Title: 絶対階級学園 ~Eden with roses and phantasm~
Developer: Daisy2 & Prototype
Release Date: 10th January 2019
Age Rating: 17+
Length: ~30 Hours
Links: Official Website, VNDB
In the near future, Japan has been divided into regions known as “Ring Areas”. The lower the number of this area, the more wealthy and developed it is. The protagonist of this game, Fujieda Neri, lives with her father in one of the poorer districts but still manages to live a happy, if modest life. However, on the day of her 16th birthday, her father goes missing under mysterious circumstances, her house ends up damaged in a fire and the only thing she can do is follow the instructions left in a letter written by her father to go and stay with one of his old friends.
This family friend happens to be the chairman of Kaikyuu Academy – an elite & prestigious private boarding school where the children of Japan’s wealthiest families attend. It is located on a private island and has top of the range security, to protect the privacy of Japan’s hopes for the future.
Whilst on the surface it may appear normal, the school actually employs an extremely strict caste system whereby everything from your clothing, food and even accomodation is provided at different standards depending on your ranking. Not following the rules of the school can result in lowering of your rank and also punishments. The levels in the caste are as follows:
- The Queen – the single student who’s word is above all others.
- The Roses in bloom – the highest level a normal student can reach, revered and respected by all.
- The nameless Worker Bees – the average student.
- The Pebbles who should be tossed away – the lowest of the low, these students are treated as slaves and tend to be bullied.
While these rules may seem insane to someone who has lived in the outside world like Neri, the students in the academy have been used to the caste system since middle school and take it extremely seriously. Will she be able to fit in and navigate her school life as well as finding out the truth behind her father’s disappearance?
Neri lived alone with her father in one of the lower ring areas ever since her mother died when she was young. She cares deeply for her father and is desperate to find out what happened to him. She’s adept at cooking and cleaning, but doesn’t need to use these skills at the academy. Because she was brought up in the outside world, Neri has a tough time adapting to and accepting the academy’s caste system, viewing it as cruel and unnecessary. This causes her to occasionally get herself into some trouble. She was placed into the Bee rank upon her transfer to the academy.
Takamine Riku (CV Namikawa Daisuke)
Riku is a member of the Rose rank & is the “Red Rose” – one of the Queen’s right hand men and holds a higher position of authority than normal Roses. This, combined with the fact that he’s the sole heir to one of Japan’s most wealthy and powerful families, means that Riku has a bit of an ego. He’s grown up with a silver spoon in his mouth, is kind of spoiled and is used to everything going his way. Neri’s confusion over the caste system annoys him and he argues with her a lot but he can’t help but feel intrigued that someone is standing up to him for once. Despite seemingly perfect, Riku can be a little messy and has a tendency to overestimate his musical talents.
Saginomiya Rei (CV Kimura Ryouhei)
Rei is a member of the Rose rank and is the “White Rose”, which gives him an elevated position within the Rose rank (pretty much the same as Riku). Rei is a kind-hearted young man who takes his work seriously. He gives off a princely aura and has a sizeable fan club. Despite being one of the highest ranked students in the academy, Rei is kind to Neri despite her rank and is always there to lend a friendly ear. He has an interest in electronics and technology, often tinkering with inventions in his room. Unlike Riku, Rei is a talented musician, and is particularly known for playing the piano.
Kaji Ichika (CV Kakihara Tetsuya)
Ichika is a fellow member of the Bee rank, and if he had to be described in one word it would be “flirt”. He’s very popular with the ladies, even those in the Rose rank. As transfer students are an unusual occurence, he immediately takes an interest in Neri but she’s not exactly head-over-heels for his approach. Ichika is a member of the academy’s drama club and plans to make his on-stage debut as the lead actor in their upcoming play. Outside of the academy, Ichika has a younger sister whom he cares deeply for.
Nanase Touya (CV Maeno Tomoaki)
Despite being a member of the Rose rank in middle school, Touya decided that the caste system was fundamentally wrong and not something he could agree with. Therefore, he created the “Resistance” – a group of students whom are against the caste system and want to reform the school. Because of their radical views, anyone who is associated with this group is immediately demoted to the Pebble rank. However, Touya doesn’t care and goes about his days doing what he wants regardless of the restrictions imposed on him. He’s a loud and cheerful guy who cares deeply for his friends and has a strong sense of justice. He’s very athletic and enjoys horse riding in particular.
