Format(s): Playstation 4 (Reviewed), Playstation Vita
I’ve never been much of a reader, but I’ve always enjoyed a visual novel. Being able to see a story unfold all whilst checking out what are typically fantastic illustrations is great, whilst the fact you’re directly interacting with the tale has always appealed to me too.
Chaos;Child is the latest visual novel from developer 5pb of Steins;Gate and Chaos;Head fame, continuing their series of titles set in the same universe. In most cases it offers the same sort of experience you’d have had before, with some top notch writing complimenting a gripping tale. However, it also features a few unique ideas that could’ve been quite clever, but unfortunately fall a little short of the mark.
Chaos;Child’s tale is preceded by a huge earthquake that has devastated a lot of Tokyo. Thousands of people have been left dead, whilst a lot of the city finds itself ruined. That’s just the set up for the game world though, with the story itself taking place six years later and focusing on Takuru Miyashiro: the president of his school’s Newspaper Club whose family died in the earthquake. Whilst investigating some murders for the newspaper, Takuru discovers that they seem to be the same as murders committed in the past (or in one of this game’s prequels, Chaos;Head). Thus begins an investigation that takes a lot of twists and turns; some sinister and some just outright brutal.
Chaos;Child is part of the series that included the direct predecessor Chaos;Head and the more well-known Steins;Gate. It’s not vital to have played any of the other games game to appreciate the tale as it’s a stand-alone entry, though those familiar with them might pick up on more references and series quirks than others.
Whilst Chaos;Child is part of an existing universe though, it has its own unique characters and tale that certainly helps it stand out, mainly due to some excellent writing and character development. A visual novel’s success can often be dictated by its writing, and thankfully Chaos;Child delivers in that department with its gripping narrative and the complex nature of each character. It’d be easy to disregard most characters as a stereotypical bunch when you first meet them, but as you go on and learn more about their life and their motives, you’ll quickly find yourself becoming attached to each and every one of them.
It’s just an enjoyable little tale that mixes up a good mystery with a self-aware outlook on modern society. It’s clever in its approach throughout, and whilst it does spice things up in a completely different way at the half way mark, Chaos;Child never stops entertaining.
One thing that’s worth mentioning is that Chaos;Child doesn’t hold back in its portrayal of murders and brutality. You’ll see plenty of gruesome scenes, with some of the murders in particular standing out. There’s actually one early scene that struck a chord, when one of the characters cut off his own arm and started eating it. It really doesn’t hold back, and whilst it’s all typically just a series of illustrations, anyone who is a little squeamish might be put off by some of the shocking content.
The fact that Chaos;Child is a visual novel might affect how much enjoyment some players have with it. At the end of the day there’s a lot of reading taking place and mainly just still images telling the story – you won’t be controlling the main character per se, but rather what they say or how they perceive things.
Don’t get me wrong, the fantastic soundtrack and clever use of sound effects helps set up a cinematic experience whilst the high quality of the writing will ensure that you’re entertained throughout. However, there’s no changing that you’re essentially seeing a story play out in front of you as opposed to playing a game, and that might not be for everyone. If you don’t already enjoy visual novels Chaos;Child isn’t going to change your mind, but anyone who does like them should find a lot to love about the thrilling tale.
Another common feature of visual novels is the option to make choices as to how the plot develops, with plenty of different branching routes. This naturally adds replayability to the overall experience, but it also gives the game a more interactive feeling that allows the player to choose where the tale goes. That being said, some of the choices you make may actually lead to your death, though the generous save and checkpoint system ensures you can rectify most of your silly mistakes with ease.
One interesting and unique system in place in Chaos;Child was the ‘Delusion Triggers’ that allow lead character Takuru to react to specific situations he comes across in a positive, negative, or neutral way. This then triggers a scene that plays out in his mind, with the reaction you choose dictating what kind of scene it might be.
Whilst the system is interesting though, it hasn’t been utilised all that well. For example, most of the positive scenes will typically be reflected with a comedic or often perverse reaction from Takuru. Whilst this might seem understandable given then he’s a teenage boy, it could feel a little too one-dimensional at times; it actually made me sway more towards negative reactions, if only to see a more focused outlook on each event.
How you decide to react during these Delusion Triggers can actually affect what ending you get in the game, with Takuru having a different perception of the world through each of your choices. I haven’t played through the game enough times to see how these all play out yet, but like the more narrative-driven choices you make the fact that you have options adds to the overall replay value of Chaos;Child.
If you’re already a fan of 5pb’s visual novels or visual novels in general, you’re definitely going to enjoy Chaos;Child. It’s got some great writing on show, whilst the story is tense and brutal from start to end. Some of the gameplay features such as the Delusion Triggers could be a bit naff, but they don’t do enough to ruin the overall experience.
Those who aren’t already a fan of the genre won’t find anything that’ll sway them here though. Whilst the tale is a great one, the experience as a whole doesn’t do anything particularly fresh or exciting that’ll really convince you that visual novels might be for you. Still, at least the audience that Chaos;Child is trying to cater for will be entertained right until the end credits.