I very much have a love/hate relationship with fighting games. That is to say, I love them while they hate me. I’m absolutely terrible at remembering and pulling off combos, I never time my blocks correctly, and I’m usually left in awe at my opponents for unleashing flashy finishing moves that knock me out almost instantly. Yet I press on anyways because I find their complexity and steep learning curve to be fun. Am I a gaming masochist? There’s no doubt about it. But even so, I’m nowhere near masochistic to fully enjoy Chaos Code, and unfortunately it’s not for my lack of skills.
Originally a Japanese arcade game, Chaos Code has been ported over to the PS3 from publisher Arc System Works, best known for its acclaimed Guilty Gear and BlazBlue series of fighting games. The fact that a developer held in such high regard in the genre published a game like Chaos Code is nothing short of surprising.
For starters, Chaos Code looks and feels way too much like a 90’s arcade fighter. I suppose you could argue that it’s an homage to them, but it certainly doesn’t seem like that was the intent. Instead it just feels like it’s a long-lost SNK game, as the King of Fighters series is clearly the main source of inspiration.
The sprites, backgrounds, and animation look nice, but when you compare them to modern 2D fighters like BlazBlue or the more recent Skullgirls, you notice just how dated the game looks. And comparing it to modern fighters isn’t unfair, because although you’d never be able to tell from the visuals, the game was originally released in 2011–three years after the release of the visually superior BlazBlue, which was originally an arcade game as well.
There’s been some attempt to translate the game for English speaking audiences. Characters still keep their Japanese voice-overs, with no option for other languages available, and that’s fine. But the translation for the text that’s interspersed throughout a character’s “story” (I use that term as loosely as possible, because the plot is laughably absurd and convoluted even for a 2D fighter, while the motivation behind why the characters are fighting make no sense) is absolutely awful. There are a ton of grammatical and spelling errors, and I can only assume that no one in charge of the translation was fluent in the English language.
Perhaps the game’s biggest flaw lies in its modes. There’s only your standard practice, story, versus, and survival modes. Notice anything missing? Yep, Chaos Code commits the biggest fighting game sin and omits an option to play online. Online multiplayer never has to be tacked onto games, but out of all the genres, it’s fighting that seems to demand it. Battling against the CPU grows stale, and it’s a shame that your only option to fight anther human being is limited to playing with a buddy on your couch.
There’s just no real use in mastering a character because you’re never going to have your skills put to the test. Again, this was a game made in 2011 and then ported to the PlayStation 3 in 2013. Although the developers are promising on patching the game to include online play (though no date has been announced), the lack of it at launch is astounding.
It might sound like I’m being too critical of the game and consider it trash, which isn’t the case… well not entirely, anyways. I will admit that there are times when it feels fun, or at the very least, it feels competent enough to be enjoyable. There’s a good, four-button combat system that allows players who aren’t the best at the genre (e.g. me) to perform combos, while also offering advanced players the reward of a somewhat deep system. The “easy to learn, hard to master” approach is used here, which means that no matter what your skill level, you’ll do a fine job at unleashing your attacks.
Chaos Code also has some unique features that try to separate itself from the crowd of 2D fighters. When selecting your character, you’re presented with a few extra moves, of which you can select two to add in order to expand your list of combos. You can also choose whether your choice of movement is “run” or “step;” running full speed or taking short dashes has an effect on your play style, so it’s another way to give you more options.
Still, the combat quickly goes from fun to downright boring. There are times when the CPU opponents feel a little too overpowered after a certain reaching a certain point in a character’s story. Unless you plan to turn the difficulty down insanely low, expect to repeat battles over and over and over again. Because they eventually start to feel so tedious, it’s hard to gain any sense of accomplishment or satisfaction that most fighting games offer when you finally beat the opponent that’s been causing you so much trouble.
With so few modes, dated visuals and presentation, and a versus option that is currently restricted to local play, the unpolished Chaos Code feels like it wasn’t given much care or thought when it was being ported to the PlayStation 3. Even the new features it brings to the table, such as the ability to select your character’s movement style and selecting two additional attacks to expand your combo list, isn’t enough to make battles seem like more than a chore. Though its combat system is welcoming to players inexperienced in the genre, only hardcore fighting game fans will want to play this niche title; and the current glaring flaw of no online play might prevent even them from purchasing it.