Though it was dropped by developers and parent company alike in the US, the Dreamcast has enjoyed a twilight existence in Japan, with home ports of PC visual novels, SNK releases, and an assortment of arcade shooters. Sadly, all good things must come to an end, yet it is not with a whimper but with a screen-filling bang that Chaos Field (CF) sends off the little white box.
The visuals of CF are nothing to get excited over, inferior even to the DC's previous "final" game Border Down. Generic futuristic ships taking on various forms of generic, if massive, boss ships has already been done to death and back again, and there's nothing here visually to separate it from the pack. The music, a mix of techno and trance, is nice if you're into that sort of thing, but it's nothing to rush out and pick up the soundtrack over. Though Chaos Field is like a plain-faced woman with the heart of a killer. If you take your eyes off the flood of bullets for one second to admire the scenery, you'll be dead before you realize it.
Two major differences separate Chaos Field from more conventional shooters. One is the complete absence of swarms of drones to slaughter as you move up to bigger and better confrontations. CF hits you with two sub-bosses before filling the screen with the boss, one phase at a time. While this does make the game shorter, it also makes it much more focused, with mechanics that don't have to deal with dusting off small fries.
The other difference is the sheer amount of tactics you have at your disposal. There's your standard rapid fire shot, a Radiant Silvergun inspired sword that can wipe away bullets and slice into enemies, lock-on missiles by the dozens, wing-layers that float around for a time as they absorb bullets and dish out damage, and the field change from where the game gets its moniker. Order field is like a pleasant afternoon stroll, while chaos field is the same stroll, but in the middle of a raging storm with hailstones the size of your fist. Enemy bullet patterns become more elaborate and deadly, though your normal shot and wing-layer become stronger, while you lock-on can now target those bullets and not just the ship that launched them. You can change fields at any time, though there's a short delay before you can change back again, seconds long enough to get served a one-way ticked to bullet-riddled oblivion.
Lilac is the color of death. Light purple bullets are the only ones that can't be absorbed, deflected, or eradicated by missile fire. They can only be dodged or circumvented by a field change. Other bullets come in a rainbow of hues that each define their function, like orange for standard fire and blue for big and quick globs of death. Perhaps it's a benefit of the bland visuals, but all these various bullet types are clearly visible, even when they fill the screen like a colony of multicolored ants. This combined with perfect control means you'll have to bring a friend along to distract you if you want an excuse of why you weren't able to dodge that last barrage. Because it won't be the game's fault.
Chaos Field is short. I don't mean all shooters are short and this is no exception. I mean there are a total of fifteen quick boss encounters, which can become very quick once you've mastered the game's systems, spread over five phases. Starting with only a few continues that gradually increase in number as you play will keep all but shooter masters from seeing the end credits from the start, though these max out at nine at the two hour mark, where a more intermediate player will be reaching the end boss. While causal players are likely to be discouraged long before that. There are three very different ships to master, each with their own unique strengths and weaknesses, but the difficulties and other options don't change the game enough to add substantially to the experience and there are no other extras to be found. It doesn't even save your high scores, making playing for them a chore.
In many ways, Chaos Field is an analogy for the Dreamcast itself. Innovative concepts mixed with tried and true gameplay types that ended up being beyond the grasp of the masses, while drawing in those few searching for a more unique experience. While not having the prettiest visuals or the highest budget titles, it had an appeal that immersed the willing player into the gaming world it attempted to craft, but its time in the sun was over all too soon. Hopefully, the upcoming Gamecube port of Chaos Field will expand on what the DC version has already accomplished, and result in a more complete experience.
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