[Disclaimer:though it says review, I would say it’s more of a writeup as I’ve yet to get through the A and B routes]
So, CHAOS;HEAD. According to the game’s official site, it’s a “Psycho Suspense Novel Game” and at the same time, a “Delusional Science NVL [Novel]”.
The game is set in Shibuya, year 2008, as a series of strange incidents called “New Generation” have been occurring recently. The first, called the “Group Dive” involves 5 people, who, for no reason, jump to their deaths from a large tower. The second, “Pregnant Man”, involves a dead man whose corpse had a fetus planted inside.
You play as Nishijou Takumi, an high-school student of Suimei Academy and an otaku who is, in all honestly, probably one of the most worthless people you can ever imagine. Being a social recluse, he rejects the third dimension – girls in particular – avoiding them whenever possible, and choosing to spend all his time in watching anime, admiring anime characters, and playing MMO’s like Empire Sweeper Online (Ensue*, for short). He even goes so far as creating a “minimal attendance schedule” in order to graduate with as little contact with other people as possible. And, as the main gimmick of the game, so to speak, you can choose to indulge Takumi in his delusions.
* – I refuse to use “Ensuu” because Ensue just looks better.
While chatting it up with a partymate of yours, Grim, an unknown person named, “Shogun” enters, but does not respond. Afterwards, Grim shows you a link to a doodle of a person with stakes sticking out of his body. He soon after and Shogun responds. He sends you a large number of links – pictures similar to Grim’s but from real life.
One day, as you walk home from school, you somehow stumble into an unknown part of the neighborhood. Hearing a metallic, clanking sound, you slowly, ever so slowly, walk deeper and deeper into a dark alleyway to bear witness to a live “staking”, with a girl wearing the Suimei Uniform. She calls your name, which causes you run away traumatized and screaming. However, this is only part of a much larger, grander scheme of events, all centered on you.
One of the most notable aspects of the game is the sense of realism throughout the entirety of the plot, which in fact, was one of the ideas they wanted to work with – a VN purely done in a realistic setting. Nothing ever ventures into the supernatural; the improbable, yes, but everything has some basis in science. Not that the concept of electromagnetic manipulation of the human mind to manipulate reality itself is new though. At least not according to one of my friends, who mentioned the game’s concept bearing some similarity with The Matrix when I mentioned it to him.
The scenario is very well-written, with incredible plot twists, hints of foreshadowing here and there, and a heaping dose of scientific jargon. The game leads the player into thinking that the New-Gene cases are simply the work of some psychotic killer, but as you go deeper and deeper into the game, more and more secrets are unraveled – of NOZOMI and Noah II and its plot to control the world through social conditioning and mind control, of the Church of Divine Light, of the 300-man committee, and all sorts of things only conspiracy theorists would think of.
As I mentioned just now, the game contains a number of plot twists, all rather tastefully executed. These keep the player constantly in the dark, as right after he thinks that he’s got everything figured out, CHAOS;HEAD just throws him right back into the dark, keeping the suspense up throughout the entire story, even with the ending.
Another notable thing about the game is the TIP, or glossary section, which is a godsend for those not “in the know” about otaku and 2ch slang, as well as incredibly complex concepts and ideas that the ordinary layman wouldn’t even touch on. Unfortunately, I’m not sure if it will end up getting translated for the release.*
* – irc://irc.rizon.net/ensue for those who are willing to.
From the left: Ayase, Sena, Nanami, Rimi, Kozue, Yua
The characters each are given their own little time in the spotlight, with or without Takumi. First off is Yua, who, on first glance, is, in Takumi’s own words, a fujoshi. She is polite and caring, yet behind that exterior hides a vengeful would-be detective who will stop at nothing to find out what brought her sister to jumping off with the other four in the Group Dive incident.
Nanami is Takumi’s caring little sister, who just so happens to be one of my three favorite characters, stopping by his container-house to confirm his survival every so often. Despite the way Takumi treats his sister (which makes you want to re-enact the staking on him), she continues to help him out by cleaning his room, bringing fruit to him, and other acts of sisterly love that you rarely see today.
Kozue, a girl who seems to be mute due to trauma as a child. However, there still exists those who are able to speak with her telepathically – giga-lo-maniacs – namely, Takumi and the gang. Her true voice is surprisingly anime-like and totally different from what one would expect from her shy exterior. Apart from that, she also has a murderous, yet innocent personality. One that would kill people without hesitation and without remorse. As another aside, she’s another of my three favorite girls from the game.
Sena, having discovered that her father subjected her mother and little sister to a horrible experiment which ended in their deaths, roams the city in search of her father in order to exact revenge on him.
Ayase, the singer known as FES of an indie band PHANTASM, has a mysterious past. All that is revealed through the course of the AA route is that she was held in captivity at the Ark Heart Medical Facility when she was young tortured psychologically, and was then released. She also holds an incredible fascination with the Glajioul Saga and other things relating to it.
Of course, last but definitely not the least, is Rimi. Being the main heroine, she is the one that Takumi ends up with (at least in the AA route). She was held in an AH Tokyo General Hospital, obviously a front for the former Ark Heart medical institution, and was subjected to constant torture for NOZOMI’s benefit. Despite being a giga-lo-maniac like the other 5 girls, she prefers to keep Takumi awakening as a giga-lo-maniac in order to preserve their peaceful, happy life in school.
The art is nicely done, as expected of a Sasaki Mutsumi work. The paper dolls are all cleanly colored and finished and the way the eyes blink and mouths move add to the realism of the game (despite the 2D-ness of it all). While it was an innovative move to have everything in the background, and even Takumi’s room, all rendered in 3D, sometimes the graphics in the background, particularly the 3D polygonal models of people, wouldn’t look too decent in comparison. However, the buildings and scenery typical of a modern Japanese metropolis are rendered with a sharpness and sheen that 2D doesn’t capture all too often. Not to mention the grotesque images are particularly gut-wrenching for those who are faint of heart. The staking pictures, in particular, look so photorealistic that one could feel sick just looking at them. There are a number of filters that the game applies to great effect as well, helping to accentuate the situation. During action scenes – those involving the Di-swords, there are even little clips that play to pump more life into the scene.
While the music doesn’t even play too often – the bustle of the crowds, or other sound effects and ambiance taking top priority, but the few times that it does, it matches the mood very well. Desire Blue sky, Glajioul, and Cry were so-so for me, but that’s awfully biased – they’re just not really my type of song. However, Zaika ni Keiyaku no Chi wo is quite nice, and Find the blue is, well, has the highest number of plays on my music player. The voice acting is top-notch. Each and every voice actor delivers his/her line in tune with the corresponding character. Not only that, but every single person is voiced, which doesn’t really seem much, but really adds to the quality as a whole. It feels much more polished. Worthy of mention is Takumi’s voice actor. Only now have I ever felt incredible annoyance and a desire to punch someone in the face solely because of the voice I hear.
After heaping all this praise on the game, I surely ought to balance it out – this game isn’t exactly perfect.
First of all, there’s no “Skip to next Delusion Trigger” option, which is a bit of a hassle, as to get the B route, careful choices need to be made about this stuff. Having to manually skip through it could get tedious.
And my main gripe about this game – the lack of other routes. Seeing as the AA Route is just the same as the A Route but with one extra scene, the player has a whopping two different endings, the one bad end aside. It’s understandable, but it still sort of leaves a bad taste in your mouth because once you’ve played through the game twice or thrice, then that’s it. Hardly worth 9,000 Yen for some.
Still, the game’s scenario is new and fresh, the concept innovative, and not to mention, it’s a perfect game for the beginner galge/eroge/avg player. I highly recommend this game.