[Visual Novel Review]: Chaos;Head

Chaos Head

Developer – Nitroplus & 5pb.

Translator – I-VNTP & TLWiki

Length – 10-30 Hours

Chaos;Head and Steins;Gate are a pair of visual novels that are constantly compared to one another (mostly because both of their titles contain a semicolon), with Steins;Gate generally coming out on top in people’s minds. Both of them are developed by Nitroplus, who have yet to release a story that I’ve actually liked. Unfortunately Chaos;Head does nothing to break this trend and, in fact, may be the worst VN I’ve reviewed to date. There are just so many things it does wrong, with pacing and character development being foremost among them, balanced by far too few positive aspects. There’s something wrong when one of my favorite features of a visual novel is its relatively short length.

In a town beginning to go mad, Nishijou Takumi would have loved nothing more than to be left alone with his video games and anime figures. Fate, however, had other plans. Takumi finds himself witnessing one of the bizarre “New Gen” murders before finding the apparent culprit, a girl of whom he has no memory of whatsoever, was in fact a member of his class and had been his friend for months. Forgetting for a moment that he may be in the company of a murderer, he can’t even understand why a girl would associate with a cowardly, socially maladjusted loner like himself. In the face of others accusing him of the murder, freak earthquakes killing hundreds of people and crazy girls waving around deadly imaginary swords, she soon becomes the only person Takumi can rely on.

Chaos Head 3

Often I have a lot of trouble trying to fit everything a visual novel is into a single summary paragraph. With Chaos;Head it becomes hard to do this for very different reasons. The story meanders along, staring dully at potential plotlines and dismissing them a few scenes later before finally rushing towards a hastily cobbled-together conclusion with all of the composure of an ant under a magnifying glass. The ideas it presents fit together so poorly that none of them really shine through as being important. There are some killings going on that are a bit weird and some girl racing around that thinks the protagonist is behind it all and another with some screws loose that shows up once in a blue moon and another with a big sword that loves leaving you in the dark about anything and everything and – I could go on for at least five more “ands” without giving you a good idea of what Chaos;Head wants to accomplish. If I add on to all that the fact the 7 (or more) of the 10 chapters are practically introduction to the final story “arc”, if you can call it that, I hope that you can form some sort of idea about just how confused Chaos;Head really is. I mean, the motivation of the antagonist isn’t even established until the very last scene, and his identity had only been revealed a few chapters before that anyway (not that it made any difference to how little he meant to the story overall). He’s not too bad, I suppose, if you consider that some of the characters’ actions get no explanation whatsoever.

The concept hidden within the murk of the VN’s plot isn’t a bad one though. I can’t really tell you anything about it without revealing some sort of spoiler, so you’ll just have to take my word for it. One of the unique features of Chaos;Head related to that idea, however, is that periodically throughout the visual novel you will be given the choice of having the protagonist experience a “good” or “bad” delusion (which just means day-dream in this case), or simply plow on through with reality. It sounds really cool in theory but doesn’t work out very well in this case. The problem is that the three options you can experience simply aren’t different enough to make you want to go back and try the other ones. Though I had started off by saving at each choice and trying out each of the delusions, by the time I was a few chapters in I just didn’t care. As a final note on the story itself, I want to briefly mention that much of what Chaos;Head is all about (from what I’ve been able to piece together, anyway), is based on incredibly shaky pseudo-science concepts that barely seem related. Their only purpose is to add some sort of façade of legitimacy to the plot’s events, which they only succeed in if you close your eyes and try to ignore their existence.

Chaos Head 2

All right. This is where my criticism field-day really begins. The first and most obvious character to take issue with has to be the main one, but not for reasons you might expect. The protagonist is an irresponsible, whiny, ungrateful, cowardly, quivering blob of antisocialism which, while not something I would willingly choose to read about, is absolutely fine as long as you don’t care about forming connections to characters. What’s not fine is that after having spent the vast majority of the story consistently molding himself to those adjectives, he very rapidly morphs into a dependable, confident, badass, quivering blob of antisocialism after a single event for the sole purpose of fitting the conclusion Chaos;Head wants to show you. That kind of character “development” just doesn’t sit well with me. In addition to this the heroines (if you can call them that) are wholly underdeveloped because they simply don’t show up very often; they aren’t relevant for the majority of the novel. Their backstories aren’t crafted into the scenes they appear in so much as they are thrust at you simply because the heroines apparently all need to have backstories. It’s like the writer realized they needed to have more to them to keep them from being shallow but wasn’t quite sure how to accomplish it (and failed at it anyway). In fact, they remain mostly irrelevant to the ending of the VN as well, making me wonder why they were included at all.

