The first episode of Dysfunctional Systems: How to Manage Chaos puts you in shoes of 14-year old Winter Harrison. Winter is training to be a mediator, a job that has her travel to different worlds in secret to maintain and possibly influence the balance of order and chaos found there. After an off-screen, successful (but short and easy) first mission, she is sent to the world of Sule and paired up with the infamous Cyrus Addington, a mediator known for his controversial tactics in getting the job done. It all seems to be going well, until events suddenly change for the worse. Both of the mediators are quickly in danger, and the planet of Sule threatens to break out in civil war. The player must navigate the events as they unfold and try to minimize the damage that occurs.
Minimizing the damage is about all you can do in Dysfunctional Systems. There isn’t really a “good” ending and a “bad” ending; no matter which choices you pick, something is going to go wrong. It’s clear that developer wanted to focus on the particular actions you choose to take instead of making the correct choices. Sadly, this leaves this first episode on something of a cliffhanger, promising bigger things for the future of the (relatively few) choices you made. It feels like a tease, giving you just enough of a taste to pull you in before stopping abruptly.
As far as gameplay goes, Dysfunctional Systems is your typical visual novel: you read a lot of text, accompanied by still images of characters and the area you are in, and make a few simple choices when given the chance. There is also an inessential codex, with some information on the world you are mediating, that doesn’t fill out that much. The writing isn’t terrible, but it doesn’t really do anything memorable. If it weren’t for the interesting setup and world, I probably wouldn’t have cared at all about the story. Winter does at least have some promise as an interesting character, but I would really need to see more of her before I could care about her.
It’s sad that there isn’t more to it, because Winter’s life seems quite interesting. I like the idea of people being sent to other worlds sneakily in order to subtly tweak the balance of order and chaos. In a deeper game, I could seem some great opportunities where you are forced to learn about the society in order to make the correct choices in how to best influence them for the better. There is also a lot of future tech that is only hinted at, which made me wonder what other cool toys this society had. It’s a world I want to explore more thoroughly, something that the developer has promised for the next episode in the series.
There are also a few odd moments here and there. At the beginning, your mentor drags you into a bar reluctantly and tasks you with having a drink. Considering your character is 14 years old, I felt this was a bit squeamish morally, especially since she really doesn’t want to at first. Winter’s age is also somewhat suspect to me. Why would they send a 14-year old to potentially dangerous situations such as these? Shouldn’t she do a bit more learning first, before getting hands-on experience? Finally, there are a few minor characters that appear near the end that seem unbearably annoying. Distressingly, the developer has promised more of these characters for the next episode.
The other big problem with Dysfunctional Systems is that it is short. I mean, really short. As a fast reader, I maybe cleared it a bit quicker than the average person, but my first playthrough was still only 45 minutes long. Even for the genre, this is not very long. The game is only $5, which lessens the blow slightly, but it still annoyed me that it was over so fast. This first episode mostly feels like it’s laying the groundwork for future episodes, setting up the systems and characters before diving in more fully. It’s like reading the first few chapters in a good book and having to wait several months for the rest–disappointing and agonizing.
As much as I liked the world of Dysfunctional Systems, I can’t really recommend it to anyone. Even for just $5, the length is just too short to justify spending the money, especially considering the cliffhanger-y nature of the story. I suggest waiting until the next episode comes out (due later this year) before diving into this world. Otherwise, you’ll be stuck like I am, waiting impatiently for more to do and see in Winter’s world.