Until last week, I can honestly say that I had zero recollection of the 2016 VR-exclusive Chronos. It’s a feeling that I’m sure many other people will share, as Chronos: Before the Ashes sounds like an entirely new experience and property. It is! But it also isn’t. Instead, the VR trappings have been stripped away, the link with the highly successful Remnant: From the Ashes has been solidified, and I’ve been left dumbfounded to find out that the game isn’t cricket with time travel shenanigans.
Chronos is instead a bit of an odd beast. At first glance, it’s Dark Souls meets The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Tough combat, some puzzle-solving, and a sprawling story set across years and decades of progress. The key hook in Chronos: Before the Ashes is that death results in time marching forward. The inexorable ticking of the clock results in you returning to the labyrinth, a year older and wiser from your previous encounter.
With age comes experience, but also other quirks! Earning stat increases in Strength and Dexterity require more work, while the requirements to improve your arcane abilities decrease as you build on your past experiences. Age an entire decade, and you’ll unlock a new perk as well. I never got too old in my quest (finishing the game at around level erm age 37, but I’m going to take a stab in the dark and guess that if you get too old then Natural Causes, an unstoppable universal constant that no cheat code can hold back, will claim your soul.
The catch here, is that Chronos rarely feels interesting to explore. Story elements are clumsily shoehorned in, venturing off the beaten path is rarely rewarding, and aesthetically the game shows its age with dull locations. Puzzles also feature annoyingly old mechanics, requiring backtracking a’plenty and figuring out which obscure item in your inventory can be thrown into which interactive element just so that you can progress.
As a Soulslike, it doesn’t even manage to make its combat interesting. Where games like Dark Souls succeeded was in the cost for every action, as you measured what you were willing to gamble in a fight against deadly monsters, every decision to swipe or dodge subtracting from your stamina currency. In Chronos, attacks don’t cost any stamina and it’s child’s play to corner an enemy and pound on them like an idiot attempting to fit a beach ball into a mailbox slot. Juggle in the right perks, and Chronos gets absurdly easy when massive windows for avoiding or parrying attacks appear.
There are complaints to be had, but that doesn’t mean that Chronos is a bad game. It’s just not a very interesting, despite it being otherwise solidly constructed at a fundamental level. Interesting ideas on paper are great, but they need to be supported by other established systems before they’re ready for prime time. And when those ideas are part of a four-year-old game that was originally a VR experience? A sensation of just fine isn’t going to cut it.
Last Updated: December 2, 2020