeable issues. However, I will share a few resources for Linux-users, some of which should also be applicable to those of you who run MacOS or BSD.

ONScripter Games

Most, but not all, of the al|together visual novels are written in ONScripter-EN. This is a visual novel scripting language. I wrote two guides on running the native Linux versions of these games (see installing ONScripter-EN system-wide and running it in directories). One interesting point with the ONScripter-EN games is that even if a Windows .exe is the only download available, Linux, MacOS, and BSD users can run the game natively by extracting the contents of the .exe file into a new folder/directory and executing ONScripter-EN in the directory. I wrote a guide to handling .exe ONScripter games on Linux (the guide should apply to Mac and BSD, but note that I have only tested it on Linux).

Kaisernet has a very useful ONScripter-EN guide. The Readme files of many of the visual novels include information about how to run them, although note that the guides may be out-dated in some areas.

MIDI Issues

A few of the visual novels use MIDI files for their sound-tracks. For these games, you will need to have your system properly configured for sound. I wrote about this issue in the Linux context.

Japanese Environment

Many older English translations of Japanese visual novels required a Japanese language environment to work. Fortunately, this issue only affected three of the al|together visual novels, all from the 2006 festival. These three visual novels were written in KiriKiri, a free and open source visual novel scripting engine which is still in use. Moreover, unlike the ONScripter games, these three visual novels are only available for Windows. I wrote a guide for Linux users on how to run them properly in three different graphical front-ends for WINE. I am not sure what the process would be (if it is possible) on MacOS or BSD. Windows users should seek Windows-specific assistance regarding setting language environments for specific applications.

Special Cases

As I noted above, Midsummer Haze and io Christmas Eve both require the original Japanese games to work. This is because the translations are language patches. At the moment, the originals are not available on the al|together site. I plan to write a guide on how to set both up in the near future.

Listing the al|together Contributions

(Note: I made some updates to the individual game sections on November 16, 2022.)

In the following sections, I will list all of the visual novels contributed to al|together, sorted by festival year. For each visual novel, I will note the original creator, the translator, and some brief facts about the game, as well as any personal notes or experiences downloading the games, as applicable.

Over time, I will review many of the visual novels here at The New Leaf Journal. Whenever I review a game on the list below, I will add a link to the corresponding article. In that way, this article will become something of an index to my content about the al|together visual novels in addition to a directory in and of itself.

Visual Novels Contributed to al|together 2005

The inaugural al|together festival, titled “Synaethesia Everywhere,” included nine visual novel translations. One of the translations included files for a Japanese version of the game. The other eight are the full games. Below, I will list each of the games. The full list as well as links to the download files are still available on the al|together 2005 website. The coordinator for the first al|together festival was Seung Park.

Screenshot from I, Too, Saw Dreams in Air, a doujin visual novel translated by Insani for the 2005 al|together visual novel translation festival
This striking gentleman is from I, Too, Saw Dreams in Air

Narcissu

Narcissu is without a doubt the most well-known of all the al|together visual novels in the United States. It was a success at the time as well, launching the first al|together festival.

Interestingly, there are two versions of Narcissu – each with a different translation.

I have been meaning to read Narcissu for years and have never quite gotten around to it. That is somewhat ironic in light of the fact that I decided to embark on this grand project. Well, let the project be my prompt to stop procrastinating.

Narcissu is a kinetic visual novel, and a dark one. Mr. Kataoka described it succinctly:

The modern day. Dark. A protagonist and a heroine. Both of whom die.

Narcissu is downloadable via torrent file. I obtained the exe file for Windows almost as soon as I started looking for the torrent.

Subsequent Narcissu Events

Narcissu has had a history beyond al|together. Two follow-up entries were released in 2005 and 2007. The first and second entries were licensed in the United States by Sekai Project, and are available on Steam. Sekai Project is also selling additional add-on content and is planning to remaster the first three entries in the series as well as a fourth entry in the United States.

In Japan, Narcissu was released for the Nintendo DS and PlayStation Portable.

Until We Meet Again

Until We Meet Again is a very short kinetic visual novel. Its festival description notes that the backgrounds consist entirely of black and white photographs, against which the hand-drawn characters stand. All of the music and sound effects was drawn from free repositories.

