Estimated reading time: 13 minute(s)

Shooting Star Hill is a freeware doujin Japanese visual novel created by Mr. Azuki Taka (note: doujin means something similar to indie). It was released in Japan on January 16, 2005, under the name 星の降る丘 (“Hoshi no Furu Oka”). With the consent of the creator, Hoshi no Furu Oka was officially translated into English by Mr. Anthony Low (“Kawatori Shinji”) and submitted to the al|together 2006 visual novel translation festival under the English name Shooting Star Hill (released in English on August 20, 2006). I am in the midst of a project to review nearly all of the 30-plus visual novels that were submitted to the three al|together festivals in 2005, 2006, and 2008 (see series introduction and list of completed reviews). Today I cover Shooting Star Hill as my fourth review of the series.

Title screen for the Shooting Star Hill visual novel, known as Hoshi no Furu Oka in Japan.
The title screen for Shooting Star Hill. You can learn about my AmigaOS-inspired window border in a separate post.

Shooting Star Hill is a short visual novel that covers the budding relationship of a boy who just transferred into a new high school and a lonely girl who happens to be in his new class. The boy took an interest in the girl after he noticed her seeing the same (fictional) British science fiction film that he was present at – aptly called The Miracle of Starhilll.

(Lack of) Spoiler Note and Companion Article

I will describe the story in broad terms in this review. However, I will not spoil the key points of the story. For that reason, you may consider the review safe to read if you plan on playing (or reading) the story on your own.

After completing the story yourself (or if you decide you are not interested in reading it), you can read my follow-up essay on Shooting Star Hill wherein I discuss the story in more detail, with spoilers, and offer my own impressions.

Shooting Star Hill Details

  • Name: Shooting Star Hill (EN); Hoshi no Furu Oka (JP)
  • Created By: Ebi Shumai II (circle), Azuki Taka (author)
  • Translated By: Anthony Low (“Kawatori Shinji”)
  • Original Release: January 16, 2005 (JP)
  • English Release: August 20, 2006 (EN)
  • Platform: Windows, Mac, Linux* – Download Link.
  • Official Website: English; Japanese.
  • Visual Novel Database Entry: Link.

Unlike previous entries in my review series, the original Japanese site for the game remains online (I used an archived version in my link – but the site is still live). Regarding downloads, see my notes in the next section.

Downloading Shooting Star Hill

Shooting Star Hill can be downloaded for Windows, Mac, or Linux from the al|together 2006 festival site (download links). The direct download links all work, but torrent downloads are also available. For your convenience, you will find the direct download links (from the official website) below:

Because I run Manjaro Linux on my main computer, I first tried to run the Linux version of Shooting Star Hill. Unfortunately, that version did not run (I have found that to be the case with some of the other visual novels as well). However, the Windows version ran perfectly on my Linux machine under the Wine compatibility layer (via PlayOnLinux).

Windows installer for the Shooting Star Hill visual novel.
The Windows installer for Shooting Star Hill. As I noted above, I ran this installer through the PlayOnLinux compatibility layer.

Thus, I recommend Linux users run the Windows version of Shooting Star Hill (however, someone more knowledgeable than me may be able to diagnose the issue with the native Linux version). I have not tested the MacOS version. Regarding Linux, it is worth noting that I did not try the torrent download.

Is Shooting Star Hill a Trial Or a Complete Game?

The title card for Shooting Star Hill describes it as “Visual Novel volume 1.” In the game’s Readme (you will find it in the files for Shooting Star Hill if you download it), the translator explained:

This is the first work of the circle Ebishuumai II. This game was released as freeware after some adjustments were applied to the original. Since January 2005, this group has produced three games. Hopefully you may find some meaning in Ebishuumai II’s work even though this is a trial version. The other game, Rakuen Kanenone to Tomo, has a trial version too. Although it is a trial version, you are able to play through to the ending. Hopefully you can have fun.

What does this all mean?

To begin, having completed Shooting Star Hill, it reads like a finished product with a clear ending and credits. This makes sense in light of the translator’s statement: “Although it is a trial version, you are able to play through to the ending.” Thus, while I am not sure how the term “trial” is being used, Shooting Star Hill itself does seem to be a finished product.

My understanding Shooting Star Hill as a completed game is consistent with its Visual Novel Database Entry, which presents the English translation as a completed product rather than a trial.