 Do Chaos;Head’s technical aspects provide a source of light at the end of the tunnel? The short answer is no. The long answer starts off with me saying that there is at least one factor to redeem this train-wreck of a visual novel. Some of the backgrounds you encounter as you’re reading are computer generated and 3-dimensional, and from time to time they’re put to good use. The protagonist can turn around and look at different parts of the room like they actually exist in 3D space and that was kind of novel. Unfortunately those same backgrounds look like early PSOne technology; that is to say…bad. The character art is of a decent quality and the issue I have here has more to do with their posing. The way they stand and hold themselves is just really unnatural in some cases, and some of their expressions follow suit. In its defence, if you wanted to argue the point you could probably get away with calling it an art style choice, I suppose. I don’t want to end this section on a negative note, so I will happily admit that Takumi’s voice actor does a wonderful job of portraying an irresponsible, whiny, ungrateful, cowardly, quivering blob of antisocialism.

Chaos Head 4

Summary – I’ve been a bit harsh on Chaos;Head (partially because it’s fun to write harsh reviews) but the honest truth is that it deserves most of the criticism I’ve given it. Pacing, character development and story cohesiveness appear to be foreign concepts to this visual novel, and though I’ve seen positive opinions of it I simply can’t fathom why they exist in this case. I had to really search for the few compliments I gave it and that’s an incredibly rare position for me to find myself in. It’s relatively short at least, so that’s a positive if you find that you really have to give it a go.

 Score: 4.5/10 – Bad

Chaos Head 5

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About Silvachief

I'm a Gamer that dabbles in a little bit of everything. I'm big on Video Games, Visual Novels, Anime, Books and TV Series, but there's more to me than just those!
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11 Responses to [Visual Novel Review]: Chaos;Head

  1. Lazarinth says:

    I don’t know whether I should feel bad for being one of the people who recommended this to you or feel good that I gave you a visual novel you can so passionately rant about how much you legitimately hate. Probably the former. Either way, after reading this again I completely take back any recommendation I might have given you for Neon Genesis Evangelion.

    Eva shares almost every quality on the list of things you hate about Chaos;Head; a whiny, pathetic main character who suddenly mans-up, the pseudo-science concepts (note the genre), deeply messed up supporting characters, a confusing plot that never fully gives you all of the answers so you have to make up explanations for yourself (personally this is one of my favorite things to do with stories like that).

    The only thing Evangelion really has over C;H is some cool mech fights but besides Code Geass you don’t seem to be all that crazy over mech either so that might not really make up for it. In fact, this message will apply for any Darren Aronofsky films I might recommend you in the future, those are just as difficult to figure out but that’s why I like ’em. Choas;Head, not so much.

    • Silvachief says:

      I think it was probably inevitable that I was going to play Chaos;Head at some point anyway, so I wouldn’t feel too bad about that XD As for Evangelion, it’s something i’ll have to watch eventually just because of how often it shows up on the web. Whether it’s references, art or discussions, I can’t appreciate any of them at the moment.

      Mechs are interesting for me in that their mere presence doesn’t get me interested in a show, but if the rest of the show is good then I really enjoy their inclusion. Code Geass and Muv Luv Alternative are my two go-to mech stories. I’ll keep Darren Aronofsky in mind for if you ever forget this post and try to recommend him to me anyway =P

      • Lazarinth says:

        It is worth a watch just to see what the fuss is about. When it comes to both of them I fear that nostalgia might have clouded my judgement but I guess I could use that excuse for most of the things I recommend that people don’t find the best. On the other hand if the people do like them I’m still more than willing to take the credit for leading them to it lol. It’s always a gamble depending on the age of the thing and your memory of it as well as the tastes of the person you’re suggesting to try it.

