Review: Chaos Code (Sony Playstation 3)

Chaos Code
Genre: 2D Fighting
Developer: FK Digital
Publisher: Arc System Works
Release Date: 09/03/2013

God bless Arc System Works. While I am by no means a fan of their fighting game franchises, as Guilty Gear and BlazBlue strike me as “not very good” (and we’ll leave it at that), they are more or less single handedly keeping the 2D fighting game genre afloat by sheer force of will. Thanks to their successful and prolific franchises, developers can continue to take risks on 2D fighting games, and I can continue to hope that someone will port Melty Blood to the US (HINT HINT ATLUS). Until that day comes (I MEAN YOU HAVE A CONTRACT WITH SEGA AND MONEY TO THROW AT ARCANA HEART COME ON NOW), it’s nice to know that we’ll keep seeing various other games here in the states, from the upcoming Aquapazza and surprisingly solid Persona 4 Arena to today’s entry, Chaos Code. Despite its appearance, the game is Taiwanese in origin, but aesthetically and mechanically you’d never notice, as it’s basically about as standard a fighting game as you’d expect. Instead of trying to reinvent the metaphorical wheel, Chaos Code instead sticks every possible existing feature onto that wheel possible, and the results are, for the most part, pretty entertaining. There are some hiccups, to be sure, between balancing and lacking features, but for the most part it’s not a bad game, just one that might be a touch limited.

The plot to the game revolves around, obviously, the “Chaos Code,” and its potential application toward energy in the future. Basically, a new energy source, called “Chaotics,” has been discovered, and the Chaos Code might have the ability to… control it or something. Look, the game isn’t terribly interested in its main metaplot, to be frank, and it’s basically somewhat self aware, as the two main characters are a busty armored ninja and a weeaboo supercop and one of the final bosses is, I kid you not, a lolicon murder robot. There’s a MTF manga-ka, a secret agent in a tube top with a boob window and hot pants, a tonfa-wielding catgirl and a roided-up chef, none of it makes any sense and the game is totally okay with that… the game is basically a nineties fighting game, conceptually, in thought and deed, so let us not dwell on the plot except to say that it is both non-existent and nuts and leave it at that. Features-wise, the game isn’t too in-depth; you’ve got a “Story Mode” which amounts to an arcade mode with some CG endings, a Versus Mode to fight a friend, a Survival Mode which is what you’d expect, a Training Mode which is also what you’d expect, and a Gallery where you can view unlocked movies and CG. The one obvious omission here is that there is no form of online play whatsoever, which the developers are planning to cram in there one of these days, but at this point nothing of the sort is here, which is slightly limiting overall.

One area that isn’t limited is the visuals, as Chaos Code is a very bright, colorful, smooth experience all around. The characters are all very interesting and unique in design, in addition to being well animated, and aside from some very mild jagginess around the edges of the characters when you’re up close in combat, everything looks high quality. The backgrounds are also lively and well animated, and all of the various special effects, from basic combat moves to the more absurd Destruction Chaos moves, looks great. Aurally, the game is mostly spot on, as the combat effects sound excellent and compliment the feeling of the game nicely. The voice work is entirely in Japanese, so fans of English dubs may feel bad, but it’s generally very fitting to each character and fits the theme of the game well. The only part that may make the player cock their head is the soundtrack, not because it’s bad, but because it’s also very retro in style. The music has a very 2000’s techno vibe, like every battle feels like it’s taking place at a Darude show, and while that was a staple of the genre years ago, these days games tend to mix it up a bit. What’s on display is fine, don’t get me wrong, it’s just somewhat one dimensional and nothing sticks out; it’s fine to beat people in the face to, it’s just not memorable or terribly exciting, by and large.

The mechanics of Chaos Code will be instantly accessible to anyone who’s had some exposure to fighting games in the past. Combat is set up as a four button affair, meaning you have two punches and two kicks to work with, and you can use the D-Pad or left analog stick to move and perform inputs. The inputs are pretty standard for this sort of game, using quarter and half circle inputs, dragon punch motions and so on for the majority of the moves, so players should be able to jump in and figure most characters out easily enough. Mechanically, the characters come in all varieties, and while there are a few that are very complex, using keep-away elements and teleporting and such, the majority of them are simple to work with and should be accessible to anyone who wants to learn them. All of the characters have the ability to dodge by pressing both weak attack buttons, grab and throw opponents by pressing both punches, and counter attacks by pressing both strong buttons, so you’ve got plenty of basic options to work with without even getting into the special mechanics the game offers.

Once you get into those mechanics, though, that’s where the game’s concept of “tricking out the wheel” becomes more obvious. When you select your character, you’re given two choices to make from the start that can notably change how you play them from the get-go. The first is the choosing of their extra moves. Each character is given two regular moves and two super moves (called Ultimate Chaos moves here) they can choose in addition to the moves they have by default, and you can choose to use two of those four moves in battle. The moves are identified on-screen based on what their use might be, as well, so if you want to use a character in a certain way, you know whether to pick the anti-air option, the counter throw, the super grapple and so on just by how the game describes the move, even if you’ve never played the character before. Further, the game also allows you to choose whether double-tapping allows you to run or step in and out, which means that players can customize their dashing based on their tendencies, so you can be as aggressive or technical as you want. Granted, this also gives you a clear indication of how your opponent is going to play based on what they choose before you even get into the match, but hey, part of the fun of fighting games is the mental chess game that goes on, so why not add dimensions to that, right?