What do we make of “volume 1”? The translator noted that Shooting Star Hill was one of three works by Ebi Shuumai II, but that the second, Rauken wa Kanenone to Tomoni, was also a “trial.” Visual Novel Database only lists three works by Ebi Shuumai – with Shooting Star Hill being the first and Rakuen wa Kanenone to Tomoni being the second. While there is no indication that these games are directly related (note – the latter two Ebi Shuumai games were never translated into English), my guess is that the volume number referred to Ebi Shuumai’s visual novels generally. Another interesting note is that Visual Novel Database lists the latter two games as being published in Japan in 2012, but the translator for Shooting Star Hill noted that they existed in 2006. Was this a mistake? I think not. My guess is that the circle released final versions of the latter two games in 2012, but that the version of Shooting Star Hill that was translated was left as the final version.

If anyone with Japanese proficiency knows the full story – feel free to let me know via our Contact page.

General Overview of Shooting Star Hill

The al|together 2006 festival page for Shooting Star Hill described the visual novel as follows:

There’s one at every school – the quiet, aloof girl that nobody really wants to get to know. But this one catches Chihiro’s eye when he discovers she’s a fan of the cult British science fiction films he loves… and that really leaves him with very few options.

The player takes the role of Chihiro Naruse, a high school student who moved due to his father’s work and is beginning his life at a new school. On his first day in town, he goes to see a British science fiction film called Shooting Star Hill. There, a girl about his age who is also seeing the movie catches his attention – especially when she leaves with tears in her eyes. The next day, to his surprise, he finds that the girl, Kana Moriyama, is his classmate.

Kana Moriyama, the protagonist of Shooting Star Hill, seen in her first appearance in the visual novel.
Kana catches Chihiro’s attention at The Miracle of Starhill, a poster for which is seen in teh right side of the image.

Kana turns out to be a strange, quite, and taciturn loner. None of this deters Chihiro, who is intent on getting to know her after he noticed her at the movie. The game largely covers Chihiro’s efforts to break the ice with his mysterious classmate and their budding relationship.

Game-Play of Shooting Star Hill

Shooting Star Hill is relatively short visual novel. Visual Novel Database suggests that it takes about 50 minutes to read. While I am generally a fast reader and did not time myself, somewhere in the 40-60 minute range sounds about right.

The player presented with a choice of whether to see the elephants, giraffes, or penguins at the zoo in Shooting Star Hill, a visual novel.
Not all choices change the story.

In that time, the player is presented with choices on only two occasions. The first choice has no effect on the direction of the game. The second choice determines which of the two endings the player reaches – with one being the game’s good ending and the other being the bad ending.

Structure

Up until the only substantive choice right near the end of the game, Shooting Star Hill is an almost entirely kinetic visual novel – having no choices at all except for one insignificant choice in the middle of the story. The decisive choice at the end provides the game with its one point of meaningful interactivity and its branching path.

For all intents and purposes, and especially in light of the fact that the player can create a save point when he or she is presented with choices, potential readers should think of Shooting Star Hill as a linear visual novel (that is – just about all text and images and no interaction) that happens to present one key choice at its end. Shooting Star Hill provides nine save slots – which is more than anyone should need.

(To use an illustrative example for those of you who are not familiar with visual novels, imagine that you are reading a 100 page book. On page 90, the book suddenly turns into a “choose your own adventure” novel, telling you to either go to page 91 or 96 based on the choice you make. Pages 91-95 represent one end to the story and pages 96-100 represent the other ending.)

Visual Presentation of Shooting Star Hill

Shooting Star Hill mostly uses real photographs for its backgrounds, and the text overlays those backgrounds instead of being limited to a text box. In this way, its presentation is identical to Night of the Forget-Me-Nots, the previous visual novel that I reviewed.

A classroom scene in the Shooting Star Hill visual novel.
Text overlaying a photographic background. This style was also used in the comparatively famous Higurashi series.

However, unlike Night of the Forget-Me-Nots and my first review for the project, The Poor Little Bird, Shooting Star Hill has character portraits for the five characters who appear in the game in addition to the protagonist, Chihiro Naruse. The portraits have a distinct style – simple textures and colors, big eyes, no noses, and interesting hair colors – all somewhat 90s-esque. See a non-Kana example below below:

The player meets a classmate on his first day of school in the Shooting Star Hill visual novel.
Indeed there is.

