True Remembrance is a freeware doujin Japanese visual novel created by Satomi Shiba and first released in 2003. It proved to be popular, and Mr. Shiba released a re-mastered version using the KiriKiri scripting engine on June 15, 2006. Mr. Shiba agreed to work with Insani, a Japanese visual novel circle that was prolific in the mid-2000s, to have Insani create an official English localization of True Remembrance. The English version, which was localized by Seung Park and Edward Keyes of Insani (Mr. Park did the full translation), was released on February 14, 2008. In this article, I will review the original Insani release of True Remembrance.

Opening title screen for True Remembrance. At the top-center we have the True Remembrance logo with the following text: "This is a story abouit little occurrences in a little town. When they met in 8th Street, a story had already begun." There are options to "START" and "LOAD" at the bottom center of the screen.
“This is a story abouit little occurrences in a little town. When they met in 8th Street, a story had already begun.”

True Remembrance is set in a world ravaged by The Dolor, a form of pandemic depression. Those with severe cases are treated in a hidden, walled city, by “Mnemonicides,” special individuals who can suppress and/or remove memories. The two main characters are Blackiris, a young man who is among the highest rank of normal Mnemonicides (class Alpha) and his new “guest” or patient, a young woman named La. Over the course of the story they get to know each other and meet other people in the walled city. As one may suspect, True Remembrance takes a long time to fully show its hand.

Note that this review is strictly of the unmodified version of True Remembrance available on Insani’s website. A different translation circle called the July Society created a patch for the Insani version that adds additional content that was present in a later commercial True Remembrance release for Nintendo 3DS. I plan to look at the July Society patch separately.

True Remembrance Details

Visual Novel Database Entry.

2008 Insani Version:

TitleTrue Remembrance
LocalizersSeung Park (Tr) and Edward Keyes
Release DateFebruary 14, 2008
EngineKiriKiri 2 / KAG 3
Official WebsiteInsani

2006 Japanese Remake

CreatorSatomi Shiba
Release DateJune 15, 2006
Original Ver ReleaseMay 11, 2003
EngineKiriKiri 2 / KAG 3
Official WebsiteArchived

True Remembrance was first released in 2003. The original release used a scripting engine called Comic Maker, which I had not come across before reading about it here. Mr. Park noted in his post-game commentary that he had been interested in translating True Remembrance when he first read it in 2004 (note that was before Narcissu and al|together), but he decided not to for the time being in part because “Comic Maker … had some interesting quirks that made it an entirely unsuitable candidate for localization.” Mr. Park then explained that when he visited Satomi Shiba’s website again in 2007 – after the 2005 and 2006 al|together festivals, he discovered that Mr. Shiba had released a remastered version of True Remembrance using KiriKiri 2 / KAG 3 in lieu of Comic Maker. Several al|together translations were KiriKiri pieces, including Insani’s Until We Meet Again (al|together 2005). Mr. Park stated that it was due in part to the fact that Insani knew KiriKiri well and could work with it for localization projects that he was inspired to ask Mr. Shiba for permission to translate True Remembrance “on Valentine’s Day 2007, or thereabouts.” Fortunately, Mr. Shiba not only gave permission – but took an active interest in the localization project. But I will save further discussion of that point for my localization analysis section.

(Note: This was not the only Instance of Insani picking up a novel for translation after the developer released a remastered version using a framework amenable to translation. See, for example, my review of al|together 2008’s The Letter (also localized by Mr. Park), which was based on the second version of the novel written in NScripter, and my look at the original The Letter which was created using the less common Yuuki!Novel.)

True Remembrance later released a commercial release as a downloadable Nintendo 3DS game. Unfortunately, the 3DS version was released in Japan only. As I noted in the introduction, the July Society released a patch for the Insani version that adds additional content from the 3DS True Remembrance while otherwise using Insani’s original translation. I will evaluate the patch in a separate article, since, as July Society noted, “[t]his project is not affiliated with or endorsed by members of the insani team.”

Downloading and Installing True Remembrance

Insani’s True Remembrance website includes torrent and direct download links for the novel. The torrent is well-seeded and downloads expeditiously from my tests, so I recommend it if you have a torrent client on hand. There was a time within the past couple of years when the direct download (hosted on CNET) was not working, but it works without any issue as of February 28, 2024.

