The Fruit of Grisaia
Genre: Visual Novel
Developer: Front Wing
Publisher: Sekai Project
Release Date: 5/29/15
While more and more visual novels have been finding their way to the US as of late, thanks to increased Western interest and some really quality releases in the genre to spark that interest, it’s worth remembering that the Japanese market has been seeing these kinds of games for a long time now, and we’re only starting to see some come stateside. That’s great, frankly, for fans and publishers alike; publishers have a veritable treasure trove of VN’s to pick through and bring to us as the fanbase grows for such games, and fans can expect a whole lot of quality offerings from Japan because there’s a huge variety of things to choose from, with large fanbases already installed to show the products are good. The Grisaia Trilogy, as a whole, is such an example, and for the most part, it’s one that’s been handled very well across the board. Sekai Project, the US publisher for the game, launched a Kickstarter for the trilogy, and while some games that have been funded that way have taken more than a year to see any sort of release, Sekai wasted no time getting the first game, The Fruit of Grisaia, out into the market while there was still some hype behind it. Not only that, with the anime already simulcasting over at Crunchyroll, there almost isn’t a better time to get the game out into the waiting hands of its backers and fans, frankly. Of course, a rushed product would only hurt the project going forward, but for those who are afraid of such a thing, let me reassure you up-front: The Fruit of Grisaia is an amazingly high-quality piece of work, from start to finish, and its translation is pretty damn good across the board. That’s not to say that there aren’t some minor hiccups along the way, but for the most part, backers and those of casual interest alike should take heed that, even at the projected $30 asking price, the game is well worth it.
On Mysteries and Craziness
The Fruit of Grisaia is essentially the tale of Yuji Kazami, new student transferring into Mihama Academy, which essentially acts as a super-restrictive private school for people who have lots of issues and, in most cases, special reasons to be there. In Yuji’s case, he’s something of a hired assassin, working for the Japanese government due to various circumstances in his life. Having reached a point in his life where he’s wondering if there’s more to life than just killing people at the behest of his employer, Yuji asks to experience a “normal” life for a while, and while putting a trained killer into a normal school probably isn’t a great idea, accommodations are made to place him in Mihama, where his personality defects will be less problematic. As the plot progresses, you’re introduced to his five female classmates: Amane, a “horny big sister” type who’s repressing a good bit of her childhood, Yumiko, whose kuudere tendencies mask a life she’s not thrilled to be a part of, Makina, whose moe tendencies hide some odd familial issues, Michiru, a fake tsundere whose behavior masks something far more depressing, and Sachi, whose hyper-obedient nature comes from some less than pleasant roots. Yuji doesn’t especially want to get involved in any of this, of course, but part of living a normal life ends up being that you end up getting attached to people eventually, and as the player, it’s your job to guide Yuji into the life of one of these ladies, in hopes of helping both the lady in question, and Yuji.
This might sound like a dating simulator, but in truth, there are only a few choices to make throughout the game, and they almost always mean something, so this is really about as pure a visual novel as you can get. The game is based around telling its story above and beyond all else, and it works, mostly because it has an interesting and moving story to tell, no matter what path you go down. The framework is reminiscent of something like Fullmetal Panic, if filtered through a somewhat darker lens; Yuji’s not exactly a patriot (or thrilled with his job) and is a bit of a blunt jerk, and each of the ladies he can court has their own concerns, none of which are at all pleasant, frankly. It’s an interesting motif, though, whether you’re familiar with FMP or not, as the characters all get along very well and have realistic interactions, and each character is fleshed out quite well by the end of the game. The only obvious concerns to point out here are that the game is a visual novel, and it absolutely owns that designation; it’ll take you around twenty hours to completely finish a single path, and while each successive path only needs you to complete the second part, that’s still about ten hours of content per character. In other words, this is definitely a game for fans of visual novels, and while the sheer content and depth of the release may scare off newcomers, it’s well worth it, mostly. The other major concern here is that, for as much amazing storytelling as is here, some of it is a bit… windy at times. Yuji in particular seems to have a major issue with long non-sequitur conversations and windy proselytizing about nothing in particular, and some of the side stories just go on for (in some cases) as much as an hour when half the exposition would do. The plot also takes a while to “get going,” as the first ten hours of the game is devoted to character and world building; essentially, you go through a couple weeks with the cast before you get to the dedicated routes, so that you have a good idea who everyone is. This can be an issue if you don’t care about character building or find the whole thing annoying, but if you take it like this is meant to be a full anime series, it makes sense, and for the most part, if you like the characters, you’ll find spending a while on their antics to be pretty fun before you get into the serious stuff. The game also suffers a bit when Yuji isn’t around, as despite his long diatribes, he’s the glue that ties everything together, so when stories are told that don’t involve him, things often feel flatter than they do when he’s involved. It’s understandable, since the writers clearly had an idea of the story they wanted to tell and it’s not like you can’t just spam the Enter key to skip past the more tedious parts, but it’s a bit of a black mark on an otherwise exceptional plot.
