When it comes to visual novels, the Science Adventure series belongs in a league of its own. As a collaboration between MAGES (formally 5pb), Nitroplus, and Chiyomaru Studio, the franchise’s five mainline entries are astonishingly creative, cerebrally stimulating, and visually rewarding. If not for the occasional lapse into fan-service and the infrequent padding of playtime, the titles habitually transcend the genre, making for a requisite experience.
Originally released for the Xbox One before receiving ports onto consoles, portables, and mobile devices, CHAOS;CHILD exemplifies the qualities of the celebrated series. Most branching VAs task players with making decisions which affect the direction of the narrative. But here, you’re placed within the headspace of the protagonist, visualizing interactions with others and potentially influencing your worldview. Another remarkable attribute is the novel’s intricate tapestry of exposition. Subsequent playthroughs reveals new information that can shift your standpoint. While working toward the game’s ‘true ending’, new insights generally contribute rather than refute events. It’s nearly impossibly not to admire the delicate planning and skillful execution of the game.
Surviving Without (a) HEAD
While a playthrough of 2008’s CHAOS;HEAD can enhance the multiple treks through CHAOS;CHILD, like any Science Adventure entry it’s not a necessity. Beyond a sequence of mysterious murders and a subordinate character, few elements are shared between the two visual novels. That’s a good thing because HEAD only received a single Western adaptation when Funimation localized the rather slipshod anime. Ideally, this will sell well enough to tempt Spike-Chunsoft to bring over the predecessor, even if it’s generally considered inferior to CHILD.
Here, the story picks up six years after the events of CHAOS;HEAD, when a mysterious earthquake devasted Shibuya. In the interest of moving past the tragedy, the ward is being quickly rebuilt. But progress is shadowed by a series of homicides called the “Return of the New Generation Madness” since they’re executed on the same days as the original killings. Beyond the scrutiny of the police, the murders have also caught the attention of Takuru Miyashiro, a third-year high school student and president of the newspaper club who lost his parents in the quake.
Disdain for the Wrong-siders
Like Steins;Gate’s lead, your initial reaction to CHAOS;CHILD’s protagonist might be a bit off-putting. With a judgmental demeanor, Takuru Miyashiro tends to pigeon-hole people into three groups. Wrong-siders are those who don’t rely on methodically researched and thoroughly scrutinized evidence and data to make decisions. Often, they evangelize their ignorance online, influencing society’s blissful oblivious ‘normals’. Enlightenment arrives from an elite group of critical thinkers known as the right-siders. Unsurprisingly, the egotistical considers himself part of the latter.
As the enduring popularity of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes character demonstrates, aloof, socially inept intellectuals can be engrossing, but they need counter-balance. Certainly, Miyashiro, frustrated with the dawdling and beaurcratic methods of the local police, is very much a modern-day Holmes. Here, the character espouses his intellectual superiority over the newspaper staff, who each bring their own charms and capacities to the plotline. Some might initially assume the presence of these female secondaries reveal the developers pandering to harem fantasy. But across the storylines, there’s enough intriguing backstory and character development to challenge the assumption.
Use Your Delusion
While CHAOS;CHILD’s initial playthrough escorts players though a static plotline, you’ll gain adjacency during subsequent journeys. Here, the direction of the plot is influenced by Miyashiro’s Delusion Triggers, which replicate a mechanic introduced in CHAOS;HEAD. Although Miyashiro seems more mentally stable than HEAD’s Takumi Nishijou, he still imagines some really twisted things. Opt for the positive contemplations and you’ll often witness some comical interludes that are often a pleasing respite from the investigation of brutalities.
The game’s negative delusions were originally penned more than four years ago. Thematically, the explores some of the same bleak territory as the main plotline, examining dark recesses of the human mind. Given contemporary sensibilities, some might be startling, or even incendiary. But keep in mind they’re also the thoughts of a socially awkward high-schooler. Had characters acted this way, CHAOS;CHILD might converge on the problematic, but since they’re a depiction of a mind that hasn’t fully developed, they’re shocking without being morally reprehensible. Tonally, they not completely divergent from some of the more horrific things that drive the storyline.
Occasionally, visual novels that probe the darker spaces of humankind can get caught up on vivid depictions of the viscera. CHAOS;CHILD intelligently opt for subtlety, using language, voicework, and oblique depictions of things to cultivate its tone. The decision is exceedingly effective, and there are moments where you might feel repulsed just by reading description. The writers understand that our imaginations can conjure up terrors greater than best work of a top-tier visual artist. Another delight is witnessing the competitive nature that develops between the game’s characters.
Know that CHILD is bleaker than some of the other SciADV titles like Steins;Gate, incorporating horror-like elements into it’s narrative. Here, the focus is on perception and the ability to alter reality rather than a capacity for time travel, justifying the shift in tone. This is reflected in the game’s visual delivery, which is dominated by moody hues and a style where disorder and turmoil is a constant menace. Fortunately, that’s not the case with the game’s soundtrack, which offers enough optimistic, piano-driven tracks to ensure things never become overwhelmingly dismal. I’m often skeptical when reviewers recommend a purchase of the OST alongside the game. In this case, make sure to give the soundtrack a listen, as you’ll forgo a possible bundle discount if you purchase CHAOS;CHILD on its own.
CHAOS;CHILD was played on PC with review code provided by the publisher.