True Remembrance is only available for Windows, unlike the majority of al|together translations which were written in ONScripter-EN and can also run natively on Linux. Because I use Linux, I ran True Remembrance with the help of the WINE compatibility layer. It installed with no issues and unlike some of the KiriKiri novels from al|together (see e.g., Collage), it does not require a Japanese language environment.

The True Remembrance Windows installer. On the left side of the installer there is an image of a brown-haired girl smiling whileholding a book. On the right the text reads "Welcome to the True Remembrance 1.04E Setup Wizard" -- below that are some brief instructions. The buttons on the bottom are "Next >" and "Cancel". The instructions advise to click Next to continue with the installation.
The Windows installer. Note that the last Japanese version for Windows is 1.04. Version 1.04E is for the English version.

True Remembrance ran as well on top of WINE as I recall it having run it on Windows 7 when I first read True Remembrance more than a decade ago and encountered only two minor issues.

First, I needed to add some additional Japanese fonts for the text on menus to display properly (the in-game dialogue had no issues). I did so in a similar manner to what I described in my Collage review. Note that this issue may not occur on every Linux system depending on which fonts one has installed. Second, the opening movie (True Remembrance has an opening movie) did not play. I am fairly sure I could have made that work by fiddling with my WINE configuration, but Insani made the opening movie available for download along with the novel, so I was content to watch it separately and enjoy the novel without tinkering with WINE.

Historic Significance

Before launching into my review proper, I have a few notes about True Remembrance’s history and the context for my review.

That True Remembrance received a commercial release for Nintendo 3DS in Japan offers a hint to its popularity. In my review of Narcissu, a 2005 Insani translation, I noted that it had historic significance as being the first doujin freeware visual novel to have an officially sanctioned English translation as well as for continuing to be a relatively popular English visual novel, having been re-released and made available on Steam. While True Remembrance did not achieve the same level of notoriety in the United States that Narcissu has, Insani explained in 2008 that it was a significant doujin visual novel in Japan:

True Remembrance was originally released in 2004; it went on to garner extremely positive reviews, becoming one of the landmark releases in the freeware visual novel community for that year … To this day, True Remembrance remains one of the most enduring and most popular freeware visual novels in the Japanese community; many people new to this form of digital entertainment are directed to this piece, just as English-speaking fans are directed to pieces like Narcissu.

Seung Park

Note that this was written before True Remembrance was released on the Nintendo 3DS shop in Japan in 2012.

True Remembrance and al|together

I previously reviewed 29 of 31 Japanese visual novel translations that were part of the 2005, 2006, and 2008 al|together festivals (see my article collection). While many translators participated in al|together, Insani was first among equals, having coordinated the 2005 and 2006 festivals and being responsible for more than half of all of the submissions. However, while True Remembrance is a translation of a freeware doujin Japanese visual novel just like the al|together pieces, Insani did not include it as part of al|together 2008 (Insani released True Remembrance in February 2008 and the six al|together 2008 novels later in that year). Because True Remembrance appears to have been released outside al|together 2008, I consider this review to be separate from my al|together project even though it seems like it would have been a natural fit as part of al|together 2008 (right down to some of its themes).

Some Context for My Review

As I noted in the previous paragraph and in a list of games that left major impressions of me, I actually read True Remembrance somewhere in the neighborhood of 2010 – close to when it was first released by Insani. I read it anew for this full New Leaf Journal review. While I did not remember all of the particulars, I did remember some significant events toward the end of the story. Knowing some points of True Remembrance’s conclusion does color how one understands some of the dialogue throughout the novel. I had also ead a few al|together pieces back in the 2010-2012 range (Crimsoness, From the Bottom of the Heart, and Red Shift are notable examples) well before reading them anew for my New Leaf Journal project. I include this note both as a curiosity and so that reader’s can take into account that my reading of True Remembrance for the purpose of this review was undertaken with my having knowledge of the game’s story that I have not had for most of my other visual novel reviews.

Note on Spoilers

As always, I will write this review in a way that will not preemptively spoil key plot points in True Remembrance for people who have not yet read the novel and who may be interested in reading it in the future. In the case of True Remembrance, late-story spoilers would be significant since they necessarily color how one reads dialogue from earlier stages (True Remembrance has unusually high re-read value for a kinetic, choice-free visual novel).

In exercising discretion on what constitutes a spoiler, I will also refer to Insani’s website for True Remembrance. Insani provided a general introduction to the world, story, and characters and in so doing implicitly offered the translator’s perspective on how much is appropriate to share to introduce the novel.

