Dysfunctional Systems Episode 1: Learning to Manage Chaos is a Western-made visual novel from Dischan Media available on Steam.
Releasing visual novels or games in an episodic format doesn’t have to be a problem at all providing each episode is satisfying in itself, while still leaving you wanting more. Unfortunately this isn’t the case with Dysfunctional Systems Episode 1: Learning to Manage Chaos, which serves as little more than a teaser for a story that could be potentially very interesting.
The moral dilemmas were the most engaging part, where you find yourself wondering whether to side with the cold, logical Cyrus who doesn’t think anything of killing one man if it’ll help ‘restore balance’ to a world, and the emotional Winter who doesn’t want to see that as an option. Unfortunately, without really knowing what the mediators are or what they do, it’s hard to judge Cyrus on his actions or take a side. As a trainee, Winter is an ideal character for the player to learn about the job of mediator through, but in this episode she seems to remain clueless throughout the whole storyline, and so the reader does too. It’s hard to strike the balance between not giving everything away at the beginning, and not confusing your audience, and DS seems to be stumbling here. One thing I think they did do well and that had me eager for more was the hints of what society on Earth is like in this universe, which I hope we’ll learn more about in future installments.
Following on from an intense situation where the fate of a world is in our characters’ hands the story branches depending on the outcome, and we’re then we’re thrown into a weird dorm setting where we meet Winter’s roommate and a few other characters who seem like they’ll be supporting characters in future episodes. While the teachers call round in both routes, the friend who calls by the room is different depending on which route you’re on, and I had no idea what to make of these introductions. There were attempts to have them speak in dialects and so introduce the idea of regions in this future(?) Earth, plus plenty of banter, but honestly it felt jarring to have such a light-hearted anime-style scene coming hard on the heels of the intensity and drama of the previous section.
Overall the story was interesting and had good ideas, but it was disjointed and ended too abruptly to make it feel worthwhile.
To be honest, I found Winter incredibly annoying. The way she thought and spoke was very childish. This might be fitting since she is supposed to be 14 years old, but it still didn’t endear her to me.
Winter’s mentor, Cyrus, is a world-weary mediator infamous within the agency for his ‘overkill’ approach to jobs. I generally liked him and am intrigued to find out his back story.
Waverly is Winter’s roommate who is only introduced at the very end, not giving much time to get to know her. She also has a different attitude towards Winter in each ending, making it difficult to get a grasp on her character at this stage.
Character sprites are used in the standard visual novel style, but sometimes characters are integrated into the backgrounds which really brought the images to life.
None of the character designs themselves really appeal to me, but I loved the detailed background work. The color palette was extremely muted which suited the world they were on, and Winter’s mood when they got back. I would like to see some more vibrant scenes going forward, but overall I have no complaints about the art and design choices here.
The music in Dysfunctional Systems is beautiful, especially ‘Terminus’, the theme track. Sound effects are well used although a few of them seemed a little out of place such as the anime-style sigh and the inclusion of ‘vomit’ sound effects that sounded like flushing water.
As an introduction to a larger series it did its job in getting me interested, but didn’t hold together as an episode in its own right. I’ll definitely play the next episode, but personally I’d hold off on this first episode until the next one’s out.