Chaos;Child has been available in English for a while now but was recently re-released on Switch as part of a double pack with its predecessor Chaos;Head NOAH. After making my way through Chaos;Head and finding a lot to like, I was curious how the follow-up would compare.
Echoes of Madness
Chaos;Child is a thematic sequel to Chaos;Head. It’s a new story about new characters, so it’s possible to read Chaos;Child without reading Chaos;Head and understand most of what happens. Because Chaos;Child received an official localization first, many people in fact did so. However, now that Chaos;Head NOAH has been localized, I would recommend reading that first, both because Chaos;Child uses context from the events of Chaos;Head, and more importantly, because it inverts many of the themes. Where Chaos;Head encourages us to reach for the blue sky inside our dreams, Chaos;Child cautions us not become lost there lest we be consumed by our fantasies.
Chaos;Child begins six years after Chaos;Head with the return of the New Generation Madness, a series of gruesome and bizarre killings across Shibuya. A popular streamer butchers and eats his own hand on a live broadcast. An up-and-coming musician plays one final concert from beyond the grave using a speaker hidden in her eviscerated torso. The similarities between these deaths and the murders six years earlier have Shibuya abuzz and the netizens of the popular message board @channel in a frenzied festival of macabre glee.
Look at Me
Chaos;Child is a more conventional game than Chaos;Head. The biggest reason is the shift in protagonist, from Chaos;Head’s Takumi Nishijou to Chaos;Child’s Takuru Miyashiro. Takuru is less the borderline inhuman weirdo that Takumi was and more along the lines of a cringey high-schooler. In many ways, Takuru is a reflection of Takumi. Where Takumi hates himself for being worthless, Takuru believes he is special, and only the masses of “wrong-siders” prevent him from being recognized as such. In fact, Takuru’s initial reaction to the murders is excitement. This is his chance to have a grand adventure, do something important, and finally be recognized as exceptional. Like Takumi, Takuru can be weak and loathsome, but his weaknesses tend to be more relatable. As awful as Takuru’s excitement is, I think that desire to be special and go on some adventure–to be the main character–is something a lot of people have experienced. It’s easy not to think about what such a reality might cost, if it came to pass.
Chaos;Child also trades the stifling isolation and paranoia of Chaos;Head for a sense of normalcy. Takuru goes to school, has friends, and hangs out with his clubmates. He can be awkward, but he’s capable of doing everyday things in a way that Takumi wasn’t. The writing also focuses more on the events and process of solving the mystery. This makes the story progression more fluid but as a result Chaos;Child doesn’t hit the frenzied highs of Chaos;Head. These traditional visual novel trappings combined with a steadier pace and more relatable protagonist make Chaos;Child a less challenging, if perhaps also less striking, read than Chaos;Head.
That’s not to say Chaos;Child neglects the psychological, and Takuru’s character arc is central to the story. He’s pulled between his desire to do something and be someone exceptional, standing apart and above, and the warmth and empathy already around him. It’s easy to imagine that had he been 6 years older, Takuru might have been another pair of hungry eyes bearing down on Takumi during the original New Generation Madness. While his weaknesses are different, like Takumi, Takuru must learn and grow if he is to find what is truly important. Old habits die hard though, and even the most well-intentioned people can hide ugly secrets in the depths of their hearts–perhaps ones they themselves don’t even realize are there.
Friends and Family
Chaos;Child’s more conventional approach means more space for secondary characters. The most important are Takuru’s friends in the Newspaper Club. Shinji Itou is a fellow “right-sider” who shares Takuru’s excitement about the case. The taciturn Hana Kazuki games in the corner but is still a welcome member. Takuru’s adoptive sister Nono Kurusu splits time between the club and student council, but always seems to show up when Takuru needs a lecture. Later additions to the cast include bubbly underclassman Hinae Arimura and shy middle-schooler Uki Yamazoe. And of course there’s Takuru’s ditzy childhood friend Serika Onoe who’s been with him forever and sticks to him like glue.
The time Takuru spends with these characters helps to realize his internal dynamics and gives the plot reveals emotional weight. You see immediately the ways that Takuru’s ego and pride have harmed his relationship with his adoptive family, yet Nono responds with love and empathy, gently encouraging Takuru to value kindness. Serika and Takuru have the natural closeness of longtime friends, and Serika is always there to accompany Takuru with a smile, no matter the scheme. Others appear later in the story, but still develop meaningful relationships. I came to care about these characters and their bonds, even as the truth closed in on them.