Igarashi Haru (CV Ishikawa Kaito)
Haru is a member of the Pebble rank and as such is treated pretty badly by students of above ranks. He tends to keep to himself and tries to get Neri to avoid getting involved with him. Haru comes from a family of famous painters and is a competent artist himself, specialising in landscapes. Despite his cold attitude, Haru does have a kinder side to him, which only occasionally shows. He’s not officially a member of the Resistance but is friends with Touya and does sometimes attend meetings. He also has a pretty big sweet tooth.
Character design and artwork for this game was handled by Wada Beko, whom has worked on a handful of other Otome games but this was their only project with the Daisy brand.
Opening: Anata no Hitomi no Naka ni ~First love~ – Yura Mari
Ending: Zutto Zutto… – Yura Mari
The game’s BGM was composed by the Manyo group.
As per usual with Prototype ports, there were no programming issues and the game ran fine. They did change the textbox to their standard black one so you lose a little of the personality the original presentation had. I personally think that the extra CGs the ports add are more than a fair trade for this. There were also the typical prototype wallpapers that unlock as you progress throughout the game, which was cute.
The unique thing about this game is the caste system and the route structure represents that. Essentially, throughout the common route Neri stays in the Bee rank and then each character has 2 seperate routes – Rose & Pebble. In each of these Neri ends up in the aforementioned rank and there are good/bad endings for each route. The Pebble routes are considered to be the good routes & the Rose routes the bad routes, although some endings in the Rose routes could be considered more bittersweet than straight up “bad”.
There are also true routes for each character, these unlock once you’ve finished the best ending in everyone’s Pebble routes as the true routes are essentially continuations from these. Aside from this, Rei’s route is also locked at the start.
Considering the fact that I really enjoyed the other game I played from Daisy (Walpurgis no Uta) & this is generally considered to be one of their best games, it’s no surprise that Zettai Kaikyuu Gakuen was on my radar. Was the promise of a tale exploring an unfair caste system as intriguing as it sounded or did the writers simply bite off more than they could chew?
Because this was the first visual novel that I played on the PS4 (yes I’m late to the party), I figured I’d give some thoughts on the medium first. I’m so used to playing on my small PS Vita screen & 800×600 PC games on my laptop that playing this game in HD on the 43″ TV in my bedroom was a treat – I certainly had no problems trying to read the text and the images scaled up nicely. One thing that bugs me about playing games on my TV via my switch is that I had to use my TV to output the audio, which is less than optimal. Luckily with the PS4 you can just plug your headphones into the controller and have the audio output that way. Transferring screenshots was pretty easy as well. Overall I actually preferred the PS4 to the Switch TV mode but nothing beats portable consoles for me personally. Was a fun experience though.
Okay onto the actual game itself now and I’ll start with the story. Overall, I was impressed by how much effort was put into developing the setting of the academy itself and will give props to how the writers took the overused trope of “commoner ends up at a rich persons school” and made it fresh. I found the game pretty addictive to read, despite its above average length and generally enjoyed most of the story. One thing I particularly enjoyed were the literary references sprinkled throughout the game.
There were a few small negatives though, primarily down to the route structures. I understand that the idea of the Rose & Pebble routes was to give us as readers a better understanding of the caste system and how it affects the characters. It really was an interesting addition to the game! Unfortunately, I couldn’t help but feel underwhelmed, if not disappointed by how long the Rose routes are and how much of the overall resources they took up. This is probably completely personal preference (I never claimed my reviews were objective lol) because spending hours reading routes that you know are only going to have “bad” endings makes me less enthusiastic about them and makes them more of a chore. This was a shame because, looking at it more objectively, there were some interesting and well-written plots in the Rose routes.