The game also features a lot of mechanics you’ve likely seen across various games over the course of your play, if you’re a big fighting game fan. As mentioned, the game has dodges and counters built in, as well as double-jumping and super jumping, air dashing and recovery rolls, so basically most of the successful mechanics you’ve come to expect from the genre have been crammed in here for you to use. The game also uses the EX Move system from Darkstalkers, so at the cost of half of one bar of Chaos energy, you can perform some regular special moves with both buttons instead of one, which in turn powers up the move for added damage. You also have super moves (Ultimate Chaos moves here) that deplete one bar of super meter, and Destruction Chaos moves (that deplete three bars and do much more damage), depending on how excessive you need your super moves to be. For those who really want to turn the tide of battle, however, you can also kick on Chaos Exceed if you have full super energy. This turns the super bar into a depleting energy bar that allows you to unleash all your assigned Ultimate Chaos moves as often as you want until the bar depletes, though once it does you can’t charge or use energy for a while until the bar recovers. This can change the tide of battle if used correctly, especially if you can nail an Ultimate Chaos move to bring the gap down, but it’s a very high risk move to pull since it removes your ability to do anything related to Chaos Energy until that’s fixed. So basically, you have a whole lot of combat options crammed into this game at your fingertips, meaning that you can leverage multiple tools at any time to give yourself the edge.

You can get through the Story Mode with any one character inside of about half an hour, depending on the difficulty level and your own skill level, but that’s far from everything you’ll be doing with the game. Every character has two endings, an A and a B ending, based on how you complete the Story Mode, and with thirteen characters to play through the Story Mode with, you’ve got a lot of playing to do. You’ll have to do that to unlock everything in the Gallery, as well as spend time in each of the other modes (especially Survival) if you want to unlock everything there. The developers have also said that they intend to patch in net code for online play one of these days, so when that happens that should revitalize the game a bit even once you’ve done everything you can with the Gallery and the Trophies and such. Even without it, however, you’ll find that there’s plenty to unlock, and with thirteen unique characters and three variant characters to play with, there’s a surprisingly decent amount of content to play with, whether you’re a diehard fighting game fan or a casual player.

That said, for those who don’t have a lot of local players that they can play against, Chaos Code is going to be a mostly solo endeavor. With no online component, it makes the game hard to justify to those who don’t have the ability to play against anyone locally, unless you’re really big into playing against the CPU. While the unlockable content is nice, if you’re not into unlocking gallery content and are more interested in the competitive aspects of games, you’re not going to get a lot out of the game once playing against the CPU gets boring. The game’s limited release doesn’t lend well to the idea that it will see much tournament play, either, so even then there’s only so much you’re going to get out of it unless you get lucky. Beyond that, the final bosses are, to be as polite as possible about it, stupidly overpowered. You can break them out if you choose to do so (if you’re curious or a jerk) and see, but they have NO selectable moves (meaning they come with everything equipped) and NO EX moves, instead simply performing the EX version as their Strong attack. Further, one of them has, and I swear I’m not kidding about this, an unblockable Destruction Chaos move that does basically your whole health bar of damage, and while yes, it takes a while to build that much power, MAKING THE BOSS ABLE TO ONE SHOT YOU IS JUST ABSURD. The characters otherwise actually seem somewhat decently balanced otherwise, which just makes the massively unbalanced bosses even more confusing, and the fact that they’re playable doubly so. Never in the history of ever has an SNK Boss been particularly WELCOME by the player base, and it’s certainly not here.

In the end, the lack of long term replay value is the biggest knock against Chaos Code, as it’s otherwise a very accessible, very fun fighting game that would probably do fairly well if there was more to do with it. Between the high quality and interesting visuals, the diverse cast of characters fighting for supremacy, the generally solid audio quality, and the surprisingly simple to understand play mechanics, it’s an easy game for basically anyone to pick up and enjoy. Rather than trying to innovate new and needlessly complex game mechanics, it simply takes almost every idea that has ever worked well, ever, and sticks them into one game, making it a game that appeals to a wide variety of skill levels. Anyone who enjoys fighting games can jump right in and play this, as it has plenty of mechanics that have been seen before (albeit not specifically together), and there’s a good amount of content to unlock and fool around with if you’re into filling out galleries and such. That said, the game doesn’t really have enough content; while there is a decent character roster for the price, the play modes are lacking, the plot is virtually nonexistent, and there’s no online play at all in the game as of this point. The game also seems to be stuck in the mentality of worshipping the past, as the minimalist yet absurd plot, heavy techno music and SNK Bosses are all relics of fighting games past, and while some are worse than others, more could have been done to avoid this. Chaos Code can be forgiven its archaic eccentricities based almost entirely on how solid and fun it is, mechanically and conceptually, but the lack of variety to the modes is the big killer; if you have a lot of local friends or don’t mind fighting the CPU, it’s worth a look, but otherwise, it’ll get old fast.

Short Attention Span Summary:
Chaos Code takes a lot of great ideas from 2D fighters past and stuffs them into one game, with surprisingly good results, so long as you can overlook its lack of growth and variety in some areas. The game is visually impressive and features a wacky and interesting cast of characters, the audio presentation is mostly spot on, and the gameplay mechanics are accessible to players of all skill levels. The game chooses to use a large amount of mechanics that already worked before instead of trying to implement new, possibly unfriendly mechanics into the game, making the game instantly accessible to anyone who’s seen those mechanics before, and there’s some fun to be had for anyone who finds what the game does to be appealing. However, there’s a lack of overall content and variety to keep the game interesting, between the lack of any kind of interesting narrative, the dearth of play modes and a complete absence of online play. Further, the game feels like something of an artifact of the genre, due to its minimal but ridiculous plot, heavy techno music filled soundtrack, and SNK Boss syndrome, and these elements tend to make the game feel older than it actually is. If you can look past its odd elements of yesteryear and its lacking options, Chaos Code will offer up a fun time to anyone with local friends to play against or who likes taking on the CPU, but everyone else will find it to be a bit too limited for their tastes, no matter how interesting it could’ve been.



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