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Review: ANONYMOUS;CODE – Everything Fans Desired and More

Disclaimer: A pre-release review code has been delivered by the publisher Spike Chunsoft to the reviewer via email contact. Thanks for all the trusted support!

ANONYMOUS;CODE is a love letter to any long-time fan of the Science Adventure series. And dare I say, it might even be the best entry in the franchise. But I can easily see why this title might not appeal to many. This may very well be the series’s most divisive title, in large part because of how drastic of a departure it takes from prior entries as well as the nature of the story’s endgame.

For those of you unfamiliar with ANONYMOUS;CODE, it is the sixth main entry in the Science Adventure series (or otherwise known as SciADV), which is a lengthy, interconnected sci-fi visual novel franchise by MAGES. and CHIYOMARU STUDIO. The series’ first five mainline entries are CHAOS;HEAD, STEINS;GATE, ROBOTICS;NOTES, CHAOS;CHILD, and OCCULTIC;NINE.

The entries in the Science Adventure series have their own somewhat self-contained plots, unique casts, and focus on various different sci-fi themes. For instance, STEINS;GATE focuses on time travel while ANONYMOUS;CODE focuses on themes relating to hacking. However, while they have separate sci-fi themes and plots, they all take place in the same universe. Furthermore, each subsequent entry builds upon its predecessors to continue making an overarching storyline. So while they might be described as “separate stories in the same universe,” they are all more akin to something like the different parts of Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure. Various entries, including ANONYMOUS;CODE, have prerequisites you absolutely must consume prior to experiencing.

The SciADV franchise began in 2008 with the release of CHAOS;HEAD, but is best known for its second main entry, STEINS;GATE, which was released a year later. STEINS;GATE inspired a widely acclaimed anime adaptation in 2011, which led to the series exploding in popularity. To date, the STEINS;GATE series has sold over 1 million copies. ANONYMOUS;CODE is the latest entry in the Science Adventure series and was released in Japan for the PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch on July 28, 2022. It has been localized into English and Simplified/Traditional Chinese by Spike Chunsoft for the PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, and Steam for release on September 8, 2023. This release also marks the first game a SciADV game has been equipped with full English voice-over. Until now, all previously released instalments have included Japanese voice-over only.

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ANONYMOUS;CODE is a story anyone can potentially enjoy standalone if they’re willing to accept extremely absurd story elements constantly being introduced with little explanation. But honestly, I think this game just isn’t possible to truly understand with no background in the series.

Furthermore, much of the real value of ANONYMOUS;CODE comes from what its implications do in the interconnected context of the entire franchise. In many ways, ANONYMOUS;CODE is the culmination of every single part of the Science Adventure series. It’s the payoff for fourteen years’ worth of build-up and foreshadowing.

Thus, I would suggest leaving ANONYMOUS;CODE for after everything else in the Science Adventure series that was released before it. The more you consume beforehand, the better your experience with ANONYMOUS;CODE will be.

At the bare minimum, I would strongly recommend going through CHAOS;HEAD NOAH, all visual novel and animated STEINS;GATE content (save for the original STEINS;GATE anime), as well as OCCULTIC;NINE beforehand. For OCCULTIC;NINE specifically, the anime is enough. With this much background, the story of ANONYMOUS;CODE itself will make sense.

Imagine you had a supercomputer that could simulate everything that ever happened and will happen on Earth down to the finest detail: every law of physics, every natural phenomenon, every organic action, every human being, along with all the societies and cultures humanity has ever built. What would the end result be? This is effectively the premise of ANONYMOUS;CODE — a world where nations are covertly locked into an Earth simulator arms race.

Taking place between 2037-2038, ANONYMOUS;CODE is the most futuristic a Science Adventure title has been to date. The story occurs almost two decades after the events of ROBOTICS;NOTES and almost three decades after the events of CHAOS;HEAD and STEINS;GATE. There, self-driving and remotely operated vehicles are commonplace and most youths have brain-machine interfaces (or BMIs) installed for them to witness the world in augmented reality.

The prelude to the story, however, is somewhat reminiscent of CHAOS;CHILD. Over a year prior to the start of the game, on February 6, 2036 at 6:28:15 UTC, a Network Time Protocol error caused a worldwide computer malfunction wherein multiple military satellites wrought havoc upon the world and annihilated 120 million people across the planet. This devastating incident became known as the “Sad Morning” disaster and acts as a lead-in to the events of ANONYMOUS;CODE

Flash forward to November 2037, and we have ourselves the start of the game. The story itself follows Takaoka Pollon, a 16-year-old hacker who finds himself caught up in events that shake the entire world, starting with a fateful meeting with a mysterious girl on the run from assailants.