Those of you who have already read True Remembrance should be able to discern my views on certain aspects of the story beyond the ambit of a spoiler-free review by reading between the lines.

General Introduction to True Remembrance

Opening scene of True Remembrance. The novel's logo overlays a black background. We see the following text: "...stories have two great truths: first, they begin in many ways that are all, more or less, the same. Second, they all have an end. Fortunately, all great truths are lies, so there's the stuff that happens in between."
The opening scene of True Remembrance.

Insani provides the following introduction to True Remembrance on its website:

This is an ordinary tale of the ordinary days spent in an ordinary town by an ordinary girl who learns that everything in this world is extraordinary ― or that nothing is. For in this world, there is a young man named Blackiris; a Mnemonicide par excellence. And there is a young girl named La; sweet and warm and gentle in all the ways that count. This is their story.

The so-called “ordinary town” plays a central role in True Remembrance. The city, which goes unnamed, is a special walled city inhabited by individuals suffering from serious cases of “The Dolor,” a form of pandemic depression that causes “psychic corrosion,” driving its victims to becoming non-functional or suicidal, and Mnemonicides, who “treat” Dolor patients by discerning the root of their severe depression and removing the offending memories. In addition to being walled off from the outside world, the city bears other peculiar hallmarks such as its cleanliness and lack of carsand clocks.

Scene in True Remembrance's prologuie with backdrop o f classic-style apartments. The text reads: "A fitting reverie for a town so small and so white-encrusted that it might as well have been a movie set."

Blackiris and La are the co-main characters of True Remembrance. Blackiris is a high-level Mnemonicide working in the unnamed city for the third year. La is Blackiris’ “guest,” that is his patient as a Mnemonicide. They serve as the co-main protagonists of True Remembrance and are both the narrator and view-point character at different points in the story, although Blackiris is the initial narrator and we see more of the story through his eyes than through La’s.

Scene in True Remembrance with a home backdrop. We see a blushing young woman, La, on the left, and a stern young man, Blackiris, on the right. Blackiris says to La: "You know, if there's something on your mind, I'd rather you told me. See, when you get worried, I get worried."
La on the left, Blackiris on the right.

Blackiris is portrayed as a very skilled Mnemonicide – having achieved the highest regular rank of Class Alpha. In addition to having high natural aptitude for being a Mnemonicide, he is portrayed as being generally adroit at every task he takes on. At the same time, Blackiris comes across as disaffected – both to those around him and in his internal monologues. He seldom shows much interest in doing anything and seems like he would be well inclined to not do much at all. But in his interactions with La, we see that he treats her with kindness even if his facial expression rarely changes.

Scene in True Remembrance set on a residential street. La, facing Blakiris, looks annoyed. Blackiris faces away from her with his arms crossed. La exclaims, "Babysitting?!"

La is a silver-haired 17-year old girl with a tendency to break into tears. She is shy, but quickly shows that she is a genuinely selfless young lady, wanting to carry her weight and not cause any trouble for Blackiris even though she is his guest. She has an odd manner of speaking – using short sentences in quick succession, sometimes leaving the subject of the sentence implied. Unlike Blackiris, La wears her emotions on her sleeves and those around her have little trouble picking up on what she is thinking.

Scene in an empty house in True Remembrance. La has her fists clenched and looks irritated. Blackiris looks nonplussed. La says: "Doesn't matter! Scary is still scary!"

Several supporting characters are introduced throughout the story. Chief among them is Rook, a Mnemonicide who runs a cafe that Blackiris and La frequent. He is brash, flirtatious, and appears to have cultivated a network of contacts for getting things done in the city. While he and Blackiris have some sort of rivalry (although each may see it differently from the other), he proves to be a helpful resource both for Blackiris and his new charge.

Scene in True Rememberance featuring Rook, La, and Blackiris in a cafe. Rook, whose name is indicated as Young Man in the text box, says: "Welcome. The name's Rook, and the honor's all mine. Don'tcha be forgettin' me now, okay, little lady?"

True Remembrance has enough going on in its world and cast of interesting characters to defy the sort of one-sentence description that can be applied to some of the other pieces that I reviewed, but at its heart it is the story of a young man and young woman getting to know each other in a sanatorium set aside for the healing of people affected by a virulent, crippling depression, the people they meet, and the sorts of uncomfortable questions that come to mind when one thinks about erasing memories from someone’s heart in order to help that person continue living.