Another problem that this game suffers slightly from is repitition – there are events in the “common route” leading to the route divergence that you cannot skip despite having literally the same text which was getting to me a little by the fourth time around. The true routes also suffer from this a bit because they’re essentially continuations from each character’s Pebble route best ending & you have to read the same explanation of what’s going on multiple times which, again, is kind of lazy.
As far as the “truth” to the whole situation, it was equal parts surprising, plausible and slightly ridiculous. When I first played I was like “how could these people adhere to this dumb caste system” but the game does a good job of explaining how and why it was implemented. I’m just going to ignore the villain’s motives which were just creepy lol. Moral of the story is that rich people suck I guess?
Moving onto the characters and I’ll start with Neri. She was a pretty decent protagonist and being the only person at the academy with common sense, she’s a breath of fresh air. However, there were some aspects of her personality (namely her naivety) that seemed to be slightly misplaced. If the idea was for her to know more about the outside world and have more life experience than most of the other characters, I would’ve thought that being overly-kind and trusting would be a negative trait? Ah well.
Overconfident ore-sama types like Riku aren’t typically my usual preference but honestly he’s downright hilarious when he gets flustered and the fact that Neri actually isn’t a pushover makes their relationship dynamic really interesting. And his dere side is 10/10. Of course when the truth comes out it was even more interesting to see how he’d react but, at heart, he’s the same old Riku. A good boy.
Rei is pretty much the opposite of Riku in terms of personality, being the calm and hard-working of the pair. He’s also openly kind and welcoming to Neri which made a change from the other Rose characters. It becomes apparent once you play any of the other character routes why Rei’s route is locked as he holds some secrets. He’s too hard on himself and there’s a lot of pain in his routes.
There’s genuinely little I hate more than the overly flirtatious character that strings along multiple girls but of course the heroine turns out to be their “true love” or some bs. And that’s exactly what Ichika and his route entail. I understand that this personality developed from his need to fit into and excel within the caste system – being popular with those in higher ranks gives him a better chance to “rank up”. However, while this makes him an interesting character, it makes him an unappealing love interest (in my eyes). He does improve as his route goes on but he was my least favourite of the main characters.
On the other hand, Touya is genuinely such a nice guy (if a bit dense) that you can’t help but like him. He feels like Neri’s first real ally at the school and even in other routes, he’s always there to cheer her up. As mentioned, the romance in his route was getting to the point where it was painful to read because him and Neri were bing so darn DUMB but all worked out in the end I guess?
Finally we have Haru, whom is probably one of the more unique characters I’ve come across. He’s probably closest to a kuudere? His relationship with Neri is such a delicious slow burn and he has such a good confession scene in his Pebble route. 10/10. On the other hand, his Rose route was so sad I’d like to forget it exists please it physically pained me. A very good boy, I can see why he was popular in the character polls.
Being a longer game, there were quite a lot of side characters. Most had character sprites which was a nice touch but the characters themselves were typically annoying (as the plot required so I can’t complain too much). The siblings from Riku’s route took the biscuit though!
The artwork in this game has a pretty distinct colouring style which I personally liked. There’s a decent amount of CGs per character, although I’m not sure how many the console ports added. Sprites and backgrounds were also good.
The BGM and vocal songs were also of good standard. Voice acting was great, all 5 main character were voiced by recognisable voice actors so that’s always a bonus. As per usual, I’m bias towards Hanae Natsuki & wish he were in more games!
My Score: 8/10
In the end I found Zettai Kaikyuu Gakuen managed to make itself stand out from other school-based titles by really developing the caste system, almost as a crude reflection of society itself. The way it twisted and affected the interactions and motives of the characters made the game certainly worth reading. There were definitely problems in the game with repitition & the romance being lackluster at times but if you’re prepared to deal with those then this game is certainly worth your time.
I heard that Daisy actually crowdfunded a fandisc for this game so I’m just going to wait patiently for it to come out – I’d buy it in a heartbeat!
Recommended Route Order
Touya ➜ Ichika ➜ Riku ➜ Haru ➜ Rei
In reality, this is just the order I played the game in which seemed fine. In my opinion, as long as you play Touya first & Rei last, the middle 3 routes can be played in any order.
Thanks for reading!