ANONYMOUS;CODE key visual in part, depicting Sad Morning

In the midst of their encounter, Pollon receives an app through his machine brain interface allowing him to “save” and “load” the world as if it were a video game. This ability allows him to effectively travel back in time to his “save points”. Many may be quick to point out similarities to STEINS;GATE’s time leap system. This is one of the many ways in which ANONYMOUS;CODE feels like a spiritual successor to STEINS;GATE with significantly higher stakes. But I’d also suggest players to pay special attention to how this system is remarkably different from the ones established in STEINS;GATE as well.

In terms of how the narrative stacks up to previous entries in the series, ANONYMOUS;CODE lands near the top. Prior entries spend their first halves on build-up or slice of life, their second halves on payoff or action. But ANONYMOUS;CODE puts its foot on the accelerator from start to finish. And it never hits the brakes, giving it the tightest pacing the franchise has seen to this day.

The story is fairly short, taking the average reader somewhere between 20-25 hours to complete. It is comparable in length to the likes of the original CHAOS;HEAD. Each chapter on average takes around two hours to play in total. Some are a little longer. Some are a little shorter. But all in all, every single chapter of this game is a pure joy to go through.

I will say, however, that the true highlight of ANONYMOUS;CODE is its last four chapters. The chapter 8-11 stretch boasts some of the highest highs the Science Adventure series has seen to date. They’re filled with pure and raw action, mind-blowing and series-changing twists, and an incredible amount of heart. I can see ANONYMOUS;CODE’s ending potentially being controversial among certain fans, particularly those whose only background prior was the STEINS;GATE games. But for me personally, I thought the ending was fantastic.

My biggest complaint with the story of ANONYMOUS;CODE is the embarrassingly bad Café Incarnation scene in chapter 1. While I don’t think the writers wrote this scene with any malicious intentions, it still comes off as incredibly insensitive to LGBTQ+ peoples, with the way they talk about “men who wanted to be pretty girls”. It simply has no place in a game releasing in today’s world, let alone one taking place in 2037. Fortunately, there is no other scene like that throughout the rest of the game. But this is one disappointing lowlight on an otherwise phenomenal story.

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I also found that ANONYMOUS;CODE lacked the emotional core that most prior entries in the series had, though. Whereas the first four mainlines all made me cry at various points, ANONYMOUS;CODE never did. It definitely has its emotional moments, but nothing that will make the average player cry their heart out. This is far more of a story-driven game than it is a character-driven one. It’s a game designed for the fans who stuck around from CHAOS;HEAD all the way up until now.

ANONYMOUS;CODE is a completely linear game with no character routes. Instead, however, there are 19 bad ends throughout the course of the game that you endlessly attempt to dodge. This structure thus makes ANONYMOUS;CODE the first mainline Science Adventure game that somebody could complete without a guide. And in fact, I would actively discourage using one here.

Additionally, ANONYMOUS;CODE fascinatingly has the protagonist and players as two separate entities. And it’s the collaboration of the two that furthers the progression of the story. The player’s choices in ANONYMOUS;CODE are made through the “Hacking Trigger” system. By using the hacking trigger, you can advise Pollon on loading at a particular point. If you are playing the Steam version, this is done through the “c” and “v” keys. If you are playing on PlayStation, then this is done via “R2” while on Switch this is done via “ZR”.

Nintendo Switch and PlayStation 4 Hacking Trigger controls
Steam Hacking Trigger controls

Pollon can choose whether to accept or reject your suggestion to load. If you make a mistake in your choice to load or not load, you can end up with one of the 19 bad endings. Overall, I think the game’s mechanics are quite innovative and incredibly fitting of the kind of story that ANONYMOUS;CODE tries to portray. It’s not often that you have a game where the player and protagonist are two different entities who are simultaneously involved. ANONYMOUS;CODE ensures that it uses the medium it revels in to tell the story in a way that could only be possible in game form. That’s not a move a lot of creators would be willing to make, especially for such a niche medium.

