My first exposure to the 5pb/Mages written “Science Adventure” series came via its chronological second entry, Steins;Gate – which I loved when I played it, though some of that might be a halo effect from the Funimation anime dub. I was intrigued by Chaos;Code – the first game in the series – coming to Switch, especially when it was temporarily banned from Steam release, but that turned out to be a misunderstanding of the content in the game. So what we have is a rough start to a series that intends to go full cinematic universe at some point.
Chaos;Head takes place in Tokyo in roughly 2009, and stars a young man named Takumi Nichijo who barely avoids qualifying as a shut-in or “hikikimori”: he attends just enough school (“2.5 times a week”) to ensure he can graduate, and spends most of his time lusting over anime girls and playing a MMORPG where he has a top-class character. This version of Tokyo is gripped by the “New Generation Madness,” which manifests in the form of violent murders throughout the city; as the murders come closer to Takumi, he has to put aside his hatred of “3D girls” in order to stop the madness. Some of the girls encountered in the story are neat, but unfortunately the POV character is thoroughly unlikeable with his tendencies, and one girl seemingly only existed to pad out the game’s word count by repeating the same statement several times over.
There are plenty of endings to work through in Chaos;Head: a few endings on what might be called the “common route”, as well as endings devoted to each of the seven female characters. Although most adventure games use simple text choices, and Steins;Gate centered around specific phone responses, Chaos;Head works through a system of “manifesting delusions.” At particular points in the story, the screen will bring up a circle and depending on which of the ZL or ZR buttons are held down, a particular positive or negative delusion will play out. (These delusions play into porn tropes even without severe nudity, though one did involve a girl stripping off her outfit and mounting Takumi as an orgy broke out around them. One suspects this is where the Steam ban sprung from.) The endings are determined by which (if any) delusions are selected, though one is required first before the others can be obtained.
If the script for Chaos;Head was dumped into a word processing program, I don’t think there’d be any red lines for grammar – sure, there’d be plenty of “I’m sorry, what?” notes for the CONTENT in the margins, but that’d be the extent of it. The city has enough environmental variety to make it look interesting, and there’s enough stylistic suck in the places where it’d be necessary (mostly in the MMO) that it makes sense. I really had to crank the music volume to make it audible, and even then a lot of the game is set in the main character’s room where the music is replaced by a computer fan, so… do with that what you will. The other technical problem I was having was that I could not get the game to boot in handheld mode on my main Switch until after I played it docked AND on my usual novel-reading Switch Lite, and until the batteries in the resident Joy-Con controllers died. For the life of me, I couldn’t get it to recognize the Split Pad I usually play with until it had literally no other choice. This is the first game I’ve ever seen that happen with, and it didn’t happen in testing the sequel either.
If you’re OK with putting up with -chan lingo and otaku of the highest order, then it might be worth sitting down with Chaos;Head Noah for a weekend – or even if you want to see what led to the Steins;Gate series. As for me, I’m going to head to the sequel and hope the main character is a little less irritating. (Or maybe J. Michael Tatum can make him not sound like a complete twit, I don’t know.)