Estimated reading time: 6 minutes
ALTDEUS: Beyond Chronos is one of the best-received VR games to have been released on PC, so it arrival on PSVR is certainly welcome. A sci-fi narrative told mostly as a visual novel presented in virtual reality, its pacing is not going to be for everyone – but I thoroughly enjoyed my adventure.
So many VR games feel like little more than tech demos, but one of the strongest takeaways I had from ALTDEUS: Beyond Chronos was just how much meat there is to this title. Visual novels (I almost want to dub this as Virtual Novel since it takes place with VR tech) tend to have branching paths and that holds true in ALTDEUS: Beyond Chronos as well, giving the title some solid replay value. The first playthrough only lasted a few hours or so, but there’s enough reason to go back and experience alternate paths that add up to more than a dozen of hours of story to be told. I appreciated that ALTDEUS: Beyond Chronos came with a sort of storyboard / graph that charts where the story branched. This is something the recently re-released Langrisser games did too, and it streamlined the replays and I felt that my time was being respected by the developers due to this design choice. It would have been easy to unnecessarily pad the playtime by not including it, so I appreciate this feature’s inclusion.
The science fiction trappings are somewhat familiar ones, with the story being set well into the future (2280), with Humanity on its last legs in a location called Augmented Tokyo, with a reliance on mechs to protect them from massive aliens called Meteora. We assume the role of Chloe, who fights on these front lines to protect humanity from this extraterrestrial threat. The stakes are high right off of the bat with this narrative, but some additional weight is provided by the story’s starting point, which is shortly after the death of Chloe’s best friend Coco.
So many VR titles are first person adventures with a focus on exploration (RPGs or shooters), but the visual novel genre has struck me as a missed opportunity in VR so far. They are usually light on animation and don’t have to construct fully realized worlds – but the ability to control specific scenes and completely sculpt what the player experiences feels almost made for VR. In terms of gameplay, while most of the time is spent experiencing the story and dialog, but there are points along the way that help change up the pacing.
Visual novels are not for everyone however, and if you aren’t entertained by lots and lots (and lots and lots more) words being spoken with sometimes minimal direct interaction, ALTDEUS: Beyond Chronos is unlikely to convert you to the genre. You are regularly a spectator here, but there are moments where you get to explore the environment a bit more and interact with some of the people and objects, and that helps to break the narrative up a bit. There are also the moments you get to occupy Chloe’s mech and battle the giant alien Meteoras. These are hardly arcade style battles and more often generally prompts to interact with your mechs (so shiny quick time events), but man – these moments are fantastic. The VR is put to great effect and made these scenes my high points. Still, the number of opportunities to have meaningful interactions are somewhat limited, as is often the case with the visual novel genre.
The overall package is an appealing one. The spectacular Meteora battles aside, there are many visually appealing environments to be taken in. Character art is generally attractive and it was not difficult to become immersed visually, especially given the nature of VR. The voice acting is appreciated as I am not a fan of ‘reading’ in VR more than I have to, even if the actual performances are a bit hit and miss for me. With Chloe getting so much time at the center of the story, I wish I enjoyed her character’s voice work a bit more. That is a shame, because I actually liked the character, so I was generally able to overlook that something about her voice actor just didn’t quite click for me. The soundtrack is a lively J-Pop mixed with some truly epic music that plays during the big fight scenes. I had goosebumps at times, all without experiencing the least bit of VR motion sickness.
The VR could certainly be seen as a gimmick though, since the core of any good visual novel is the story. Given all of the dialog in this genre, if the story is not interesting – the motivation to continue playing can suffer as a result. In the beginning, things were a bit on the dry side for me. There’s a lot of world-building happening here, but most of the characters really felt flat during the beginning. Then as they became a bit more interesting as the narrative begins branching more, though sometimes you don’t get the full view of the character and their thoughts and motivations until subsequent playthroughs. There were certainly times when I felt like I was missing something – only to experience the scene from a slightly different perspective later only to realize… I was in fact missing something. Those ah-ha moments were generally pretty fun.
ALTDEUS: Beyond Chronos is a fun adventure and a really interesting use of virtual reality. That being said, the visual novel genre and its notoriously slow pacing is not going to be for everyone. For better or for worse, the genre has a bit of a stigma with gamers for not necessarily being much of an actual game and ALTDEUS: Beyond Chronos won’t do anything to change that perspective. Thankfully though, the branching paths and generally interesting narrative add plenty of reason for fans of the genre to give this science fiction adventure a go and experience it with the twist that the PSVR provides.Score: 8 / 10