Say, Person Behind Me, what do you think?
Your role-playing utterly failed this time around. You were wrong in how you cultivated your character. You should have gone with a cooler, more heroic character. It had to be someone sociable and kind to girls. Someone who would challenge the strong and aid the weak, one with a fiery sense of justice. You can’t defeat the last boss with me. You can’t use me to clear your game.
Don’t expect anything of me.
Nishijou Takumi is your typical otaku. A connoisseur of eroge, detests social interaction, and obsesses over his darling waifu Seira-tan. He’s content with his life, and nothing much seems to happen until he unknowingly stumbles across a rather gruesome crime-scene. From that moment on, Takumi is pulled into all of these mysterious events he frankly would rather have nothing to do with. He struggles with paranoid delusions, reality, the people around him while trying not to get pinned as the perpetrator behind the chain of murders. And, there’s the constant feeling that someone is watching him. Whose eyes… are those eyes?
Given how long I’ve been interested in Chaos;Head, it’s taken me an oddly long time to play it. But first let’s flip back the calendar to oh, roughly three weeks ago. I tried playing it several months back and ran into infuriating technical issues, but I’m not sure why I decided that it finally, surely work now of all times. No matter what the cause may have been, some random wiki walk brought it to my intention once again and I thought ‘hey, why not?’. I nervously set about obtaining it as I was getting ready to go out, nervously thinking ‘right, let’s see where this goes…’ without being at all hopeful. As I was putting the finishing touches on my hair imagine my complete and utter shock when it actually started playing. SOUND THE ALARMS. IT’S TIME TO CELEBRATE. I set off feeling somewhat chuffed – my efforts had eventually bore fruit! Later that night I came home rather tipsy, which is of course when I decided would be the optimal time for revving it up. There’s nothing quite like playing some game that’s designed to fright at three am after you’ve become easily unsettled after alcohol.
But reading this you may wonder, was it worth the hype? All that effort? Writing this review I would say yeah, it was! Certainly not top ten material, but if you know someone interested in what this has to offer then go for it. You could even play it off as being some mix of Persona 4 meets Welcome to the N.H.K with some stock eroge characters thrown in if you so wished. Oh, and mention Nitro+. Always mention Nitro+. Even if they don’t know who or what Nitro+ are, just say that they do ‘cool stuff’. Yeah, we’re all about the buzzwords here. In all seriousness, I did enjoy it, for the most part. Although events did annoyingly start getting a bit too wacky (the Evangelion style ‘CONGRATULATIONS!’/YOU ARE YOURSELF AND NO ONE ELSE sent both eyebrows flying into my hairline) and unbelievable (sorry Sena, your mother eating her own corpse of a younger daughter while you and your father were powerless to do anything just didn’t strike a chord with me!) towards the end, everything before that gets my seal of approval. For the most part?
Just between you and I, dear reader, I’m not sure when my skepticism started kicking in exactly, but I’m sure it might have been somewhere after Takumi, Rimi, and Misumi’s hospital visit to Ayase. The ball started rolling in an odd direction following that and I felt powerless to stop it, watching on helplessly as it smashed through the plot. Despite that there were a few things I liked interspersed between all that nonsense, like Yua and Ban’s interactions. In fact, one of my favourite moments turned out to be when they were riding the subway and Yua became aware of all the different types of people around her. Like the pair of otaku feverishly discussing some game, and the ganguro girl texting in front of her. There was something in the description from Yua’s viewpoint which was portrayed in such a manner that you couldn’t help but think about the kinds of people you see everyday, in the places you always visit. There was a sense of familiarity there, which made you reflect. And I do often find myself reflecting on the people that pass me by, who I’ll never speak to or most likely see again. But I digress, although how real everything felt at times is definitely one of Chaos;Head’s most praiseworthy aspects. The constant talking of Shibuya’s citizens made that come to life, so when you were in Takumi’s room, you too almost felt relieved to be away from that near suffocating crowd that resides in a city which never sleeps.
But oh, Takumi. Where would we be without him? Our protagonist constantly checking @chan (evidently a parody of 2chan/2ch – borrowing everything from the brick wall layout to the way threads are laid out) was another realistic part. It felt oddly surreal when Takumi himself was being discussed there after the incident on top of the building, with comments like, “he’s giving otaku everywhere a bad name – just stay inside!”, to disparaging comments about his waifu, Seira-tan (whose figure he had brought with him). It would subconsciously make you wonder how you would feel if you were being unabashedly mocked, in an unwelcome similar situation. To be discussed in such a frank and cruel manner on a place like @chan surprisingly, didn’t get to Takumi that much. Oh, sure, he thought things like ‘this is the worst’, and that old chestnut, ‘rumours only last for [x] days’. But his psyche was most likely, in such a fragile condition that he honestly didn’t give a toss. Well, he didn’t care about it as much as he cared about other things at the time.