The character portraits are clean, bright, and create an aesthetic for the game. The style may be an acquired taste, but I came away a fan. I also appreciated the attention to detail given to the heroine, Kana Moriyama. She received three in-game outfits and a number of poses to cover a number of scenes and dialogues. The only portrait that I thought missed the mark was that of the protagonist’s little sister and unnaturally green hair.

The protagonist's green-haired sister in the Shooting Star Hill visual novel.
I was not sure about the hair color direction for the protagonist’s sister.

The game had a suitable variety of photographic backgrounds for different locations. The character portraits do not visually blend into the backgrounds, but that had the positive effect of making them pop. I do commend the team for carefully attending to how the portraits were positioned with respect to the backgrounds. One flaw that I noted is that the text sometimes blended a bit into the background. While I never had trouble reading the dialogue – I could see it being an issue for some.

Had Shooting Star Hill stuck to character portraits on top of photographic backgrounds, its visual presentation would have been adequate. However, it went above and beyond by including a significant number of fully hand-drawn scenes – including both a character and a background.

The protagonist's club mate shows off a manga in a fully-drawn card in the Shooting Star Hill visual novel.
The first example – and this one was noted in the Readme file for the game.

I was genuinely surprised by the scenes – having initially expected the game to be fully composed of photograph backgrounds and character portraits.

Kana Moriyama, the heroine of the Shooting Star Hill visual novel, looks at a dress.

Moreover, I was surprised to see how many fully drawn cards were included in Shooting Star Hill. Each one looked terrific. There were also a few examples of dynamically-changing visuals (see example below):

A completed bento box in the Shooting Star Hill visual novel.
This scene was clever. The ingredient’s were added to the lunchbox one-by-one as Chihiro went through his lunch-making dialogue. What you see here is the final result.

The game also had a few scenes featuring BBS pages – giving the story a nice time-specific touch.

A BBS board in the Shooting Star Hill visual novel.
One of the BBS scenes.

Thanks to the crisp character portraits and the large number of fully-drawn scenes, Shooting Star Hill is one of the best-looking Insani/Al|Together translations that I have played thus far (and certainly the best of the first four that I have reviewed up to now).

Audio Presentation of Shooting Star Hill

Shooting Star Hill contained a small number of musical tracks, none of which were particularly memorable save for the song that plays with the end credits for the good ending, which unexpectedly includes very pleasant vocals by Mayusa. The music never grated or felt inappropriate or out-of-place. Here, the music played a background role to the story and terrific visuals of Shooting Star Hill.

Translation Quality

On the festival page for Shooting Star Hill, the translator wrote the following:

Ah, my first visual novel translation. It was quite fun, but also a challenge. I think I learned a lot of kanji while translating this, actually…and having the kanji in digital format makes them easier for digital lookup.

The translator also noted that he received assistance from the game’s author, Mr. Azuki Taka.

I always preface my reviews on writing and translations by noting that I do not know Japanese. Thus, my review of the “translation” is really a review of how the story reads in English – I cannot account for any discrepancies that may exist between the translation and the original. In this case, that the author of the original Japanese text participated in the translation to some extent should lend some confidence that the English version is faithful to the Japanese.

Much like every al|together translation I have read (including some that I have yet to review), Shooting Star Hill reads well in English.

The dialogue came off as natural in English in the main, and it compares favorably to many commercial efforts in that respect. However, one unfortunate point is that the dialogue between Chihiro and Kana felt a bit unduly imprecise in some key moments – meaning that it relied on some broad word choices where more specific ones would have been warranted in context. The specific cases are not amenable to publication in a spoiler-free review, but I do highlight several examples in my companion article. Some of the vagueness – in my view – may derive from compromises made to accommodate the game’s dual-track plot, wherein the sentiments that Kana and Chihiro express deal in one sense with Kana in school and in the other with broader events. A particular point that requires careful reading and consideration is Kana’s use of the word “normal” and Chihiro’s responses to her – there are meanings and ideas in their conversations on the subject that are not explicitly conveyed by their word choices.

In a technical sense, Shooting Star Hill was the smoothest read of the first four al|together visual novels I reviewed here at The New Leaf Journal. The only readability issue that I had was that there were a few points in extended dialogues where I momentarily lost track of which character was speaking – something that can happen when dialogue is presented as straight text without noting the speaker of each line. But it was always possible to re-focus and quickly orient myself to the conversation.

