Release Date: January 22, 2018
Reviewed On: PC
Publisher: Spike Chunsoft
Genre: Visual Novel
If you were to ask me what my favorite type of game is. It’s highly likely my answer would be something along the lines of, a title with a strong narrative that pulls me into an adventure, preferably in a modern setting. Specific and potentiality too narrow? Well, it’s my favorite so take it or leave it.
As luck would have it though there’s a series out there that fits these criteria a little too well. That’d be Chiyomaru Studio and Mages’ Science Adventure series, a fantastic group of games that are commonly identified by the odd naming scheme of putting two words together and separating them with a semicolon, such as Steins;Gate or Robotics;Notes. It leaves you with almost nonsensical titles that don’t really give you any clue of what the game is about. Chaos;Child, the fourth main game in the series and thematic sequel to the 2008 title Chaos;Head, was released in Japan in 2014. The game would end up coming to the west on PlayStation 4 and PlayStation Vita in 2017. Now, Spike Chunsoft has published it to Steam and I am so very, very excited about this.
Chaos;Child is an adventure game that puts players in the shoes of Takuru Miyashiro, a somewhat pretentious young man with an overactive imagination who desperately wants to be accepted by everyone as “Normal”, but also wants to be special. He’s the president of his high school’s Newspaper Club and on the lookout for the next big scoop. So when a couple of extremely bizarre and downright disturbing murders occur, he’s one of the first to match up their dates to the “New Generation Madness” serial murder case that occurred six years ago. Aided by his friends, the other members of the club, he sets out to solve the mystery and beat the murderer before they strike again. This is a tale that travels the genres of adventure and mystery, then packs in a bunch of horror elements for good measure.
I was super excited about this because the game coming to steam makes the game more accessible to new players. It’s a visual novel so it’s quite low-spec, which means that anyone can pick it up and play. However, as a visual novel, the game is quite limited in terms of gameplay. In particular, there are only two mechanics the game has to really offer, these being the delusion trigger and the mapping trigger. At various points in the story, the game will give you the option to see a positive or negative delusion. These delusions are extra, usually comedic, scenes in which Takuru ends up fantasizing about what will happen next. Positive delusions usually have Takeru become a hero or woo one of several heroines and negative delusions often have him humiliated or even grievously injured. They’re largely optional and serve as a neat way of taking a break from the seriousness of the story.
On the other hand, the mapping trigger is a fantastic way to add interactivity into the murder mystery component of the game. This is represented by a corkboard on the wall of the Newspaper Club with a map of Shibuya pinned to it. The mapping trigger is the stock name for every interaction you make with it. This includes answering questions about the crimes, collecting notes and crime scene data, and make various attempts at deductive reasoning. Despite the minimal activity done by the player, it’s extremely satisfying, as you feel like you’re the one making these breakthroughs that could blow this case wide open.
Takuru seems to be a somewhat frustrating protagonist at first, and I was up in the air on several points as to whether or not I’d like various characters. As it turns out, it’s just that the game is slow to start, taking its time setting up introductions and easing you into the story before it rockets you into the stratosphere. The story is a beast and even blasting through it will take over twenty hours just to hit your first ending. During the first run of the game, you are locked into what is called the “Common” route. This is before you are able to access another six different endings. These endings are influenced by the delusional trigger and depending on what kind of delusional Takuru has, or if he even has one at all, will start to influence the story. I thought this would be a bit messy but the game uses the achievement system of all things, to notify you that you’ve unlocked a particular route.
This is a massive game, and aside from maybe one of these extra endings, I think they all add a substantial amount of depth to the overall story and I’d seriously recommend going through all of them. The main cast of characters are absolutely superb and each one gets a substantial amount of the spotlight. None of them end up even close to feeling like they’re just sort of there. Even the supporting cast gets time to shine and it really adds to the experience. Takuru himself ends up absolutely shining through the story and quickly goes up from frustrating to fantastic.
What’s even better is just how consistent things are between endings. In total, this visual novel can easily take a player upwards of fifty hours to complete and through that and all of the different endings, no character ever feels like they were ever out of character. Everything fits neatly into place, just like a mystery should, no stone goes left unturned without the player being provided enough knowledge to unturn it themselves.
The game does reference some events that take place in Chaos;Head and you may want to play that first if you want to thoroughly understand them. However Chaos;Child is completely self-contained and requires no previous knowledge to get into or enjoy (which helps considering Chaos;Head has never officially been released in English. ahem, Spike Chunsoft) and the story is one of the best pieces of fiction I have ever read. It has an atmosphere, mood, pacing, and a beautiful progression that makes all the twists and turns that much stronger.
The opening really sets the tone for this title. Psychedelic imagery coupled with a cacophony of sounds overlayed with the phrase “Welcome to chaos world” before moving to the title screen. It’s the start of some chillingly good audio and visual design that you’ll get to experience even before you meet the players of this game. The CGs are extremely well drawn and the backgrounds are immense in both quality and quantity. The characters may look a bit animesque to some but don’t let that keep you out as Mutsumi Sasaki’s portraits are gorgeous and the different poses ooze personality.
There are also environmental shaders that are applied to them depending on the backgrounds that make the art never feel out of place and it’s a beautiful design detail that helps with immersion considerably. Certain objects like drinks and keychains also get renders that look far too good considering what they are. The UI is also excellent, with menu aesthetics that add to the creepy factor of the game and lovely transitions that have been planted with the exact purpose of drawing you in and keeping your attention. Takeshi Abo’s soundtrack is easily one of the best soundtracks I’ve ever heard in a video game and absolutely deserves everyone’s attention. It’s a glorious combination of atmospheric backgrounds that knows exactly when to kick you in the gut with emotion whenever it wants.
In terms of flaws, Chaos;Child’s are few and far between. There are a couple of typos here and there but that’s easily fixable and quite understandable in such a monumental script. The steam version also uses partially translated achievements, which is odd considering the PS4 and Vita versions had them looking alright. There is one part of the game that requires you to read an untranslated map to progress in a particular route, which makes it feel odd that they didn’t outsource someone to fix this, but just in case you pick up the game let me just slip an image in here that will solve everything. You’ll know when to use it.
Apart from those couple of things, Chaos;Child is an absolute masterpiece and I seriously recommend for anyone who has a liking to anything this game contains. Do you like gripping murder mysteries? Play it. Do you like adventure games? Play it. Do you like moody or chilling art with sweetly drawn characters? Play it. For the love of god, please play it. I’m always on the lookout for exciting Visual Novels to play and share with people and this is one of my absolute favorites of all time.
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