I must apologize for getting this review out late. Hurricane Irene decided to leave me without Internet for a few days, so I tried to get this article posted as soon as I could. With that out of the way, let’s get to the review!
Chaos;head, or ChäoS;HEAd as it’s stylized, is a visual novel jointly produced in 2008 by famous developer Nitroplus, who were involved with this year’s top hit Madoka Magica, 2007′s Blassreiter, and the upcoming Fate/Zero , and 5pb., a record label and videogame publisher who now ports and even makes visual novels. Madhouse has also made an anime out of it (albeit a terrible one). How does the visual novel hold up though? While it starts out really interesting, showing a lot of potential with a very good initial narrative, the story gets worse and worse, eventually making the game very mediocre.
Character art and CGs are rather nice and detailed. They’re easy on the eyes, and are often a joy to look at. Still, the style doesn’t manage to stand out so much; it’s rather generic. Backgrounds, meanwhile, are done in CG. It doesn’t seem too awkward, but when there are people in the background, it doesn’t really work all too well. Even so, the detail is there; there’s realistic looking blood (at least, what I think is realistic) and proper use of perspective. It’s not amazing, but it gets the job done. The music is also rather generic. Like most VNs I’ve done so far, it has normal songs, with a few that stand out. In the case of Chaos;Head, the good songs are the ones that evoke a sense of horror and dread. Similarly, the game uses some really good scare chords. That’s as far as the music goes. The game uses a ton of sound effects though, which are nice. One other thing I usually never consider is voice acting; while it is rather normal for the most part, the voice acting for the main character is really quite stellar.
The presentation in Chaos;Head is both great and disappointing. You follow the main character’s thoughts, and as a result, you get to pick up on his peculiarities. The art and sound really work to up the immersion; you can see characters blink and move their mouths when they talk. Scenes taking place in the character’s room feel rather realistic, as if you’re actually their, browsing the internet. Additionally, as I’ve mentioned before, his reasoning is rather unique. For most of it, we only get to see the story from his perspective, and as a result, we’re forced to follow along with his unique reasoning. It creates a rather strong unreliable narrator; you very much know this, but you still can’t do anything about it. You’re forced to try to get a clearer perspective so you can try your hand at your own reasoning. At the same time, you find yourself agreeing with the reasoning, creating an interesting paradox for yourslef. Unfortunately, the game later hurts this by giving you outside perspectives (and to make matters worse, they are cut off right as they get really important). The game also has a unique choice system called the “delusion trigger” system, which pops up at certain points when you hear a repeating sound. In the top corners are two cardiac cycles, one green and one red, that give you delusions. If you hit the green one, you get a generally pleasant delusion, but if you hit the red one, you get a horrifying one. You can skip them though. It’s a very nice concept, but I feel like it doesn’t work too well. It does change the immediate scene, but aside from that, it’s used to get a rather frustrating ending that isn’t much of an ending (you’d think the true end would be the one you have to work the hardest for, but the ending you get from this can hardly be considered the true one). Additionally, I feel storywise, it’s not so effective to be in charge of one’s delusions. It provides a large disconnect between the reader and the main character that isn’t in charge of his delusions. Even so, while flawed, the presentation is still strong, providing an entertaining read.
The characters of Chaos;Head are… actually rather weak. Many of them are archetypal, and while the main character always lampshades this, comparing and contrasting them to “2D” characters, they are very much like their 2D counterparts (that’s because they are 2D). They don’t get much development or motivation, either. In fact, I think a large chunk of development is missing from Chaos;Head. The main antagonist, particularly, is not developed in the slightest. I felt somewhat insulted when they revealed his “motivation.” The main character, as mentioned before, is the strongest point of the visual novel. While he is an otaku, really detestable, and there is no objective reason to like him, he is still actually rather endearing. Rather than hating him, you’re more likely to pity him. His characterization and development feels smooth and natural, and it might wind up being the only reason some people stick with Chaos;Head till the very end.