The Fruit of Grisaia uses the standard talking character sprite motif the genre is known for, meaning you’ll mostly spend your time watching semi-static sprites on-screen as characters talk about whatever. The game does manage to do a lot with a little, though, using perspective tricks to bring specific characters to the forefront or swapping sprites mid-dialogue to indicate a change in mood during a conversation, and it works pretty well. The background are also pretty good, all in all, and even though you’ll see some a lot more frequently than others, for the most part the game swaps them around enough that you don’t get tired of them. The game also makes good use of cinematic images to convey important scenes, meaning that you’ll see several high-quality scenes pop up no matter what route you play, all of which look awesome and add some real depth to the plot when they come up. Aurally, the in-game music rather good throughout the game, and while none of it really stands out to the extent that you’d listen to the soundtrack much on its own, it fits in with the game very nicely. The game only features Japanese language audio, sadly, so those hoping for a dub won’t see one at this point, but the Japanese dialogue is well voiced, and everyone sounds exactly as you’d expect them to based on their character type, so it works out pretty well. The effects used in the game are mostly fine as well, though a couple clearly stick out as being stock effects that have been used in other games; it’s not a big deal, but if you notice it, it’ll take you out of the experience for a few seconds.
On Progression and Depth
There’s not a lot to say about the gameplay of the experience, per say, because there really isn’t any. The game is all about clicking to move the plot along, and most paths will only offer about five or six choices (at most) through the entirety of the game. Functionally, though, that doesn’t mean the game doesn’t have a lot to offer. You’re given a fairly robust amount of options to play with to customize the experience to your liking, from the ability to change voice actions when you skip to the ability to mute certain characters altogether to the ability to set the “System” voice to whoever you’d like to the ability to set shortcuts as you wish and beyond. The game also allows you the option to perform normal saves (for dialogue branches mostly) and quick saves (for when you just want to stop for a bit), and even skip scenes you’ve already seen if you make a bad choice or neglect to save when you should, so it’s very aware of what would make the experience most convenient to the player. Hell, there’s even an option to skip between the choices in the game, so if you don’t like a choice you made (or if you don’t want to skip all the dialogue between choices) you can jump back and forth as needed, without a hassle. It’s a well-designed game, in other words, even if it’s not the most mechanically complex product out there.
The main lure is the plot of the game and how it’s executed, and it’s that fact that actually helps the game out dramatically in a few cases. For example, this being a visual novel, there’s no real “replay” to speak of; once you’re done with all of the plots, that’s it, and there’s nothing to really go back to, per say. In theory, that’s a problem, but in practice, The Fruit of Grisaia overcomes this obstacle because, again, it’s sixty hours long, give or take; just playing through one plotline took me about three days, for reference, so unless you binge on the game you’ll easily find that it takes a week or more to complete. Further, not only can you nuke your data to start fresh if you’d like, but since you can skip around more or less as you see fit, you can always revisit your favorite scenes here as you see fit, sort of like… well, a favorite book, but with pictures. It’s also worth noting that the translation does a lot of good for the overall experience, as well, and Sekai Project is to be commended for it. There are some mild hiccups, and when I say “mild” I mean “two or three minor broken sentences,” but Sekai is dedicated to getting everything right, so much so that they patched the game while I was reviewing it, so not only will the game probably be as close to perfectly translated as possible at launch, but if there is an issue, it’ll probably get fixed. That’s dedication, frankly, and it’s hard not to admire that.
