Grisaia no Kajitsu (usually abbreviated to just “Grisaia”) is a visual novel by FrontWing, and is well-regarded by most. It follows the story of Yuuji Kazami as he enters Mihama Academy – a school with only 6 students, himself included. However, it soon becomes apparent that the school is less of a scholastic facility, and more of a home for those with enough personal and emotional issues to make my therapist grab the nearest can of gasoline and see if those claims about self-immolating monks in Vietnam can be replicated. Thankfully our savior and protagonist (Yuuji) is so deadpan and pragmatic that he can quickly break through their quirks and live the normal student life he desired.
Grisaia was the first game I ever played which made me feel hollow after playing a route. Sometimes I get that feeling after a good game – that sense of poignancy and finality that comes with you getting the full clear, but rarely can a single route give me that feeling. Even more stunning is that this happened multiple times in the same game. The range of emotion and ideas presented in this game is immense. From action, to philosophy, to thrills, to maids, I think the sheer diversity will amaze you. If you intend to play Grisaia get ready for the long haul, and prepare yourself for the game that has it all.
Setting and/or Immersion (6/10)
Not starting off strong, eh? The first hour of play does not hook you in too hard. The setting is modern Japan, which is fairly standard, and you are constantly barraged by a feeling that something isn’t quite the way it seems just based off of how the characters are interacting. For some the allure of the world turned slightly awry can be reason enough to get engaged, but compared to the peaks of excitement later on it’s a footnote. The game has an absolutely massive common route, which does a great job of establishing character, but means it’s very much on the reader to be interested in the 15 or more hours of slice-of-life-esque story. I have an exceptional patience for this sort of thing, but I recall myself getting antsy around hour 10 for something big to happen. There is something to be said about this extended period of normalcy though – it really does jumpstart the momentum of a route when the pieces finally start slipping in place.
This part of the reason for why I think this game is so great – even when listing a supposed flaw, it seems to fit.
Characters and Cast (10/10)
The game has five heroines, the main character, and a small smattering of side characters who mostly depend on the route you choose. I will point-blank say that this is a character focused game, so you should be getting invested in them if you want to enjoy their routes. The cast has a wide berth of personality despite being fairly small in respect to other games. While there is a common thread of every Heroine feeling just slightly off, or having unusual tendencies (thus why they’re in Mihama Academy in the first place), their personality doesn’t just exist as a facet of their issues.
There is quite a bit to say about each character, but I think I’ll keep in short – getting into any specifics about what eats at each character is heavy spoiler territory.
The main character who is ACTUALLY a character, and not a mold for the player to insert themselves in to. Like everyone else in the academy he also has personal issues that qualify him for being there, but you (as the player) are only given clues for a while. He has incredible banter, and despite being a bit of a stick in the mud, he fits! Some of the characters in this game are purposefully made over the top, so having the main character be totally grounded (and based) can make for some golden scenes and interesting romances.
A childlike heroine who hangs on the line like imouto bait. She knows English, and several of the funniest scenes in the common route are from here speaking ENGRISH to cause an unholy mix of intentional humor and terrible pronunciation. She calls Yuuji and Amane as if they’re her older brother and sister respectively, which will either irritate you or engross you. Worst Girl.
An onii-san type character. She’s doting and caring, but seems like she specifically wants to help Yuuji adjust. She mainly hangs out with Makina in a futile attempt to make her friend more mature. She seems remarkably very well-adjusted for going to a school like this, especially when compared to the other girls. She also has a streak for teasing Yuuji and a sort of ambiguous romantic interest in him. Best assets, Best girl.
The maid. Normally that’d say enough, but in a game about strange students at private academy I think she warrants more explanation. She’s a crazy, dedicated, meido. She takes everything literally and has an unnerving level of competence and an even more unnervingly low level of common sense. Like incredibly low. Like, gets on a train for three hours to milk a cow because her friend requested fresher milk levels of low. Second Best Girl.
A tsundere with a twist – that twist being she’s absolutely horrible at being a tsundere. She acts the part but more often than not is completely thrown for a loop by Yuuji’s deadpan responses or Sachi’s total earnestness. She serves as a bumbling, incompetent, comic relief character for the common route. Many people find her endearing, but I found her to be pretty hit or miss. Second Worst Girl.
In a word: Antisocial. She sits in the classroom with a book and reads. Of all the characters she’s the one with the biggest chip on her shoulder, and is the one most obviously externalizing her issues. Despite this she doesn’t talk, and reacts violently to those who pester her. Classic Kuudere (and I’ll go out on a limb to say the eventual dere on her route makes it worth it). Mid-tier Girl.
There’s a wide variety of minor characters, and even another major character who I left out since I think it’s better to learn about them organically through the reading. The notable minor characters include Chizuru, the principal of Mihama Academy, and JB, who is Yuuji’s guardian.
