Dysfunctional Systems: Learning to Manage Chaos

"Learning to Manage Chaos serves as an introduction to what should be a brilliant story."

Episode 1

It's often tough to review episodic games, particularly when they are released one at a time. Dysfunctional Systems is a new visual novel released by Dischan Media, and Learning to Manage Chaos is the first episode in the series.

The story follows a young woman named Winter who is training to be a "mediator:" someone who solves the problems of other worlds by subtly (or not so subtly) intervening. Throughout Learning to Manage Chaos, Winter followers her mentor, a middle-aged man named Cyrus, as they attempt to solve an impending war on a world called Sule. The story has two different endings based on a series of choices you make in the game, and you can save those endings to be imported into episode two when it is released.

Learning to Manage Chaos' biggest draw is its characters. Winter is interesting and well-developed, and her responses to the chaotic behaviour of Cyrus and her ability to assert her own ideas are believable. She is both a physical and intellectual opposite of him, and their friendly banter develops into a deeper emotional divide as the game progresses. The beautiful art builds the world around them successfully, and the limited animation adds just the right amount of movement on the screen. Stylish backgrounds paint the country they visit, Brighton, in a dismal, downcast way that lends to the impact of the story. The excellent soundtrack does the same by using the upbeat and slow, thoughtful tracks at just the right times.

Aside from the two main characters, you will also meet Winter's roommate, Waverly. We learn little about her in this first episode, but this other mediator-in-training seems to have an interesting story of her own that we will likely discover more on later. Other secondary characters are just as interesting and tend to serve as comic relief. We learn little about the exact details of mediators and their role in a futuristic earth society, so hopefully this will be addressed in later episodes.

This brings us to the game's major problem: its length. Just as the story begins to pick up in intensity and intrigue is introduced, the credits roll. At 1-2 hours, there just isn't enough content in Learning to Manage Chaos for it to stand on its own. It introduces brilliant characters and an interesting inter-world setting, but we learn so little about it in this first episode. Even the in-game codex that brings extra information about worlds and their problems only has a handful of entries. To its credit, it does make me want to play the next episode, but I suspect some of that desire will have worn off by the time it is released.

Learning to Manage Chaos serves as an introduction to what should be a brilliant story. It introduces the main characters and the setting, but leaves out more in-depth explanations and details. It's backed by terrific art and an emotive soundtrack, but its short length holds it back. I look forward to playing episode two when it is released, but you may want to hold out on a purchase until Dysfunctional Systems is released in its entirety.

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