I’m Akabaka the lead developer behind CHROMATOSE, a a Persona-inspired Visual Novel/Role-playing Game with emphasis on meaningful decisions, character relationships, and a compelling story: You’ve awakened in a strange nightmare after a fall that should have ended your life. Around you are amnesiac strangers who are also trapped in this world for their own unique reasons. Escape the collective nightmare in 12 hours or never wake up.
The whole game came from a tabletop roleplay campaign that I ran for my friends! Think ‘Dungeons & Dragons’, only it was anime-inspired, and instead of dice rolls and skill points, it was purely making decisions and facing consequences. Very many consequences. Featuring many characters from what is now CHROMATOSE, the story was explored for several years without any of us getting tired of it, and when I eventually brought a main story arc to an end, it was a tearful affair. Partly because of the heart-wrenching ending, and partly because the story had been with us so long, all of us were sad to see the characters that we had spent so much time with disappear with the then-completed story. It was at that point that I became hellbent on sharing the story with more people so these characters wouldn’t only exist in the memories of six nerds sitting around a dimly-lit living room table. CHROMATOSE was briefly a 3D animation project, but I felt the story lost much of its magic when the player wasn’t directly responsible for the events that occur. Then the story was very briefly an RPG-maker type game, but I felt very boxed in to make the game in a certain rigid way and decided to make it all from scratch in Game Maker Studio.
That was a year or two ago, when I resolved to make a game with the story and character focus common to the Visual Novel (VN) genre. Visual novels, however, do not allow players to engage with the characters and world on their own terms as they would be able to in a roleplay experience, and interaction with the story is often limited to few-and-far-between, sometimes trivial, in-text decisions. Drawing inspiration from my all-time favorite game, Catherine (ATLUS), I aimed to tell the story of Chromatose through an immersive visual novel-RPG hybrid loaded with enough gameplay and meaningful decisions to replicate the feeling of me directly interacting with the player.
The game cold-opens on a bit of exposition, and immediately launches into a personality questionnaire with hard-hitting questions like “Would you be in a better place in life if you cared more or cared less?” These questions influence gameplay directly—affecting how quickly you gain certain card colors from the other people trapped in the coma world as you bond with them. Since each card color is strong against monsters from certain levels and weak against monsters from other levels, your answers to the opening questions directly decide which levels you will struggle with and which will come easy to you, since each level represents a certain personal struggle that the corresponding character possesses. For example, Quentin, the blue girl, is patient and non-confrontational to a fault, while Primadonna, the red girl, is overconfident to a fault. If the opening questionnaire determines that you are more similar to Quentin, you’ll have a harder time completing the levels within Quentin’s mind since you share her struggles, but you’ll tear through Primadonna’s levels because you make a great pair – she has the confidence that you could learn from, and you have the patience that she really needs.
Ultimately, the opening questionnaire splits the cast in two – 1) The characters that you are most similar too, and are more likely to have shared the same struggles as you, and 2) The characters that complement you the best – the characters that need you to grow as much as you need them. There’s 16 possible divisions of the cast, curating a custom experience to suit each player’s personality.
The battle system is also fun to talk about, since it completes the tonal feedback loop trinity between story, art/music, and gameplay. The battle system takes the relationships you’ve built so far and weaponizes them, creating a deck of colored cards corresponding to each character you’ve met so far. Since the rate at which you gain colored cards from each character is determined by the opening questionnaire, the battle system is also tailored to your personality. This helps wind the art, the gameplay, and the story all into one fluid experience.
The battle system itself is designed to be a rapid-fire asymmetric sort of mechanic. When I say asymmetric, I mean that the enemy does not have the same objective as you as is standard in most RPG type battle systems – e.g. ‘The enemy is trying to reduce your HP to zero while you’re trying to reduce the enemy’s HP to zero’. Instead, I went with a Catherine-like approach where you’re trying to complete some puzzle-solving task (In Catherine’s example, it’s pushing blocks to climb a tower) while nightmarish monsters do their best to prevent you from solving it, either by changing the puzzle in real time to make it more difficult or just through plainly distracting you with fear. In CHROMATOSE’s case, you must quickly play cards from your hand to deal damage to enemies while balancing the unique positive and negative effects of each color card before time runs out. The battle system rewards quick thinking and coming prepared with a well-built deck, appropriate for the current level you’re in.
Development formally started on CHROMATOSE in October 2017, and a 3-hour demo was publicly released in October 2018. The game is currently in active development and will be out in a couple years. In the meantime, backer builds will be periodically distributed to those who support the Kickstarter!
Check out the Official Chromatose website: