Continuing the Story
When it comes to sequels and series, there are a few options that a writer can take in terms of story. Probably the most common is to create a direct sequel, a story that’s directly based off of a previous entry. The story could take place anywhere from the far future to directly after the end of the preceding story, but in essence, the goal is create some kind of singular, continuous story.
Another choice is to create a thematic sequel. Choices here are a bit more nebulous. You could go the Final Fantasy route, creating brand new stories in completely different worlds, but still thematically intertwined though reused concepts and characters named Cid. You could also go for a closer tie-in to the original, setting the story within the same world as the original, but still telling something brand new…perhaps with a few well-place call-backs or allusions.
The Science Adventure series from 5pb. and Nitroplus is a series of visual novels that goes for the latter: a series of original stories set within the same world and sharing some concepts. The games within this series all fall into various places in the science fiction genre, and in my experience, there’s a real focus on the keyword “science.”
The game we’re looking at today is actually the second in a subseries within this series. Even here, though, this game is more a thematic sequel to its originator, a game titled Chaos;Head. While taking place in the same setting, this sequel tells an entirely new story, with occasional call-backs to the original. As such, it’s easy to jump into if you haven’t read the first (which is good, because Chaos;Head has not been officially released in English).
Developed by 5pb. and published in the west by PQube, Chaos;Child was released in North America on October 24th, 2017, for the PS4 and Vita. The PS4 version was played for this review.
Repeating the Madness
Back in 2009, the district of Shibuya in Japan was gripped in an event known as the New Generation Madness. A series of horrifying and gruesome murders took place across the ward, and shortly after the seventh murder, a massive (yet highly localized) earthquake devastated everyone and everything within the borders of the district.
Six years later, the people of Shibuya have managed to rebuild bigger and better than ever. However, some pains of the past still remain, namely “Chaos Child Syndrome,” a PTSD-like malady affecting children who suffered through the earthquake.
It’s in this revitalized Shibuya that Takuru Miyashiro is finishing up his last year in high school. The president of his school’s newspaper club, Takuru is busy chasing a story that will put the club on the map – a new series of murders that appear to be reminiscent of the New Generation Madness. Obsessed with gaining information faster than others around him, Takuru chases leads in this investigation in an attempt to beat the police to the punch and solve who is behind this new set of sadistic murders.
Right from its opening moments, Chaos;Child is a gripping story that doesn’t shy away from its darker moments. The game starts with a bang and keeps its momentum rolling through the hours-long first chapter of the story, carried on strong characters and a truly intriguing mystery.
This visual novel has a decently large cast of primary characters, and I was quite impressed at how much every one of them managed to develop over the course of the game. Most were already well-written right from their introductions, managing to dodge typical one-note anime tropes in their characterizations, and the changes in their actions and personalities though the game’s events felt realistic and understandable.
Unfortunately, I can’t say this game’s entire runtime is a non-stop thrill ride. The story slows down a bit too much in its third and fourth chapters, choosing to focus more on Takuru’s school and family life over the central story. While the character and relationship development here helps to drive the emotional impact of later chapters, I had to actively keep myself from zoning out while reading them in the moment.
Over the estimated 20-25 hour runtime of my initial playthough (the game doesn’t keep track, so I can’t say for sure), there is shockingly little padding or filler. Aside from the issues I had in the above-mentioned chapters, Chaos;Child maintains a good balance of quiet moments and action. Something is usually always happening to move the story forward, making the hours pass by quickly.
If there’s one thing I could call “filler,” it’s be the main gimmick of the game, the so-called “Delusion Triggers.” Along with being an introvert and knowledge maniac, Takuru is also a daydreamer, prone to fall into random delusions even in the midst of conversation. Every so often, you’ll have the option to make Takuru see a delusion pertaining to his current situation, either positive or negative. Positive delusions tend toward offering fanservice, while negative delusions lean more toward torture porn. The fact these delusions exist is worked in to the story, but the actual contents of them really have no bearing on the plot or character development.