I’m also a huge fan of the decision to make the game linear, but have it include lots of bad ends. Many prior SciADV games have branching paths for no real reason other than because they’re a staple of ADV games; the branching thus ends up having no real effect on the story. This is a particular issue with STEINS;GATE and ROBOTICS;NOTES. The former has side endings that last maybe an hour long, but none of them contribute significantly to the overarching narrative. They’re basically just the protagonist ending up with a different girl. The latter has an issue of the branching being utterly meaningless. ROBOTICS;NOTES is a completely linear game, but you can branch to different chapters depending on your response to Tweeps on the in-game social media site, Twipo. This means that you can read Phase 8 before Phase 6 for instance and other chapters out of order. It’s that much nonsense.

Comparatively, ANONYMOUS;CODE’s structure is a good step above many of its predecessors. It doesn’t needlessly have any odd, complicated branching. Moreover, its bad endings are often fairly useful and reveal some interesting information. Overall, both the mechanics and structure of the game are solid.

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See this trailer showcasing how the Save & Load and Hacking Trigger mechanics work

ANONYMOUS;CODE wastes little time and gets straight into the action, opting to abandon its predecessors’ story formula. This does, however, mean that the characters do not get nearly as much time for character exploration. This may disappoint some who wanted more time exploring the cast; or perhaps character routes to individually explore heroines. But I do like how this approach makes the story easier to treat seriously. ANONYMOUS;CODE has a very well-balanced cast and a near equal number of male and female characters. So it does not feel like a harem galge where the protagonist gets together with every girl in every ending (*cough cough* Okabe). In this way, it feels more similar to ROBOTICS;NOTES or OCCULTIC;NINE than STEINS;GATE or the CHAOS; games.

ANONYMOUS;CODE’s cast as seen in the 2016 PV for the game

While I’d still say that ROBOTICS;NOTES‘ cast is my favourite from SciADV, ANONYMOUS;CODE’s cast isn’t far behind. However, not a lot of the characters have proper character arcs, including the protagonist Pollon. While he definitely grows significantly, he does not have a defined character arc like Takumi, Kaito, or Takuru. Someone like myself adores the CHAOS; games and ROBOTICS;NOTES because of how powerful and emotional their protagonists’ character arcs are. Pollon is more similar to a protagonist like Okabe in that regard. This is not to say that Pollon undergoes no character development but rather, he does not have a proper character arc. Nevertheless, I have so much respect for Pollon as a character, especially considering his actions late in the game. If there’s one word I could use to describe him, it’s “chad”. I have no doubts he’ll go down as one of my all-time favourites.

Now our main heroine, Momo, is also one of my standout favourite characters. She’s incredibly charming, full of heart, and unbelievably inspirational to anybody. I think she lands near the top in my ranking of the Science Adventure series’ best main girls. Beyond the main duo, some of my favourite side characters from the game are Bambi, Asuma, Graham, and Oz. All of them are just awesome and I think that most people would like them.

JUNO as seen in chapter 1

I did find, however, that some side characters like JUNO were quite disappointing. For someone the fandom had theorized over for more than half a decade, I found that she turned out to be pretty mediocre as a character. She fulfills her role in the story well enough, introducing various interesting plot components and moving the story forward. But in the end, she feels way too one-dimensional for her own good. This is a common issue with many entries in the Science Adventure series, but I also felt as though much of the antagonist cast felt too one-dimensional. However, in the grand scheme of things, it really isn’t that big of a bother to me especially considering who/what the true antagonist of the game is.

If the English release is financially successful, it does leave MAGES. with room for potential side material to explore its characters more in the future. But even from the main game alone, most of the cast is pretty well-built.

When Chiyomaru Shikura proposed the idea of ANONYMOUS;CODE, he wanted to make a game that pushed the boundaries of visual novel immersion. In particular, he wanted there to be unique artwork for each and every individual scene, but ultimately found that he would need 3000-4000 frames. In the end, this was simply unfeasible for a mere visual novel. So he responded to this dilemma in ANONYMOUS;CODE with the Manga Trigger system. At various points throughout the game (at least once in every chapter), the game presents key scenes in the form of manga-style motion comics. This allows for much more flexibility in presentation than a game without one, especially for action-heavy stories.

The game’s visuals aren’t solely in the form of the manga triggers, however. Just like any other visual novel, it has beautiful CGs. Despite its very short length, it has 105 CGs, excluding any facial expression-related variants of the same scenes. This number is comparable to that of CHAOS;CHILD, a game which is well over double its length. Including the manga trigger illustrations would multiply this number of unique images by several fold. A lot of these visuals are nothing short of breathtaking, especially in action.

