The Science Adventure franchise has seen varying degrees of success over its roughly 14 years of existence, with its instances of most significant prominence tied to Steins; Gate alongside its correlative spinoffs. However, unbeknownst to many who have only consumed Steins;Gate, the series’ roots lie with Chaos;Head, an entry that has never been localized.
Thankfully, that lack of Western presence is finally changing via the release of Chaos;Head Noah / Chaos;Child Double Pack. Fans will finally be able to experience an enhanced version of the game that started it all, boasting character routes that weren’t around in the original Japanese PC launch. This entry has long deserved its time to shine on this side of the globe, and it’s well-appreciated even when considering localization oddities.
Chaos;Head Noah follows protagonist Takumi Nishijo, a borderline shut-in high-schooler who suddenly finds himself embroiled in a murder spree spanning Shibuya called New Generation Madness, or New Gen for short. It comprises a series of still ongoing killings where the victims suffer in horrid, bizarre ways, such as a man having his stomach sliced open with a fetus stuffed inside. As a result, New Gen has taken Shibuya by storm and is practically all anyone talks about.
Motivations for these tragedies are the last subjects on anyone’s mind, as there are several opposed reactions to these occurrences. The internet hivemind expectedly memes it, inadvertently emphasizing the terror of such grief, while the police view it as more of an obligatory bother. Although, for Takumi, who stumbles upon the scene of one of these murders and becomes a suspect, New Gen hits far closer to home than most. He yearns to absolve himself of suspicion, yet his efforts rapidly unwind conspiratorial and supernatural elements that forever shift the mundane life he once thought he had.
Takumi is undoubtedly the defining force of this title. His plights, personality, and circumstances paint his surrounding world in a constant, seemingly infinite expanse of self-induced isolation. For example, he frequently fantasizes about his waifu, Seira Orgel, the heroine from an in-universe anime adaptation of a manga called Blood Tune. She essentially acts according to his will to evade the heartache of integrating with society, being his anchor toward escapism. Additionally, Takumi is a top-player and genuine addict of the MMO Empire Sweeper Online. He lovingly cares for the countless anime figures he has collected, referring to them as his wives, big sisters, and daughters. In essence, his life is entirely consumed by fiction.
Players can experience intricate dives into Takumi’s psyche by activating his delusions. When in certain story scenes, the screen will noticeably alter, and pressing ZL or ZR during these instances will trigger positive or negative delusions, respectively. The latter umbrella tends to contain either disturbing or woeful scenarios, while the former rather are usually more happy-go-lucky, occasionally producing fanservice. This mechanic is vaguely incorporated for those not aware of it beforehand. Still, I view the mystery and obscurity behind its gameplay implementation effective in illustrating the unbridled eeriness Takumi’s delusions can induce.
What makes these delusions so fascinating, aside from their varied contents, is how they impact which route one ends up on. Each heroine has its own dedicated route, significantly diverging from what the main story provides. From Takumi’s outgoing and athletic little sister, Nanami, to the stern and wrathful Sena, each girl’s layers are thoroughly explored for effective results. The routes all feel distinct in tone and premise, dramatically magnifying memorability and discussing facets the central story doesn’t give extended limelight.
As for the cast and narrative themselves, Chaos;Head Noah’s writing feels incredibly meticulous. Each line of dialogue, introspection, and exposition is impressively purposeful and concise. It isn’t easy to talk about how this title’s writing is so strong without delving into its intricacies. To summarize, every scene manages to be unforgettable by simultaneously divulging character details, no matter how slight and crucially progressing the plot. No event can be seen as “filler.” Even for someone like me who does not mind filler, its lack of presence propels the core strife toward the player’s mind at every possible opportunity. Moreover, there is a Tips section detailing specific terminology some readers may not be entirely aware of, so there are attempts to keep those of varying avenues of knowledge on an even level.
Still, it is worth noting that if one doesn’t end up respecting or appreciating Takumi’s character, they’ll likely have an extraordinarily challenging time enjoying Chaos;Head Noah. His loneliness and general ineptitude regarding school life, in-person interaction, and other intermingled affairs echo across nearly every scene he’s part of, to an extent where he’ll be undeniably divisive. Takumi is easily one of my favorite protagonists, but I can just as easily see his characterization frustrating or turning off prospective players. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a protagonist as demeaned as him, internally and externally, which is a double-edged sword regarding appeal.
Another of Chaos;Head Noah’s collective strengths is its stellar audio. The soundtrack is a masterclass, providing invaluable tonal immersion, especially for the more ominous and tense scenarios. The characters’ voicework is extraordinary as well, as they emote spectacularly amidst every scenario they find themselves in without feeling forced in any noticeable way. Takumi’s voice actor, in particular, knows how to emphasize the agony he endures during specific story segments, amplifying tonal efficacy to staggering heights.
Now, the localization is the elephant in the room with this Western launch. I have to make it abundantly clear that I am not knowledgeable in Japanese nor aware of Chaos;Head Noah’s original Japanese script, so I can only judge what I have seen in this release. And it, unfortunately, suffers from an omnipresent, head-scratching dilemma where dialogue lacks quotation marks. This absence may not seem innately troubling, but it makes reading many scenes jarring. This title often shifts between characters speaking, inner observations, and reflective analyses, so while one can differentiate the arrival of dialogue simply via the character(s) talking, reading it in practice can be offputting and ruin the general flow of the story.
Further, while minor in my case, several lines looked awkward and stilted, with peculiar grammar and spacing. I could look past these negatives and see the strengths of thematic execution, character arcs, and the overall narrative, hence my earlier remarks about the splendid writing. Still, the game’s original intent clashes with these unintentional issues, so the experience can be harmed as a consequence. Those familiar with the Japanese versions of the game will certainly find these problems more pressing, but my time with the title wasn’t ruined. If you’re curious about the translation quality, I highly encourage seeking out those knowledgeable on such matters.
Chaos;Head Noah is my favorite Science Adventure entry and favorite visual novel of all time. It boasts outstanding character writing, excellent heroine routes, a contextually exceptional soundtrack, terrific voice acting, and a satisfying core narrative. In addition, I have no significant irritations about the game itself, as it excels in what it sets out to do.
However, the questionable choices regarding the absent dialogue quotation marks and stilted text can’t be overlooked as they cause irreparable damage to storytelling comprehension as one progresses. Even though I could still enjoy my experience and contend with these faults, I am well aware that those well-informed about the game’s official Japanese states will be vexed, and rightfully so.
Ultimately, because of these text faults, I cannot give Chaos;Head Noah the higher score I’d feel it’d normally deserve. However, it’s worth emphasizing that I’m delighted Spike Chunsoft and MAGES have finally brought this highly-desired game to the West after over a decade. Still, it should’ve been treated with more care, so here’s hoping they address these problems with patches in the near future.
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