Dysfunctional Systems: Learning to Manage Chaos Review

If only we lived in a world where "poor" meant not having enough money to buy a snack

  • Developer: Dischan Media
  • Publisher: Dischan Media
  • Release Date: 4 April 2013
  • Time Played: 2 hours

I managed to purchase Dysfunctional Systems last time it was on sale since the game was affordable, promised to have a strong focus on story (visual novels usually do), and had a nice, audacious title to grab my attention - I mean seriously who names a game: "Dysfunctional Systems: Learning to Manage Chaos"? Dischan Media does apparently...

Plot (5/5)
Dysfunctional Systems has you playing the role of two people. In the first half of the game you play the role of a 14 year-old student called Winter Harrison. She is apparently being trained to become a mediator which sounds rather boring until you realise the mediators in this game get to travel to parallel universes or worlds or something. At the beginning of the game, she is being trained by a veteran mediator named Cyrus Addington and they both happen to be on a certain world determining what issues the local inhabitants have (if any) and how to go about bringing any order to potential chaos. In the second half of the game you play the role of Winter's roommate, Waverly where you spend most of your time conversing with people who aren't Winter.

While I'm not too big a fan of the story in the second half (it's like a teen schoolgirl drama which incidentally a lot of anime tends to be) the first half of the game is interesting and even suspenseful. I also really like the setting - it seems that humans are able to travel to parallel universes but they're not quite sure what to expect when they get there which reminds me a bit of the frontier spirit in books such as Frederik Pohl's Gateway.

Gameplay (3/5)
I've played visual novels before so I knew what I was getting into when I started playing Dysfunctional Systems. Visual novels usually involve a lot of reading; reading about the protagonist's thoughts and the conversations he or she has with other people. Every so often you're offered a choice of what to say which alters the course of the story. In really good visual novels, they might alter the course of the story quite a bit eventually leading to multiple endings - a bit like a Choose Your Own Adventure. The reason they call them visual novels is because they tend to have some character art superimposed over backgrounds corresponding to which location you're at.

Dysfunctional Systems almost fits the bill except it was only after playing for 45 minutes (so about half-way through the game) that I finally came across my first choice; the first time I actually got to do something besides click through pages and pages of text. It seems you get a lot less interaction in this game than your standard visual novel which I'm a bit disappointed with. To offer some constructive criticism, I think what would've been preferable is if they allowed you to say certain things that didn't change the course of the game (i.e. small talk) which might seem disingenuous but it at least means the player gets to do something and feels somewhat involved in the story (many point 'n' click adventure games do this).

It took me 45 minutes to get to this part: my first choice

Sound (5/5)
The game contains no voice acting and has minimal sound effects. No issues with the audio.

Music (4/5)
Music is composed by Kristian "CombatPlayer" Jensen and while the soundtrack is good, nothing really sticks in my head except for the piece that plays during the final moments of the mission; that piece definitely amplifies the emotions. For those of you who like freebies, you'll be pleased to know that purchasing the game also includes the game's soundtrack in digital formats (MP3 and FLAC.

Graphics (3/5)
The artwork in Dysfunctional Systems is of the typical manga ilk that you normally see in visual novels - in other words, the artwork looks pretty damn good (if you're into that sort of thing). Animations seem a bit silly sometimes though, like when your character looks like they're facing away yet they're slowly sliding across the street at the same time.

Replay (2/5)
The game is rather short, only taking me two hours to complete but it does have a branching narrative (as most visual novels do) and the Steam achievements to prove it.

Polish (2/5)
The game doesn't have any serious bugs but there is a pretty dodgy gallery you can visit with provocative photos of what are meant to be the game's protagonists. While normally, I wouldn't have any issue with that the problem here is that the game's protagonists are meant to be 14 year-old girls; one of the drawings even has a caption that reads: "I love little girls: I want a pile of little girls when I come home from work every day... and a trap I guess". Maybe I'm reading too much into it but there's already been a complaint raised on the Steam forums about it. Including these drawings to the gallery seem to be in bad taste and I believe it would definitely help the game's reputation to have them excluded.

Score – 7/10

Dysfunctional Systems doesn't actually offer many choices to the player, even by normal visual novel standards, and the game is terribly short. There's also some questionable material floating around in its "extras" gallery which is a pity because it detracts from what seems to be a truly interesting universe to explore. In fact it's so good that I keenly await the release of the game's second episode provided it will be around the same price of $5.

If you want to get the game, you can get it on Steam.

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[ LINK: Official Dysfunctional Systems: Learning to Manage Chaos website ]


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