When MyDearest Inc. released visual novel Tokyo Chronos in 2019 the expectation was that it would combine classic anime aesthetics with virtual reality (VR) interaction for a visually impressive experience. Well received in its native Japan, the response was more muted from western audiences for a number of reasons, mainly the lack of anything to do and a lot of subtitle reading. Now the studio has returned with a sequel, ALTDEUS: Beyond Chronos, creating a visual novel which improves upon the original whilst still appealing to both audiences.
ALTDEUS: Beyond Chronos isn’t quite a direct roll-on sequel as its set 200 years after Tokyo Chronos, so there’s no need to worry if you’ve not seen it. In this futuristic time, chaos has been wrought on mankind by giant alien beings called Meteora, laying waste to the Earth, forcing everyone into giant underground cities. You play as Chloe, part of a team called Prometheus which battles the Meteora in giant mechs called Makhia, aided by an AI called Noa, a quirky scientist called Julie and a couple of other secondary characters to fill out the slightly ragtag crew.
As Chloe you get to pilot the main Alto Makhia, offering railgun firepower which effectively nukes any enemies it’s pointed at. But before you go thinking you’ll be running around a desolate Earth kicking some alien ass, remember this is a visual novel, not a videogame. As anime fans will likely know, Japanese content of this sort not only has a very distinct visual style it also lays out and delivers a narrative in a different way to western cartoons/comics. So there’s a massive amount of dialogue, especially when it comes to monologues and self-reflection. It’s one of the genres best aspects, giving the sort of depth you don’t always get in the west. That being said there are times when it can go a little too heavy and long-winded.
But where Tokyo Chronos suffered because all of the voice acting was in Japanese meaning everything had to be read, ALTDEUS: Beyond Chronos rectifies this massively. While a lot of the main background scenery is fairly plain and uninspiring, the overall production has taken a notch up. English voice actors have been brought in so you can switch the subtitles off, which makes viewing the experience not only easier but you get a better sense of the cast’s personalities. The only slight caveat to that is you do need to turn ‘auto-play’ on to cycle through the dialogue, annoyingly turning itself off when you’re asked to select something.
With the localised voiceover actors ALTDEUS: Beyond Chronos gains a lot more soul, and you’ll easily become annoyed or fond of the cast, helping add that much needed emotional connection. As Chloe is a ‘Designed Human’ her monotone voice and expressions are on point but they do tend to drag after 10 hours of it. The cybernetically enhanced Professor Julie – the mad scientist of the story – has, without doubt, the creepiest hands of any VR character whilst also having the best lines performed by the excellent Asia Mattu.
What ALTDEUS: Beyond Chronos continues to get right is the interaction. Now it is basic – you’re not going to be scavenging or crafting anything – generally revolving around either highlighting points of interest in areas like the underground Shibuya Scramble, selecting dialogue options through a system called ‘Libra’ or activating highlighted buttons inside the mech itself. Yet in comparison to the previous title that’s a huge amount, and most importantly, connects you to the world. VR should envelop and make you feel part of the experience, a factor MyDearest Inc. has clearly worked on to ensure its project does just that.
If you’re wondering about comfort then don’t worry, there is literally no movement in ALTDEUS: Beyond Chronos apart from the occasional steps, the Makhia makes. Every scene is static, you can look around as much as you want and the other characters may move – no smooth animation, they switch between different stances – but that’s it.
Because of all the new interaction ALTDEUS: Beyond Chronos also boasts branching narratives which add sizable chunks of new content – and of course multiple endings – depending on particular choices taken at certain moments. Nothing new there, plenty of videogames have multiple endings, yet going through the visual novel even a couple of times isn’t nearly enough to see the various story arcs. The initial playthrough was about 3 hours yet that’s just the tip of a very big iceberg, easily hitting double figures.
Thankfully, the studio has also employed a system to navigate all these various paths; Ariadne. Set out like the constellations in the night sky, major events in the storyline can be selected so you can choose a different path, as you do so it’ll expand with new areas whilst closing off others. Refreshingly, this means you don’t have to play through the entire narrative each and every time, essentially time travelling around the ALTDEUS: Beyond Chronos universe.
ALTDEUS: Beyond Chronos is the interactive visual novel Tokyo Chronos needed to be. It definitely can’t be classed as a videogame but there’s now enough player input to make you feel like part of the narrative, rather merely looking on. It still won’t appeal to everyone and there aren’t enough mech battles, however, fans of the genre should love it. Currently, when it comes to Japanese VR visual novels ALTDEUS: Beyond Chronos is the new standard to beat.