Mr. Park began work on the translation at noon on September 5, 2005, and completed the translation 15 hours later.

A Winter’s Tale

The festival page for A Winter’s Tale describes it as having “traditional ren’ai plot elements” – referring to “dating sim” visual novels. With that being said, however, A Winter’s Tale is a short visual novel with a single heroine, rather than with multiple. According to Visual Novel Database, the story does have brief branching paths, making it the first of the al|together 2005 entries to invite player input.

The festival description describes it as one of the “anchor” pieces of al|together 2005 and the first of the translations to be completed within the festival’s actual duration. In the assessment of the translators, the art and music were well done. “The characters are charmingly written enough, and the plot is pleasant if predictable.”

I managed to obtain the install file through my torrent client without too much difficulty.

A Midsummer’s Day’s Resonance

Mr. Park describes A Midsummer’s Day Resonance as “the most atypical piece” he had translated at that time. How so?

I mean, any story that can mix broken cellphones, parallel (or was that barrel?) universes, a female protagonist (yes, they exist! really!) and a delicate tale of coming-of-age has got to be worth something, right?

Mr. Park praised the original creator for her characterization and art work. Regarding the translation, he noted that the game posed an interesting challenge in that it was written in a very feminine voice, distinguishing it from most visual novels produced at the time.

Unsurprisingly, it comes with a “highly recommended” rating from Mr. Park.

A Midsummer Day’s Resonance is a kinetic visual novel that simply tells a story.

I have yet to play A Midsummer’s Day Resonance, but in light of the fact that my favorite anime film director is Makoto Shinkai and my favorite film is 5 Centimeters Per Second, Mr. Park’s description sounds interesting..

I do not recall having any great difficulty obtaining the install file for Windows.

The Poor Little Bird

The Poor Little Bird review published on May 5, 2021.

Described as the shortest of the al|together 2005 festival entries, The Poor Little Bird apparently tells the story of “a boy, his bird, and golden fruits.” Its page at Insani provides the following synopsis: “A little songbird goes on a journey in search of his friend who abandoned him…”

Its festival page praises its background images, noting that they look as if they come out of a picture book.

I recall that it took me some time to obtain the Windows installer for The Poor Little Bird.

Plain Song

The festival description for Plain Song describes it as “a piece about a lonely (and apparently unpopular) young musician and the quiet girl who listens to him every day.” The description praises the game for its minimal presentation, pleasant characters, and good soundtrack. This is the second of three Eno visual novels from al|together 2005, and the translators suggest that it may be the best of the three.

Plain Song is the oldest games translated for al|together.

I did not have any exceptional difficulty obtaining the Windows install file.

Plain Song Christmas Special

The festival page for Plain Song Christmas Festival notes that Eno was known for empathetic, subdued pieces. What then was this game? I quote from its festival page:

Imagine that one fateful winter vacation, this hitherto docile author snapped, and that from his furor was born a piece that is 90% self-parody, 100% slapstick, and 110% quick to play through.

That is nothing if not a description.

Io[ChristmasEve]

The festival does not include a full file for Io[ChristmasEve], but rather a patch for the original game. That means that in order to enjoy the translation, one had to download the original game in Japanese separately and then install the patch. The Japanese game is no longer available from its original website, but it is available as part of the al|togeteher games in the MEGA collection.

The festival description explains that the game is told from the perspective of one man, one woman, and one girl, and uses Beethoven’s 8th piano sonata as a backdrop. It is another kinetic visual novel.

I, Too, Saw Dreams Through Air

I, Too, Saw Dreams Through Air consists of not one, but two short visual novels: The Caged Vagrant and Plumerai. While these stories are completely independent of one another, the festival page notes that they focus on the same theme. It praises the game for its dreamlike dialogue and art.

For those of you who download it, please note that installing the game creates a folder that contains within it files for running Plumerai and The Caged Vagrant. It was not the most readily available torrent for download, but with some time it is still there and accessible without too much difficulty. Although I missed the sixteenth anniversary of its release, I may make this story one of my earlier reviews for the project.

