I don’t know about you, but I’ve got quite a bit of respect for 5pb. when it comes to the Visual Novel genre. Sure, only a handful of their “Science Adventure” series have managed to hit the West so far, but that’s all it really took for me to get hooked. Naturally, because of that, I was more than down for reviewing Chaos;Child when presented with the opportunity. Already having experienced the wacky, dangerous, and intelligently written adventures of Rintaro Okabe in Steins;Gate, and a slightly (okay, maybe a little more than slightly) darker adventure in Steins;Gate 0, I couldn’t wait to dig into Chaos;Child. I even managed to keep myself completely spoiler-free, so that I had no idea what was coming. And boy, did this game hit me hard because of that. But that was all the more reason for me to enjoy it.f
What a Scoop!
Chaos;Child follows the story of one Takuru Miyashiro, a third year high school student and Newspaper Club President at Hekiho Academy in Shibuya. Takuru doesn’t seem to be all that special at first glance. He doesn’t have any friends outside of the other students in the Newspaper Club, and his brooding, arrogant personality makes him hard to get along with (at least he’s not a chuuni!). You can’t necessarily blame all of that on him, though. As a victim of a massive earthquake, which occurred 6 years prior to the beginning of the game’s story, which left him both an orphan and comatose for over a year, Takuru’s life isn’t exactly what you would call easy. And, as you can probably expect, it’s not going to get any easier as the game progresses.
Following series of short, but incredibly grotesque scenes in the very beginning (more on that later), much of Chaos;Child‘s first few chapters are dedicated to presenting players with a healthy dose of exposition in order to lay the groundwork for the rest of the story. I’m not going to get into that, though. Instead, I’ll be jumping on into the game’s main plot; the New Generation Madness. Or rather, it’s return. Shortly after the Shibuya earthquake, a string of murders began to take place. Dubbed “New Generation Madness”, these murders, though occurring within close proximity, shared very little with one another (as far as we know, anyway) except for one thing; the mysterious, gruesome, and cruel ways in which they occur.
Things calmed down after the 7th, and final, New Generation Madness murder. It’s not in Shibuya’s destiny to stay calm forever, though. Once again started claiming lives. Dubbed “Return of New Generation Madness”, a second, and equally gruesome, series of killings has started to occur. And, while Takuru may have been a bit young to investigate the first string of murders (but not too young to sneak into a hospital, eh?), he has taken it upon himself to uncover the truth this time around.
Chaos;Child‘s story is absolutely enthralling. It’s cast is great, too. That being said, I found myself not resonating with certain characters quite as much as I did with those in Steins;Gate and its sequel. I noticed that some of this game’s characters had an almost “hot-and-cold” relationship with Takuru. And, since you as the player essentially are Takuru, it makes them less easy to sympathize with. My biggest issue, if I’m being honest, is with Mio Kunosato. I get that she fits into the cold, calculating, “logic over emotion” scientist trope, but Chaos;Child seems to go overboard with her detachment from normal human emotions. Even after learning more about her, I just couldn’t find myself sympathizing with her at all. And, since she’s a major supporting character, that’s a very bad thing. But hey, maybe that’s just me.
The Gory Details
Earlier, I mentioned that I had purposely kept myself completely spoiler-free before diving headfirst into Chaos;Child. And I’m glad that I did. After knowing all of the content lurking within this game, however, I can not safely say that I would recommend the same for everyone. I knew that Chaos;Child was supposedly darker than the previous 5pb. VNs released so far. When I thought “darker” I imagined something like Steins;Gate 0. Serious and somber, but nothing more. What I got instead was a huge, heaping pile of gore within the first 20 minutes or so of the game.
I’ve played enough survival horror games in my day to become relatively desensitized to gore. Despite this, I still found myself taken aback by what was initially being presented to me in Chaos;Child which is, of all things, a Visual Novel. That’s when it hit me. It’s because this is a Visual Novel that this impacted me. Most of us have experienced a gory death in a video game. We’re used to that. What we aren’t used to are things like vivid, lingering details, or gore presented in such a way that the realization of what’s happening dawns on the player slowly. It takes a lot of guts (no pun intended) to humanize someone in one scene, only to torture them in the next. While I definitely found myself frowning here and there, it was only because what Chaos;Child was presenting to me felt so raw and emotional.
