Visual novels are quietly filling gaps in every platform’s library. A wave of ports has brought hundreds of hours of content to Nintendo’s shores over the last few years, so I thought I’d dip my toe into one and see what the genre has to offer these days. Unfortunately, Chaos;Head Noah was not the right place to jump in.
Chaos;Head Noah is a thriller told from the perspective of Takumi Nishijou, a 17-year old self-professed otaku. His lifestyle is almost idyllic for a stereotypical otaku: he lives alone in a modified steel container, with only basic facilities like a bed, top-class PC with cutting-edge internet, and a shelf full of anime girl statues. He’s something of a prodigy, who only has to attend school for 2.5 days a week while studying online to ace his classes. When he’s not otherwise occupied, he’s a veritable celebrity in his favourite MMORPG.
His status quo is upset, however, by a series of bizarre murders in his neighbourhood of Shibuya, known as the New Generation Murders — especially when a mysterious figure known as Shogun begins sending him inside information on them. This sets off paranoid delusions in Takumi and unearths skeletons from his closet, all dragging him deeper into the case.
Gameplay-wise, Chaos;Head Noah is a fairly simple graphic novel affair. Its twist is the “delusional triggers” Takumi sees at certain points; choosing either a “positive” or a “negative” delusion ultimately decides the course the story takes, with incentive to replay and explore the other routes. Its sequel, Chaos;Child, doesn’t stray far from this formula, but with a different protagonist.
This sounds fairly innocuous, but damn, Chaos;Head Noah is a grim, dissatisfying ride. I thought it might have a somewhat Persona-esque tone, but in reality, it can make Shin Megami Tensei III Nocturne look like a picnic, and Shinji Ikari of Evangelion seem well-adjusted by comparison to Takumi. Between that, the overuse of stereotypes, and the shock value gore strewn about, I have a hard time recommending them to anybody.
“It’s fair to say Chaos;Head Noah walked so Doki Doki Literature Club could run, but it’s not necessarily a path most need to tread.”
They have their audience, of course, or else Chaos; Head would have remained an obscure black sheep in the Xbox 360’s library, not enhanced and re-released multiple times. I’ve seen the games’ various disquieting conclusions celebrated, and while normally I would applaud developers who at least try to push gaming’s narrative envelope, the dark undertones of some are truly unpalatable.
(As an aside, the Steam release of Chaos;Head Noah was cancelled last week, as Valve wanted certain changes made and Spike Chunsoft was unwilling to compromise their vision of this work. As icky as certain scenarios in the game are, let’s not pretend that Steam isn’t already full of comparable, if not worse, titles.)
There are nearly a dozen such conclusions in both Chaos;Head Noah and Chaos;Child, for those with the stomach and drive to seek them out. If anything, the latter is a more interesting offering; while it builds directly off the events of the former, it gets you up to speed and drops you into the deeper science-fiction elements faster. However, it still reaches into the same toolbox of tasteless gimmicks often.
Ultimately, it seems like these visual novels have not aged well in tone or tech. They feel like a slog grounded in stereotypes and shock value, while trying to sound complex and philosophical. At that, the HD remastering makes the artwork crisper, but doesn’t help the game’s otherwise bland menus and interfaces. It’s fair to say Chaos;Head Noah walked so Doki Doki Literature Club could run, but it’s not necessarily a path most need to tread.
That being said, if you’re a big aficionado of the genre and somehow haven’t already played either of these games, you’ll probably get your money’s worth from seeking out a few different endings in each.
This content was originally published here.