If I could describe the visual novel genre and its effect on gamers, it would be that of an epic battle scene from a fantasy movie or TV show. The flowing natural beauty of the hardcore gamers with their supermodel looks, long locks and glistening biceps drenched in sexy sweat – or at least how they see themselves, shunning filthy casual novel games as repugnant wretched vermin. On the opposition are the filthy orc troglodyte casuals who are forever cast into the fires of “Casual Hell” who love nothing more than to curl up with a good visual narrative that doesn’t require much effort other than making the odd dialogue choice here and there and maybe straining your brain on the odd booby trap puzzle a child could work out.
I fit neatly into the latter category. That’s right, I can play games like a hedonistic hardcore, but deep down I am a filthy casual. Go ahead, throw mud at me, call me filthy, break out the nipple tassles, stub your marijuana stubs on me and spank me into submission.
Are you reading this review and thinking “oh maker, this reviewer has issues”? Good, I need you to feel as dirty and ashamed as I did when playing Chaos;Child, I need you to immerse yourself in the twisted agony I had endured. Even before this review, I could say, yes I did have issues, but Chaos;Child has probably made those issues worse. Its narrative is probably best described as an Agatha Christie novel, with supernatural elements and a horny teenage protagonist, because Japan, that’s why. It would appear horny teenagers are the country’s official emblem along with England’s rose or America’s angry bald eagle with an assault rifle.
Somehow, to my bemusement, this game is the fourth of the Japanese video game franchise Science Adventure, which naturally comes with its western hardcore cult fan base. When I was told this game was a visual novel, I wanted to give Chaos;Child the benefit of the doubt. I understand visual novels are not really supposed to offer a lot in the way of interactivity as they are more or less books, or in this case, manga with Japanese dub. I wanted to give this game every chance to show that Japan, the forefathers of the visual novel genre could show me enlightenment, how they fare better than our western counterparts. However, if I am honest, Chaos;Child was a terrible example and more painful experience to boot.
The plot, in theory, is easy to follow. You read the story from the perspective of moody spoilt whiny little bitch Takuru Miyashimo, a young lad who is miserable and too cynical to enjoy the finer things in life, because again, Japan. Every Japanese protagonist either needs a chirpy young buck with a lot to prove or a cynical tosspot who thinks he/she is too cool for their peers. After surviving a devastating earthquake six years before the events of the game that hit Tokyo, Takuru is now head of his high school newspaper and, depending on your choices, is also a rampant horny teenager that doesn’t come across as an innocent teenager discovering his sexualtiy, more a horny sex pest that’s already resigned to the fact he’s going to be on the sex offenders register by his late 20s.
Along with other survivors of the aforementioned earthquake in his newspaper club, you are sucked into a murder mystery involving victims that appear to have different yet distinctive talents with every scene of the crime being littered with sumo stickers, which takes you on a “thrilling” white knuckle ride involving psychic powers, government conspiracies and the worst parody to Star Wars known in the history of modern media. It’s a bit of X-Files and CSI with even a dash of Twin Peaks sprinkled in for good measure. It also makes you think Corey Taylor from Slipknot had a point when he screamed out about wanting to push his fingers into his eyes.
Let’s play a drinking game, because there was nothing I could think about doing then getting smashed on a lethal cocktail of whisky, rum with a Jager chaser to take the painful boredom away. For every time you hear a character say Takuru’s name, take a shot. For every time one of the writers of this game goes into minute detail of how Takuru wants to do, let’s just say “bad things” to one of the characters, either sexual or violent, take two shots. For every time you have the crippling sinking feeling you are 29 years old, single, can’t afford to move out and playing an interactive manga where one of the writers has just gone into great detail about a cream bun spillage on a young lady’s skirt, thus becoming a real-life cliche of a basement dweller, pound the rest of the fucking bottle, scream to the heavens “I’m too old for this shit” Danny Glover style and dive headfirst out of the fucking window, as only the sweet release of death will save you.
There is no gameplay to Chaos;Child, few dialogue options, no QTEs and just the idea of mashing X repeatedly instead as you go through chunks of dialogue with the characters either repeating the same details of previous murders over and over again or pointless scenes that effectively lead no where to the overall plot. Every now and then I may have the privilege, nay, the honour of taking part in a small puzzle that had me pinning up photos of various murder scenes and connecting the dots to each inquiry, but even after a certain point of these puzzles, the game goes ahead and does the rest for you. If only you could be a fly on the wall when my slightly inebriated self discovered this.
Every now and then, I was also allowed to take part in the game’s laughably pitiful attempt at dialogue options or, as they are called here, “delusions”. Using either the R2 or L2 buttons, you can either pick a positive delusion, which usually entails Takuru’s wildest fantasies that leave you laughing deliriously over the painstaking attention to detail or the negative delusion which usually end in violence and have the same effect on your mental wellbeing.
To my recollection, none of these choices actually did anything. They are just that: delusions, daydreams in which a scenario is acted out in Takuru’s head and you are left with the line “I wish I could have done that” or “but that was all in my head, I really wasn’t going to do that”, which probably infuriated me further. Why bother with these dialogue options if nothing is going to happen?
There’s possibly one, maybe two things I can give praise to in this game. Firstly, it’s when the game stops prattling about, talking about cream bun spillage and going over what has happened in the previous chapters, like a racist grandad in your family talking about, for the 100th time, that the 1950’s were a magical time and their country just isn’t the same anymore. The murder mystery parts are actually quite enthralling to read and, dare I say, they made the game more bearable to put up with.
I was engrossed in who the murderer was, what the significance of the sumo stickers left at each scene of the crime were and how government brainwashing techniques impacted our main characters. For every perverted detail the writers left, there were some great detail over how the murders were composed, as if they were written by the killer themselves in some gruesome confession. The other part that I enjoyed was the inclusion of social media throughout my time with the game. When a murder was committed, there would be murmurings, rumours and talk into the how’s and why’s through online communities – it made Chaos;Child more immersive.
Sadly, by time the game’s halfway mark rolled around, I was burnt out. I didn’t care for the characters, I didn’t care about the new generation murders or the sumo stickers and with each chapter -which last around 3 to 5 hours each- it became more and more of an test on my patience. Lastly, after finding out in order to unlock the game’s “true ending” you have to go through this game at least 3 times and use different delusion options, I mentally and physically checked out. There was no way I was going to mash X for several more hours with nothing to break up the tedium and there was no way I was going to re-read the sordid descriptive details of sweet pastry confectionary and its accidental spillages without the need to call the local priest.
Maybe the cult audience for Chaos;Child and its respective anime will enjoy this latest installment and all the more power to them. There’s nothing casual about these games, these are really designed for the chiseled, long locked hardcore gamers, or at the least someone who can read an Agatha Christie novel in one sitting. The problem I personally had with Chaos;Child was that visual novels have moved on since their inception and this game is clearly stuck in the past. If anything, this game did inspire me to either join a hare krishna or Amish community, or call up my top 5 worst ex-girlfriends and forgive them. While I wanted to delve deeper into the mystery, the suspense killed me. If you’ll excuse me, I’m off to treat my hangover and seek a therapist for traumatic stress.
Review code provided
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A compelling murder mystery is not enough to save Chaos;Child from its tedium and monotony and I will never look at cream cakes without wincing ever again.
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