Tokyo Chronos was a tricky one. By traditional Japanese visual novel standards, it was perfectly well-made, I just never really understood why it needed to be in VR. Upcoming sequel, Altdeus: Beyond Chronos, thinks it has the answer.
Now, don’t get me wrong, there was a lot to like about the first game in the Chronos series. MyDearest’s VR debut had vibrant visuals and a compelling story, but I spent too much time reading reams of subtitles (which, in VR, is very distracting) and standing around idly. It simply didn’t make the case for why this genre of gaming needed to be inside a headset.
A lot has changed since then, though. For starters, Altdeus’ links to its predecessor are pretty minimal, set hundreds of years after the events of the first game. There’s an all-new cast in a radically different world in which giant robots do battle with an invasive alien species – quite different from the humble beginnings of a group of high school students exploring a deserted Shibuya.
MyDearest uses this distance to introduce some major overhauls to the Chronos series, too, some of which are hugely promising. It’s still very much a visual novel and I’m yet to be convinced I could spend 20+ hours with it, but here’s three ways the developer is going a step beyond.
One of my big problems with Tokyo Chronos was that large swathes of the experience gave you practically no control other than to skip through the dialogue. What’s the point of putting something in VR — especially something as long as a visual novel — if you’re not going to ask players to do anything other than sit and read as if it were on a screen anyway?
Though short, my demo for Altdeus suggests this is a key area MyDearest is tackling for the sequel. The 10-minute slice puts me in the heart of a city-wide battle, with protagonist Chloe commanding one mech and joining a companion to fight an orb-like alien. What action is here is light, but it does go some way to giving you a sense of being inside the story. Panels are activated with smartphone-style sequence unlocks and you can flail your giant mechanical arms by moving your real ones. At certain points, you’re asked to execute specific gestures to prepare attacks, giving the entire sequence a Saturday morning cartoon vibe.
In comparison to other VR experiences, it’s still fairly static, but stacked up next to Tokyo Chronos it’s a very different approach.
Story differences aren’t the only reasons for these changes. Game Director Haruki Kashiwakura told me that hardware upgrades played a part too. “On Tokyo Chronos we were focusing on how to show tech use and how we should communicate with similar characters in the VR world how to convey the story,” he told me. “These were the main focusing points. And of course we’re trying to value these points for Altdeus as well. But, basically Tokyo Chronos was made for Oculus Go, but Altdeus is made for Oculus Quest and trying to be more interactive and even like, you know, we are putting English dubs. So it has huge differences.”
It seems like everything in the demo is pre-determined. There’s no penalty for taking too long, but Kashiwakura says there will be times you can fail and times where different actions will create different branches in the story.
Look, I know any anime die-hards are probably grabbing their pitchforks at the idea of an English dub, but hear me out. As someone who watches plenty of shows and movies with subtitles on, VR subtitles for foreign language games… don’t work. Or at least I haven’t yet seen an implementation that doesn’t have me craning my neck down and actually missing what’s going on in front of me so I can follow the story.
Altdeus is taking an important step to combat this with full English voice over. Ask you might expect, the voice acting on display in the demo is deliciously hammy but, in a game in which giant creatures duke it out, I wouldn’t really have it any other way. If you’re a purist, you can still enjoy the game with subtitles like last time around, but English VO will instantly make Altdeus a more palatable experience than its predecessor for many.
That said, I couldn’t see an option to altogether remove the subtitles if you’re using the English dub. Without the option to turn them off, or at least resize them, I still found them very distracting, so I’m hoping those features get added in before launch.
Inspirations And Expectations
But rest assured that, even with these changes considered, Altdeus is still very much a visual novel. Yes, you’re carrying out some actions between the lines, but the core of the experience is still developing connections with the game’s cast and experiencing the story through them. Like Tokyo Chronos before it, Altdeus does mine gold from having these characters appear as fully 3D models you really believe are in front of you. It’s hard to get a sense of what’s what and who’s who when thrust into my short demo, but Chloe clearly isn’t making friends with everybody in the game’s cast and I’ll be interested to see how MyDearest pushes those relationships forward.
And it’s still going to be a long experience. In fact, MyDearest estimates Altdeus is at least double the length of the original, if not three times as long. Plus, even in this demo, there are some clear throwbacks to other legendary Japanese media. This scene in particular evokes Evangelion, depicting wide-spread destruction and mech designs that wouldn’t look out of place in the classic anime. It all feels right at home.
Altdeus: Beyond Chronos hits Oculus Quest on December 3rd, with a release on other platforms planned for later down the line.