This game took me almost an entire year to finish. Ambivalent thoughts to follow.
In the end, I remain very torn about Grisaia. I want to look back on my experience with the game and say it was worth my time; I did pour over 60 hours into it, after all. But so much of the story was padded and superfluous. It only made the beautiful artwork and prose feel like hollow, pretty nothings.
Perhaps some of the effect is purposeful; the game’s motif is a shiny fruit with a rotten core. But though the underlying ideas were genuinely compelling, the game ultimately failed to follow through on them effectively. Instead, the focus lingered on self-consciously witty jokes and, in its darker segments, crude shock effect.
To sum up, it’s an intelligently written game, though not nearly as intelligent as it thinks it is. I think Silvachief had it down pat with his own review of the game:
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.
I think what made playing Grisaia so frustrating for me was that I could see its promise. Some individual scenes gripped me, though I invariably found myself disappointed by how the storylines chose to resolve themselves.
I noticed this most particularly with the routes written by Ryuuta Fujisaki (Common, Amane, Makina). Fujisaki’s prose is more noticeably verbose than that of the other scenario writers, and while the dialogue is snappier, every character seems to share the same snide and sarcastic worldview. The combination of these two things made the often rambling conversations feel even more self-indulgent on the author’s part. Yet in Fujisaki’s routes, the redemption theme takes a solid shape, along with tantalising hints of a larger, more complex narrative.
The other routes follow the more conventional “white knight hero solves the heroine’s problem” visual novel template. While inoffensive in their own right (sexist tropes aside), I feel that these routes misunderstand how deeply dysfunctional the main character is, along with his relationships with the heroines. For better or worse, the heart and soul of Grisaia lies in Fujisaki’s writing.
Theme and Character Route Analysis [SPOILERS, OBVIOUSLY]
When I say that the relationships in this game are dysfunctional, I mean it. Our protagonist Yuuji is no audience stand-in. He’s a mysterious and enigmatic character in his own right, whose logic is often baffling and even batshit crazy at times.
Though all the heroines in the game are Yuuji’s fellow students, because of their unusual circumstances, they end up in highly unequal relationships with Yuuji if you choose to pursue them romantically. Yuuji becomes Amane’s mental abuser, Makina’s “father”, Sachi’s master, Yumiko’s bodyguard and Michiru’s gravedigger. The girls willingly agree to and even impose these relationships on Yuuji.
Makina’s route is the most interesting in this regard. The unequal power dynamics are even more exaggerated. Not only does Makina hire Yuuji to become her “father”, he takes it upon himself to teach her the ways of the sniper. Yuuji obsessively protects Makina from potential assassins, to the extent that he becomes violent and even bloodthirsty.
What this route makes clear is that Yuuji’s feelings are motivated by his hidden guilt and vulnerabilities. He takes on the role of the teacher and pseudo-parent because that’s what his own master did for him. Thus, the story is as much about Yuuji’s quest for redemption as Makina’s. It’s a real damn shame that the ending takes the easy way out.
Grisaia’s big mistake was to romanticise its dysfunctional relationships, even as the dialogue made it sound self-aware. It makes sense for dysfunctional individuals to have dysfunctional relationships, though the good ends are too saccharine; redemption comes too easy. The girls only face their problems through coming into contact with Yuuji.
Now this is a common problem in bishojo visual novels. In character routes, the focus is on the individual girls and their oh so tragic pasts, so you don’t often see an organic relationship develop. Grisaia squanders all its potentially interesting relationships by adhering to the formula.
Grisaia no Kajitsu also lacks any sense of closure. The game itself functions as the first game of a trilogy. I sort of understand what this franchise is trying to do. In the first game, Yuuji is supposed to save the heroines. In the later games, they’re supposed to save him. That’s all well and good, but as a standalone game, Kajitsu is lacking. It doesn’t fill me with eagerness to try out the other games in the trilogy.
I should make it clear that I didn’t find the entire game lacking. In fact, I thought the Angelic Howl subsection of Amane’s route was Grisaia at its very best – silly and preposterous, yet oddly compelling and full of tension. Still, I can’t recommend Grisaia to any but the most patient of visual novel fans. In my eyes, the payoff is simply not worth it.
The game is popular among English-speaking VN fans (with an official English release currently in the works), so many will likely disagree with me. For those of you who haven’t played it, you have to remember that Grisaia is a long game and there’s no guarantee that it will grow on you like it has for the fans who have already dedicated many hours to it.
Honestly, I think I’d be a lot kinder on Kajitsu if it was a lot more accessible. There’s an anime adaptation, although it cuts out so much material that the story is nonsensical. Fortunately, Angelic Howl (episodes 10-12) is left mostly intact and also has the benefit of being a standalone story. If you want to know what the big deal is about Grisaia but don’t want to invest the time to play such a long VN, I suggest you watch those episodes.
To finish off this review, have a picture of Yuuji’s square butt.