Narcissu is a very short visual novel, but I rather liked it. It's a very simple story about two terminally ill patients sneaking out of hospital to go on one final trip. While it's a little tropey, I liked that it didn't shy away from its feelings of aimlessness and despair. It never tries to push hope where there is none. There are two translations available on the steam release. I would recommend reading with the gp32 translation, as it's very smooth and well done. The Agilis translation claims to be 'closer to the original', but this results in weird stilted sentences that take you out of the story.
It took me quite literally years to finish Umineko. I started it about three years ago and read it on-again off-again since then, slowly chewing my way through the behemoth of a VN. I think the fact that I persevered is a testament to just how gripping it is. If you know anything about visual novels or Ryukishi07 you've definitely heard the spiel before - you can't talk about Umineko without spoiling it. But unfortunately it's true. The story is so dense that it's impossible to concisely explain, anyway. The usual elevator pitch - a battle between a human and a witch to prove if magic is real or not - barely covers it, and as the episodes go on the plot always ends up going in directions I don't expect. What I like, though, is that it never feels unearned. Plot twists always make sense, and the game gives you everything you need to come to conclusions yourself. Unfortunately I'm stupid, so I was constantly blindsided by these reveals...
I think Shibuya Scramble is my favourite visual novel, and might always be. Everything about it is just... perfect. Its construction is ingenius and effortlessly sidesteps the problems with multiple routes, while also having alternate - and interesting - endings and secrets to discover.
The core conceit of Shibuya Scramble is the timeline. Events happen over a single day, which is divided into hour increments. You have to bring the multiple protagonists all up to the end of the hour before you can progress to the next, which prevents you from going a long way down a route with a bad ending. There are also points where you're blocked from continuing until you bring another character up to speed with their correct route, since all the stories are closely linked. This way, even though there are lots of (often very funny) bad endings, they never feel frustrating because you're never far from the core story.
The story itself is excellently written. Focusing on the kidnapping of a teenage girl and the subsequent police investigation, it quickly devolves (or perhaps evolves?) into an exhilarating mess as the different characters impact each other in ways that sometimes only become obvious in retrospect.
My favourite characters are Tama and Minorikawa. Tama is a girl stuck in a mascot suit. Yeah. How could you not love that? Minorikawa, on the other hand, is a journalist pulling a desperate favour for an old work friend, racing against the clock all day to get a magazine published in time. If I knew him in real life I would probably punch him, but his boisterous antics are immensely fun to read.
It's hard to talk much about Shibuya Scramble, because it's really a story that should be experienced firsthand. It's on steam, so go experience the best visual novel ever yourself!
Fata Morgana was my first 'proper' visual novel experience. By that, I mean that I've dabbled in the genre - I think most people have even if they don't call themselves visual novel readers. But I had never really experienced a proper literary work in a visual novel format; until then it had been mostly short fluffy stories on itch.io. (which are awesome and I like! but not really worth writing about here due to their length and not leaving an impact on me.)
Fata Morgana itself is honestly a masterpiece. The story weaves together the stories of different lives effortlessly, bringing them together with connecting threads that culminate in a conclusion that rended my heart apart. Michel is an incredible character, and the core romance is immensely moving. Michels' struggle with gender and sexuality were deeply relatable, but also inherently connected to his own life and experiences. The art and music are also breathtaking, drenched in gothic detail. My only complaint about Fata Morgana would be that at times, it feels very long, especially as you near the conclusion. This is hard to avoid when there's so much ground to cover, but I did end up losing steam partway through. Pushing through that fatigue was absolutely worth it, though. If you've never read a visual novel before, I would highly recommend Fata Morgana, as it feels like reading a piece of classical literature.