True Remembrance Review

Below, in my usual fashion, I review the different elements of True Remembrance. Although True Remembrance is not technically an al|together novel, it comes from the same lineage (freeware doujin novel from the early-to-mid 2000s and translated by Insani), so I will compare it to previous pieces I reviewed where appropriate.

Estimated Reading Time

True Remembrance is short in the grand scheme of al|together novels, but long by the standards of the novels that were contributed to al|together from 2005-2008. The player-submitted Visual Novel Database reading times vary wildly and VNDB gives it a composite estimate of 6 hours and 10 minutes. I clocked 4 hours and 58 minutes while taking many short breaks to take screenshots and notes for this review, so even granting that I changed one setting to make text show up instantaneously instead of rolling, I do not think it should take most readers in excess of six hours. Had it been part of al|together, it would have been the longest novel – being a little bit longer than al|together length king May Sky. However, it is clear that reading times may vary on this one, and the script demands more careful attention than most of the novels that I have reviewed thus far.

Game-play and structure

True Remembrance is an entirely kinetic visual novel, meaning that it has no choices or player interactivity whatsoever. This is a piece designed to be read. But despite its not asking anything more of the player than to read and advance the text, there is one notable aspect to how it is put together. True Remembrance, like a number of al|together novels, is broken into chapters. The chapters in this case are more significant than chapters in most of the novels we have reviewed in that each chapter has a single view-point character and narrator and the view-point shifts a few times. With a single exception, every chapter is narrated either by Blackiris or La. Blackiris does get the majority of chapters, but the way the novel uses chapter transitions to occasionally change the view-point is well-executed.

Visual presentation

True Remembrance has some unique visual flourishes to go along with some styles that should be familiar to people who have read some of my al|together reviews.

True Remembrance has one of the most unique visual novel text boxes that I have encountered – using what appears to be a role of film on the bottom quarter of the screen, which is overlaid by up to five lines of text. The film-text box is brown and semi-transparent, with the transparency being a nice touch. In light of the fact that memory is one of the central themes of True Remembrance, this aesthetic text box fits very well.

Scene featuring Irina, La, and Blackiris in Blackiris' and La's home in True Remembrance. Both La and Blackiris have normal expressions, but Irina looks pensive. She says: "Huh...? Obviously, in order to be cured. Whyever else would I...?"
As if I would miss a screenshot of someone saying “whyever” in a visual novel.

The actual backgrounds are modified photographs – which is not at all uncommon for doujin novels of the era (you will see examples throughout this article). True Remembrance has a good variety of backgrounds despite the entire novel taking place in a limited number of locations in a walled city. The photographic backgrounds fit the characters’ description of their surroundings well, simultaneously cozy and somewhat antiseptic and making use of a muted color palette. The only major critique that occurred to me mind regarding the backgrounds is that True Remembrance would have benefited from a kitchen background in the home that Blackiris and La share.

True Remembrance Scene with the inside of a trolly as a backdrop. The dialogue reads: "He's got his usual smile on his face. It's evil. Very evil. And it makes me happy. Very happy. I'm too embarrassed to say anything. So instead I look directly ahead. No headache this time."

Every notable on-screen character in True Remembrance has a portrait. On the whole, the character designs are good quality for this sort of piece, but they come with some caveats.

In True Remembrance’s favor, the character designs are simple but expressive. Both Blackiris and La have a significant number of facial expressions that change relatively frequently and, unlike in some novels I have looked at, they also have a number of poses which change with their dialogue to keep the piece from feeling visually static.

A blushing, irritated La stands next to a normal looking Blackiris in a mansion. The dialogue, reflecting Blackiris' internal thoughts, reads: "It looked kind of ominious, to tell you the truth -- those slender legs piercing into La's silvery hair. I made as if to brush the butterfly away, but stopped when La started trembling, violently."
If you think this may lead to a visual novel hair color article, you will be correct in the future.

I will say without any hesitation that True Remembrance has the most expressive cast of any al|together piece (it has rivals in a few that only have one or two expressive characters). Even the more minor characters have a good collection of poses. The novel lacks somewhat in wardrobe diversity, but that makes sense in light of its setting.

Blackiris outside with a woman in True Remembrance. The dialogue reads: "We walked along for a while. We said nothing to each other."