Unofficial: Kira -Snowdrop-

Kira -Snowdrop- was originally part of al|together 2005. It was taken down after Insani failed to get permission from the creator for the translation. The download remains available and is included on the visual novel’s VNDB page. VNDB indicates that it has an 18+ rating for sexual content, which would make it unusual if it was an official part of al|together (LEAVEs, described further down as part of the 2008 set, is the only official al|together game with this designation).

Visual Novels Contributed to al|together 2006

The middle al|together festival, “lumine claro,” was the largest of the three – featuring sixteen visual novel contributions. Perhaps of significance to today’s readers, fourteen out of the sixteen visual novels are still available as direct downloads – making them significantly more user-friendly than the torrent downloads for the 2005 stories. The two which are not available for direct download are available as such from Kaisernet. You can find the full list of the translations on the festival page.

I will note that while the download situation for the al|together 2006 festival is significantly better than the situation for the 2005 festival, the descriptions of the games are far shorter.

Screenshot from Adagio, a Japanese doujin visual novel translated into English by Insani for the 2006 al}together translation festival
Screenshot from Adagio

A Dream of Summer

A Dream of Summer is a multi-path visual novel that takes about 3-4 hours to complete. Unlike most of the simpler entries submitted to the 2005 festival, it apparently includes mini games. How fancy!

The story is set in the third and final year of high school for the protagonist and features a boy who keeps his distance from close friends and a girl who is a loner in general.

A Dream of Summer is available for direct download and as a torrent file for Windows, Mac, and Linux. Most interesting, however, is that the game is available to play in web browsers at Freem (see link in the list above). Although Freem’s website is in Japanese, the browser game allows users to toggle between the Japanese and English versions at the start.

Adagio

Adagio review published on June 9, 2022.

Adagio is described as a very short kinetic visual novel. We are told little more in the description than that a composer passes by an auditorium, and he sees a dancing performance in the audiorium that changes his life.

In an additional note, the festival page for Adagio expressly describes the story as “a short sound novel.” The very minimal visual presentation is in line with what I would expect from a “sound novel.”

Adiago is available as a direct download and as a torrent file for Windows, Mac, and Linux.

At Summer’s End

The festival page for At Summer’s End describes it as follows:

A summer’s end, we move into new classes; the season changes into autumn; the leaves change color; but what of our friendships and our loves?

The description had me at the changing of the season from summer to autumn.

Visual Novel Database notes that At Summer’s End has brief branches but an ultimately linear plot. It, like Milk Cat’s A Dream of Summer (above), is set in high school.

I cannot help but note two things in the description. For one, the protagonist has quite the hair color. For two, while many of the other games with a seasonal-theme were originally released during the correct season, At Summer’s End was released in December. I notice these things.

I do plan to review At Summer’s End, but you will never know when to expect it.

Collage

Collage, unlike most of the visual novels thus far, features an adult protagonist. It has brief branches but in the context of an ultimately linear plot.

The festival page for Collage describes it as three people who are thrown together talking about events from their own perspective. The translator wrote a bit of a poem about the project:

Authors love stories – that’s why they write them. Translators love stories – that’s why they translate them. We love stories – that’s why we’re sharing them. If you love stories too, here’s your chance to read them.

There is one note about reading this particular story. Collage is available as a torrent and direct download for Windows. However, it is the first of several 2006 submissions that requires a Japanese environment to run. I have confirmed that it works on Linux under WINE.

Insant Death! Panda Samurai!

Instant Death! Panda Samurai review published on May 27, 2022.

Some names for work of art are not meant to be taken literally. Others are. Panda Samurai is clearly meant to be taken literally. It is, in fact, about a panda samurai.

Panda Samurai is available as a direct and torrent download for Windows, Mac, and Linux.

Midsummer Haze

We are told that the protagonist, Kasumi, is a lazy schoolgirl who just wants to go shopping with her friends. Yet, for some reason, her friends are acting nervously around her. Mysterious. It would be more mysterious, perhaps, were the genre not described as “school romance.”

Midsummer Haze is apparently very short, but it nevertheless has unlockable routes and multiple endings.