On Odds and Ends
As noted, you can get through any one plotline in around twenty hours or so, with each subsequent plot probably taking around ten hours to complete, give or take, so with that alone you’ll likely see around sixty hours of content. Beyond that, the game also offers you a whole mess of content as you complete each chapter of the game. Once you complete any one path, the game will unlock an “Extras” menu, allowing you access to the assets from the game. This unlocks the standard “CG Gallery” and “Scene Replay” features you’d expect from a game of this sort, as well as a music and movie gallery, each of which feature the things you’ve unlocked so far. In addition, there’s also a “Secret” menu, which gives you access to sound packs, wallpapers and icons each time you complete a route for the characters you completed, so if you want to make your PC a shrine to Amane Suou, knock yourself out. Honestly, $30 isn’t a bad price at all for the game, because there’s just so much content here that anyone who’s even a little bit interested in the game will find that it more than exceeds their expectations.
Normally, this is the part of the review where I wax poetic for what could have been or what’s not quite right, but there’s not a lot here that’s especially “wrong” with The Fruit of Grisaia so to say. As I noted above, some of the plot is a bit windy, which can be tiresome at times, but beyond that, the only significant things I feel need to be pointed out can be summed up in the phrase, “It’s a dramatic visual novel based on an eroge game.” To expand a bit, the game can get very dark at times so if that’s not your thing it may be a bit shocking, there’s virtually no interaction with the game so if you’re even looking for something a little involved you might find the transition from 9 Hours, 9 Persons, 9 Doors, Dangan Ronpa or even a Winter Wolves game staggering. Also, while this is the clean version of the game (for obvious reasons), and you won’t see anything beyond what you’d expect in an M-Rated (or, 90% of the time, a T-Rated) game, a couple of the routes have some fairly absurd conversations about sex (comedically, I assure you), so… if that’s a thing, you’ve been warned.
Honestly, though, if you’re someone who likes good storytelling, visual novels, or really most conventional anime, you’ll probably like The Fruit of Grisaia, and while it can be a bit of a shock if the most you’ve played is 999 or a Phoenix Wright game, it’s well worth giving it a try. The game is lengthy and mostly full of talking, can get a bit windy at times, and can occasionally venture into darker or perverted discussions, but it’s a top quality product, and if none of the above is concerning to you, you really have no reason not to pick it up. The writing’s outstanding, the characters are well written and engaging, the game looks and sounds great, and there’s a ton of content to see here, between the story and the unlockables, some of which you can even apply to your computer. The game is designed in a way that makes it accessible to fans of any stripe, meaning you can go through as little or as much as you want at a time, skip around as much as you need, and jump back and forth to favorite scenes whenever you wish, or even just pull them up from the Extras menu if you want to spend some time with the characters again. Put simply, The Fruit of Grisaia is a superb experience, and it’s one that should be accessible to almost anyone, making it easy to recommend to, well, almost anyone.
Short Attention Span Summary:
The Fruit of Grisaia is one of those visual novels that’s going to be held up down the road as a classic by fans, and it’s not hard to see why; it’s well written, well translated, compelling, and quite accessible despite its length to almost anyone, making it an experience that can be enjoyed by almost everyone. It’ll be a bit of a shock for fans of simpler releases like 999 or Dangan Ronpa thanks to its lack of interaction and heavy length, and those who find windy prose, depressing content or crass discussions undesirable might find parts of the game annoying, but frankly, these aren’t huge issues, and if you can look past them, what you’ll get is well worth it. The plot is well written, engaging and moving, and the translation is outstanding across the entire game. The game is very well presented, and is mechanically designed to appeal to fans of all kinds, between easily allowing access to every part of the plot whenever you want, offering multiple plot forks and endings to see, and allowing for an extensive amount of content both in and out of the game. Put simply, The Fruit of Grisaia isn’t a game to be missed, and whether you’re a fan of visual novels, anime, or even just well-written stories, this is something that’ll be a deep, engaging experience.