The one critique I have of the character designs is that apart from their admirable variety in poses and expressions, they lack stage presence. La and Rook are the best-designed characters of the cast. La stands out right away for being clearly different in some respect – starting with her unusual silver hair, which distinguishes her from the rest of the cast (I of course noted this as a leading anime and visual novel hair color researcher) – and her mannerisms also set her apart as being just a touch off. La’s design is solid, but strongest when she is showing some emotion and sometimes too nondescript when she is neutral. While the girls typically fare slightly better than the guys in the al|together design department, in this case Rook wins my vote for best-designed character of the piece with his sharp features and colorful expressions to match his overbearing personality. Blackiris is disappointingly bland, although I suppose that is somewhat consistent with his characterization.

True Remembrance has a total of 17 CG scenes. Unlike the regular scenes, these scenes are fully drawn. They vary in quality, with some being exceptional and others ranging from mediocre to forgettable. A couple do La some favors. See below my vote for the finest CG scene of True Remembrance (and one of the finest of all the visual novels I reviewed).

True Remembrance CG scene of La looking nervoous with a blue butterfly in her hair.

Another point of praise for True Remembrance is its attention to detail – which was necessary to make best use of its myriad character expressions . For example, La’s hair is ordinarily straight with no adornments. There is one instance in the novel where another character braids La’s hair (the particular circumstances are not important to this review). That event is depicted in one of the novel’s 17 CG scenes. However, right after La’s hair is braided, a careful reader will note that her regular character portrait looks a little different than what we are used to.

La, facing left with her hair braided, next to a normal looking Blackiris in their home in True Remembrance. La's thoughts in the textbox: "Dark out. And cold too. But it's bright in here. And war. So warm. I'm happy. To be in this bright room. This warm room. Drinking hot cocoa. With Blackiris."
Note the braid.

It was so subtle I went back to compare and confirmed that indeed, La’s regular portrait was temporarily changed to reflect her new hairstyle. La undoes the braid before she goes to bed and when we next see her, her hair returns to normal.

True Remembrance includes a few scenes with falling snow. While I cannot show you what the snow looks like in motion, it is very well done.

True Remembrance scene featuring falling snow.
The snow is actually moving in gameplay.

Like a few novels we looked at, True Remembrance has proverbial chapter cards separating one chapter from the next. For chapters, we have a black background with a CG image of a photograph taped to the background (the tape is a nice touch). See the first chapter below.

First chapter card in True Remembrance. A photo of a table at a cafe next to a window is "taped" to the top left of a black background. Text: "I: of a town where it snows and the story begins"

Because True Remembrance is written in KiriKiri, it has the top-bar associated with KiriKiri novels (even the more modern KiriKiri creations such as Return to Shironagasu Island). Perhaps because we have the top-bar menu, the main UI is unencumbered by a menu. But right clicking summons a nice side menu with an aesthetic lace border.

Right click menu in True Remembrance overlaying a background. Text on lace border from top to bottom: Save Load Hide Text."

True Remembrance has the best save and load menu I have reviewed in a visual novel thus far. I rate this as the most aesthetic save menu both for its functionality and for the very pretty flowery background. It functions identically to another KiriKiri novel I reviewed in Collage with a small section for taking notes with each save. I did not end up needing to use it here like I did in Collage, but allowing notes with saves is a great way to help readers remember why they created specific bookmarks.

Save menu in True Remembrance with four saves. Each save as a thumbnail. There are 10 pages, making it possible to keep 40 saves. Each save has a comment box. I filled the four comment areas in with sample text to demonstrate what it looks like.
You get 40 saves in total, which is more than enough. I filled in the comments with sample notes to demonstrate how that area can be used.

While True Remembrance can be faulted slightly for its base character designs lacking dynamism and having a fewer backgrounds than it should have, it is, on the whole, a novel with very high production values for a doujin piece of its era and with solid production values in a vacuum that hold up nearly two decades after its release.

Opening movie

I noted in my installation section that True Remembrance has an opening movie (which features one of its two songs with vocals – “Snow of Memories” by memei). The opening movie runs for just over two minutes, features the characters (including some character poses we do not see in the novel proper) and is quite well done. You can download and watch the movie from Insani separately from the novel itself on the novel’s download page. Moreover, Insani posted the short opening movie to YouTube in April 2023.