It is available as a torrent and direct download for Windows, but it requires a Japanese environment to run. Moreover, the translation is a patch for the original Japanese game, which is only available via a non-al|together torrent pack or as part of the MEGA collection. To add to its complications, it uses MIDI for its sound-track. Despite all these issues, I have confirmed that it runs on Linux under WINE once all of the parts are in order.

My Black Cat

My Black Cat is a story told from the perspective of a talking kitty, Don-kichi. Don-kichi, apparently, makes a discovery about his owner, Aki, that threatens their life together. Ominous.

The screenshots available at al|together and Visual Novel Database evince a very interesting-looking visual style to accompany the talking-kitty content.

My Black Cat is available as a direct download and torrent for Windows, Mac, and Linux.

Night of the Forget-Me-Nots

Night of the Forget-Me-Nots review published on October 29, 2021.

Having written about the history of how the forget-me-not flower earned its name, I could not help but be intrigued by the title of this contribution to al|together 2006. The description, however, suggests a less-than-flowery story.

Night of the Forget-Me-Nots is a horror visual novel set in a school trip in the spring. It is longer than most of the contributions to the al|together festivals, it seems, and has many endings.

Night of the Forget-Me-Nots is available as a torrent and direct download for Windows, Mac, and Linux.

OMGWTFOTL

Victor V. Gurbo has explained that The New Leaf Journal is a family site. For that reason, one need only survey the Visual Novel Database page for OMGWTFOTL to understand why I will not review it in the hallowed leaves of your favorite perennially virid magazine.

OMGTOFTL is described as a “lunatic visual novel” game featuring extreme violence and innuendo, not appropriate for persons under the age of 18 or those with delicate sensibilities. Nevertheless (and perhaps unsurprisingly), it does appear to have been one of the more-played entries in the al|together festivals.

I will likely pass on writing a full review of OMGWTFOTL, but I will work through it in reading every visual novel in the al|together collection.

Shooting Star Hill

Shooting Star Hill review published on March 3, 2022. Follow-up analysis article published on the same day.

The description for Shooting Star Hill sounds not at all unfamiliar to anyone familiar with anime and manga. The game features a quiet, aloof, girl who happens to be a loner. This loner, however, captures the attention of a young man when he discovers that she is a fan of the same British science fiction films that he loves.

It is available as a direct and torrent download for Windows, Mac, and Linux. I will note that Shooting Star Hill is quite good. You can see why in my review and enjoy my analysis after reading the story.

Summer, Cicadas, and the Girl

Summer, Cicadas, and the Girl review published on June 19, 2022.

Summer, Cicadas, and the Girl is the third and final of the al|together submissions that require a Japanese environment to run. Like the first two, it is only available as a direct and torrent download for Windows. Did someone say cicadas?

Summer, Cicadas, and the Girl is a very short visual novel that apparently has multiple endings. We are told in the description that a boy arranges a date with a girl, but the girl fails to show up. The boy finds the circumstances peculiar, and he decides to investigate what happened. I very much enjoyed it and I also published a guide which you will find linked in my review.

I recommend viewing the festival page for the game for some interesting thoughts from Shii, the translator.

The world to reverse.

The festival description suggests that The world to reverse is one of the more unique contributions to the al|together festivals. It features two short stories, both of which sound quite dark and deal with psychological problems. The visual style, from the screenshots, is also quite unique.

The world to reverse comes with a 15+ age advisory.

It is available as a direct download and torrent for Windows, Mac, and Linux.

The translator, satsu, noted that he or she had no interest in visual novels generally, but came away quite impressed with the twisted World to reverse.

Visions from the Other Side

The thumbnail images for Visions from the Other Side feature Japanese priests and priestesses, crying, and just a bit of blood in one instance. The festival description errs on the vague side: “Here a dream, there a dream, and the shades of an other world that spreads beyond the gate of death.”

The character drawings look quite good. I am not too sure what to make of the limited descriptions. It is, unlike most of the 2006 crop, a kinetic visual novel dedicated exclusively to telling a story.

I will review it at some point as part of this project.

Wanderers in the Sky

The festival description for Wanderers in the Sky tells us that the game features a lost protagonist, forgetting what exactly it is that he is missing. The people in his life help him gradually remember. Lest one thinks that this is an inspiring story, however, Visual Novel Databse suggests some dark undercurrents. It does, apparently, have multiple endings.

