When I take a look back at the quality of the products that Dischan Media has developed in the past, it blows my mind that Dysfunctional Systems: Learning to Manage Chaos is the first visual novel they’ve decided to adorn with a price tag.
I don’t enjoy reading – rather, it’s not that I don’t enjoy the act, it’s more that I prefer to consume my information and entertainment through mediums other than pages and books. Why would I torture myself with solely the words of a few great writers when I could be engrossing myself with the work of a multi-disciplined team of talented creators?
Whether it’s the remarkably artistic menus that welcome you to the game when you first launch it, the persistently detailed, yet subtle, facial expressions that shift across the characters’ faces as they react to the situations around them, or the instantly enveloping soundtrack that nudges you along, Learning to Manage Chaos is “reading” done right.
As the visual novel boots up, every aspect of it’s presentation makes it stand out. Sharp stylized menus are animated throughout the entire game, complete with sound effects that make me wish my computer ran a Dysfunctional Systems operating system. Shades of creme and brown make up the majority of the game’s colour palette, creating a distinct, yet semi-realistic atmosphere that draws the most out of the emotional dialogue you’ll encounter.
A gorgeous set of character designs also aid the affecting scenarios. For example, the protagonists, Winter, a silver-haired 14-year-old with a slight figure, dressed in casual clothing, often stands next to her mentor while clear changes in her body language convey either her defiance or acceptance of his power. And while there might not be a shred of voice acting in the game to support some of the charged exchanges between characters, it almost feels like a blessing; Kristian Jensen’s incredible soundtrack does more than enough to punctuate the scenes.
The variety of styles that the soundtrack tackles left me with something other than an involved story to look forward to
Morose, ambient tracks, sporadically interspersed with some pianos and synths underscore the bleak points of the story, while muted electronic build ups provide a soundscape for some of the more intense segments. And while memorable melodies can be found in nearly every track, they are not the only reason the game’s music resonates.
The variety of styles that the soundtrack tackles left me with something other than an involved story to look forward to as I made my way through the narrative. I have to say, for man who claims to have no formal musical training, Jensen’s compositions continually impressed.
The story of the game isn’t a simple one, and it doesn’t answer most of the questions that it brings forth, but that is the nature of many an episodic work. Winter is a chosen student who’s learning to warp to foreign worlds in order to assess the societal development of the area. And while this episode does a fantastic job of bringing us up to speed with the goings-on of one of these foreign realms, the situation back in Winter’s home remains a little unclear. Characters converse in unique dialects representative of their roots, but how closely those roots relate to our real-world history is anybody’s guess at this point.
Learning to Manage Chaos isn’t a linear episode of Dysfunctional Systems. But in the same subtle way the character artwork shifts to reflect a change in their mood, once a player makes a decision, the story chugs along with slight adjustments. The train doesn’t change that much when it hits a fork in the rails, but you can expect the scenery outside the windows from your perspective to shift dramatically.
I was in tears when I first empathized with Winter’s quandary, but after a replay, I was in tears for entirely different reasons
You can probably finish an initial playthrough of the story in three to four hours, but don’t expect to be skipping through scenes when you come back for a replay. The circumstances may be similar, but the writing and emotional vertexes you’ll experience will feel extremely fresh.
The ability to powerfully hit these opposing vertexes in each route of the story is where Learning to Manage Chaos really leaves an impression. I was devastated when I first hit the climactic moments of my first playthrough and then the lengthy epilogue section that follows. I was in tears when I first empathized with Winter’s quandary, but after a replay, I was in tears for entirely different reasons.
Dischan Media has set the stage for multiple worlds of possibilities with Dysfunctional System’s first of five episodes, and if they can sustain the level of quality that they’ve presented in Learning to Manage Chaos, I can’t wait to join them for the next ride.
(Dysfunctional Systems: Episode 1 is available on the Dischan Store for Mac, Windows and Linux for $5, as well as on the iTunes Appstore for $3.99. It can also be voted for on Steam Greenlight)