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All in all, ANONYMOUS;CODE boasts some of the strongest production values from not only the Science Adventure series, but also the entire visual novel medium. It stands just behind the likes of Witch on the Holy Night and Tsukihime -A piece of blue glass moon-. And in terms of music, Takeshi Abo has returned with another 52 tracks of pure greatness. My standout favourite tracks would be THE WORLD LAYERS and ACCELERATOR. The general consensus from the fanbase has been that CHAOS;CHILD has the franchise’s absolute best production values. But now? I think ANONYMOUS;CODE has far surpassed it.

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The SciADV franchise is infamous for its subpar official translations. But ANONYMOUS;CODE’s official localization seems to have broken the curse (aside from its machine translation tier synopses on its website and store pages). It’s a significant step up from the Science Adventure series’ last few ones. And for the first time in series history, a game has a full-fledged English dub — a darn good one at that.

ANONYMOUS;CODE was translated by Andrew Hodgson (better known as Steiner) and edited by Ben Parry. Various different translators with varying levels of background and familiarity with the series translated previous entries independently of one another, leading to a lack of consistency and references from entry to entry. Fortunately, however, Steiner has a long history with the Science Adventure series, having done many fan translations for the series before going professional. He had even previously been part of the STEINS;GATE official localization staff. This localization marks the first time he would be completely translating a Science Adventure game officially. And the end result? Probably the best Science Adventure localization to date, or if not, second best behind STEINS;GATE’s.

The Science Adventure series blog KirikiriBasara has held an interview with Steiner prior to the release of ANONYMOUS;CODE. You’ll learn some more details there.

In terms of editing, Parry did a fantastic job. The game reads super smoothly, as if it was originally written in English. This was a massive step up above CHAOS;HEAD NOAH’s localization, which was very clunky to read a lot of the time. Furthermore, the localization staff properly edited most images in the game, unlike CHAOS;HEAD NOAH or ROBOTICS;NOTES ELITE. Unfortunately, however, there are many untranslated or un-subtitled Japanese voice lines. In those instances, players will have to switch to the English dub to understand what’s happening.

Speaking of the English dub, ANONYMOUS;CODE’s English voice actors did a phenomenal job with their performances in-game. This might honestly be one of the highest quality video game dubs I’ve heard in some time. The entire English cast fit their roles *perfectly* — from Max Mittelman as Pollon, to Anairis Quiñones as Momo, to Y. Chang as Cross, EVERYBODY did. I could wholeheartedly recommend anybody to play the game entirely in English dub just as much as I could recommend playing it with Japanese voices. I hope that all future Science Adventure games come with English dubs as high quality as ANONYMOUS;CODE’s. It was also a treat to have Itou Kanako sing GAME OVER, the game’s opening in English for this release. It would have been nice, however, if the insert song and the two ED songs were also dubbed as well.

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English Dub reveal trailer

I do also have some criticisms for the localization as a whole, however. There were a few instances where series-wide key terms were just not properly translated (ie. “observer” or “interference”). All of these key terms are present in their correctly translated forms throughout ANONYMOUS;CODE’s official localization. But the English release does not translate them correctly in every instance these terms appear. Omitting these terms in certain moments can make it harder for players to make connections to prior entries. Judging from previous interviews on ANONYMOUS;CODE’s localization as well as the nature of the omissions, it seems likely that these changes were made in a final TLC/editing pass by the localization producer. (KirikiriBasara has an interview with him as well.) But all in all, these issues are fortunately not too common throughout the translation.

Aside from those minor issues, one peculiar translation choice is rendering “GAI 機関” (GAI Kikan) as “GAI Institution” as opposed to “GAI Organization”. I imagine that MAGES. themselves mandated this piece of terminology considering their Japanese marketing materials. Anyways, while not technically incorrect to translate 機関 as “institution”, it is inconsistent with prior translations of that term in the series. In particular, Okabe from STEINS;GATE constantly deludes over the existence of “The Organization”, which too, is 機関 (kikan) in Japanese. Part of the whole irony behind his lines on how “this must be the work of the Organization!” is the very existence of the GAI Organization. Given that practically every English translation of STEINS;GATE refers to 機関 as “organization”, “institution” feels like a nonsensical translation. Now, players are not able to pick up on the connection between the Organization that Okabe rants about and the GAI Organization. The terms should be consistent.

To get the most out of the game, I would therefore recommend waiting for the Committee of Zero’s upcoming improvement patch. But this time around, it’s not nearly as essential as CHAOS;HEAD NOAH or ROBOTICS;NOTES ELITE‘s fan patches are. The fan patch’s fixes, while important, would be few in number. So it is ok to play the game on console this time.