Wanderers in the Sky is available as a direct download and torrent for Windows, Mac, and Linux. I will review it as part of my project.

Red Shift

Red Shift review published on November 16, 2022. Separate piece on hair color and albinism in Red Shift published on November 16, 2022.

Red Shift was one of two precursor submissions to al|together 2006. For that reason, it does not have its own distinct page on the festival site.

I played Red Shift many years ago, and although I remember it only in broad strokes, I do recall liking it well enough at the time. (Update: I still like it after playing it again for the review.) It is a relatively long visual novel by al|together standards, clocking in at about 3 hours of reading.

It is touted as starring the most selfish boy and selfish girl in the world, and it does have some unexpected twists toward the middle and end of the story.

Red Shift is available as a torrent download for Windows, Mac, and Linux. Although al|together 2006 lists direct download links, they no longer work. The Red Shift torrent was among the most difficult to obtain. Fortunately, it is available as a direct download from Kaisernet.

Flood of Tears

Flood of Tears is the second precursor submission to al|together 2006, explaining why it does not have a designated page on the festival site. Like Red Shift, the direct download links no longer work, so it is only available via torrent. It was neither the easiest nor most difficult file to obtain for Windows.

I had planned to review Flood of Tears over the winter, but I changed plans and decided to fold it into a larger project. I have already played through one complete route and a good part of another.

Insani’s introduction to Flood of Tears intrigued me by comparing it to Kanon, a popular visual novel in Japan that was never officially localized in English. The two anime adaptations of Kanon are licensed in English, and the 2006 version is one of my favorite anime series.

While Flood of Tears certainly is not Kanon, I can see the comparison and I enjoyed the dialogue and character dynamics in the first of the two paths I completed. I agree wholly with Insani that it has great heart, and that heart makes its flaws forgivable.

Flood of Tears is very much a seasonal piece, so you can look forward to my review next winter.

Also notable: Flood of Tears is the second oldest of the al|together games (and one of only three that were originally released in 2001), having been published three months after Plain Song.

Visual Novels Contributed to al|together 2008

After having no 2007 festival, the translators came together for one final al|together in 2008, titled “Cross the Rubicon.” The final al|together was coordinated by Seung Park.

All six of the 2008 entries were submitted by Insani. Most of the 2008 entries are available via direct download. The festival site includes more commentary about the translations than either the 2005 or 2006 sites, making it an interesting and valuable resource. I will reserve discussion of the ancillary resources for when I cover the games here on site.

Title screen for Crimsoness, an incomparable 2007 Japanese doujin visual novel that was translated into English by Insani for the 2008 al|together festival
The title screen for the indescribable Crimsoness

From the Bottom of the Heart

From the Bottom of the Heart review published on August 22, 2021. Follow-up analysis article published on August 24, 2021.

I played From the Bottom of the Heart many years ago. To call it a short visual novel is not at all an overstatement – it lasts only a few minutes. It features a young man who only just left the hospital after being treated for a serious illness. He meets a young woman, and so goes the short story. It is a very good, albeit very short, piece.

Crimsoness

Crimsoness lasts for three minutes. You, an enraged young lady in school, set out to destroy the world. But you only have three minutes. There is a running timer.

The entire game is drawn in red.

What can I say?

Crimsoness is a masterpiece. It defies all explanation. All one can do is applaud.

Despite the developer’s name being “Porn,” I can happily report that there is no porn at all. Only rage. In any event, Visual Novel Database reports that the developer’s name is “Pawn.” Perhaps a later change to alleviate confusion?

It goes without saying that I will absolutely review Crimsoness. I have been waiting to do so for nearly a decade. You can obtain it as a direct download for Windows.

The Letter

The Letter is a short, minimalist visual novel with brief branches and an ultimately linear plot. Its festival page describes it as a piece on “family” in a fragmented world – and states that it takes about an hour to read from beginning to end. Its visuals consist entirely of blurred stock photographs and free music, but Mr. Park had an overall favorable impression of the novel.

The Letter has been on my to-do list for many years, and I look forward to using this project as a prompt to finally read it and collect my impressions.

