Dyschronia: Chronos Alternate

Dyschronia: Chronos Alternate

Those who dreamed of investigating like they're in an anime version of Minority Report may want to check this out.

Dyschronia: Chronos Alternate

There’s lots of potential with VR titles, pretty much any world can be realised, any story told, and it’s typically only the strength of the users stomach that’s the barrier to realising its full potential.  Over the years I’ve played many different virtual reality games, though I don’t think I’ve ever considered if a visual novel would make for a good experience.  With the arrival of the PSVR2, Dyschronia: Chronos Alternate has been ported across from the Quest 2 to let us figure out whether the genre works, especially when coupled with a number of detective options; and presented in a visually striking anime style.  This review is for Episode I, with the next episodes due to release through this year on PlayStation’s new hardware (the first two parts are already on the Quest 2), but is there enough substance in Dyschronia’s dream-like world to make me want to return?

Placing you in the VR shoes of Hal Scion (yes, it’s a not-so-subtle clue), you’re a newly minted Special Supervisor who also has mysterious time manipulating powers that he doesn’t fully know how to use, and is about to embark on a career of psychological care for the dreaming citizens of the artificial marine city they inhabit – Astrum Close.  Unfortunately for him, the city’s founder has just been murdered and Hal and his colleague are tasked with solving the case to stop the dreamscape from destabilising.  Making it harder is that there’s no body to go with the murder, and someone is out to kill Hal if he doesn’t make the right choices and connections during his investigation.  Throw in a sassy helper robot, a girl in a coma, a morose young boy, a population obsessed with a chiming clocktower, and a mysterious ability to travel to different points on the timeline, and you’ve got the basis of an anime tale that will confuse as much as it delights in its bizarre ruminations on the nature of humanity.

It might make little sense initially (or even later on for that matter), yet that’s not overly important when it comes to the gameplay.  Hal spends his time walking around Astrum Close via a couple of buildings and a plaza, interacting with whoever he comes across, or investigating whatever’s in the area.  It’s not a massive map to traverse, and the ad hoc conversations are relatively brief – the meat of the game is really in searching for clues and using your tech-wizardry bracelets to learn more about objects and view memories associated with them.  This mechanic of viewing history means Hal learns about the other characters and events, and has the ability to influence the future in very minor ways, and is an interesting way of linking past and present.  Dyschronia: Chronos Alternate has more than one alternate view of the world too, with all the residents hooked up to Augmented Dreaming (AD) – effectively a shared unconscious.  It’s here you can find troubled souls and help improve their mental state with some simple actions.  Plus it looks very pretty and surreal with all the residents represented as aquatic animals.  The AD is there as a barometer of the mental state of the city, where the investigation focus is on the past/present mix.

Speaking of how Hal goes about his detective work… the menu system and object interaction does feel slightly like the holographic representations in Minority Report (and I’m sure there’s a reference to murder being eradicated in here somewhere too!).  It’s no bad thing and Dyschronia: Chronos Alternate does have some really nice ways of using controls and getting a good level of haptic feedback to sell the immersion.  The touch sensitive buttons on the Sense Controller also allow for basic gestures, though these are gimmicks rather than having any real input, and weirdly the index finger fold is linked to the same button that skips dialogue.  You’d think “well just don’t press it“, and you’d be right if you weren’t looking for a way to alleviate some of the pain of statically watching and listening to the game taking over.  Arguably the biggest crime in the city is that there’s very little interactivity and you are just a passenger for large portions of the game.  Even something like taking a transit ride between locations could have been used to create a sense of scale, but no, you’re sat still in a seat for around 5 seconds, not able to look out to the city, before it loads in somewhere else.  It’s actually a bit disappointing.

Fortunately, Dyschronia: Chronos Alternate does look really good with the bold colours and strong character design.  Lily is a fairly constant robot companion and the way she floats around and chats away can be charming.  She’s there to guide and cajole you along, and all the actors sell their credentials as anime voiceover artists.  The city is a bit sparse, there’s not much going on in the rooms and corridors, though given it’s set in a dystopian future we can probably forgive the lack of possessions and unnecessary street furniture.  Other main players are well rendered and support the development of the story, and are probably some of the best realised assets I’ve seen in a VR game yet.  It’s all helped by clear, sharp visuals and the right emphasis being put in the right places, especially when it comes to having to read lots of text.  That said, the text boxes float in your vision, and far too often materialise behind other objects, and you can’t move whilst they’re visible, meaning you have to skip information just to be able to carry on.  It’s an annoying design flaw to say the least.

So it manages a high level of presentation and some of the best realisation of characters and environments in the VR space that I’ve seen, mainly down to the visual aesthetics.  Where Dyschronia: Chronos Alternate struggles is with what it wants to be.  Is it a detective game, or is it a visual novel?  For me there’s too much of the latter and I’ve not bought into virtual reality to sit and listen (or read) for hours on end, not moving around.  There are some lovely elements to the former though, and it’s where I’d have preferred most of the action to be focused… actually doing the detective work and linking the clues to solve the mystery.  Overlay a high concept sci-fi element in the story along with hidden text boxes and lack of controlling sections, and this isn’t quite the relaxing experience you’ll want it to be.  Definitely give it a shot if you’re an anime fan and want to experience that world in more than two dimensions, otherwise it might be worth waiting to see if the next episodes add more to the gameplay.

A PSVR2 review copy of Dyschronia: Chronos Alternate was provided by Perp Games’ PR team, and the game is available now on PSVR2 and Quest 2 for around £16.  Episode II will launch on PSVR2 shortly (it’s already out on the Quest 2), and Episode III will arrive on both platforms later this year.

The Verdict


The Good: Looks stunning | Lots of character interactions | Good investigation mechanics

The Bad: Very slow paced | Clipping of instructions through scenery is not great

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Co-founder & Editor at Codec Moments

Gamer, F1 fanatic, one half of the Muddyfunkrs DJ duo (find us over on Hive Radio UK), MGS obsessed, tech geek.

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