Dysfunctional Systems Episode 1: Learning to Manage Chaos by Dischan Media has a dysfunctional story, but its soundtrack and art will help you feel like you haven’t wasted your money. I had heard about this visual novel when its sequel was announced on Kickstarter.com. Although the incentives were enticing (contribute $5000 and get a copy of the game, contribute $50,000 and get a personal backrub from the illustrator, etc.), I thought I’d look into the original first.
The story begins with adorable, 14-year-old Winter Harrison freshly assigned to the country Brighton on planet Sule to learn from notorious Cyrus Addington, a senior mediator. The purpose of mediators from the School Mediātōrum is to help developing worlds move away from chaos towards stability. Their wrist device lets them move in and out of realities and this gives them the right, apparently, to meddle with other worlds. The first episode, “Learning to Manage Chaos”, pitted naive Winter against jaded Cyrus. It is her second assignment, but only the first assignment to allow her to interact with the developing society.
The concept was interesting—like Star Trek with no prime directive. Unfortunately, the execution was dull. This was due to a few crucial story flaws. First, the dialog was awkward, which could be excused by odd pacing issues due to the visual novel process of tapping the dialog one…sentence…at…a…time, but more often than not, the dialog was poorly worded. Secondly, there was an enormous amount of exposition served to the reader as lessons and explanations. Consider this example:
I look back at my wrist device: my ICD.
“Interplanar Communication Device”! A name which does not actually cover all that it does (it also carries a database, and tells time, and probably a thousand other things, as it is fancy).
The writers chose to have Winter not study her materials so that Cyrus could get her up to speed by explaining everything to her and therefore introducing the world to the reader. However, in order to explain things to the reader they made Winter dumber than rocks, which affected the dialog as well.
Secondly, the events were more fannish explorations of favorite characters than important incidents to move the story along. For example, after the long dissertation on mediation, Cyrus then demands Winter drink beer to get familiar with the locals. They go for a walk and discuss beer. They stop and discuss beer. They go into a bar and discuss beer and drinking some more. Winter says stupid things. Cyrus bullies her. The beer is delivered. Winter gets tipsy. The scene went on and on and on. For me, reading about minors drinking beer due to peer pressure from trusted adults wasn’t cute, but fortunately, there was a SKIP feature.
The third story flaw was in the elements of the plot which didn’t seem well thought out. For instance, minimum wage was presented as a panacea for the poor’s problems in Brighton. For a story supposedly focused on economics, there was no mention about the resultant cost of living increase from businesses raising their product prices to compensate for the higher employee wages. Also, minimum wage was banged like a drum over and over again, which made the book feel partisan, not political. In addition, technology was also confused on this planet. There was no explanation how this world had nuclear fusion power before nuclear fission, or how a fusion bomb could ignite an entire planet with a non-combustible atmosphere.
Still, this visual novel had its virtues. The art was nicely rendered in an anime style, and the character designs were emotive and appealing. The backgrounds were richly painted. The scene where the maps were introduced was a nice visual touch. In addition, the background music score was well done. Once the book is completed, the reader gains access to unlocked art and music.
Overall, Dysfunctional Systems Episode 1 was a nicely put together package, but the story didn’t hold its own against the music and art. Its problems with pacing and dialog made the experience tedious or baffling, like the unlabeled epilogue where an entire scene occurs off camera with nothing but text over a person sleeping. I would be tempted to give the book two stars except for the excellent art and music. However, many fans of the series are enamored with the potential of the future chapters. Perhaps you will be, too.
Release Date: April 3, 2013 (USA)
Publisher: Dischan Media
ESRB Rating: Not Rated (but would be a T)
Recommended Desktop/Laptop System Requirements:
Windows Vista / 7, Mac OSX, Linux with glibc 2.3+
2.0 Ghz or higher Dual-Core CPU
3 GB RAM
Discrete GPU with 256MB of VRAM
Minimum Desktop/Laptop System Requirements:
Windows XP, Mac OSX, Linux with glibc 2.3+
1.2 Ghz Single-Core CPU
1 GB RAM
Minimum Mobile System Requirements:
iOS 5.0 or later on an iPhone, iPod, or iPad
Alcohol/Drugs: 3 (peer pressure, underage drinking)
Language: 4 (various F & S words)
Violence: 1 (is nuclear war violent?)