Moonshine

My impression from about 8-9 years ago was that Moonshine was one of the better known stories to come out of al|together among American players.

Moonshine is described as a story of two people who do not readily fit in Japanese society. Mai, an individual with some degree of gender dysphoria, and a protagonist, who loses his job and his means of supporting himself due to factors outside his control.

The story is described as having a linear plot and coming in at under two hours of reading. The production values seem impressive for a free visual novel project.

Moonshine remains available as a direct download for Windows and Mac.

May Sky

May Sky review published on May 31, 2022. Analysis piece to be published in the future.

May Sky continues with the theme of societal misfits started with Moonshine. The festival page for the game states that it features a beginning salary-man who is riddled with malaise and cares little about anyone around him, and a young shrine maiden who is a bit depressed underneath her bubbly facade.

May Sky is kinetic for all intents and purposes, featuring only a couple of meaningless choices. It is the longest of all of the al|together translations, taking somewhere between 4 and 5 hours to read. It is also among the best pieces translated for the festival.

LEAVEs

The festival page for LEAVEs describes it as one of Insani’s most difficult translation projects, going through three translation attempts over four years. Thematically, it continues with the theme of societal misfits from Moonshine and May Sky.

LEAVEs is an adult visual novel, featuring a few scenes which are not amenable to publication on a family website. I do not expect to review it, but I will include it in a concluding discussion of the al|together project. Those who are interested, however, can download LEAVEs directly for Windows and Mac, and the festival page for the story has plenty of content about what is a bit of an odd duck among the al|together entries.

Insani Translation of True Remembrance

One Insani doujin visual novel translation was not part of the al|together festivals. That translation, True Remembrance, is one of the finest visual novels that I have read, Insani or otherwise.

True Remembrance

True Remembrance is the only Insani translation that has its own website, so that is something. It is also the only free visual novel listed other than Narcissu to receive a console release – being made available for Nintendo 3DS in Japan in 2012.

The story exists against the backdrop of a mysterious depression pandemica, and its events take place within a city designed to isolate and ultimately cure sufferers. The protagonist, a high-level Mnemonicde who goes by Blackiris, is assigned to help a young woman named La.

I played True Remembrance years ago and still remember it fairly well in a broad sense. The story is humane and well-written, and the production values for True Remembrance are outstanding. It is an entirely kinetic visual novel, but it takes a few hours to read through.

I will review True Remembrance and author an analysis piece, but I consider it to be separate from al|together since Insani translated it outside of the context of the 2008 festival. True Remembrance is an outstanding visual novel in its own right.

The direct download link on the True Remembrance site does not work at the moment, but the torrent download is still available. I had no issues downloading the torrent. It has also been re-written in Ren’Py, but I have not tried that version yet.

The Insani Demo Translations

Visitors to Insani’s website may note that there are a number of translations listed other than the al|together submissions and True Remembrance. For the most part, I will not be reviewing the demo translations. There are a few that I will single out for additional mention.

Insani’s website has a trial translation and retail edition patch for Planetarian. Planetarian is a beautiful tear-jerker of a visual novel by Key, the team behind Kanon, Clannad, Little Busters, and more. I note it here because Planetarian is today available on Steam and for several consoles (I know that it is downloadable for Nintendo Switch). I highly recommend it, and I may discuss it here on site someday.

The one demo that I do plan to discuss in some detail on site someday is True Tears. True Tears, as I understand, is a relatively traditional (and non-adult) multi-path dating sim that never received a full English localization. My interest in True Tears is not the game itself, but rather its anime adaptation, which I understand did not really adapt the underlying source material at all so much as go in its own direction. Down the line, I will do a project on different ways of adapting source material from visual novels and video games into another medium, and I will include a discussion of True Tears in that piece.

Completed Reviews

Below, you will find a running list of links to all of my completed reviews and essays on the visual novels (listed in alphabetical order).

Final Thoughts

I hope you enjoyed my lengthy introduction to the al|together festivals and Insani. I look forward to actually discussing the individual visual novels here on site over the next few months. While I will update this post as I add entries to the series, the best way to stay on top of my project is my referring to the series archive.