Chaos already dominates enough of our lives. The universe is an endless raging sea of randomness. Our job isn’t to fight it, but to weather it together, on the raft of life. A raft held together by those few, rare, beautiful things that we know to be predictable.
-Abed Nadir, Community Episode #304 “Remedial Chaos Theory”
From Julian Gollop, acclaimed creator of X-COM, Chaos Reborn finds its mechanical inspiration in the same and other games of the tactics genre. Conceptually it pulls loosely from Pokemon: a lone protagonist whose life is devoted to blood sport, not with cocks or canines but with beasts and monsters. Thematically it’s dressed in all the familiar trappings of high fantasy, with only slight hints of a steampunk aesthetic to set it apart.
Appropriately titled, Chaos Reborn is a game utterly dominated by chaos. It’s not chaotic, as in frenzied, per se. In fact, the turned-based combat keeps it always at a pace of the player’s choosing, leaving it downright relaxing net to its real-time strategy cousins. Rather, it is chaotic in the sense of being governed by randomness and uncertainty.
Whereas as in games like Pokemon and XCOM, the creatures and crew members the player brings into battle are at his discretion, a tactical choice which adds depth to the game, the wizards of Chaos Reborn pull summons and spells from a card deck, the contents of which they have no control. There exist no deck building to create a sense of progression; the full suite is available before the end of the tutorials, and from the first battle to the last never improves. The rare and powerful sapphire dragon has an equal chance of being drawn anytime throughout the game.
Not only does the deck not improve, neither do the individual summons. An elf will always have the same stats governing it, the same movement, the same two basic attack. Likewise for the dwarf, the paladin, the pegasus, the unicorn, etc. Only the player character himself benefits from the accusation of loot in the form of armor, staffs, and runes, though their actual impact is so subtle as to be nearly unnoticeable.
Also stripped out is the depth added in most tactical games of status effects and elemental affinities. With the exception of the spider’s webbing and one or two other examples, successful hits deal plain damage and nothing else. And such damage will kill whatever’s hit. This is perhaps the strangest and most unique aspect of Chaos Reborn’s combat. Every ally and opponent on the field of battle essentially has a single hit point. The only factor keeping combat from being an unmitigated bloodbath is the fact that whether an attack lands or not is also subject to chaos.
This system is certainly more transparent, with the actual probability being clearly displayed on screen, but taken together with the other mechanics already mentioned and the combat tips just a bit too far in the direction of chance. Defeats feel undeserved and victories hollow, both resulting more from the fickleness of fortune than any skill or strategy on the part of the player. This is the greatest failing of Chaos Reborn.
Another failing is the game’s shoddy production values. This is constantly noticeable in the game’s opaque menus and obtuse user interface. For example, in going to purchase new equipment there is no readily available means of comparing it to the currently equipped staffs and armor, nor is it clearly communicated on the same screen what all of the various numbers and statics actually mean.
The low production values are most apparent, however, in the game’s presentation of its nearly non-existent story. Aside from an opening cutscene comprised of static images and vague voice-over, the only story elements in the game itself (discounting any lore accessible purely outside the gameplay) are random choices in the overworld delivered as a block of flavor text below an accompanying picture.
To be clear, the comparative quality is not with respect to triple-A games but to other independent games made by small studios and with small budgets being sold at a similar price point. Brothers, Child of Light, Ori and the Blind Forest, The Stanley Parable, Transistor… some of the most aesthetically beautiful and emotionally resonate games of all time were built with a similar set of resources. Chaos Reborn at its best is an interesting diversion for a few hours on occasion, but never captures the mechanical precision or sheer artistry that’s come to be expected in the thriving indie game scene currently. Worst, it does not even deliver on its promise to scratch the itch for another franchise in the veins of Pokemon or XCOM. Fans would be better served simply starting a new play through of Enemy Unknown; this Chaos needn’t have been reborn.