I was able attend Anime Central this year and got to try out the demo for Tokyo Chronos, a visual novel that has apparently been out since March and that I only heard of when I walked past the booth they’d set up in the vendor area. This title never popped up on my radar; not when the Kickstarter launched last July, not in my Steam queue after it properly released last fall, no discussion of it in any of the subreddits I frequent, nothing about this nowhere. And even at the booth it was a struggle to get any info, since by the time I swung around they’d cut off the supply of pamphlets in order to have a few left for day three (fair). Basically all I was able to learn about this VN that day came from the demo, and that was not a lot to go on.
I’m almost certain that the reason I’ve heard so little about Tokyo Chronos is due to it being a VR exclusive. To its credit, this title does an excellent job of showcasing the potential for visual novels in VR in the future. You begin the demo in the middle of Shibuya, surrounded by a few of your childhood friends. Everyone quickly realizes that something is amiss, given that the streets are completely deserted except for your group, who had definitely not been together prior to waking up in Shibuya. No one believes that it can be simple coincidence that the only people present happen to be eight childhood friends. They begin to ponder why they’re here, why there seems to be an invisible barrier keeping them trapped in Shibuya, and where they might go to get answers-
And then the demo abruptly ends.
I honestly enjoyed seeing a visual novel in VR for the first time. It was fascinating to be able to look around in Shibuya in every direction and actually see the sidewalks and roads completely deserted while looking all around me. The character sprites seemed to float as I turned my head, set forward from the background in a way you don’t usually see in normal 2D VNs. And the text boxes have been set up so that I could see exactly what the characters were saying no matter which direction I happened to be looking in. This immersion made me want to push on, to see how the other areas were set up and how Tokyo Chronos could utilize a VR world in a manner that other visual novels simply could not. But at the same time, I walked away from the booth thinking to myself that those VR elements are all Tokyo Chronos has going for it.
The story setup was rather generic. You have the most basic high school protagonist archetypes wondering what might have happened to them as our main character explains everyone else’s relationship to him. You get a minimal amount of character interaction coupled with a bare bones explanation of why we’re contained within this specific region of Tokyo. You barely get a hint of what mystery they’re trying to explore before we cut to the theme song. One of the selling points of the VN is that you’re trapped in some kind of memory with a message, “I am dead. Who killed me?” but that moment never pops up in the demo; you only see it in the trailer. It’s like instead of giving you a proper bite to entice you to eat the rest of the food, the devs settled for just letting you get the barest whiff of flavor before whisking away the entire dish.
If this had been a normal visual novel without the VR elements, the demo would not have been enough to sell me on shelling out $40 for the potential of a better mystery once the story picked up. As it stands, the only reason I might pick up Tokyo Chronos in the future is because 1) I’m curious to see a whole VN told through VR, and 2) I already have a friend with a VR headset who might be willing to lend it out to me. This is a title designed to be picked up by someone who is both a fan of visual novels and already has access to a virtual reality gaming setup (no way the demo is strong enough to make you buy a whole headset just to play this). Frankly, I have no idea how big the overlap between those two groups might be, but considering how little I’ve heard about this title already, alongside the fact that it won’t release on Playstation VR until August, I doubt the overlap is all that big.
Tokyo Chronos is available on Steam and Oculus. If you’re interested in trying out a visual in VR (or you just want to give Sekai Project more incentive to fund VR titles) I guess you can pick it up. Expect a more flushed out review at some point if I can finagle that headset from my friend.