VNDB Link: Chaos;Child
Developer: 5pb. Games
Platform: PS4, PS Vita, PC(?)
Recently I finished Chaos;Child and felt I should write up some of my thoughts for the blog… I’m a long time detractor of Chaos;Head and generally hold the opinion that Steins;Gate is a fluke and the only thing worth reading in the Science Adventure series. I am very pleased to admit that as of now, I have been proven wrong. Chaos;Child is absolutely worth reading.
Chaos;Child is the latest game to get a translation in the Science Adventure series and the second VN in the “Chaos” sub-series. That was enough of a mark against it to make me incredibly wary of Chaos;Child, despite the praise it had been getting from review outlets as well as my friends. My experience with Chaos;Child was particularly marred because I loved the concept of delusions and the difficulty for both the protagonist and the reader to distinguish what was reality and what wasn’t only to see the potential dashed to pieces as the VN hopped on board a crazy train and never looked back. Chaos;Child takes a similar premise but keeps the scope small and focused on the Newspaper Club and the serial killings in Shibuya and the story is all the better for it.
To get some brief housekeeping out of the way, I’ll start with the elephant in the room—Chaos;Head itself. The good news is, you don’t need to read it to read Chaos;Child. In fact, I would encourage you not to. Save yourself the suffering. There are a few references to the protagonist of C;H and while the events of Child are caused by the climax of Head, that specifics of what happened in that climax are largely irrelevant—the only thing that matters is the aftermath—something which Head declines to show you. Don’t let my sacrifice be in vain—I suffered so that I can tell you that you don’t need to.
So, where does that leave us, then? The writers definitely took inspiration from Head. The protagonist, Takuru, and his counterpart from Head, Takumi, have some fun similarities. They both have doting siblings. There’s a pink haired girl always at their side. They have the option to experience delusions (at your whim) during everyday conversations. They both have ridiculous living situations. However, where Takumi is a shut in who avoids human interaction and drowns his time in anime and generally fleeing reality for no good reason, Takuru has actual motivations and backstory that drive the way he acts. He’s not great with new people, but has a nice group of friends he enjoys spending time with. He views himself as superior to the “wrong-siders” that exist in his school, but there’s a sense of longing there. He looks at himself as superior because he wants to belong, to fit in, to be a normal person. Acknowledging that he is the outcast would be painful and so instead he chooses to bask in the disdain his “ignorant classmates” give him. They’re on the wrong side of the information divide after all, while he is on the right one. Even the living conditions, which were absurd in Chaos;Head—Takumi lives in a shipping container on top of a building for no real reason—have a purpose as to why they are the way they are and don’t feel out of place in the context of the story.
This leads to a very interesting character arc for our protagonist, as he struggles to balance his desire to fit in (and his family’s desire for him to live a normal life with them) and his obsession with the nasty string of murders currently occurring around him and the chance they give him to prove that he really is better than his peers. All in all, they took the core concept of Chaos;Head’s protagonist (isolated student with misguided sense of superiority) and turned it into something that provides interesting conflict instead of just showing lewd delusion after lewd delusion of the character’s waifu. Takuru feels like a very human protagonist, one who is actually struggling to adjust to the events around him. He starts to crave that everyday life his sister wants him to come back to, but then another murder happens and his emotions run wild and his unhealthy obsession resurfaces. It’s hard not to want the best for him, even as he seems unsure of what that is and the characters around him pull him in different directions.
The delusions themselves in Chaos;Child still suffer from the same problem of just being largely irrelevant daydreams to the plot, but at least this time around they serve a purpose. Chaos;Child has a bit of an interesting route structure where upon completion of a linear “common” route, alternate versions of events with a focus on four different heroines become unlocked. Accessing these routes requires making specific delusion choices during the common route, generally using positive delusions to indicate trust towards a particular heroine and negative delusions to indicate distrust or simply negative emotions towards other heroines. It’s basically as shallow as having a simple choice system with flags, but adding the delusion triggers on top of that at least puts a thin paint of coat to make you forget that that’s what’s happening in the background, which was a nice change of pace.
Sadly, most of the heroine routes themselves aren’t particularly necessary. To be clear, you must complete them to unlock the fantastic true route that waits at the end of the game, but only one is really at all plot relevant. I personally read two and skipped through the other two. At the very least, the routes are quite internally consistent and so they provide some additional insight into character motivations and give some extra depth to the heroines they focus on. This was especially true in Hinae’s case, who has some of the best chemistry with Takuru as well as depth of character but is mostly sidelined outside of her own route. Sadly, her route added very little to the main story (and the same is true with the two that I skipped). That said, Nono’s route was actually fantastic and added an interesting twist on some of the ideas presented in the main story. Hers is certainly the route that must be read, even if you skip the rest. There was an interview I saw stating that the other heroine routes were added basically at the command from on high, which is a shame. One of the characters, Hana, was added late in the story process as well—and it shows. Hana never actually speaks in the VN proper. All of her lines are just grunting assent or refusal. She manages to speak in her own route, of course, as well as in some of the delusions but for the most part she adds very little.
The supporting cast is for the most part quite good, with really only one or two characters dragging the group down. There are a lot of interesting interrelationships between many of the characters that get slowly unraveled over the course of the VN, which made for a nice breadcrumb trail of revelations spaced throughout. Chaos;Child does a good job of making you invested into the characters, and so when shit starts to hit the fan it feels like there are real stakes to what’s going on. It’s hard to hate any of them for what they do and that just makes watching the way they cause things to fall apart with only the best of intentions all the more engaging. Something I really appreciated about Chaos;Child was that it chose to take a much smaller scope than Chaos;Head—something I think benefited it immensely. Chaos;Head became outright absurd towards the end of its story as the conflict grew out of control very quickly. Chaos;Child chooses to focus primarily on Takuru and the people around him and how their actions relate to the events happening in Shibuya. In a similar vein to Dies Irae, each character’s power is based on a wish that they have, which leads to plenty of interesting drama in how their delusions act to compensate the ways they are lacking in reality. This, alongside keeping any sort of ‘main antagonist’ firmly out of the spotlight, makes the character growth all the more meaningful and impactful.
In the end I felt that Chaos;Child was a very well crafted story that managed to pull away from the dumpster fire that was Chaos;Head and look at some of the same themes and ideas in a way that didn’t just make me incredibly angry at the writers. There’s a good story here, with layers of mystery and intrigue. There’s a sense of weight to the conflict, precisely because Chaos;Child makes you care about its characters, even if the scope never reaches the sort of grand scale that threatens all of society that some of the other Science Adventure games do. It’s hard for me to pick any one particular thing that stands out about Chaos;Child—it’s simply good. The experience was engaging and pleasant from beginning to end (except maybe holding down skip through some of those side routes) and the conclusion is one of my favorites in recent memory. Do yourself a favor and give it a read… you wouldn’t want to be a wrong-sider, now, would you?