Developer – Front Wing
Translator –TLWiki & Sekai Project
Length – > 50 Hours
Slice of Life is tough to get right. If you add some drama into the mix it gets a lot easier and many visual novels do incredibly well on that front. A significant number of people assert that Grisaia no Kajitsu mixes its two genres wonderfully to provide an unforgettable experience. I am not one of them. While certainly not a bad visual novel, and a great deal better than some others I’ve reviewed, it failed to really move me for the majority of its duration. Grisaia is a production that knows objectively what makes a good story and includes a whole bunch of the right ingredients but just doesn’t cook them together with the right spices and ends up presenting an average meal overall. No, I’m not particularly hungry right now.
For some people out there life growing up just doesn’t go the way it should. All it takes is one incident to throw them off the rails. Though you wouldn’t know it right away, Mihama Academy is one place you can find those people. Out of sight and out of mind, it’s the perfect place for Kazami Yuuji to start his “normal school life”. “Normal” is exactly what it will be until he gets close to the other residents. Laughter, smiles and regular old friendships predominate, but behind everyone’s outward appearance is a past that has landed them in Mihama, and Yuuji might be the only one that can help them move on.
To get it out of the way, Grisaia has five heroines who each have a route of their own and none of the routes are officially canon. There’s no true route and no overarching story to speak of, meaning that the quality of the individual routes is all that Grisaia has to hold itself up on. While I’m not going to specifically talk about each of the routes individually I’ll include a score breakdown at the end of the post.
Grisaia’s common route, the stuff you have to read through before getting to the meat of the plot, is really, really long. I’ve seen complaints about it before and they are very much valid. To begin with things start off bright and fun with a generous dash of comedy while still including peeks at what might be going on behind the scenes to keep your interest piqued. I enjoyed the first few hours but the amount of new material is very limited, making the latter portion seem like a drag while you desperately wait for something, anything, to happen. Though it may not be as bad as some other offenders in this category, it’s worth noting and may turn some people off. It doesn’t exactly help that the same old slice of life stuff continues for a decent time once you do actually enter someone’s route.
The routes themselves are, well, variable. I mentioned earlier that Grisaia has a basic understanding of what makes a good story and that’s absolutely true. I really enjoyed two of the routes, and my favorite starred the character I liked the least which is really saying something. Nevertheless, much of what was going on just didn’t have the impact you might expect from hearing about it objectively. Some of the things that you’re exposed to would be really rough stuff in any other visual novel, whereas the way they’re presented here…well, let’s just say that my heart strings went mostly un-tugged. I can’t quite put a finger on exactly why that was but I do have a couple of thoughts. One of the problems is that most of the visual novel’s events are viewed through the eyes of the protagonist, Yuuji. He’s a guy with a good head on his shoulders that never lets anything faze him; even the most tragic or intense scenes seem to be little more than business as usual. He has an answer for everything, and everything always works out. When your main character isn’t particularly worried about anything that goes on, it trickles over to the reader as well. Whenever something went wrong Yuuji was there so there was no point in fretting over it. It blunted a lot of Grisaia’s attempts to grip me and make me care about what was happening.
One of the major problems I had with Grisaia, though it doesn’t affect every route, is that it has too many flashbacks. Or rather, its flashbacks are just too darned long. The issue is that for every minute you’re reading about a flashback you’re not involved with the characters that are important in the here and now, and their relationships aren’t developing at all. When greater than half of a route is used up for a flashback that becomes a serious problem. When all is said and done, even ignoring the flashback sequences, Grisaia beats around the bush a lot when it comes to telling its character stories. Don’t take that to mean that every route is terrible and boring, though, some do offer an engaging read and I can’t say you’d go wrong giving them all a try, especially considering that many people have enjoyed the routes I didn’t like so much.
Moving past the story itself, this is a visual novel that stands out because of its presentation in both good and bad ways. The backgrounds, special effects and frequency with which characters change pose all work together to dazzle you visually. For the most part it just looks really nice. Unfortunately, because of the high quality of art, discrepancies become that much more obvious. This is the first visual novel I’ve played where there are massive differences between character sprites and their respective CGs (I should also mention that, for the length of the novel, there aren’t many CGs to go around), and there’s one character in particular that cuts a very masculine form when not in sprite mode (see below). The majority of the time the art is wonderful but those instances where it’s not consistent are particularly jarring. The BGM is well put together and pleasant to listen to even if it gets a little old by the time you’ve finished every route, and the voice acting is great. As an additional point one of the characters gives a voice response to anything you pick in the options menu which I liked; it’s small things like that which can help a visual novel stand out.
Summary – Grisaia seems to know what makes for an engaging story but very rarely manages to grasp and hold your attention. It attempts to present you with a range of characters with horrible pasts but doesn’t go that extra mile to really tug at your heart strings. The way that things just magically resolve doesn’t help with that either. I was personally ready to drop the VN altogether after the first three routes but the final two managed to save it for me, and in the end I do miss the characters, so I guess that says something.
[P.S. People seem to be getting the wrong idea here. It’s not so much that I disliked Grisaia as it was that I was disappointed by it, and that comes through pretty heavily in the review. The score i’ve given below is right on the edge of my “tentative recommendation” mark and nowhere near “bad”. While this visual novel didn’t live up to my expectations, many people love it and you shouldn’t let this stop you from giving it a go if it sounds like your kind of thing (especially if you’ve disagreed with my opinion before!).]
Makina Route: 5/10 – I simply couldn’t take her character seriously, and her story isn’t that great anyway. Some people have enjoyed her route immensely, however, so take that as you will.
Amane Route: 6.5/10 – Spins a decent tale but shouldn’t rely on flashbacks for most of its screen time (read: hours). Also loved by a fair number of people.
Sachi Route: 7/10 – Slow-going but interesting and rather unique as far as concepts go.
Yumiko Route: 8/10 – Pulls off a Kuu/Tsundere character expertly and keeps things moving so you don’t get bored.
Michiru: 8.5/10 – Intriguing concept, sets your preconceptions on their heads and manages to edge in some uncertainty.
OVERALL SCORE: 7/10 – Enjoyable