Despite all that I expected about Chaos;Head, Takumi’s psyche ended up being the most fascinating aspect, perhaps the only part I can praise without a single caveat. For those who have already read this, you may be wondering why I named such a pathetic, revolting character as my highlight. But that’s exactly the point. He’s a borderline hikikomori (although he vehemently denies that he is one, going to school twice or thrice a week), who’d rather play computer games or watch anime all day than go outside and react with other people. The only pair of people he interacts with on a daily basis are his overbearing younger sister, Nanami, and the charismatic lech in his class, Misumi, and even then, he’d prefer not talking to them, going out of his way to ignore them. Takumi is an ‘incomplete’ human, according to himself. But as the actual Takumi stated when our Takumi berated on him on why he didn’t create a courageous, more heroic copy (instead of a disgusting and creepy otaku like himself), incomplete people are, in a sense, more real. And that Takumi was absolutely right. Who can identify with heroes who always get the girl, slay the dragon, and look flawless without breaking a sweat while doing so? Hardly anyone. The reason we find flawed characters more interesting is because they’re flawed – the more imperfect, the better. And it’s easier to reflect on such a character, to discuss them, They’re the characters we end up remembering.
Out of the entire cast, he was the one who went through the most character development. There was one defining trait about Takumi’s character, and that was his selfishness and inability to think or care about anyone else. His sister Nanami, who worried a great deal about him outstretched her hand to him numerous times, but he brushed her away every single time and muttered that she was annoying. He is self-absorbed, and literally cares about no one but himself. But then Rimi comes into his life, and steadily, be begins to open up to her. He becomes dependent on her, and she’s a vital existence for him. It’s interesting to see how he makes the journey from detesting her and literally being scared out of his wits whenever he even hears her speak, to loving her.
Compared to a character like Takumi almost all of the supporting characters fall flat in comparison, and failed to incite any sort of interest. If I hadn’t watched the anime beforehand, I think I would have came to the conclusion that none of the girls surrounding Takumi existed, and that they were all delusions conjured up by him to combat the loneliness of his self-imposed isolation. I mean, they’re all cookie cutter eroge stereotypes. We had the cool and aloof Sena who knew more than she let on, the clumsy Kozue (whom Misumi said that he ‘wanted to protect’), the denpa cutie Ayase… Add in the fact that they all started appearing after Takumi witnessed the second New-Gen incident, and I imagine that I wasn’t the only one who would have thought the same thing. And, Rimi. Oh, Rimi. I definitely would have thought that she was a delusion, moreso than any of them. After playing so many eroge, it would have been easy for Takumi to envision someone who accepted him for who he was, someone who he could have fully relied on, and who would take care of him. And, someone who looked like a real life version of Seira-tan (considering…). I found it odd with how smoothly Rimi blended in with the class. I’m sure that she only ever talked to Misumi and Takumi in there, further proving that doomed theory.
Some characters didn’t just fall flat… Some were totally unneeded. I did have a soft spot for Kozue, but really, she was completely irrelevant and what little role she did have could have easily been given to someone else. Hazuki was also unneeded, or else she should have gotten more screen time, so we could understand her character better. Suwa’s heel face turn was also a let down and seemed to have come completely out of nowhere. Him and Ban already vaguely reminded me of Persona 4’s Dojima and Adachi, so Suwa being in on things didn’t surprise me (I had totally forget that he was involved with anything in the anime). Suwa going mad was just another brick on top of the tower – the tower was already tall enough without that last, irrelevant brick. Suwa being OmG evill!!!1111, in my opinion, was just a way to draw out the ending. Very disappointing.
In the X-Box/PSP ports, routes were added for each girl. That irks me, and it feels like the overt stereotypes are being made even more obvious. I can’t see someone like Takumi having a functioning relationship with any girl there besides Rimi, who knowing fully well what he is (and what he’s not) accepts him. To have him as a stereotypical eroge protagonist who goes after the girls is laughable, and unrealistic. It’s just not in his character to actively pursue the 3-D realm, and after all of Takumi’s ranting about 3-D girls in Chaos;Head, one can’t help but raise an eyebrow at having him actively pursue them.
There were no choices to be made (outside of a round of yes/no questions which occurred on two separate occasions), but it did have a novel ‘delusional trigger’ system. Every so often, you’ll encounter a scene which displays two cardiac cycles at the top – one red, and one green. These will show up for about three or four lines, and you can choose to click them or ignore them and continue on with the story. Choosing the red ones enabled you to fully immerse yourself in the gritty paranoia and negativity, as the red triggers gave way to scenes which involved murder, death, and all those other lovely things. Those scenes could involve Nanami being poisoned over a bottle of Coke, Takumi holding up a convenience store, being stabbed repeatedly by hundreds of people in the middle of Shibuya as ‘stress relief’, or having Rimi slitting her wrists in front of Takumi because he chose Nanami over here. The green triggers involve more light hearted, slightly perverted scenes. I clicked two out of curiousity, but ultimately stuck with the red triggers. If you’re going to be collecting the CGs, you’d want to save on each trigger, and view events both ways.
The interface was unique, in the sense that it resembled a computer. The extra menu doesn’t appear until you’ve completed the story, and you can listen to the soundtrack (on the tsundere player), view CGs, and various TIPs.