Chaos;Child is the latest visual novel brought to us by developer 5pb, and the fourth main entry in the ‘Science Adventure’ series. Chaos;Child sits in that series with acclaimed titles like Steins;Gate and this game’s predecessor, Chaos;Head, but don’t worry too much about having experience with either. Ultimately, playing those will add depth to Chaos;Child, but it’s perfectly enjoyable and works as a standalone game if you haven’t played the others.
Chaos;Child wastes absolutely no time in showing exactly what sort of ride we have in store, delving straight into possibly one of the most gruesome openings of a game ever. It’s clear from this opening that it isn’t going to hold back, and it immediately sets the plot up as intriguing, urging us on to play more. A visual novel is really only as good as the story it’s telling and, fortunately, Chaos;Child presents us with an excellent one.
Set in modern Tokyo, six years after an earthquake devastates the Shibuya ward, we play as Takuru, a highschooler and journalist working of his school’s newspaper. After a series of mysterious deaths across Shibuya, Takuru becomes obsessed with being the one to reveal the connection and get the scoop.
Of course, Takuru doesn’t embark on this adventure solo, and is joined by a variety of other characters. These companions help develop Takuru into a more likeable character, otherwise he's pretty arrogant, and he seems to get on his high horse quite a bit. He’s an interesting protagonist with a complex backstory, which is refreshing to see. The supporting cast are equally well written and develop well throughout the game, and bring joy to an otherwise very bleak setting.
At specific junctures, we’re presented with ‘delusion triggers’, and you can choose to react positively, negatively, or neutrally to these triggers. While the events portrayed after the decision are purely in Takuru’s mind, they affect the way he deals with the real life matter in hand, and ultimately unlock different routes through the game. This dynamic isn’t well explained, and it did take us a while to figure out what was going on (for reference, press L2 or R2 to pick the triggers, or leave it for a neutral reaction). There’s definitely more of a lure to pick the negative triggers, which tend to be more moody and bleak, fitting the tone of the game a lot better, whereas the positive triggers err on the side of comedy and are a lot more ‘out there’ than the reality Takuru is presented with.
What Chaos;Child does really well is setting the whole scene. Scenes are presented in stills, and are described by the characters experiencing them. You don’t directly see what's going on but the vivid descriptions, brilliant use of sound effects, and eerie backing music help give the outline of the picture and your brain fills in the rest. A lot is left to the imagination, but it’s to the credit of the storytelling and direction of the game that it feels like we’re not having to put too much extra thought into what's going on, and it all comes naturally. There are points throughout the game where certain sections seem to drag and lose momentum, but these are few and far between, and easily overshadow by the many fantastic moments of storytelling throughout.
Chaos;Child is a great example of a visual novel done right. Its interesting and engaging storyline keeps you wanting more, with the characters lifting an already good game to another level. Some dynamics miss the mark slightly, but ultimately add to the bigger picture and widen the scope of the plot in general, so they're worth persevering with across multiple playthroughs.