Music and sound effects

True Remembrance only has about 10 music tracks, which is a touch on the low side for a novel of its length. However, much like the similarly-long Collage, a low song count can be compensated for if the novel mixes up the tracks and if the tracks fit the novel’s aesthetic. Fortunately, both things are true for True Remembrance. The most common tracks remind me of songs coming from a music box – which fits the calm, contemplative theme of the piece. Moreover, the tracks loop almost seamlessly which is important considering how long some of the scenes are. Had this been an al|together novel, it would have ranked as having one of the best overall scores.

Localization analysis

Before discussing the localization, I append my usual disclaimer that I do not know Japanese and thus cannot compare the English version to the Japanese version. My analysis is solely based on my reading of the English script and Mr. Park’s localization notes.

To begin, I will cheat and quote from Mr. Seung Park’s commentary about the localization, which is unlocked by completing the novel.

Mr. Seung Park's localization commentary in the True Remembrance post game. Pertinent quote: "[O]ur localization of Narcissu is remarkable in that it was an official, sanctioned translation of a piece by someone who was a major player in the Japanese visual novel industry. However, it was done primarily in a vacuum – [Narcissu writer] Tomo Kataoka did not comment on our translations, nor did we seek to get him involved. This translation is different. We have applied the principles of rigorous peer review and have had heavy discussions with the original creator about what the official English translation ought to be like. We have worked side-by-side, line-by-line, with the original creator to bring you the most faithful – and most unique – English localization ever attempted in the history of amateur visual novel localization (such as it is)."

[O]ur localization of Narcissu is remarkable in that it was an official, sanctioned translation of a piece by someone who was a major player in the Japanese visual novel industry. However, it was done primarily in a vacuum – [Narcissu writer] Tomo Kataoka did not comment on our translations, nor did we seek to get him involved. This translation is different. We have applied the principles of rigorous peer review and have had heavy discussions with the original creator about what the official English translation ought to be like. We have worked side-by-side, line-by-line, with the original creator to bring you the most faithful – and most unique – English localization ever attempted in the history of amateur visual novel localization (such as it is).

Seung Park

There are a few al|together pieces where the translator noted that the original creator actively participated in the translation (one of my favorites, Shooting Star Hill, is one such case), but it sounds like what went into True Remembrance was on a different level of collaboration. Mr. Park was the lead English translator/localizer (he and Mr. Edward Keyes worked on the technical aspects of bringing the novel to English), but seven people participated in quality assurance, including several who were lead translators on other al|together projects.

The work that went into True Remembrance is obvious from reading it, and the overall smoothness of its script from my English perspective is rivaled by only a few al|together pieces. When one considers True Remembrance’s length and the intricacy of its plot, the effort is all the more impressive.

One note (or critique) I saw on Visual Novel Database forums is that the English version uses more florid prose than the original Japanese. While I cannot comment on the comparison between versions and can only note that the English version is excellent in and of itself, I agree that we should not overlook that the original creator approved of Insani’s approach and participated in the localization. But before seeing that note, I had perceived that Blackiris’ monologues often use rich, poetic language to describe the scenes. I usually approved, although there were a few instances in the early-going where I think Blackiris could have dialed it down a notch (generally in the first couple of chapters). The Letter, a later 2008 Insani translation, provides a good example of a male viewpoint character describing scenes around him with a poetic sensibility without giving the same occasional impression of going overboard. I only noted one obvious typo in my reading and no particularly off-key notes, both of which are very impressive given the scope of the localization project.

Writing and story quality

A visual novel with 4-6 hours of reading and no choices or interactive elements turns on how good its story is. True Remembrance is an exceptional piece, especially for a doujin novel as such, but also in comparison to the vast majority of commercial efforts.

To highlight why True Remembrance is a unique piece, I quote from Mr. Park’s post-game commentary:

The piece is delicately structured and intricately foreshadowed. At the surface level, this is a simple story, simply told. There’s this girl – La – and this boy – Blackiris – and this town – the City – and this disease – The Dolor. And that’s about it. That’s all the worldcraft that the reader is really given, and that’s all he really needs. The rest – the rest is where the real beauty of the piece lies. Human relationships. Characterizations. Phrases and sentences that seem to have no deeper meaning unless you look closely indeed. A densely-spun web of events, feelings, and surprises that the reader often doesn’t realize he’s entangled in until it’s too late.

Seung Park

I agree in full, and I will use Mr. Park’s commentary as a jumping off point to develop my own analysis insofar as I can without venturing beyond the confines of providing a review free of significant plot spoilers.