Writing Quality and Story

Here, I consider the quality of Shooting Star Hill’s writing as is (that is, the final project – without thinking of it as a translation) and its story quality.

Shooting Star Hill did well to give the two main characters, Chihiro and Kana, distinct voices and personalities. Watching Chihiro try to break the ice with Kana and their subsequent conversations was consistently charming. The supporting characters were written less distinctly, but they too had their own voices.

Because I pledged to make this a review amenable to people who may be interested in reading through Shooting Star Hill on their own, I will tread carefully in my assessment of the story and the ideas behind it.

The strongest aspect of Shooting Star Hill was the interactions between Chihiro and Kana rather than the over-arching story. The story itself has twists which eventually come to test the growing bond between the protagonists. While Shooting Star Hill does not depict a world where everything is ordinary, its twists are never too surprising. To put it succinctly, Shooting Star Hill always shows its cards in advance, and it always plays the cards that it shows. Its twists are telegraphed in such a way that the player is unlikely to be caught off guard by how events transpire – even if the events are surprising in and of themselves.

While Shooting Star Hill is well-structured in that it sets up its dramatic events in a logical way and largely refrains from introducing elements that it does not use, it leaves much unexplained in both of its endings. Here, I will not say about what is not explain but will limit myself instead to saying they are related to the aforementioned twists and extraordinary aspects of the story. I did not see Shooting Star Hill’s decision to leave unexplained the technical aspects of how certain things in its world worked as detracting from the story – primarily because I understood its focus to be the relationship between the two main characters rather than the twists – which served to frame the relationship.

Notwithstanding that which is left unexplained, Shooting Star Hill’s good ending is cathartic and represents the sort of “new beginning” ending that I covered in From the Bottom of the Heart – and its alternative ending highlights the high stakes involved in Chihiro’s decisions.

Omitting context, I will include a quote from the point-of-view character, Chihiro, that I believe sums up the moral of Shooting Star Hill well:

I think that what’s normal and what’s not normal has no relevance to a person.

At its core, Shooting Star Hill is the story of a lonely girl and the boy who makes a point of seeing her as she is through his own eyes. While this line, like a couple of Chihiro’s other important lines, was slightly awkward – he expresses one of his views that made his relationship with Chihiro possible.

My Overall Review and Recommendations

Poster for Miracle of Starhill, a fictional movie in the Shooting Star Hill visual novel.
The movie that started the story.

I was not sure what to expect from Shooting Star Hill going into my play-through. The introduction suggested that it would be a light romantic comedy. To be sure, it was at times, but the story was ultimately heavier than what I expected.

On the whole, I was very impressed with the amount of work that went into the visual presentation – which stands as the game’s most memorable aspect. With respect to the story, I appreciated that Shooting Star Hill did not try to do too much. It is ultimately a surprisingly tightly constructed game – wasting few words and hammering home its central theme: It is alright to not be “normal” – and someone can care for a person who is not “normal” regardless of what anyone else thinks.

Whether Shooting Star Hill’s overarching story was the best way to present its main theme is a debatable. However, in light of the direction the writers took, I appreciated the fact that they opted to telegraph the twists in the story instead of springing them on the reader for shock value. In choosing this path, the team kept my attention on the relationship between Chihiro and Kana and the game’s central point that one of our lead characters was just fine.

Shooting Star Hill does what it sets out to do well, and its heroine, Kana, and the charming illustrations, leave more of an impression than one would expect initially. The short visual novel does nothing superlatively, and it lacks the depth of some other al|together projects such as one of my earlier reviews, From the Bottom of the Heart, but it makes for a brisk and pleasant read and does not overstay its welcome.

The Readme file includes the following statement:

If at all possible, although there are some awkward points, it would make me happy if you enjoy it.

I certainly enjoyed Shooting Star Hill. Shooting Star Hill is easy to recommend for some of its visuals alone, and it is all-the-easier to recommend due to its charming dialogue and feel-good story.

If you think that Shooting Star Hill sounds at all interesting based on my review – download it and enjoy the story and presentation.

Follow-Up Post

For those who are interested, you can read my spoiler-filled analysis of the story of Shooting Star Hill in my follow-up article.