Committing a crime is supposed to be nearly impossible in the sci-fi world of DYSCHRONIA: Chronos Alternate. That makes the high-profile murder at the center of its story all the more mysterious, and you’ll have to use some nifty technology to traverse through dreams and memories to solve it. You can begin your investigation today on Meta Quest 2 with the release of DYSCHRONIA’s first episode for $19.99 USD.
The game takes place in Astrum Close, a city that uses a special system to monitor the dreams of its inhabitants, quickly expunging any dark thoughts that could lead to crimes. So it comes as a shock when the founder of the city is found dead. You play as Hal Scion, an investigator who can dive into other people’s memories by touching different objects. Exploring the past will be crucial as you collect clues and evidence.
But the adventure isn’t over after you’ve solved the case. Japanese developer MyDearest is producing two more episodes for DYSCHRONIA. Episode II is currently scheduled for Winter 2022, and Episode III will be out in Spring 2023 (both as separate purchases). And the studio will has some updates planned between those big releases as well.
We spoke with several members from the development team, including Director and Main Scenario Writer Ao Matsuoka, to find out more about DYSCHRONIA, the ways it pushes Quest 2’s graphics capabilities, and how it shares the same universe as their other VR games (which include TOKYO CHRONOS and ALTDEUS: Beyond Chronos).
Let’s start with a big-picture summary of DYSCHRONIA. What’s the game about, and what inspired the story?
Ao Matsuoka: DYSCHRONIA: Chronos Alternate is a sci-fi mystery adventure taking place in Astrum Close, a city where crime is prevented before it happens. As the Supervisor, you must solve the murder case in order to avoid the city’s impending destruction in seven days.
The Supervisor has a special ability to see into others’ memories by touching objects with their left hand, and this is key to solving the case. You must solve puzzles, escape assaults, and reveal the truth of this theoretically impossible crime.
Many sci-fi novels that I like influenced this story. The Demolished Man by Alfred Bester especially, and utopian sci-fi like Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Dispossessed and Project Itoh’s Harmony—which I read as a high school student and still love to this day—played a huge role in creating the setting for this story.
Visually, your games have a distinct style that’s not very common in VR. What inspires that art direction?
AM: As the latest entry in the Chronos Universe franchise, it was decided early in development that we’d be following the same art style as TOKYO CHRONOS and ALTDEUS: Beyond Chronos. The art style draws influence from Japanese RPGs. We aimed for a style that has the uniqueness of a JRPG, but at the same time, can be widely appreciated by players around the world. The character design of DYSCHRONIA was done by a popular character designer who formerly worked at ATLUS, famous for making the Persona series.
In this game we had the idea to switch between the physical world and the dream world which is overlaid on reality, so we made sure the transition between them was striking. The dreamy and fantastical nature of the Augmented Dreaming Network—the dream world—is inspired by the famous khom loi festival in Thailand.
What was the process of adapting this unique art style into an immersive VR world?
AM: Although I had the general concept of the game’s worldview from the start, it was implemented into the game very simply early in production. We started development without anything that required heavy processing because we were uncertain if we could fit everything within Quest 2’s processing limitations. However, a graphic engineer joined our team during the alpha version production, and we were able to add more effects to the game.
It went very quickly from there. One example of the effects we added: We released a video of 5,000 fish swimming in the Augmented Dreaming Network, which didn’t exist in the alpha version. We made new concept art, and overnight a school of fish appeared in the game. A week later, we also added caustics and a whale. The ideas sometimes came from me, sometimes from the art team, and other times from the engineering team. Development was very speedy and thrilling.
From the beta version and onwards, we playtested the game several times and kept refining the experience based on feedback from the team. The art team and the graphic engineers cooperated very closely, running load tests and adding effects almost simultaneously, which made development go very smoothly.
Few VR studios have had the pleasure of fleshing out a franchise with multiple entries that span different devices and platforms, all made for VR. Can you talk about that evolution from TOKYO CHRONOS to now?
AM:TOKYO CHRONOS, which we developed as a very small team, was a VR visual novel. And while ALTDEUS shared that same visual novel style, we incorporated more interactive elements that influenced the story.
