No spoiler review.
I went into this game really blind, only knowing that kaito and namidai was in it, has high reviews and has an interesting setting of obvious discrimination in a school setting. Despite me thinking ‘phantasm’ in the title meant it was going to go otomate way, making everything strange the result of some magical or demonic force, Daisy*Daisy bound the story up quite well, leaving realism with realism and peeling off the layers of mysteries slowly.
Essentially, Zettai Kaikyuu Gakuen is like Kuroshitsuji (public school Arc) meets Caste system, complete with horse riding and dogeza bowing, with some apartheid district thrown into it too. While I wouldn’t say it’s a human drama kind of story since I was mostly angry throughout the game rather than sad, the romance was well written and believable, with enough cutesy bits and interaction with the love interests to make it a proper otome game. It’s rare that I’m satisfied with the romance in an otome game, and that’s already a plus point.
The characters appear stereotypes at first glance, but except for that flirtatious boy and the rich-boy-who-changes-upon-meeting-poor-girl, the rest were interesting variations to their usual otome mans. If you didn’t already know, there are three classes:
Roses: influential, wealthy, beautiful: all the students have to do what they say. The roses have special seats and special shops, even special food. And among the roses are two special
thorns guys who were handpicked by the Queen as aides, who are also the main guys of the game:
Takamine Riku (Red Rose):
an arrogant heir to the Takamine group who crumbles easily when he falls in love and does some pretty hilarious things. NamiDai tsundere? You bet you’ll have lots of fun. Riku’s stone/truth route was really heartwarming and I didn’t stop grinning throughout the time I was playing it. Some of his bad ends were pretty memorable though.
Saginomiya Rei (White Rose):
a gentle princely type but still under influence of the caste discrimination and I would say, leave all his routes to the last for a nice finale. Rei is more than just a pretty boy, and while his relationship with Neri is calming and soothing, you’ll find more peaks and bottoms than you ever expected.
Then comes the Honeybees, the middle class who aims to go up that ladder to become Roses, and is also where our heroine Fujieda Neri goes when she first arrives at the school. In this class, the only hero is
Kaji Ichiha, the playboy of the five,
like any other honeybee, changes his attitude the moment someone he knows changes classes. Honeybees have the power to order the Stones around as well, and Neri’s friend Moeka actually bullied Haru when he first bumped into her at the school. I don’t remember much of Ichiha’s route because it was plainly boring for me, but he was a nice contrast to the rest as a middle class man.
The last and lowest class are the Stones
In here we have Igarashi Haru,
that bullied shota whom you later find out is a snarky tsundere with a talent for painting. He doesn’t fight back because he just doesn’t give a damn. Contrary to my expectations, Haru wasn’t that cute or coddle-deserving, despite it being Kaito who voices Haru. I didn’t enjoy Haru’s route as much as I wanted to, but most of his route was haunting, especially his Rose bad end.
The last guy, unexpectedly, became my favourite!
Nanase Toya, the leader of the Resistance is a big and charismatic guy overflowing with sexiness, partly because of Maeno. The wild type who loves horses, ditches lessons and gets up on stage during morning assembly to pep talk people into understanding that the caste system is a piece of shit, Toya and his team are the only ones trying to make sense of this weird system in the school. TBH, I fell in love with Toya the moment he appeared in the game. ( *´艸｀) The only thing I was disappointed with was that despite saying that they are Resistance, they don’t really draw up big plans to drop the system, but rather enjoy playing darts and bonding with other classes in secret, and also annoying Riku, which made for some funny episodes int he common route and also heartwarming scenes in the Truth routes.
The very presence of that caste system dividing the students into 3 classes and one queen gives the interactions between the students an additional flavour, and you soon see why the Queen even exists.
System / play guide / heroine
I really liked how this game, like NOISE and ayakashi gohan, gives the heroine two kinds of personalities. Depending on your choices in the common route where Neri gets accustomed to life in the school, she either drops to Stones or rises to Roses, with Neri mostly being a biatch in the Rose routes.
It was interesting to see Neri get ‘stained’ by the class distinctions of the school and graudally gravitate towards Stones or Roses, and all the kiss-ass from her classmates and also from her friend Moeka once she became a Rose was also so practical it reminded me of the real world right away. As I mentioned in the intro, I’m more often than not, angry when I play this game because of the many injustice to the characters or to Neri herself. Sometimes I’m angry at Neri too when she easily backs away, but she did fine for a 17-year-old. Watching Neri in the Rose routes is somewhat emotionally distressing because she becomes so affected that the player as Neri, looking through her eyes feel so disgusted with ‘yourself’.
There are multiple bad ends for each character, but I didn’t do them all, but some of the Rose bad ends were pretty good.
After finishing Stones and Roses for each character, you can then start on the Truth routes that reveal everything about the story. I would say that the Truth routes are a continuation of the Stones routes, and what is after that Happy Ever After. You may have guessed through clues in the game, you may not have guessed, but the Truth routes were satisfying on their own.
Despite saying so, I have some problems with the execution of the game. Some of the routes (not bad ends) ended pretty randomly, and the Truth routes were also all the same execution except for Rei, which made it a tad boring to go through the same thing 4 times. Truth routes could have been combined into one for all the guys rather than splitting parts of the truth up for each character. Maybe they wanted to include those wedding bits, but I would have preferred the good end Truth routes to still have an underlying madness to keep the game haunting.
Also, it was annoying to have to insert the disc permanently when you’re playing the game. This DVD works more like a PSV cartridge, and since I use an external drive with my laptop, I had to drag that along each time I switched positions from the sofa to the bed or to the floor.
I never intended to play this game so quickly, but after I installed the game at 2am and started it up just to check, the character voice on the start screen started scolding me for not sleeping at that time. I thought wow, and the first thing I did was to play it once I woke up the next day. The characters say different things depending on the time of the day and it was pretty novel to me.
Very efficient system, with jump options and volume for each character, bgm, window and text. I also like how you can switch the hint on or off, with the icons for each character showing on the side of the selections to let you know which character’s route you will catch.
Art / BGM
I have no complains about the BGM; as usual MANYO does a fantastic job with electric tones and strings, but it’s not as lovely as ayakashi gohan’s.
While the art is a nice fit for the atmosphere of the game, there were multiple Lolicon CGs, the type I hate with a rage.
This is a real problem for most otome games and I wish artists and helpers would stop doing it! The art also wasn’t so great that I wanted to save any CGs, but Wada Beko does have a nice style that she can work on.
There were some nice ero CGs like Kabe-don and bed-don. And if ZKG was an R18, it’d be a pretty yabai game, considering the truth and caste system of the game.
The best thing about this game is having the romance as the main and having the truth as a side dish. I found an unexpected favourite and I didn’t really like much the guy I had my eye on, and all these are nice extra surprises for me. But somehow something is found lacking, probably the way the story was executed as I mentioned earlier. It’s worth a play.
4 stars! I’ll be looking forward to their next project.
Empty gaming list for the rest of the year….. *cries*