Thanks to Akabaka for sponsoring this article/video through Indie Boost.
I haven’t actually played an original English visual novel in quite some time, with the last one probably being Katawa Shoujo a few years back. Regardless, I do love visual novels and was excited to give CHROMATOSE a try, especially so given the interesting aesthetic it goes for. In this post, I’m going to try to sum up my experience with the game’s demo and give my thoughts on it. Anyways, let’s get right into it.
Upon first booting up the game, you are presented with the option to choose between two difficulty levels: original and rebalanced. Original represents the difficulty envisioned by the game’s creator, where battles are tougher and require split-second decision-making. Rebalanced, on the other hand, dumbs down the battles and allows players to play for the story rather than the gameplay. For a gameplay VN like this, these two options definitely satisfy both crowds, so I was happy to see both included. On top of that, the game does allow the difficulty to be changed later on, so there’s no drawback to trying either of them out and seeing which you prefer.
After choosing your difficulty, the game immediately transitions to asking you a series of hard-hitting questions. In fact, the very first question asks if you are ready to die yet — the game wastes no time in throwing you right into its bleak atmosphere. The main character awakes with amnesia and meets a girl that basically gives a rundown on what’s going on.
It is revealed that the main character worked as an EMT, but was in an accident that has since put him in a coma. The game actually takes place within this coma, or rather, a realm built from a collection of comatose minds, the main character’s mind included. It is then revealed that all of these characters are branded with some sort of colored tattoo, the color indicating some sort of problem that that character has yet to overcome, hence why they are still stuck in a coma. In fact, I imagine that this is where the game’s title comes from: a combination of the words chroma and comatose.
So while these other characters have some problem to overcome, the main character is branded with a black tattoo, indicating that he is there simply to be there and does not have some problem to work through. Regardless, the player is given the option to choose whether or not to leave this realm immediately or to help these other characters overcome their issues first. All of this provides for a very cool story setup, leaving plenty of room for individual character growth and giving the player the freedom to pursue each character as he/she so chooses. However, as this is a demo, that choice is currently limited to just a few characters.
I of course opted to explore each character’s backstory and the problems they were trying to overcome, but I will avoid going further into that so as to avoid spoilers. I will say that, while the quality does vary a bit depending on the character, there is some good writing here — the character branded with the blue mark in particular ended up being my favorite story within the demo.
However, that is all just the story side of the game. As I said before, this is a gameplay visual novel, so there is more to the game than just reading through text. In CHROMATOSE this comes in two forms, the ability to move around the game world and the battle system linked to your character’s state of mind.
The former is pretty basic, even for a gameplay visual novel. You’re basically given the ability to move left and right across the game world and press space to interact with certain objects (be it a door, sign, etc.). There are some puzzles linked to this movement, but even those are pretty barebones. In fact, if it were not for those few puzzles, I would even say that the entire movement system is pretty useless and that a more traditional menu system would have been a better fit.
That brings me to the game’s combat. It takes the form of a sort of card fight, with the player pressing arrow keys corresponding to the cards in his/her hand. These cards slowly deteriorate the enemy’s HP when activated and some of them even have additional effects on top of that. However, these battles are not turn-based and actually run in real-time. Depending on the main character’s state of mind at the time, the player is given a certain amount of time to clear each battle, with higher levels of sanity granting additional time.
You’ll definitely want to go in with as much time as possible, as there are some enemies that have a lot of HP. Even if you do lose a battle though, the game simply kicks you out of it and lowers your state of mind. On top of that, the enemy retains the HP they had at the end of that battle, so you could effectively just keep battling the same enemy over and over until you defeat it. Even so, I only had to do this a couple of times when playing on the game’s original difficulty.
For the most part, I was able to clear each battle by just spamming the arrow keys, completely disregarding the effects of the cards I activated. Towards the beginning of the demo, I did try to play each battle strategically, but I found that the enemies simply overpowered me far too fast when doing so. Spamming the arrow keys was much more effective, even if I ended up activating a bunch of negative cards.
Considering that the difficulty I played at was advertised as “leaving little room for error” in battles, I was rather surprised with the ease at which I flew through them. I would say that some rebalancing is needed there, but again, these impressions are based on a demo that only allowed me to access a few characters, so I don’t know how difficult they may become later on.
The movement and battle mechanics basically sum up all of the gameplay you will get outside of the traditional visual novel stuff. However, the game does not simply tack these on to the experience, it actually incorporates them into the storyline. There was even a character that had her story built around a battle that she ropes the main character into (which also happens to be one of the hardest battles in the demo). Given this, I’m interested in seeing how each character will make use of these mechanics, as I am all for a gameplay visual novel that is able to seamlessly blend its two sides.
Aside from the story and gameplay, I should note that the game has a very distinct style. I want to say that it looks like it was inspired by the likes of Danganronpa and Persona, but it definitely has its own thing going for it. The character designs were are pretty well-done, the environments were fine, and just the whole general atmosphere of the game was nicely put together. Given the bleak nature of the storyline, this atmosphere definitely works in the game’s favor, making it quite a bit more immersive.
On top of that, I quite liked the game’s soundtrack. It was pretty mellow for the most part, but did have a few energetic tracks (such as the battle theme). Again, this is just another element that lends itself well in establishing the game’s atmosphere.
On the more technical side of things, the game is definitely still lacking. The most glaring issue would have to be the complete lack of any sort of settings. There’s no option to change the game’s controls, window size, or volume, you pretty much just have to deal with what is given to you. The inability to change controls in particular was rather annoying because I like to advance to the next line of text by pressing enter, which the game currently only allows you to do with space bar and left mouse click. Granted, I could just use my AutoHotkey scripts to do that for me, but customizable controls are a must-have in any modern-day game release. Being able to press enter on top of the options already given would complete the trifecta for me.
It is also worth noting that the game runs at a very strange resolution: 1080×720. Most visual novels nowadays run at 1280×720, allowing the game window to be stretched to fullscreen without creating any black bars along the side. Because CHROMATOSE runs at this awkward resolution though, you will get black bars along the side of the screen if you try to maximize it. However, the game does not allow you to do so by default, so you’re stuck with using external tools if you want to achieve the fullscreen effect. I actually had some trouble using the fullscreen tool I usually use and ended up using OBS to get the game to display the way I wanted it to. Hopefully this is something we can see added in the full game, one shouldn’t have to resort to external tools like this.
That all pretty much sums up what I have to say about CHROMATOSE. The story was easily the most interesting aspect about the game, which is a definite plus considering that this is a visual novel. The gameplay elements are a bit on the weaker side, but again, this is a demo and they are likely to be improved by the time the full game releases. As I said before, I am interested in seeing how the story can further work its way around these mechanics, as the demo only gave a little taste as to how that would go.
I’m also hoping that the game keeps up the quality character development across the characters that have yet to be added. In the demo, it was done so in such a way that it did not feel forced, nor did it feel like it was too shallow, it was pretty much right in the middle for the most part. That said though, I would like to see more background on the main character, as it felt like there was still much to be said about his story. Perhaps this was done so that the player could self-insert, but I really hope that that is not the case.
Regardless, I have included links in the description so you can check it out for yourself if you are interested. The game is currently running a Kickstarter (that is now halfway towards its goal), but the demo is available to try now, and that is what I played here. It doesn’t last more than a few hours, but it does give you a general idea of what is to come.
You can buy CHROMATOSE on Steam here.
I played this game as a result of a sponsorship. Read more about how I handled sponsored games here.