We’ve always wanted to implement more interactive elements in our games. The ultimate goal of the Chronos Universe is to make more story-driven adventure games. That’s what we were aiming for with DYSCHRONIA. The gameplay feels similar to titles like Life is Strange and Detroit: Become Human. The success of ALTDEUS made it possible for our company to raise more funding, welcome talented creators from AAA game studios, and create the type of game we’ve always wanted to make.
DYSCHRONIA became an adventure game in which you can explore the world freely, with interactive puzzles and stealth actions that utilize the VR hardware to its full potential.
Should players have played your previous VR games first, or can they come into this game without that perspective?
AM: Playing TOKYO CHRONOS or ALTDEUS is not mandatory. DYSCHRONIA is set in the same universe as the two previous games, but it’s a completely standalone story. Players can enjoy the game without any prior knowledge.
Why did you decide to evolve from the “visual novel” type of experience to a more interactive adventure game?
AM: VR lets players immerse themselves in the world of the game, so an interactive adventure in which their actions toward the world and characters impact the story is more fitting than the visual novel format.
Unlike TOKYO CHRONOS and ALTDEUS, the game design of DYSCHRONIA made it difficult to provide an emotionally moving experience simply as a visual novel. However, we were able to build a team that made it possible to pursue our ultimate goal of an interactive adventure experience.
Many of your team members are from Japanese AAA game companies, so what kind of challenges are the developers who used to develop Japanese AAA games taking on in VR gaming today?
Yuki Onuma, Motion Director: In VR, the player stands in the exact same spot as the character, so how motion is perceived and how visual cues should be delivered differ greatly from 2D games played on monitors, especially in cutscenes. Since we couldn’t use moving cameras to show what’s going on, we had to animate characters so that players would be spontaneously looking at them. This was something completely new for me, so I used myself in the real world as reference, always thinking, “Why is my attention directed that way?” and, “Why did I just direct my gaze at that?” as I went about my daily life.
As for how character motion is seen in VR, players typically remember not the whole body, but the subtle movements of specific parts of the upper body. So rather than making fancy motions, I focused on small details and expressions to make the players believe that the characters standing in front of them are really alive.
Aiko Motoyama, Lead UI Designer: In DYSCHRONIA, we aimed for a UI that makes players really feel like the protagonist. We wanted players to interact with the systems that the protagonist actually uses. This is why we implemented a lot of UI elements that players have to touch directly. UI that requires you to push buttons makes the experience feel too indirect, as if it’s just a traditional 2D game. We want players to forget they’re holding controllers and move as though they’re actually in the world of the game.
However, making every control direct and intuitive is not an easy task, with problems like movement, input mistakes, and limitations on screen space. It was challenging to overcome those difficulties through trial and error. I wish that someday we can make something that’s not merely an emulation of reality or movies, but something truly original to VR that people would want to have in real life, too.
Akihiro Onoue, Programmer: VR games provide a world for players to explore freely. There are always new ideas like, “Maybe I could do that!” or, “ I wish I could do this, too.” When implementing those ideas and making the world more fun, other new ideas would spring up from them. As an engineer, it’s a great pleasure to develop something that becomes more interesting everyday.
In VR games, there still isn’t a de facto standard that everyone follows, like whether we should recreate real-world physics, or completely virtual physics—neither may be the solution for making the experience better. There’s always a gap from the “ideal world” that we want to make. Being able to fill that gap and explore how to achieve this ideal world is the biggest difference from AAA development, and this is also what makes the job truly interesting for me.
What benefits does developing on Quest 2 bring you?
Ao Matsuoka: The biggest benefit of developing on Quest 2 was being able to pursue better graphics, thus leading to more immersion. We made the level design in this game more detailed than our previous games, and at the same time we incorporated a dramatic story with multiple characters. This was only made possible by the improvement in hardware.
Also, Quest 2 being wireless made it possible to implement movements such as crouching, peeking, and throwing in the stealth sections. This greatly increased the immersion and tension.
Finally, what advice do you give new players coming into DYSCHRONIA for the first time?
AM:DYSCHRONIA is an interactive adventure game depicting a dramatic story with multiple characters, which is still rare for a VR game. Enjoy visiting the mysterious utopia Astrum Close and revealing the truth that each character holds.
Put on your detective hat and dive into the past with the first episode of DYSCHRONIA, now available on Quest 2.