Monday, January 6, 2014
The first installment of Dysfunctional Systems: Learning to Manage Chaos is, when taken as a whole, a very solid experience. The art and music are well crafted at pretty much every juncture, and the story picks up a lot after the first half hour. It does however, stumble a little bit coming out of the gate. Initially, the game's protagonist, Winter Harrison, comes across as both incredibly naïve and needlessly childish for a 14 year old. This, along with the weird, veiled flirting that seems to pass between Winter and her mentor, Cyrus, felt very inauthentic and made me cringe more than a couple of times. To the game’s credit though, as the story progresses into the climax and the extended epilogue, the dialogue improves substantially, becoming far more naturalistic and believable.
Despite some problems with characterization and dialogue, the story of Learning to Manage Chaos really delivers by developing a strong, tight plotline. Everything that happens feels like it occurs as a very natural consequence of the events that happened in previous scenes, and the events culminate in a pretty exciting finale. The climax may feel like it came from out of left field to those who didn't take the time to read through the provided codex, but given how interesting most of the entries are, I don’t think any blame for this lies with the developer.
Some final notes to keep in mind. This story is short, probably only an hour and a half or two in length, depending on how fast you rush through it and there’s not much in the way of replay value. Most of the choices come in rapid fire right before the story’s finale. If you're not the type who’s willing to shell out a few bucks for only a couple of hours of entertainment, definitely look elsewhere. I'll also say that there are points where it feels like some corners were cut. For example, the epilogue, which makes up maybe a quarter or so of the story's running time, is shot from a single point of view, showing only Winter and her roommate. This wouldn't necessarily be a problem, however it’s very noticeable when three people come to the room, and all three remain distinctly off screen. This isn’t a sticking point for me, nothing else about the game looks or feels cheap and I know that it can be tough balancing your budget as small developer, but it is something I’d keep in mind.
Overall, I’d definitely say dive in. It’s a fun little Visual Novel with a pretty nifty science fiction premise and nice, well-paced plot. Thumbs Up.