Indie visual novel Chromatose does not shy away from asking hard questions. Are you ready to die? Would you rather hurt others than be hurt yourself? Is one’s lot in life the result of a self-motivated destiny, or simply how things are fated to be? This deep contemplation forms the beginning of Chromatose‘s demo, a thoughtful two-hour look into dreams, friendships, and what being alive really means. Developer Akabaka is seeking funding on Kickstarter to bring the project into a full-length game, and the free demo shows an incredibly promising start.
Leroy awakens in a hospital room, disoriented and confused. He knows he was in an accident he should not have survived, but the rest is a blur. Stumbling through a strange dream-like place, he discovers he is in a coma, along with all the other inhabitants of this world. The coma world is a test, with the individuals inside needing to confront their greatest flaw to escape. If one stays in the place for more than 12 hours, however, they will be stuck forever. Will Leroy help the others face their demons, or selfishly leave them to their fate? Only the player can decide, with each choice having long-reaching consequences.
The world of Chromatose is explored in three different gameplay styles: traditional visual novel, with lots of dialogue to read and the occasional choice to be made; adventure game, with Leroy walking around the environment finding objects and solving puzzles; and a card-based combat system for facing the many nightmare monsters.
The visual novel segments are well-written, explaining this complicated world with ease and not falling into the trap of drowning in exposition. Each of the characters encountered in the demo has a distinct voice, and just enough of the story is revealed to leave the player wanting more.
Walking around the environments in the adventure game mode is beautifully atmospheric. Each environment is tied to its resident’s mind, with the shy Quentin’s world a blue flooded school, and the fighter Primadonna’s place a red nightclub thrumming with energy. Character portraits are detailed and stylish, taking clear inspiration from the Persona games. A sharp, limited colour palette gives the game a distinct appearance that ties in to the game’s themes.
Environmental colour coding also has an affect on the combat system, with the cards gained from spending time with one character having an advantage against the monsters in the opposing character’s world. Combat is fast and frenetic, with each of the arrow keys representing a card to play. Leroy starts out with a deck of simple black attack cards, gaining more colours as he forms friendships with the other characters. Different coloured cards possess different abilities, such as adding time on the clock or clearing the dud cards from a hand. Speed is the most important factor in battles, with almost a Dance Dance Revolution approach in madly hitting the right arrows at the right time. Battles are tough, with a finely tuned deck required to get through the boss fights, but are also immensely satisfying when the monster is finally defeated. If this aggressive combat is not to one’s taste, a ‘rebalanced’ difficulty option is available for those more interested in the story.
The most impressive part of Chromatose‘s demo is how incredibly polished it is. The characters are well developed, art is slick and stylish, and a killer soundtrack adds to the emotive experience. Developer Akabaka originally developed Chromotose as a tabletop game with friends back in 2014, and the time spent reiterating on the idea over the years shows.
At the time of writing, Chromatose is about 50% funded, with a deadline of April 11 to reach the goal of USD$22,000. The final game is anticipated to be roughly 20 hours long, and, should the campaign be successful, will release in April 2021. A Steam key is USD$15, with higher tiers offering soundtracks, beta access, artwork, and other bits and pieces. With such an impressive demo backing up Akabaka’s ambitions, visual novel fans have a lot to look forward to.