As stated, the common thread of deeply seated emotional problems are present in all the heroines, and in fact in Yuuji himself. However, the game ensures that emotional problems do not make a rift between the player and the characters. The problems are just a part of their character, which makes them enticing to want to explore. I believe that this is a core theme of the game – the idea that people with problems are still people who have hopes and want to accomplish something with their life. They all have issues for sure, but you come to realize that this isn’t a Savior Complex game; there’s a give and take. The distinction between the two is massive, which is why I think the whole game is different enough to feel foreign while still having an ephemeral sense of familiarity. And if that last sentence is too convoluted, then the blunt way of putting it is ‘Close, but different enough to feel new’. You, as the player, don’t feel the need to save them because you want their affection, but rather to allow them to grow.
Now each route does have a theme, and in fact in several quickly passing extras they allude to them. If you want to explore these themes to the fullest on your own without any spoilers at all I’d encourage you to fly free into the Art and Graphics header.
Can’t say I didn’t warn ya! They aren’t so much of spoilers as they kind of get you on edge and could help you figure out stuff before it actually happens. Just like if you knew a theme in “Wuthering Heights” was “tragic romance” you’d be a bit more braced for it. The themes of the routes deal with what’s eating at the character. From Amane’s overwhelming guilt for something she could not control to Sachi’s regret about a tragedy whose outcome she caused but could never imagine, each theme can be expressed very quickly and simply. Loss of innocence and regression, guilt, regret, denial of self, and the fear of expression are the main heroines’ themes respectively. These themes are not particularly unique, but the way they are presented, much like the main theme, is in a slightly new light. The authors clearly were trying to separate their work from others by the sheer depth they used in them. Michiru’s and Sachi’s routes in particular provided a lot of philosophical dialogues. All the themes are also fairly sad which is to be expected for a game about working through character flaws.
Art and Graphics (10/10)
It was all there. The art was exceptional compared to most Visual novels. The CGs weren’t quite plentiful but I can overlook that since the emotive sprites made up for it. It did not do anything amazing, it didn’t break convention, it just executed the “norm” flawlessly and that’s just about what you should expect. They had several small chibi sections (mostly in the common route) which I personally thought made the experience a lot more interesting. As an example, one of the cartoon shows that Makina and Sachi like to watch has its own Chibi art sequences. The art style also shifted away from this less cutesy style as the stories and routes progressed into more serious sections. In short, the art and CGs more than adequately support the story and in most cases they add on to it. In some VNs I almost think that a manga or light novel would’ve been a better medium to tell the story, but Grisaia makes full use of the tools provided to make their story.
The music is also pretty good. It lacks the diversity of some games, but it more than makes up the quantity with quality. Songs like “Deadlock” and “Waratte Itakute” are so emblematic of the series that even now, 2 years after my initial playthrough, I still get a rush of emotion when they come on. Perhaps it’s not the greatest music to stand up on its own, but that could be said about any given component of a VN – it’s not just the story or the CGs or the music that make it good, but an artful combination of all of them. They bounce of each other and synergize well to make the experience unforgettable – and in FrontWing’s case they certainly succeeded in this aspect.
Writing Quality (10/10)
Superb. As of now it’s the single best I’ve had for overall quality. Some portions of other VNs can compete with it, but for me it’s a high standard to be held up to. The characterization is presented with care and adequate timing, the subject matter is broad yet flows nicely, the banter works and the characters have believable dialogue. There’s very little in this game which the writing does not make better. A special kudos goes to the editor(s) of it – I don’t think that a single writer completed it on their own, but the style does not jump dramatically at any point. It’s a smooth gradient and has all the polish you’d expect from a single author working with team of editors and not a studio putting together a behemoth undertaking.
There’s approximately 1 million words (which is the same length as the entirety of the Harry Potter series), and now, in scrutiny, there is not a point that I can think of which I did not like. If you can put up with the length of the game it’s all great, but as I’ve stated they tended to have issues with length. The pacing itself has a remarkable curve of momentum. It starts slowly with the common route and stays that way for a while, and then the routes have different pacing. Some are slow, like Sachi, and some are moderate until a breakpoint and then everything starts happening, like in Makina. My personal favorite route of all time (any VN) is Amane, and even more specifically is the Chapter “Angel’s Howl”. I don’t think I’ve scarcely read a book which could compare to the feeling I got when reading that chapter. I was getting up before work at 5:30AM just to make progress on it.
The start may be slow, but I’d consider it a challenge to get through the common route and finish a heroine route and not think the whole game was already worth your time.
//YOUR WAIFU IS SHIT: Makina Irisu. Makina’s route has the least amount of depth and portrays Yuuji very differently than how he acts in other routes. It just feels sloppy – too many big heavy hits with too little time in between to prepare yourself for the next one. Eventually you just kind of roll with it instead of getting more invested with every blow. Makina’s route does not weigh in on the final verdict, nor any of the scores.//
Grisaia is a certain recommend. If it’s not my top of all time, it’s certainly in the top three depending on what you’re going for (along with Majikoi and G-senjou no Maou which may or may not be the next two getting a review). It’s on sale on steam right now, but that’s the censored version. If you enjoy big anime tiddies then denpasoft has the official release of the adult version (not on sale). Alternatively, you could sail the seven seas, but my recommendation is to always support the official release, even if that means getting a restoration patch.
The sequel was recently translated, and only the clean version is out. Find it here.
Thanks for reading!
All art used in this review is from the in game CG and were retrieved from HERE. (Careful for Spoilers)