The Right-Sider is on the Case
The bulk of Chaos;Child is the 11-chapter common route, which opens with the return of the New Generation Madness and explores this central mystery. As what begins as an exciting case for Takumi starts to get more personal, just how far will he go to find the truth? Who is behind this? And more importantly, why? As Takumi becomes involved he meets police detective Takeshi Shinjou, who is surprisingly open-minded about the weirdness pervading everything, as well as private investigator Katsuko Momose, who returns from Chaos;Head, and acerbic scientist Mio Kunosato, who seems obsessed with getting to the bottom of things.
The delusion triggers from Chaos;Head return as the primary choice mechanism in Chaos;Child. When Takuru’s thoughts drift, red and green circles appear at the edges of the screen. On the Switch, ZL triggers positive delusions, indulgences of Takuru’s pleasant fantasies, while ZR triggers negative delusions characterized by paranoia and terror. Besides the delusion triggers, Chaos;Child features a few sections where you (as Takuru) review and place evidence relating to the murders on an evidence board. It’s a nice way to highlight the process of cracking the case as well as reinforce key details about the murders.
Chaos;Child presents what is overall a well-constructed mystery, but it’s not without a few cracks. The writing isn’t as tight as that of its predecessor. If you look closely, you can find occasional small inconsistencies. Some questions are not quite answered. Most significantly, I felt at times that Chaos;Head rushed through the emotional aftermath of important events to get to the next plot reveal. Regardless, I found these were mostly things I noticed on reflection. While playing, the momentum of the mystery kept me engaged.
Secrets in Secrets
Following the common route, Chaos;Child features character routes for Hinae, Hana, Uki, and Nono. I liked the routes here better than those in Chaos;Head NOAH, both because the characters got more screentime in the common route which helped to draw my interest, and because focusing on a smaller number of longer routes allowed for more depth. That said, many of the same problems remain. The routes chase up loose threads but are largely tangential to the main story. I liked Nono’s the best, as it reinforces thematically the importance of a formative event in Takumi’s past. The others are more what-ifs that focus on exploring the secondary characters. Regardless of how you feel about this, you have to play all the routes to unlock the true ending. And unfortunately, the delusion trigger mechanic makes getting onto the routes a chore. You’ll need to start a new game and spend a good half hour skipping so you can set a particular sequence of required triggers. It doesn’t help that the skip speed is slow and the Switch version of Chaos;Child is prone to crashes while skipping.
When you do at last arrive, the true ending that awaits is beautifully understated and a poignant and thematically satisfying conclusion to the narrative. It’s also open-ended, in a sense. Certainly Chaos;Child explains its central mystery as well as the fates of Takuru and his friends, but it never tells you how to feel about what happened. Even the characters themselves explain their motivations obliquely, in coded terms or callbacks to shared memories. I’ve often heard the ending described as bittersweet. Maybe this is less a reflection of the story itself than of the mix of emotions left behind when there’s no one there to give you an easy answer. It’s hard to put into words exactly. Regardless, I’ve found Chaos;Child’s ending–along with its themes and lessons–have been sticking in my mind.
While I wouldn’t say Chaos;Child’s production is bad, it clearly didn’t have the resources that other Science Adventure games like Steins;Gate or its predecessor did. Where Chaos;Head’s soundtrack contains some of the all-time visual novel bangers, Chaos;Child’s is simply atmospheric and unobtrusive. Likewise, while I enjoyed the art, I felt there were a number of scenes that would have benefitted greatly from CGs. Instead, Chaos;Child simply used awkward closeups of existing backgrounds or character sprites to compliment descriptive text.
One thing that is bad is that the editing process for Chaos;Child seems to have been nonexistent. There are a truly staggering number of typos and typesetting errors. While I never had difficulty understanding the text, it’s far from what I would expect from a professional release. A few particularly egregious problems, such as a bug that made the true ending unplayable and a map section that required reading untranslated text, have been fixed. Still, the double-pack release could have been an opportunity to rectify issues present in earlier releases, but little effort was made to this end.
While it doesn’t quite reach the heights of its predecessor, Chaos;Child is a strong visual novel in its own right–one that builds on and evolves what came before in interesting ways. It’s a shame this release is so lacking in polish, but Chaos;Child’s poignant thematic heart still shines through.
CHAOS;CHILD IS RECOMMENDED
Many thanks go to Spike Chunsoft for a Nintendo Switch review code for this title.
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A veteran of Oregon Trail and Battletoads, Wes has been playing and talking about games for as long as he can remember. He’s down to try almost anything, and he especially enjoys games with gripping narrative experiences.