Laevatein’s Readin’ Sessions: Chaos;Head

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!

I'll give a cookie to anyone who can decipher the Engrish.

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.

Chaos;Head revolves around an an otaku who stays in his room all day, either playing an MMO or eroge, or watching anime. He has next to no friends and goes to school so infrequently that he would have trouble graduating. It involves him trying to get a handle on the crazy events, people, and connections that have popped up as of late. I very much liked the beginning part, as the character was all alone, and that affected how he did things. If there was anything bothering him (and there usually was), he didn’t have anyone to ask; he had to use the internet to understand things. And when that failed, he had to use some of his “deductive logic” to get by (more on this later). However, while the story starts out very good, with high amounts of suspense, tension, horror, and mystery, it slowly becomes something of a battling sci-fi shounen, and a bad battling sci-fi shounen at that. The game doesn’t even try to hide it from you, as the swords on the cover and in the opening show. The story’s extreme over-reliance on the term ‘delusion’ is noticeable, tiring, lazy and sickening; as a result, the game also uses an extensive amount of pseudo-science and pseudo-religion, dragging the story through the mud further. While it is still entertaining to a degree, the story becomes a ghost of its former self.

An example of how the story works in the beginning. (Also, you guys just lost the game too.)

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.

Dat perspective.

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.

One of the many delusions you'll see. (Dat blood.)

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.

Rating Breakdown
While it starts as a very strong horror/mystery with high amounts of mystery and tension, it eventually devolves into a bad battling sci-fi shounen.
An initially strong narrative gets worse over time, though not to the extent of the story's decline. The choice system, though unique, doesn't amount to much, and only winds up hurting the narrative. The immersion is quite high, however, due to various little effects, such as character animations.
Most of the cast is poor, archetypal, and underdeveloped, the main antagonist, especially. Fortunately, the main character makes up for some of the problems, as his characterization and development happen to be the best parts of the game.
Art isn't very unique or amazing, but at least is pleasant on the eyes. Background art, however, is shoddy, becoming very apparent when people show up in the background.
A standard soundtrack that has its good songs and its forgettable songs, though the strong songs all happen to be the scary ones, which disappear near the end. Sound effects are in abundance, and voice acting for the main character is very well done.
Chaos;Head is the perfect example of very interesting concepts, but terrible execution, as what starts out as a very strong read that doesn't let up in suspense and horror eventually becomes worse and worse, shifting into a battling sci-fi shounen.
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A mad scientist who's so cool!


A mad scientist who's so cool!

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