True Remembrance is a very carefully constructed piece. I was able to better appreciate how careful the novel is in choosing its words – especially in the case of one of its narrators – with the advantage of having already read it more than a decade ago and being familiar with some of the plot points that are revealed close to its conclusion. This is a piece that rewards careful reading and taking mental (or physical) notes about observations that the dramatic personae make and the things they find important enough to mention.

A pensive Mar next to a smiling La in La's home in True Remembrance. La says: "The more powerful the Mnemonicide, the more bizarre he tends to be. An Alpha like Blackiris here will almost always be a royal pain in the neck ... or so it is written."
La having some fun at Blackiris’ expense while showing off her wealth of knowledge to a visitor.

Mr. Park’s note about the “simple worldcraft” is also interesting. On one hand, we are given the general explanation that the world has been ravaged by pandemic depression in the form of The Dolor. The Dolor hangs over the city in which True Remembrance is confined because the city itself exists to isolate from the outside worldpersons with serious Dolor afflictions and the people with the power to treat them (so to speak). But the very fact that just about the entire novel is confined to a sanatorium masquerading as a city allows it to tell its simple, character-driven story. The novel’s quaint setting exists in the context of something bigger, but its relationships and character development occur in a confined space.

Blackiris explaining the purpose of the town in which True Remembrance takes place: "Anyway, patients who had failed all other methods of therapy were assigned to what was known as the Mnemonicide Protocol -- they were brought to this town, and it was here that we Mnemonicides cut away the ties binding our Guests to the memories that had so corroded their psyches."

True Remembrance excels principally because of its characters and how they interact in the context of their muted setting. Chief among these characters are Blackiris and La, who are the sole narrators and view-point characters with the exception of a small interlude (Rook gets his moment in the Sun there). Both Blackiris and La have distinct voices that would make it easy to tell who was narrating even if it was not expressly noted in the chapter-opening monologues.

Blackiris analyzes people matter-of-factly, but he is prone to bouts of poetry when describing the world around him. His lack of motivation comes through in his monologues, but so does his growing care for La and his recognition that he views her presence in his life, however fleeting it promises to be, as a good thing.

Blackiris standing in a church in True Remembrance. DIalogue: "What use was there in talking of tomorrow in a city that had no future, only a fleeting present and a dead past?"

Interestingly, while Blackiris often comes off as jaded and apathetic, La, who cares for others seemingly more than for herself, has a peculiar manner of speaking – in short, almost broken sentences, that carry over into her monologues. We learn she is self-conscious about the fact she wears her emotions on her sleeve and her feelings on her face while the man in whose care she is in, Blackiris, has a perpetual poker face.

La and Blackiris in their home in True Remembrance. La's internal monologue: "I'm not allowed to wander anywhere. Not without my guide. Suits me fine. I don't have a choice anyway. I'm a patient here."

Both Blackiris and La experience natural and definite character development throughout the story. Blackiris slowly changes in subtle ways through his interactions with La. But hanging over his growing comfort in spending time with her is the reality that he understands that his task is to relieve her of whatever memories were causing her pain, which wwill also result in her losing her memory of her time in the unnamed city. It is obvious early in the story that there is likely something more to La than the typical Dolor case – Blackiris suspects as much. But setting that aside, we see her learn how to do basic tasks under Blackiris’ tutelage and we follow La’s growing self-confidence in herself and her desire to not be a burden on Blackiris or others.

La laughing awkwardly after a mishap while Blackiris looks on. She speaks: "Um, uh, see. Stew for breakfast. Kettle boiled over. Went to take it off. Stuff burned. And, uh ... uh ..."

I am of course limited in what I can say without unnecessary spoilers beyond these sorts of general points, but I was ultimately satisfied with where Blackiris and La get to in their development in the later stages of the story.

Another mark of True Remembrance’s writing quality is in its minor characters. Rook receives the third most screen time behind Blackiris and La, and he adds a fun element to the story that breaks Blackiris and La out of their typical routine. However, in one middle chapter, Rook is revealed to have more going on than one would think based on his initial impression, and his backstory is compelling and well-presented. The same can be said for a couple of other characters who make brief-but-memorable appearances. Their problems and struggles help highlight issues that are relevant to the central relationship between Blackiris and La, but they and their problems are human and affecting in and of themselves.

Cafe scene in True Rememberance. Rook, speaking to La and Blackiris: "But isn't it official policy not to allow male-female parings? Man, if that's changed, when am I going to be up for one?"

