Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Video Games: Dysfunctional Systems Chapter One (and also other VN talk)

The music, much of it done by a cool person called CombatPlayer, is a really great part of Dysfunctional Systems. Purchases come with the soundtrack by default, and it stands up decently for independent listening, which is really cool. Also, this is the intro video for the series, it's great. At the end you can hear a brief excerpt of Terminus, the theme of Episode 1.

So I played this game Dysfunctional Systems: Chapter One, Learning To Manage Chaos the other day. OR, well, okay, game might be a bit strong. Dysfunctional Systems is a Visual Novel. So what the heck is that? My best explanation is that it's a cross between a choose your own adventure book and a comic book. It's a story, and you read the dialogue boxes full of conversation and narration, and you read a lot of it, and occasionally there are points where you can make decisions that branch the story in different directions! There's graphics on the screen, often character portraits, and they move or change expression appropriately, though rarely with any major degree of animation. Music plays. It's like reading a movie that you occasionally determine the path of.

Other than choosing the path, there's no gameplay usually. That's why I struggle to define visual novels as "games" but I open them with Steam and you interact like a game, so I guess that's the best fit.
(and I don't mean to degrade them or anything as "that's not a real game," I like 'em, they just make categorization a bit tougher)

Oh, and while VNs have a reputation for ero / romance stuff, and that makes up a very large percentage of the medium, I haven't played any of those.

So I don't have much experience with Visual Novels. But I really liked this one! It has a cool premise, and all the bits are executed really beautifully.

Hoodie dresses forever.
This is Winter Harrison, our protagonist. She is a 14 year old mediator-in-training. In this game, Earth civilization has progressed to utopia - she has no foundation for the idea of war, deadly sickness, oppression, or murder. Earth has managed to create the technology to enter different planes, where stuff is not quite as rosy. Mediators travel to these places to eliminate chaos - not to right wrongs necessarily, as establishing order is not always are good.
In the game, Winter has been beamed to a former colony that is still ruthlessly oppressed and exploited by the mother country, despite legal independence. She is being towed along by a mentor, Cyrus. They are there to fix detected impending chaos in the world.

I won't spoil more. It's really good. Regardless of the path you choose, there are two major ending types, and even those two have the same general events play out, just with wildly different character relationships at the end. The game has this kinda funny cute tone to begin with, but gets all serious and dramatic and interesting very quickly. More than anything else, it does setup for the future while current stuff is also happening. They have a great framework built.

Confusing thing: pacing. You get the fully-animated title sequence thing about an hour in, which is about fifteen minutes from the end of the whole thing. This kinda makes sense - it's a Chapter 1! The problem is it doesn't make much sense for Ch1 as a standalone release, which it's going to be for a while. Unfortunately, Dischan simply didn't make enough cash off of it to continue development right now. They've axed over half the staff and have put Dysfunctional Systems on indefinite hold while they figure out how to have money. Sad. I really liked what they had going.

So, uh, go buy their thing. It was on for like $2.50 last week, which is why I bought it - it looked pretty and I figured the premise sounded cool enough that I could pay the same as a cup of tea for it. It's always $5 otherwise, which is still decent. Heck, it's even on the app store.


This was the first time I intentionally bought a visual novel. I guess I had a vague idea the last time, when I bought Analogue: A Hate Story and its sequel Hate Plus at PAX, but that was mostly just based on them sounding cool on an impulse. Those are also amazing and you should go play them, though they're not quite as easily-accessible as DS.
Also, well, I guess the Phoenix Wright games are basically visual novels with more interaction. But I definitely didn't think of them like that when I bought them.

So, are there like any other Visual Novels out that I should really go play? I have no idea what to look for in this field. I've played 999 and want to play Virtue's Last Reward, and I would want to play Steins;Gate if the anime wasn't so thorough in its amazingness, but I'm really clueless here.
Also, I'll probably draw some more Dysfunctional Systems sometime. Winter is fun to draw.

End Recording,

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