The Grisaia Trilogy – comprised of The Fruit of Grisaia, The Labyrinth of Grisaia, and The Eden of Grisaia – is massive in scope as well as fan interest. Even before its English-language release it sustained a devoted worldwide fanbase. However, it is likely thanks to the recent releases and success of Grisaia via Steam (funded by Sekai Project’s Kickstarter a few years ago) that Frontwing decided to release their new series, Grisaia Phantom Trigger, simultaneously in English and Japanese for PC. Their Kickstarter campaign was a tremendous success, netting over $180,000 by the end, and has led to both Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 already launching on Steam. Existing Grisaia fans likely just snapped the game up already – but what of newcomers to the whole Grisaia world?
Frontwing suggests that the Grisaia Phantom Trigger series features a “totally new storyline and cast of characters” which should therefore make it an acceptable jumping off point for newbies. To a degree, that’s a fair assumption. Everything is explained adequately and the new cast of characters bring with them unique personalities and traits. With that said, there is a connection to The Eden of Grisaia. Effectively, the events of that game carry over into this one. As such, playing through Grisaia Phantom Trigger Vol. 1 spoils players to late-game events and therefore might ruin some of the final game in the trilogy’s reveals. Of course, totally new players might just stick with these Phantom Trigger titles instead as they are far shorter than the main trilogy. Seriously. Between Vol. 1 and 2 readers will likely only spend a combined six to twelve hours. In comparison, that’s less time than it would take to read just one of The Grisaia Trilogy’s entries all the way through.
With that said, let’s delve into the basics of Grisaia Phantom Trigger Vol. 1. The story takes place primarily within the confines of Mihama Municipal Academy. Unlike most visual novels, this is far from a prestigious school where for some reason one average guy has zillions of lovestruck friends. Instead, the school could effectively be considered a military academy. The students, finding themselves with nowhere else to go, get dumped into Mihama where they train in different military specialties. Students are being trained to become snipers, tacticians and more. However, protagonist Arisaka doesn’t know this right from the get go. She’s simply a down on her luck teacher who is desperate to land the homeroom teacher opening. After failing to get a job at previous schools, Mihama becomes her last hope. It’s only once she starts working there that she realizes how incredibly different the school – and its students – are from all other institutions.
The strangeness starts with her meeting with the surprisingly unabashed principal Sengoku and only continues as she meets the students in homeroom. Murusaki, Tohka, Chris, Rena and Aoi at first all seem like standard high schoolers. That is, until they chat casually about things like killing people or weaponry. This proves the biggest strain on Arisaka’s job. Being a teacher is fine for her, but she really wants to learn more about her students. However, if she learns too much about them, she might find the realizations too disturbing for her otherwise normal life. It’s an intriguing setup for a game and one that serves Grisaia Phantom Trigger Vol. 1 well.
What doesn’t work well for this visual novel is its length. Just as we are getting to take the tiniest peek at characters beyond their stereotypical presentations, the volume concludes. Right when Arisaka makes her choice about whether or not she wants to stay at Mihama Academy we’re treated to the credits. Sure, it’s an episodic release, but it would have been great if there was slightly more substance here. Without it, it feels like the splitting of Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 of Grisaia Phantom Trigger was done simply to generate more revenue. As is, most players should be able to complete Vol. 1 in only two to four hours.
Some visual novels succeed with brevity. That is not the case here. Yes, the setup is extremely interesting, but barely anything is done with it. The chapter also falls into the trap that so many other short stories do – it spends a little too much time on the mundane. The original Grisaia could be criticized for how long it takes to truly get going, but it also had copious hours to work with teaching you about characters. In the case of Grisaia Phantom Trigger Vol. 1, we’ve only got precious few hours to spare which should not be spent on wacky high school behavior. Fortunately, most of this eventually plays out into demonstrating how unusual the students are rather than just following anime tropes. Still, it would have been great to see a bit more dramatic action.
Fortunately, Grisaia Phantom Trigger Vol. 1 is well-produced in general. The artwork is fantastically slick and there are a load of CG scenes despite the short gameplay length. All characters, including the protagonist, are also voiced in Japanese. There are also a ton of options included to tweak text display and speed in all manner of ways. As someone who rarely finds it possible to set auto mode specifically to my needs, it was refreshing that this game had nearly all the settings required. The release is also incredibly light on typos and grammatical errors which is always pleasantly refreshing.
Grisaia Phantom Trigger Vol. 1 is just a small bite of the new world of Phantom Trigger. Clocking in at just a couple hours, some may feel it takes a few missteps at truly utilizing its short gameplay length fully. Still, players should easily find themselves wrapped in a militaristic world that is both intriguing and a bit frightening. The likable, if odd, cast also ensures that most will go on to read Vol. 2 after completing this one. Hopefully that chapter finds it footing as Vol. 1 definitely has promise but doesn’t fully utilize this potential.