        • Silvachief says:

          Nostalgia sucks, but that’s the spirit! I’ll probably pick it up during this break but it’ll be a while before I actually watch it. In any case, i’ll let you know what I think.

    • I wouldn’t say Evangelion and Chaos;Head are really comparable at all in the way you’re suggesting. I’m not a passionate Eva fanboy or anything, but I’ll go through your post with my thoughts.
      “a whiny, pathetic main character who suddenly mans-up” – Vast oversimplification of Shinji, not to mention he only ever really “mans-up” in 2.0/2.22
      “the pseudo-science concepts” – The pseudo-science in Chaos;Head was as intentionally bullshit as the magic explanations. I don’t think it was even trying to make sense. In Eva, the pseudo-science has massive crossover with vague religious symbolism, and the plot barely explains itself anyway, but it IS internally consistent and possible to follow. I think.
      “deeply messed up supporting characters” – That’s not Silvachief’s problem at all, it’s the fact that their backstories are so contrived and irrelevant. In Eva, this is not the case. It’s like a giant web of fucked up people, and exploring that is a major part of the show.
      “a confusing plot that never fully gives you all of the answers so you have to make up explanations for yourself” – The fact that it’s literally impossible to understand the Eva plot properly without supplementary material /really/ does piss me off, but we’re talking about a very different kind of plot to Chaos;Head here. It’s hard to describe without spoiling things, obviously, but that’s just my perspective anyway.

      Chaos;Head is to me what I imagine the Michael Bay Transformers films are to a lot of people – enjoyable as hell but not life-changing or particularly intellectual. I set aside a comfy weekend for it, and had a great time. If you only have an hour or two spare each day and have to read it over a fortnight or so, I get the feeling it would begin to drag very quickly. Sorry about that, Silvachief…

      Eva on the other hand is a much more baffling beast. My rating for it would fall somewhere between a three and a nine – I can’t really get any closer than that. I recommend it because it’s definitely something worth watching, and it’s great for discussion (except waifu discussion, obviously. Anyone who thinks Kaworu isn’t best waifu is just plain wrong), but my opinion of it is as much of a mess as the show itself. As for the movies – I didn’t really ‘enjoy’ EoE but I recuse myself from giving an opinion on how ‘good’ it is – 1.0/1.01/1.11 and 2.0/2.22 were fantastic – 3.33 was fucking atrocious.

      I’ll pastebin a rough series map for Silvachief’s benefit regarding that last paragraph.
      http://pastebin.com/Wg1scXW9

      • Silvachief says:

        I actually just finished working out all of the pieces I had to put together to watch Evangelion, so it -is- happening!
        Also, I do get what you’re saying about spreading these titles out over long periods of time affecting enjoyment and it’s something i’ve been worried about. Unfortunately, that’s not something i’m going to be able to change for a long time >.< Still, I think that if a story really grabbed me i'd be able to find more time for it, so maybe I don't need to worry so much.

  2. littleshogun says:

    About Chaos Head, I think this game is actually quite infamous and controversial among VN community. Most credit is due to the protagonist which is you should know, whiny and delusional. If anything some people is also apparently very like rapid change of the protagonist because of the first impression.

    For the girl I think the best way is they were interesting as eye candy instead of fully developed character because I think so for people who though they were undeveloped. Apparently the character designer for the girls is from Memories Off series which explain why the girl is look very beautiful and cute (Maybe to bait otaku). Just for the info back in 2010 I kinda interested in this game because the design of the girl with pink hair. IMO of course. Once again best to think them as eye candy.

    In the end I kinda want to express my opinion and no I wouldn’t preach you Chaos Head is classic and very good and you heretic or something like that. Although back in 2010 there were surge of good VN in English after shitty one that was localized by JAST and this is one of them and the release is also quite controversial (The patch is taken down from TL Wiki because something like partnership with JAST and Nitroplus).

