There’s a lot of love out there for the Steins;Gate series. The time-travel visual novel sprouted sequels, anime and manga that have all managed to hit home with plenty of fans both in Japan and overseas. However many people know that Steins;Gate is just one part of a much larger universe, and the other parts of that universe don’t seem to have nearly the same amount of exposure or fans as Steins;Gate. Chaos;Child isn’t just another part of that universe, it’s maybe one of the most important entries in it.
The Science Adventure Series is a group of visual novels all developed by 5pb Games and Nitroplus, and has 5 core games in it: Chaos;Head, Steins;Gate, Steins;Gate 0, Robotics;Notes, and now, Chaos;Child. They’re essentially separate franchises, but they’re all tied together by themes of sci-fi and conspiracy, as well as a villainous entity that seems to be lurking behind the scenes of each game. Chaos;Head was the first title to be released in the group, and now, nearly 9 years later, Chaos;Child looks to continue the story.
Well, sort of. While Chaos;Child takes place in the same setting as Chaos;Head did, it’s now 6 years later and focuses on an entirely new cast of characters. Important events from Chaos;Head are covered thoroughly as they come up, and there’s only a supporting cast member who returns from the first game. All-in-all, you don’t need any knowledge of the previous game in order to play Chaos;Child. That’s convenient, because Chaos;Head has never received an official English localization, unless you count the poorly done anime adaptation.
While Chaos;Child focuses on a new cast of characters, the story and tone will be familiar to people who’ve played or watched the previous entry. Chaos;Child sees you playing as Takuru, a high-schooler in the newspaper club who has a penchant for using overly complicated language and boasting about how normal and happy he is, despite clearly not fitting in anywhere at school besides the newspaper club. When Takuru investigates two strange murders in Shibuya, he discovers that somebody is performing copycat killings based on the murders that occurred in the previous game, Chaos;Head. He and his close friend Serika try to predict the next crime scenes to discover the culprit, and from there find themselves wrapped up in the middle of a wild mystery that might see them end up as murder victims themselves.
Chaos;Child is very much about dark, gruesome murders, and it doesn’t shy away from showing you any of the details. The game opens up with a scene that used both visuals and words to thoroughly gross me out. All of the characters in the game are drawn in a very standard, safe anime art style, and while I’m not personally a fan of the art, that style helps make the dark and twisted tone of the story stand out so much more. It also expands on the overall Science Adventure Series universe in big ways, including some major ties to Steins;Gate that give you the sense that a big crossover game could soon be upon us. These parts of the narrative are masterfully done, and always kept me on my toes.
The intriguing murder mystery aspects of the story, however, are diluted by frequent moments of anime comedy and slice of life fluff, and this is where Chaos;Child lost me a number of times. Most of these moments never reach the same level of charm as the comedy in Steins;Gate or Robotics;Notes did, and on top of that, I had a hard time appreciating most of the characters and their archetypes in a comedic setting. A lot of the humor of the game is steeped heavily in anime tropes, and while other games in the universe certainly suffer from that, the characters involved in those scenes were a lot more appealing to me at least.
There’s another weird bit of dissonance between comedy and intrigue in the form of the ‘delusion trigger’ system, which is how you’ll explore branching stories and various endings. At certain points in the game, you’ll be given the option to activate a delusion trigger. If you pick a positive trigger, Takuru imagines a cheesy or pervy scene unfolding before him that keeps him happy, but pick a negative trigger, and he’ll imagine a terrible or disturbing event happening that might make him a little paranoid or distrusting. If neither option appeals to you, you can ignore it altogether and stay within reality. These choices affect Takuru’s view on the world and who he trusts, which will lead you to different story endings.
The delusion trigger system is an interesting way to shake up the standard visual novel gameplay, but it sacrifices any kind of natural player agency in the story. Rather than letting me choose to respond to someone with a truth or a lie, or whether or not I want to answer a phone-call, the game is essentially asking me “Hey, do you want to feel good or feel bad right now?”
It’s a bizarre thing to ask of the player. If I’m playing a murdery mystery game, I probably expect some bad and disturbing events to occur, but to give me the trigger and tell me to make them happen myself is unusualy. It’s like if Silent Hill gave you message prompts asking if you want Pyramid Head to pop up right now or would rather chill out for a bit. If you’re giving me the choice between making a good thing or a bad thing happen, I’m naturally going to go with the good thing.
At least, that’s how I felt at first. However, once I realized that every positive scene was basically the same comedy skit or embarrassing perverted fantasy, I ended up picking negative triggers more often, simply because I didn’t want to deal with any more unfunny positive trigger scenes.
One other thing that stood out to me the most with Chaos;Child was the great sound design. Every moment of significance that requires a specific sound, has it. From rhythmic door knocking, to slightly creaky floorboards, to broken keychains or strangled bodies. Every piece of audio helps add to the narrative, and during the tense moments of the story, all comes together to keep you on the edge of your seat.
Chaos;Child delivers a disturbing and engaging story that not only stands on it’s own, but helps to expand the worlds of other parts of the Science Adventure Series. It’s just a shame that it takes so long to experience that story, and that the choices you make to find every piece of info and characterization are weirdly designed. Chaos;Child isn’t as good as Steins;Gate at the end of the day, but a more memorable cast of characters and a more distinctive art style would help future entries stand alongside Steins;Gate instead than behind it.
Version tested: PlayStation 4