"The Eden of Grisaia isn't so much of a saving grace for the series as it is damage control for the inevitable fiasco that Labyrinth set it up for."
In every long-running series there comes a time when you wonder if the developers are just beating a dead horse. Whether it's just a general decline of the series as a whole, or new releases simply being reskins with a little extra polish, games getting the souls sucked out of them as they crumble under their own brand name is an unfortunate reality many of us are all too familiar with.
Although this fate is usually reserved for series that have at least a couple of entries and spinoffs, the Grisaia trilogy appeared to be losing its touch as early as its second main title, The Labyrinth of Grisaia
. Haphazard writing and questionable creative directing had my eyes rolling for most of the story, and the absurdly out of place cliffhanger ending did little to improve my already poor impressions of the game. The story at that point felt like it was beyond saving.
In the middle of this imminent disaster, The Eden of Grisaia, as the closing chapter of the main story, has the dubious honor of being the series' last hope. And to its credit, Eden actually does a pretty decent job at filtering out some of the excess and quality issues that bogged down Labyrinth, but not without a myriad of missteps of its own.
Taking place immediately after the events of Labyrinth, Eden finds the girls of Mihama Academy in a pinch after Yuuji gets taken into custody for his involvement with an international terrorist organization. Although they aren't in any immediate danger of public backlash thanks to Mihama's strong political connections, the girls can't help but wonder if they will ever see Yuuji again. But this hour of crisis is different from the past traumas that scarred the girls into becoming outcasts of society. Thanks to Yuuji, they've come to accept the mistakes of their pasts and spend their days looking towards the future; it's with this mindset that the girls audaciously throw away the comfortable future guaranteed by Mihama in order to rescue their classmate who had freed them from their own personal prisons.
While this setting certainly does tick off all the boxes for a snappy action drama, Eden has the good sense to start off with an appropriate amount of build-up before really kicking things into high gear. From the girls' internal struggles as they debate the uncertainty of their chosen path, to the eventual planning of Yuuji's rescue, I was genuinely surprised at how thoroughly the story handled all of the logistics and details that would otherwise be left to the mercy of the player's suspension of disbelief (although parts of the build-up are quite far-fetched even with the explanations). The attention to detail here pays dividends later on, as it allows the story to sneak in some pretty cheeky twists, adding some necessary spice to an otherwise unimaginative second half.
Indeed, it appears that the third time is not the charm for Frontwing when it comes to writing compelling action, as the high stakes that get raised in the first half of the story end up being completely deflected by the ludicrous amount of plot armor the main cast don in the latter half. The story does its best to play off these moments of complete absurdity as a natural extension of the girls' talents, such as Amane's driving skills in her family truck outclassing highly specialized vehicles in the mountains; but when characters begin to survive events that would have Wile E. Coyote sweating bullets about his own safety, tension quickly gets replaced by tedium.
This isn't even touching upon the fact that Eden's cast generally regresses into being caricatures of their former selves, despite all of them overcoming their past traumas. Michiru, in particular, is the most egregious offender of them all; in Fruit, she quickly established herself as one of the most interesting members of the cast with the deeply rooted duality of her personality, but Eden reintroduces her as tsundere slapstick material and just leaves it at that. The individual fears and struggles that made each of the girls such compelling characters to begin with is almost lost entirely and is instead replaced with the harem mindset of "we all want to date this guy." This leaves the player with little more than headcanon and the distant memories of Fruit to fill in the blanks in character development that Eden so eagerly provides.
Ironically enough, the hero that swoops down to save the day is the extra content, specifically the prologue chapter that you unlock once you finish the main story. Detailing the arrivals of each of the girls before the start of Fruit, the prologue chapter turned out to be an excellent read that triumphantly returned to the roots of what made the Grisaia series so good to begin with. The awkward confrontations as the girls begin living with each other, the touching heart-to-heart conversations, the credible character drama — all these moments of pretty genuine human interaction give the prologue, and Eden as a whole for that matter, the much-needed heart that the series has been missing for some time now. Not to mention the fact that the prologue does a phenomenal job at packing all of these things into its relatively short ten-hour runtime, closing off the series on a high note (and a good excuse to replay Fruit).
Thankfully, the presentation remains as crisp as ever. If there's one thing that definitely pulled me through the slumps in Eden's writing, it is the unshakable quality of the voice acting and music that continues to be the Grisaia series' greatest asset. Lots of graphical touch ups are present, as the user interface adopts a subtle but definitely more streamlined appearance, and there is also a much greater variety in sprites this time around, especially near the end of the story.
The Eden of Grisaia isn't so much of a saving grace for the series as it is damage control for the inevitable fiasco that Labyrinth set it up for. And while damage certainly is mitigated to some degree, it comes at the pretty tangible cost of character development and a plot that gets crushed under its own weight. Perhaps Frontwing will just let the series go on a positive note with the great prologue chapter, but with several volumes of a spinoff series on the market and an anime adaptation of those underway, it appears as though they'll be beating this horse a while longer.