Yet another way Chaos;Child manages to drive its readers into emotional distress (in a good way, of course) is through suspense. This game has a way of toying with you, and it’s quite apparent that it does so on purpose. From the very beginning, players are bounced between story segments of contradicting intensity. One minute you’ll be watching self-cannibalization, and the next you’re treated to 30 minutes of high-schoolers arguing about club activities. There’s always just enough mundane activity and exposition in-between the high points to get you to let down your guard. Most of the game’s twists and turns also don’t happen when and where you expect, meaning that, even if you know something bad is coming, you’ll have a hard time pinpointing the exact timing of it.
Being a Visual Novel and all, you’ll spend most of your time with this game reading. There are, however, a few points which require player input. Throughout the game (specifically, the first half), you’ll run into Delusion Triggers. Generally occurring mid-conversation or mid-event, Delusion Triggers are what their name suggests; delusions within Takuru’s own mind. Before the trigger itself occurs, players are allowed to positively or negatively influence it. After the decision is made, all you need to do is sit back and watch the events unfold. Despite the name, most of Takuru’s “delusions” are much more daydreams than anything else. Most (but not all) of these delusions occur around his female friends, and involve… well… typical teenage boy thoughts. Either that, or someone dying. Since these choices are all in Takuru’s head, the player’s decisions will often see him succeed beyond all normal possibility, or fail spectacularly.
Since most Delusion Triggers revolve around little more than either watching girls touch and kiss each other or watching people get murdered, you might brush over them as being unimportant. That, however, would be a grave mistake! It turns out, rather ironically, that the choices you make do have an impact on how the story plays out. This game is stacked with an impressive 7 endings — all of which are of vital importance if you’re hoping to understand the full scope of the story’s events. So, while it may not matter too much in your first playthrough, paying attention to Delusion Triggers is a must if you’re aiming for 100% completion.
The second bit of player interaction comes in the form of Map Triggers. Throughout the game, there will be several points where Takuru & co. will need to compile all of the evidence that they’ve found so far. It’s the player’s job to help them do that correctly. During these Map Trigger sequences, players are given sets of pictures or sticky notes with information. In order to progress, all you need to do is select the correct piece of evidence. There’s no actual pressure put on the player, however. Selecting the wrong piece of evidence will merely cause Takuru to mention needing to re-think his decision, and will prompt the player to select the correct piece of evidence once again. It’s a nice way to break up tedium, but I kind of wish that messing up would actually change how the story plays out.
The Sounds of Despair
5pb. once again upholds its tradition of presenting its players with high-quality audio in Chaos;Child. All of the game’s voice acting has an astounding amount of effort put into it. This is an impressive feat regardless of genre but still, I feel the need to congratulate this game especially. Occasional goofiness aside, much of this story revolves around concepts like fear, despair, and loss. And normally, when they are present, they are profoundly present. People often overlook the need for realism when it comes to such things as crying, and making guttural or highly emotional sounds; all of which you’ll be hearing quite often in this game. I know that I’ve said this before with 5pb. games, but I”ll say it again. The voice acting is so good, that it’s noticeable even if you don’t know Japanese (but this game is making me wish that I did!).
Anything but Childish
Chaos;Child is a rather intense addition to the Science Adventure genre, but it’s still an excellent time all around. Sporting a devilishly clever story with plenty of twists and turns, and packed to the brim with raw emotion, this isn’t a Visual Novel that you’ll want to miss. Just be sure that you can handle some of the game’s more grotesque moments. After all, Throwing up is Takuru’s job! (Because he seriously gets sick a lot in this game.)
FINAL VERDICT: 4/5
Available on: Vita (Reviewed), PlayStation 4 ; Publisher: PQube ; Developer: 5pb., MAGES ; Players: 1 ; Released: October 24, 2017 ; ESRB: M for Mature ; MSRP: $39.99 (Vita), $59.99 (PS4)
Full disclosure: This review is based on a copy of Chaos;Child given to Hey Poor Player by the Publisher