The latter half of the novel introduces a few additional significant characters along with some relatively dramatic plot events. But true to form, the later characters are also well-conceived – each having specific and human problems that are tied to the novel’s particular setting.

My al|together visual novel ranking project had a trend – I found that many of the doujin novels I read got off to strong starts but ran into pacing and coherency issues in the home stretch. Fortunately – True Remembrance avoids this common flaw of freeware novels of the era. I would hesitate to say that True Remembrance concludes more strongly than it begins – like my favorite novel of the al|together festivals, May Sky — but it is a consistent piece from beginning to end. Despite being relatively level in terms of maintaining high quality and holding the reader’s interest, it does build toward a definite conclusion, with a certain unexpected news event transpiring toward the middle of the novel that sets in motion the happenings and revelations that occur in True Remembrance’s final act. Its conclusion is ultimately logical and satisfying, with the caveat that a brief epilogue would have been welcome (I understand the 3DS version has extra content, but this is of course a review of the original Insani version).

I had a few niggles with True Remembrance. While it was not strictly necessary to explain the process of memory suppression and/or removal on the novel’s world, True Remembrance seemed to not be entirely sure-footed on the subject, and there is a part of the conclusion related to memory that, at a minimum, could have used a more confident explanation than what we were given. There is a certain dramatic event in the middle of the novel – one I opine served more to set the stage for the final act of Blackiris and La than to be the main event in and of itself – which, while coherent and engaging enough, felt like a missed opportunity to develop more fully one aspect of its significant supporting character. While I appreciate the overall writing quality, there are a few points where Blackiris’ poetic dialogues feel a touch excessive, albeit this was toned down after the prologue and initial chapters when Blackiris has more to talk about and reflect upon. Finally, the first couple chapters overuse jokes related to Blackiris and La looking like a couple, which would feel out of place except coming from Rook, but this small annoyance mostly dissipates early in the novel’s run.

La standing in a doctor's office in True Remembrance. Doctor speaking: "Oh, yes, this is the cold that's been going around recently. Seems like everyone has it  these days. Now I'm prescribing you a three-day course of antibiotics -- take it and rest as much as you can. Come see me again after that."
I personally would not recommend treating a cold with antibiotics…

However, my small complaints are minor in the grand scheme of True Remembrance. It is, from beginning to end, a genuinely excellent and well-written novel with memorable characters and a meaningful conclusion and message.

Post-completion content

Clearing True Remembrance unlocks an Extras menu. The Extras menu includes a full CG gallery, credits (this piece is good enough to take the time to read the credits), and a “Words” section which features commentary from the lead translator/localizer, Mr. Seung Park, some of which I quoted in this review.

True Remembrance post-game extras menu. There are fields for Images, Credits, and Words.

I wish that it also had a music jukebox, but the CG gallery and Words are both welcome extras.

Final Thoughts

I suspected going into my al|together project that True Remembrance would stand above all of the al|together novels, as terrific as some of them were. Having now read all the al|together novels and re-read True Remembrance, my conclusion remains the same. Had True Remembrance been an al|together submission, it would have come in ahead of May Sky and Collage on top of my final al|together ranking. Although my top two al|together pieces are good enough to give me brief pause, True Remembrance’s status as the finest of Insani’s current doujin translations is in little doubt. It firmly deserves the honor I gave it as the only visual novel in the honorable mention section of my list of the games that have left the biggest impressions on me (note I wrote that before re-reading True Remembrance).

Blackiris sees La standing in front of the door to their new temporary residence in the snow in True Remembrance for the first time. His internal monologue: "She turned to faceme as I drew near. She'd probably heard my approach. I got my first good glimpse at her wan face, past the gauzy white veil of cold that fell from the sky. I sighed inwardly and fished my hands out of my pockets."

With its high-quality writing and story, solid aesthetics, and humane and memorable characters, True Remembrance is the easiest-to-recommend visual novel for general audiences I have reviewed thus far at The New Leaf Journal. My only qualification would be directed at people who have an aversion to a multi-hour piece with no choices or interactive elements. I encourage those of you who have found my description of True Remembrance intriguing to read it for yourselves – it is, fortunately, readily available and entirely free of cost.

I conclude with gratitude to Satomi Shiba and to Seung Park and the entire team at Insani for making an exceptional visual novel available in English, and I would very much like to see it gain more notoriety stateside (consider this review my small contribution to the effort).