    In the end just thinking what your best opinion though. The review actually is very good. For Higurashi review I kinda disappointed to be honest but I already saw one of review that the writer should be preached and teached about VN for 30 months. Here is review http://rpgfan.com/reviews/Higurashi_When_They_Cry/index.html. The point is he has some point but he was also write some bullshit enough to judge he is noob (although he played Memories Off series and Ever17 though). By the way for VN recommendation I would recommend you play Cartagra (don’t expect Kara no Shoujo story level since this is their first game and you should be set, although some element is still the same(gore)), Fate Hollow Ataraxia (released in full English now), and Soukoku no Arterial (to be honest the translation is still in Machine translation for the story (which is terrible), but the card is already in English and I already finish 1 route in Soukoku no Arterial. Just expect Kamidori but with school setting and trapped in other world story. And card battle. The story is easy to know with the walkthrough in wiki though).

    Sorry for the wall of text.

    • Silvachief says:

      Thanks for the comment, i’m quite resistant to walls of text so they’re okay in my book =) I’m glad you enjoyed the review!

      Although the protagonist was one that I personally didn’t like, I would never take points away from a visual novel for having a character that makes sense and is consistent; it was more the rapid change for me than anything else. I can see some people enjoying the different pace after how he had been earlier in the story, though, even if I thought it was abrupt.

      The character designs were fine for me, and even interesting in some cases. I hadn’t heard of Memories off but I can see a resemblance, with the Chaos;Head sprites being a more modern take on the same style. While I did think the character had some awkward poses and expressions, the art itself is fine. Eye candy is fine in a title that’s suited to it though I would argue that Chaos;Head is not just because of its overall serious tone.

      You’re right, in the end it boils down to opinions and (despite what I may have said in the review) it’s perfectly find to like Chaos;Head (anyone that does is still welcome here!). There’s another guy I talk to a lot about VNs and he also liked it, so you’re most certainly not alone.

      To be honest, even I think that review is harsh. For one, why would you bother rating gameplay in a visual novel that has none? I also disagree with his comments on the music (I actually quite enjoyed the score) and he chose not to play with the better sprites, which also influenced the score he gave.

      Those are some pretty solid recommendations. Cartagra and Fate/Hollow Ataraxia are both on my list of VNs to play. Depending on the state of the beta translation for Ataraxia I may pick it up after Comyu. As for Soukoku, i’ll probably wait until the manual translation is finished (no updates since June >.<) because I have a big enough backlog that i'm not hurting for things to do. I enjoyed Kamidori though, so i'm definitely interested in it.

  3. Kai says:

    “Often I have a lot of trouble trying to fit everything a visual novel is into a single summary paragraph.”
    I’m with you. In one of my VN review, I basically just c/p the synopsis from VNDB

    I think most of the things that actually happened in Chaos;Head seems to be rather forgettable, in a way that it’s so chaotic and mindscrewing that I just couldn’t remember much, lol. But at least the beginning parts seem to be great, in that, it’s very atmospheric, and it deliver quite some level of thrills. I’m totally with you that it’s one hell of a trainwreck a little later, and some of it’s concept is rather weird (How can summoning imaginery swords from out of nowhere not weird.. right?), this, pairs up with the fact that most of it’s explanations, if they can be called that, is rather poor.

    I think as far as explanations, info-dumping, pacing, characters, and hell, just about anything; Steins;Gate is definitely the stronger contender. If you’re willing to give Nitroplus one last chance, I would recommend to try out Steins;Gate at least. Both it’s anime and VN had already become my favorites; I do plan to write my Steins;Gate visual novel review soon….. which I played like a dozen of months ago. I had been procrastinating like a bastard recently.

    And damn. Fate/Hollow is released!? I haven’t even started my d2b VS DEARDROPS, lol.

    • Silvachief says:

      I’m very, very tempted to do that a lot of the time. Unfortunately they’re often not at all representative of what the story is actually about >.<

      I think Chaos;Head did have some potentially good ideas sprinkled in amongst some very poor execution. I can dig swords from nowhere (with a better explanation), but they have to be used for something rather than shown off like with most of the characters in Chaos;Head's case.

      I've actually already finished Steins;Gate and found it…underwhelming, though not in a bad way like Chaos;Head. It had a good basis to work off of, some interesting characters and good plot points but I needed more from it to really enjoy the experience. My review will be up soon enough, so i'm keen to talk about it with you then =)

      Chou Dengeki Stryker, d2b vs Deardrops, Fate/Hollow…i'm inundated!

  4. Pingback: [Visual Novel Review]: Steins;Gate | The Geek Clinic

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