Triggering these delusions is also the way you unlock the various character side-routes of the game. After your initial playthrough of the story, the choices you make during certain Delusion Triggers can influence another playthrough to one of four different alternate endings, each featuring a different character. Unfortunately, it’s in these character routes that the story begins to fall apart a bit. Only one of them, which follows your adoptive sister Kurusu Nono, adds anything of importance to the overall plot. The other three are mostly uninteresting, sometimes incredibly out-of-place, and, aside from one or two pieces of information, completely irrelevant.
Completing all four character routes unlocks the final route of the story, leading to the plot’s ultimate…and somewhat unsatisfying…conflusion. It’s not really a bad ending per se, but the intense and driving writing of the game’s first route is mostly missing here. This final route feels like a mad rush to tie up every loose end from the earlier story, giving answers that are both surprising and sensical (the writers for this game are amazing at subtle foreshadowing) yet presented in a way that feels like a hand wave.
Overall, Chaos;Child carries a theme about the flow of information. Takuru often speaks of an “information divide,” deeming himself what he calls a “Right-Sider” – one who seeks information, ensures it’s correct, and presents it correctly. He sees others, like his classmates and online communities, as “Wrong-Siders,” who either have no interest in knowing correct information, or spread incorrect information either accidentally or on purpose. The plot is often focused on the hunt for information (obviously, as it’s a mystery story), as well as its usage as a distraction or a weapon.
Feel It In Your Bones
In terms of art style, Chaos;Child doesn’t do all that much to stand out. That’s not to say it’s bad – it’s actually quite attractive. Characters are well designed and unique and often very expressive, backgrounds are varied and detailed, and the introduction videos (and the final credit roll) are full of style. However, I can’t help but compare it to another game from the Science Adventure series: Steins;Gate.
I’ve played a couple hours of Steins;Gate (and really should go back and finish it), but its visual style is striking. Its soft colors and light-blooming textures gave it an almost ethereal feel. Switching back to a more standard anime style after seeing that ends up being somewhat disappointing.
I will give Chaos;Child this: when it wants to create a horrifying atmosphere, it succeeds in spades. The game is absolutely loaded with CG art stills, and many of them focus on the darker moments of the story. The images of the various murders can be frightening (although there’s one I can recall that ended up being more humorous than scary). The game is also very consistent with its character designs between regular sprites and these art stills, which I can always appreciate.
As far as the soundtrack, aside from the various vocal tracks in the openings and credit rolls, there isn’t much that I can say is memorable. Despite the dark story, the music is surprisingly understated. I feel like the composers went for more of an atmospheric style, but went a little too heavy on it and ended up creating a soundtrack that falls into the background a bit too much.
The voice acting, though…there’s no way I could imagine this game hitting me as hard emotionally as it did without these voice performances. The game is voice in full in its original Japanese, and some of the performances these actors and actresses give are absolutely outstanding. There were a few points where they managed to make my blood run cold in the plot’s heavier moments, as well as drawing much stronger emotions from me at other times than text alone would have been able to do.
Overall, Chaos;Child is an excellent and often emotional visual novel that makes some unfortunate missteps in its finale. The story had me in a death grip right from the get-go all the way through to the end of its initial route, despite a few slower moments. Having character routes that add nothing to the story, as well as a rushed and somewhat unsatisfying ending, cooled the excitement I had at the outset.
This game is massive – around 50-60 hours for a complete read. As a fairly traditional visual novel, this is all text – there’s no real gameplay here. With it already being as long as it is, I really think the plot would have benefited from expanding the final route a bit more.
Despite the complaints, though, I would still say that this is a story worth experiencing. Featuring a dark atmosphere with some moving moments (and a few touches of immaturity here and there), it’s been a long time since a visual novel has grabbed me as much as this one did. Even with the weaker final quarter, this is a story that comes highly recommended.
~ Final Score: 8/10 ~
Review copy provided by PQube for PS4. Screenshots taken by reviewer.