AX 2018 IMPRESSIONS: Tokyo Chronos

Wednesday, July 11th, 2018

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Tokyo Chronos | Logo

“I am dead. Who killed me?” ~ Tokyo Chronos tagline

Visual novels are easily one of my favorite genres of gaming. In fact, the reason I became the Visual Novel Manager for oprainfall and helped build our coverage of the genre is that I love them so much. While these games may be light on gameplay and interaction, the stories they tell and the emotional connections they make are timeless. So much so, that many other games such as Neptunia, Super Robot Wars, and even Persona make use of many of the genre’s elements. That said, can Visual Novels continue to evolve? Of course! And Tokyo Chronos is a game whose sole mission is to do that.

Tokyo Chronos – Where VNs meet VR

Tokyo Chronos is a “VR Mystery Virtual Novel”. While mystery VNs are becoming quite common (Danganronpa, Virtue’s Last Reward, and Kara no Shojo for example) VR visual novels are a rarity. There are quite a few reasons for this. Development cost is certainly one, but another is also the lack of adaption of VR headsets. This is changing, but it’s a slow process. Another is figuring out how you take the unique 2D storytelling style of a VN and bring it into VR. Virtual reality is all about the immersion of course. So, can you simply layer the textboxes, sprites, and backgrounds and call it a day? Or do you try and make a fully 3D world for the reader to enjoy? Tokyo Chronos aims for the latter approach here. But first, let’s talk about the premise.

Tokyo Chronos | Meeting Momono

Even in VR, some things just never change.

Not much of Tokyo Chronos’ plot is known. However, we do know that the game will follow eight childhood friends who find themselves in a deserted Shibuya. Four characters have been revealed so far. These are, Kyosuke Sakurai (cv. Yuto Uemura), the protagonist; Karen Nikaido (cv. Yui Ishikawa), the cool beauty of the group; Yu Momono (cv. Ibuki Kido) the one closest to Kyosuke as well as the cute one; and finally, Yurai Togoku (cv. Shoko Yuzuki) who is a brilliant scientist and Haruki Kashiwakura’s favorite character. And on that note, let’s delve into the demo itself, shall we?

Delving into an Abandoned Shibuya

Tokyo Chronos’ demo is short at about 10 min but effective for giving you an idea of the game’s vision. The version I played was on the Oculus Go, however, the Oculus Rift, SteamVR, and PSVR platforms will be supported as well. Let’s delve into the demo proper though so I can share the experience with you.

You begin in an alleyway with nothing in front of you and nothing behind you. This is actually a good staging point since it allows you to really look around and get used to the VR. After advancing a few lines of dialogue, Momono will appear behind you at the end of the alley. After giving you an obligatory hug, the two of you will head out to what I believe is the famous Shibuya Crossing.

Tokyo Chronos | Momono Glomping Nikaido

Momono very much seems to be the affectionate heart of the team.

Once there you join up with Nikaido (with Momono glomping onto her for good measure) before the three of you notice a figure standing atop a building in the distance. This was actually impressive to me since if you turn to look in that direction, you will indeed see someone standing on top of said building. These little moments are when the VR truly shines. The figure comes down from the building and joins the group, revealing herself to be Togoku. It’s shortly after this that the demo ends. As you can see, there’s not a lot of the surface, but that’s because this demo’s main purpose is to give you an idea of what playing Tokyo Chronos will be like.

What I got out of the experience was interesting. How movement would be handled was my biggest question, but that’s actually done automatically as you advance the text. This gives the player the ability to look around and take in the visuals. Another interesting touch visually is that characters will appear and disappear as they move around. It’s tough to explain, but it’s very much like they’re being digitized in and out of existence. This looks to be intentional and I’m curious if it’s actually part of the larger plot. Storywise, there were no choices and this really was only meant to introduce the characters, so there’s not really much to talk about here. As a whole, I actually liked the demo. However, there are a few things I do think could be improved.

Strengthening the Immersion

While I enjoyed my time with Tokyo Chronos there are some things that could be better. The first is the text. This was something even that was even brought up during Tokyo Chronos’ panel at Anime Expo. There are two problems that I can see with the text: the position of the text boxes and the lettering.

Tokyo Chronos | Layering

The text in Tokyo Chronos appears in the foreground. The only issue with this is due to its positioning it makes it difficult for my eyes to focus.

Tokyo Chronos places its text boxes near the center of the screen. In contrast, most VNs place their text boxes at the bottom. This alone wouldn’t be a problem since all you need to do is stage characters around the text box or make as much of it transparent. Which Tokyo Chronos does. The real issue here is the layering.

Text boxes in Tokyo Chronos are in the layer closest to the player. With characters being behind that, and of course the backgrounds being further back. The issue is that having text that close to your eyes makes it easy to lose focus. Especially in my case as I wear progressive lenses. This also made it really hard to keep text in focus when turning my head. While I never felt ill or dizzy, I had to wait a few moments for my eyes to readjust after moving so I could read the text. The lettering also plays a role in this too.

Tokyo Chronos | Blended Letters

You can see what I mean here. Some of the letters just seem to blend into each other which makes reading in VR difficult.

The demo I played had Japanese audio with English text. This meant I needed to rely on the text to understand what was being said. However, sometimes the lettering would be too close together to read certain words. This causes a bit of a blurring effect where it’s hard to see where one letter ends and another begins. This could, of course, be my eyes, but to point to a game that didn’t do this, let me use Megadimension Neptunia VIIR as an example.

VIIR does text correctly. The subtitles appear at the bottom of the screen and you can even turn on or off a background effect for the box to make the text more legible. It’s really a neat feature if you’re playing with Japanese audio. And that’s crucial for a game like Tokyo Chronos. Visual Novels are not often dubbed. This means we rely on the subtitled text to understand what’s going on. Something Japanese-proficient players don’t need to worry about. As such, getting the text right is absolutely crucial to this project’s success so I hope that the development team retools this a bit in future demos. With that all said, let’s wrap this up.

Tokyo Chronos | VIIR Example

…to show you an example of how text in VIIR works, of course! Note the position of the text, spacing of the letters, and that blue background which can be toggled on and off. All this makes for an easy reading experience.

Conclusion

In the end, I think Tokyo Chronos is a big step forward for visual novels. The idea of doing a VN in VR is fascinating and I think it could be a great home for the medium. That said, there are some growing pains. The text being the biggest issue here. Like I said, it needs to be perfect for people outside of Japan to understand what’s going on. Still, for a game that’s trying to be a 10+ hour VN experience, I think there’s a lot to like here.

Tokyo Chronos is scheduled for early 2019. If this project sounds interesting to you be sure to check out the project’s Kickstarter page.

About Benny Carrillo

A gamer since the days of the NES, this professional otaku adores Mega Man, Super Robot Wars, Yuri, Visual Novels, the Slice of Life anime genre, and of course Hyperdimension Neptunia. His mission on oprainfall is to help deliver the news straight to you.