|ALTDEUS: Beyond Chronos
|Dec. 3rd, 2020 (Oculus)
Feb. 18th, 2021 (SteamVR)
April 14th, 2021 (PSVR)
|Visual Novel, Action Adventure, Science-Fiction
|Oculus Quest, Oculus Rift, SteamVR
What does it mean to be human? Does the way in which you see yourself – and see others – play a pivotal role in self-actualization? What are the boundaries of love, and what happens when that love causes pain? Are we ever allowed to be selfish? These – among several others – are the questions I constantly found myself asking while playing the absolutely superb science-fiction VR title, ALTDEUS: Beyond Chronos for the Oculus Quest, and discovering the answers was one of my favorite gaming experiences in recent memory.
In the year 2280, the last vestiges of humanity live in the underground city of Augmented Tokyo after giant, alien beings called Meteora ravaged the surface of the Earth two hundred years earlier. The people rely on technology for everything in their day-to-day lives – from the fake sky and trees of the city, to the Libra system which provides them predetermined choices in conversation, to the hulking robot Makhia that protect them from Meteora attacks. All of Augmented Tokyo is run by AARCs (Artificial Augmented Reality Crystals) created by Professor Julie, a human scientist who has lived for 200 years by transferring her mind into cybernetic bodies. Our protagonist, Chloe, a Designed Human, was also created by Julie in order to fight the Meteora. What are the Meteora? Where did they come from? Why are they attacking Earth? And why did they kill Coco Coconoe two years ago?
I didn’t really like Chloe at first, I admit. She’s your typical stoic, emotionless soldier that’s common in anime, the protagonist who cuts herself off from her feelings – or, in this case, doesn’t understand them to begin with. She is, after all, a Designed Human. She wasn’t born. She was literally created by Julie to be a soldier. But, over the course of the game, I was surprised at how nuanced and delicate her emotions were, and how impactful seeing the story through her eyes – and going on that emotional journey with her – actually became. A lot of this is thanks to her interactions with Coco, the daughter of powerful politicians in the city, and the ways in which Coco forces Chloe to learn and feel emotions. She makes Chloe read old Greek mythology, talks to her about philosophy and astronomy, and encourages her to speak her mind when all of Chloe’s training dictates she only ever take orders. I really, really liked Coco and the way her constant presence in the story affects the entire cast.
Chloe isn’t the only soldier in this sci-fi narrative. Battling alongside her are Aoba Iwaza, a clever strategist and science officer; and Yamato Amanagi, Chloe’s hot-headed but fiercely loyal fellow Makhia pilot. Together they serve the military organization, Prometheus, under General Deiter and Professor Julie, tasked with protecting humanity at all cost. Of the two adults, Julie is the one with which the player spends the most time, as she takes a hands-on approach to all things Meteora. Two hundred years of zealous study has warped her, and she’s callous, cruel, and singularly focused on her pursuit of knowledge. Deiter, on the other hand, is cool and aloof, a more calming force to Julie’s enthusiasm, but the two work closely with one another in their shared goal. What that goal is remains to be discovered by the player, and I wouldn’t dare to spoil the surprise here.
Rounding out the cast is the literal star of the show, the pop-singer Noa, a highly-sophisticated AARC designed to look like Coco, much to Chloe’s consternation. After all, Coco is dead, and seeing a fake version of her friend causes Chloe no small amount of pain. Noa doesn’t let that deter her, as the self-styled diva is adamant on keeping Chloe safe despite their difficulties. (Why? Well, that’s for you to find out.) She also uplifts the spirits of everyone in Augmented Tokyo through her concerts, and uses her singing during battle to improve morale. As an AARC, she also helps Chloe control her Alto Makhia. I love Noa. She is my favorite. Of all the cast, she is the most nuanced and intricate, and her striking personality, along with her desire to emulate the humanity she loves above all else, is infectious. Her concerts are also a sight to behold and really lean into the VR tech behind this title.
Since we’re talking about Noa, I want to touch on the music in ALTDEUS real quick. What a beautiful soundtrack this game has. As I said on my Twitter, MyDearest absolutely knows how to use music effectively, especially in battle. I love the fact that the singing is completely diegetic thanks to Noa, and how it’s timed so well to movement and big, flashy moments. Battles in this game are few and far between, but they are always incredibly hype thanks to the soundtrack, despite the simple inputs required of the player. Outside the battles, there are a ton of really great tracks that help move along the emotional narrative of the game, building tension, wonder and serenity as necessary. I’m a sucker for that electronic pop sound, and ALTDEUS does not disappoint.
Most of the gameplay you’ll see is talking with your teammates or exploring Augmented Tokyo, interacting with the environment through VR controls, and making decisions in conversation through the Libra system. Much like NieR: Automata, your choices in ALTDEUS determine which of several endings you can unlock, each one providing more of the story. There are a lot of choices in this game, some bigger than others, and uncovering each dialogue tree was a lot of fun. It’s also one of the game’s few downsides, since a lot of the choices still lead to the same outcomes, and not every scene can be skipped. Since you will need to play through multiple sequences of the game several times, this can get a bit tedious. Thankfully, you can usually skip most scenes until you reach a Libra choice, but on my seventh playthrough, I had a lot of scenes memorized. That being said, the story goes to some really interesting and unexpected places depending on the choices you make, and trying to find the “true” ending was worth the 20-plus hours I put into the game.
I really, really loved my time with ALTDEUS. Gorgeous character designs, fantastic voice work, compelling narrative and memorable characters all coalesced into the best gaming experience I’ve had this year. Science-fiction is one of my favorite genres because of how often it asks difficult questions about our relationships with the world and others in it, and ALTDEUS provided that in spades. Love, grief, obsession, self-loathing, sacrifice – it’s all here in one neat package. The use of VR technology to tell this story was also a boon. There’s nothing specific to the narrative that requires it be a VR title, but how that narrative is presented really took advantage of the immersive qualities VR can provide. Watching Noa’s concerts, embracing another character, fighting giant monsters – I don’t think any of it would have felt as impactful had it not been front and center. It also helped me better relate to Chloe’s emotional journey, because I saw the world literally through her eyes. What a fantastic use of the medium, and a must-play for any VR player.
Review copy provided by the publisher.