The delusional fantasy of a creepy otaku. Whose eyes are those lololol fweheheh
Do you ever feel like someone is watching you? That someone or something is there, just over your shoulder, documenting everything you do? Perhaps if you were to turn around at the moment you feel their presence, you might find something truly horrendous? Maybe you feel the need to escape that feeling of dread by diving into something much more enticing, in order to make yourself feel better about your miserable existence? Welcome to the delusional world of Nishijo Takumi.
The original Japanese release of ChäoS;HEAd was for Windows back in 2008, while ChäoS;HEAd NoAH was initially released in Japan for the Xbox 360, as an enhanced port with extra content, in 2009. 13 years later, the game has finally been published in the West. It is the first game in the Science Adventure series of visual novel titles, which also includes Steins;Gate, Robotics;Notes, ChäoS;Child, Occultic;Nine and Anonymous;Code. Each title is distinct with a universe that connects them all (although Child is a sequel to Head and available as part of this dual pack HD Remaster release) so whilst there’s no need to play any other title in the series in order to understand this one, there are small references and nods made in later titles.
The tale of Nishijo Takumi doesn’t waste much time in setting an eerie atmosphere. A self-proclaimed “creepy otaku loser ” and part-time student at Suimei Academy, Takumi lives alone in a cramped room. As he hates being around other people, he only attends the bare minimum of classes required in order to graduate. Instead, Takumi spends most of his time playing the MMORPG “ESO” (Empire Sweeper Online) under the alias “KnightHeart”, where he is one of the most powerful and beloved players in the community. Takumi regularly chats online with people from the game, and it's in one of these chats with his friend Grimm where things begin to unravel. Grimm wants to discuss a series of grisly murders currently happening in Shibuya, dubbed “The New Generation Madness” (or NewGen for short), when suddenly an unknown user called Shogun joins their chat. After Grimm convinces Takumi to look into what’s been going on and leaves for the night, Shogun begins to talk directly to Takumi; sending him disturbing images and leaving confusing, mysterious messages that culminate in the ominous phrase “Whose eyes are those?”
It’s not long after this online encounter with Shogun that Takumi accidentally witnesses the scene of the 3rd NewGen murder and gets himself embroiled in the case, frantically trying to avoid the killer as well as those who suspect him of being the perpetrator – after all, he just wants to carry on his quiet life of being alone, gaming online and enjoying delusional fantasies about 2D anime girls. A word of warning: this game is not for younger audiences. You can probably guess why.
Delusions play a large role in ChäoS;HEAd NoAH – they’re referred to a LOT in the text and Takumi often wonders if he’s deluded himself about the nature of the things he’s experiencing. This is encompassed via the game’s signature mechanic, Delusion Triggers. Quite often during conversations with other characters, the screen will bug out for a little while. During these moments, if you hit either ZL or ZR, you’ll activate a positive or negative delusion respectively. Positive ones have a tendency to be romantic in nature (Takumi is, after all, a creepy single teenage boy!) whilst the negative ones can be extremely distressing, oftentimes resulting in someone’s death. Neither outcome happens in reality of course, and if you choose not to use either trigger, the neutral option will be how things actually play out.
The game never explicitly tells you how to activate the delusion triggers, despite how much Takumi’s penchant for slipping into delusions is referenced, so it’s possible to play the entire game on your first playthrough without activating them at all, and being none the wiser for it. This is a shame, as the neutral version of events are far less interesting than the deluded versions, although the realisation that your choices have zero impact upon the outcome of the game becomes a real source of frustration a few hours in. Thankfully, on subsequent playthroughs, your choices can and will change the ending, however, there’s equally nothing to suggest from your first run that there’s anything the player can do to impact upon the events of the game, so you’re not really enticed to return for a second stab at it.
This is a massive shame, because the story itself is pretty interesting. It does seem to get confused as to what it wants to be at times, as the individual elements (murder mystery, pseudo-science adventure, deluded high school fantasy life) all shine quite brightly. About two thirds of the way in, the story takes a bit of a wild turn, and the focus shifts somewhat away from the original premise that had you hooked, which was hoping to uncover the secrets behind the bizarre events . At this point, the game almost relies upon the player harbouring a whole bunch of unanswered questions to motivate them to continue, in the hopes of getting answers. However, towards the end, it starts to feel like somewhat of a slog. The narrative does suffer from quite a few pacing issues, so by the time you reach this point, the struggle to get through the story has likely taken its toll. The twists, turns, revelations and resolutions in the late game do make it worth your while though, so stick with it to the end and you will be rewarded for your sins. Please note, there are some particularly graphic and drawn-out descriptions of horrific acts, especially later on in the game, so those with strong imaginations like Takumi may well feel pretty ill and/or disgusted at these points.
What probably won’t change too much are your initial opinions of the character - there is very little character development throughout the course of NoAH. Takumi is a pretty deplorable guy at the start of the game, one that you probably won’t actually want to see come out on top, and that’s still the case come the conclusion, despite everything he goes through. Whilst Takumi insists that he’s not into 3D girls, the supporting cast do all feel largely two-dimensional, and mostly follow the various tropes they’re obviously based on. It should be noted that Takumi often feels like he’s a character in a game, and that the player has made some horrendous choices when putting him together in the character creator, so the personalities of those around him reflect this by being blatant video game/anime character stereotypes themselves.
Graphically, this HD remaster is certainly easy on the eyes. The artwork is clean and sharp, with particular scenes having a little extra polish, helping them to stand out more and strike home how important they are in the story. However, It feels like an opportunity was missed to incorporate some scenes from the anime, in the same manner as Steins;Gate Elite. This would have made this release feel even more special after such a long wait. The atmosphere during high tension moments is incredible, and this is primarily because the soundtrack, voice acting and sound effects are used together in incredible harmony. There are even points where the outright omission of sound is used to foster a more potent and foreboding atmosphere, and tug at your nerves before assaulting you with something sinister - or maybe something light and pleasant, depending on your choice of delusion.
ChäoS;HEAd NoAH does a lot right in terms of setting out an interesting narrative and providing a world in which it plays out, but is somewhat lacking in execution as a visual novel with multiple endings. Part of this stems from the constraints of originally being an enhanced port going from only 4 possible endings to 9, meaning the nature of the game couldn’t deviate too dramatically from the original 2008 visual novel. As a result, the definitive version of the game ends up feeling like it doesn’t manage to hit the heights it might’ve done had it been made from scratch. If you’re a fan of other games in the series, it’s worth diving into, especially if you want to experience the wider, inter-connected story of the Science Adventure world and see where everything began. But there’s also a fair amount of frustration to deal with; like Takumi himself, NoAH hasn’t really seen much development since it first came on the scene.
The moment you first set foot in the world of ChäoS;HEAd NoAH, you’ll get warped into a web of paranoid delusions and teenage fantasy. It’ll bore into your mind and compel you to press on, driving you mad - slowly but surely - and forcing you to answer the question that’s been on your brain for the past 20+ hours:
Whose eyes are those?..
Where to Buy
Written by Pawl S. Lax
Edited by Mark McAllister, Jen Griffiths and Paul L. Russell
Graphic by Paul L. Russell