Demos are a work in progress, meant to give you a taste of what to expect from the final release of a game. They’re incomplete works, but, if they do their job right, they’re more than enough to drum up interest in an upcoming game… Over the years, I’ve played my fair share of demos, some with fully realized assets, and others with just the barebones of what the developers hope to have in a fully realized version of their project. Now, usually, I’m fairly lenient on demos, because they aren’t full games, so I don’t hold them to the same level of scrutiny, but, every so often I stumble across a demo that completely blows everything else out of the water and that demo is Akabaka’s beta demo for their upcoming 2D visual novel/RPG Chromatose.
The game follows Leroy, an EMT that awakens in a strange nightmarish world after taking a fall that should have ended in his death. The dreamworld is populated by a group of amnesiacs who are also trapped within their own unique nightmare worlds due to some flaw or error they committed in the real world. You have 12 hours to help the inhabitants reclaim their memories and escape their nightmares or else you’ll be trapped there forever. However, each world is guarded by strange creatures that will stop at nothing to stop you from reaching your goal.
The first thing that stands out about Chromatose is its highly stylized artwork which relies on distinctive bold coloring that runs the entire color spectrum. Each nightmare world is assigned a specific color. There are nine in total and each one is a representation of it’s occupant and the circumstances surrounding their comatose state. However, in the demo you only have access to the Blue, Red, Black, White, and Pink nightmare worlds. Each one is unique from the other, with one taking the form of a locker room and fighting ring, and another a snow covered forest, each local offers a unique visual experience. As an added bonus, all of the backgrounds are animated, from slowly falling sakura petals to the rippling of water, the scenery is always in motion, which brings the world of the game to life. You aren’t just playing a game, you’re a part of the action!
The character designs are just as visually stunning featuring unique and bold designs that reflect the characters’ individual personalities. Akabaka’s style is somewhere between anime style and that of American superhero comics. While the characters themselves are for the most part indistinguishable from characters you might see in an anime, the bold lines and dark shading is reminiscent of those found on the pages of a comic book. Though, like the worlds in which they occupy, each character is representative of a specific color that corresponds to a flaw that they committed in the real world. These flaws manifest as a colored mark that appears somewhere on the characters’ body. Of the 10 characters in the main cast, only Primadona, Izzy, Quentin, Lilith, and Isaac make an appearance.
Chromatose is quite the ambitious undertaking, boasting a unique blend of visual novel and RPG gameplay features. It’s not easy to make a game that balances the storytelling and character depth of a visual novel, while also offering a challenging and inventive RPG style combat system. Usually one or both fails to meet expectations, with either the storytelling or the interactive portions falling flat, but that isn’t the case with Chromatose. The game has two modes “Original” and “Rebalanced”, with each facilitating a different type of player. If you’re more interested in the story and not so much in the battle system, then the Rebalanced mode is the one for you. But, if you want to take full advantage of the monster battles, best to go with the Original mode, though I will say the battle modes are no joke, and I died quite a few times during my first few playthroughs of the demo. It’s a turn-based card battle system where specific cards have status effects that either damage the enemy or cause a status effect that effects your time or the number of cards you can use. It was a little tricky to figure out at first, but once you get the hang of the cards and their effect the battle modes are wickedly fun… and super challenging.
This is meant to be an immersive story that attempts to replicate the interactivity of a roleplaying game within the restrictive gameplay mechanics of a visual novel and it works. The choices made in the game have a direct impact on the flow of the story, both in the overarching narrative sense and in the moment to moment character interactions between Leroy (the player’s in-game proxy) and the other characters trapped within the nightmare worlds of the game. The characters each have their own fully realized personalities and storylines that while individually are largely self contained, as a collective offer a unique piece of the games overarching mystery.
By the time I reached the end I was hooked! Chromatose just hind of draws you in bit by bit, divulging tiny pieces of the puzzle, while still holding back just enough to keep you wanting more. There is just so much to unpack in this 3 hour demo and yet it doesn’t feel bloated. You lose yourself in the dynamic characters and slowly unfurling mystery, with each agonizing choice… Chromatose isn’t just a game, it’s an experience and one I won’t be forgetting anytime soon… 2021 can’t come soon enough!
I am a huge fan of adventure, mystery RPGs and visual novels and Chromatose is like the perfect storm of all these genres, giving you the interactive gameplay of an RPG with the immersive storytelling of a visual novel. This is such a well designed concept that it’s hard to believe that this is just a demo!
If you’re a fan of the Zero Escape series, Angels of Death or Catherine, this demo is for you! In the vein of games like Persona and Sweet Fuse, this game offers a uniquely captivating gameplay experience that more than holds it’s own against bigger name RPG/visual novels from which it draws its inspiration. This is just a demo, but, it is more than enough to see that Akabaka has a phenomenal game in the works.
But, as always, don’t just take my word for it check out this outstanding demo for yourself and follow Akabaka on their various social media channels… You won’t be disappointed!