I got off to a bad start with Chaos Code, a one-on-one 2d fighting game developed by Japanese studio FK Digital. Everything about it looks and plays like a classic 90s arcade fighter. Chaos Code is like most traditional fighters, it has a four button layout much like King of Fighters. From the short opening intro the aspect ratio is set to 4:3 throughout the game which is strange for a game released in Japanese arcades back in 2011. We are told that the Chaos Code is something to look for, and whoever controls it gets to take over the world. There are four playing modes for Chaos Code: Story Mode, Versus Mode, Survival and Challenge Mode. I opted for Story Mode, and start by playing as Hikaru who turns out to be the least eccentric of a cast of fourteen. You are given a choice of attack techniques that sound promising. I entered the first match reasonably optimistic that I might even stand a chance.
There was no gentle introduction to the game play; no gradual increase in difficulty. After uhhh, a… ‘few’… rematches, I made it to level two. I threw the melted remains of my controller in the bin, got the back-up off the shelf, and the second battle commenced. The little girl I was up against next didn’t even condescend to introduce herself with a threat before she effortlessly kapowed me to death… from the other side of the screen. That, especially, I found annoying. If I lose because I make a mistake or am too slow, then fair enough. I’m no party-pooper who can’t handle losing without hurling a Monopoly board across a room and ruining everyone’s Christmas, but after two rounds of being hit by wave after wave of special attacks and not being able or defend myself, I just wasn’t enjoying myself. I wasn’t even sure why I was fighting this girl. It didn’t tell me what evil plan she wanted the Chaos Code for and meanwhile, I wasn’t sure it was worth the hassle.
Chaos Code’s story mode was missing the dramatic opening scenes where a character ups the stakes, compares someone else’s mum to a farmyard animal and gives a conflict some personality and some peril. Some reason for the characters to fight. Though some of the characters did sometimes speak, there were no subtitles. It’s possible that a lot of the plot was lost in translation here, but as there are English captions in the intro I do think these should have been stretched throughout. It depends how much you like plot in your fighter games, but for me the game suffered without it and I could feel my attention slipping away at the thought of another 12 rounds. It didn’t help that Hikaru’s choice of attacks turned out to be pretty vanilla compared to what the other characters can unleash… lightning, wind-up walking bombs… burning supernovas… carnival floats… genies. There’s being the underdog, but I’d have liked my character to have some cool powers too – especially as a lot of the fun in these 2d combat fighters is in using the over the top special attacks. No one wants to be the simple melee character.
Fortunately from the main menu you can adjust the difficulty to improve your advantage – or as I saw it, level the playing field, by turning your opponent into an unresisting punching bag (tempted, after round twelve against Catherine) or let them keep their powers of constant uber powers. For the purposes of getting past level three and writing this review, I admit I lowered the difficulty to a nice comfortable halfway point. Afterwards, Chaos Code and I got on a little better.
The music didn’t drive me crazy. The backgrounds were pleasingly weird. Sometimes stingrays floated past. There are scenes from all over the world, each with a distinct setting. The enemies, if I understood them, might have even had believable motivation and some witty lines. As is the trend with arcade combat fighters, you’re presented with a pantheon of opponents whose sense of the dramatic is only surpassed by their eccentric sense of personal style.
By the time I got to the end, I was still left with many mystifying questions like what exactly is the Chaos Code? Why does Hukami dye his hair from black (opening graphic) to red for every fight? If you’re bored of simple 2d fighter button bashers, and are looking for a classic-looking arcade fighter which will give you a tactical challenge, you can get entertainment out of this game. There’s no online mode at present but I understand that Arc System Works are hard at work at getting an online mode added for a future update so I couldn’t see if my complaints about the difficulty are just down to me being of worse than average skill. You can’t fault Chaos Code on its mechanics – it’s smooth. But for me however, I guess I missed the story too much.
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