Chaos;Child, the latest visual novel from specialist developer 5pb, was just released for PS4 and Playstation Vita – we played through it on the Vita for this review.
When the western release of Chaos;Child was announced, I was immediately interested because of its ties with Steins;Gate – the title that first got me interested in visual novels. Not only is Chaos;Child by the same developer, it’s also tied to the same universe as Steins;Gate.
Chaos;Child was actually preceded by Chaos;Head though, a prequel I never played before (largely due to the fact that it was never localized, as far as I know). Prior to the release of the game, I did my best to become familiar with the Chaos;Head story to help me prepare, but what I learned was that 5pb’s latest can easily be played without any advance knowledge of the first game – there is very little overlap between the cast and events that are relevant to the new game are explained in detail.
In the game, you play as a high-school student who’s a bit of an outcast and part of the school newspaper club. Before long, while researching a series of murders, he discovers that there’s a copycat killer at work – a conclusion he reaches based on his knowledge of the events in Chaos;Head. These events took place several years ago, and are finely detailed – making my own research into that plot entirely unnecessary.
The tone of the game, with its theme of grisly murders, is mostly dark – and for the most part it’s similar to Steins;Gate in terms of the narrative style and quality. It is, however, not as consistently excellent as Steins;Gate is. This has a lot to do with the side tangents that the game goes on, with light-hearted banter that will feel familiar to anime fans but feels like a stylistic break from the murder mystery aspect of the game.
As with other 5pb titles, a multitude of different endings is available and story branches can be explored by choosing between different triggers at key moments in the game. These manifest themselves as alternate realities that Takuru (your main character) dreams up – with a clear choice between a light-hearted and a darker version. Choosing to ignore these choices lets you stay grounded in reality – which is what I often did to keep myself from veering too far off into a certain direction. I can imagine that many players will consistently choose similar options throughout the game based on personal preference, which hurts the replay value somewhat for those not that interested in a tone that doesn’t fit them.
The western release of Chaos;Child unfortunately does not feature English language voice acting, though a Japanese voice cast complements the nicely done textual translation. Coming off of the latest Danganronpa game on the Vita I missed the excellent musical soundtrack that that game had, but really appreciated Chaos;Child’s emphasis on subtle context-sensitive sound effects to help craft more of an atmosphere.
Although somewhat flawed from the perspective of the game’s inconsistent tone, Chaos;Child is a must-play for fans of Steins;Gate – not only does it take place in the same universe but it also frequently references events in Steins;Gate. The writing, especially when it comes to the main plot, is excellent as well – 5pb has done a great job in making this enjoyable as a standalone adventure despite its connections to a larger game world. If you’re new to visual novels then Steins;Gate is still a better place to start, but Chaos;Child has plenty to satisfy existing fans.