ANONYMOUS;CODE is a love letter to any long-time fan of the Science Adventure series, especially the theorists out there. And more than anything, it feels like a thematic sequel to the STEINS;GATE sub-series. If STEINS;??? is still happening, that makes me curious as to what direction that will go in. But for a game that took over seven years to release in Japan from the time of its announcement, I can certainly say that the wait was worth it. 

If you’re not super invested in the Science Adventure series’s lore, this may not be the most appealing game for you. And if you’re looking for a more emotional game akin to the CHAOS; entries, STEINS;GATE, or ROBOTICS;NOTES, you might not like ANONYMOUS;CODE much either. But if you care about the series’ overarching storyline and all the unanswered questions that have piled up since the release of CHAOS;HEAD, you’ll find yourself with one of the craziest experiences you’ll ever go through.

Time will tell if ANONYMOUS;CODE will receive an anime adaptation. It would be a daunting task considering its meta elements. Honestly, I can’t quite picture the story working outside of a video game. But if SciADV ended with ANONYMOUS;CODE, I would be happy. It would sure be nice to finally get a conclusion to OCCULTIC;NINE, but we’ll just have to wait and see.

All in all, I can happily say that I not only have a new favourite SciADV entry, but also a new favourite visual novel. This was a near perfect game through and through.

ANONYMOUS;CODE is available for purchase on Steam, PlayStation 4, and Nintendo Switch on September 8, 2023. The Digital Deluxe Edition includes the interactive guidebook titled A BEGINNER’S GUIDE TO EARTH SIMULATOR.

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An avid visual novel reader and particularly a massive fan of the Science Adventure series.

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7 months ago

The store I ordered my physical copy from sent my copy on Friday for some reason (it arrived on Saturday, so about a week early), so I wanted to jump in after I finished my current game (Loopers, which is short so that will not take too long any more). But I haven’t gone through everything SciADV yet (but a lot of it)
– Steins:Gate original, 0, Elite, My Darling’s Embrace
– Chaos;Child (in 2018)
– Both Robotics;Notes games on release
– The Occultic;Nine light novel (which doesn’t have the ending of the story apparently)

I haven’t watched any of the anime content.

I own Chaos;Head NOAH, but I haven’t gotten around to it yet and while I remember tiny things from Chaos;Child about that game, it has been a while since I went through that.

I really want to start the new one over Chaos;Head since I got it early. Would you still recommend me checking out Chaos;Head first or maybe the Occultic;Nine anime. I pretty recently finished the light novels, but didn’t realize the English translations didn’t have the ending when I got them which disappointed me.

Thanks in advance.

Reply to  Bassman
7 months ago

Thank you very much for the response. I noticed after my post that the kirikiribasara review mentioned CHAOS;HEAD NOAH as well, so I started it today. I will check out the OCCULTIC;NINE anime after that as well. I typically don’t watch a lot of anime, but I also don’t want to miss out on references for a series I like a lot.

7 months ago

Just a small correction, the babiniku stuff in the caffe isn’t some transphobic thing though, they aren’t trans, it comes from vtubers that are feminine presenting but are actually men, and they are honest about it, there’s no hiding of that information.
That said, I’m pretty pumped now for this game, though I still have to read NOAH.

7 months ago

I dropped the game at the chapter 5, when I realized that the Christian mumbo-jumbo was not a joke, but actually a major part of the game’s lore.
I am sorry but I can’t believe the SciADV franchise went from being scientific (or at least magical-scientific) to being spiritual, where people speak with Mary.

Just nope.

Honestly I don’t understand how this game got 10/10. This must be a joke.

Reply to  Regil
6 months ago

You really need to finish the VN. I don’t want to spoil anything but do you really think a SciAdv VN would lack a scientific explanation to it?

6 months ago

I’ve watched the dub anime for S;G, C;H, R;N and C;C and still enjoyed this story immensely. I knew from Reddit that using a guide for a VN was common and there was a high chance I’d get stuck, but I wanted to experience my first VN without one. Based on your review, this was apparently intentional which was a win for me. I struggle listening to one language while reading in another so I was super hyped over the English dub and hope all future releases follow suit.

My only complaint was that the Save/Load mechanism was a little wonky. In the beginning, Pollon triggers it himself so I thought the hacking trigger would be something else and more obvious. Imagine my surprise when I got my first bad end.

From then on, sometimes I would have to trigger the load and other times Pollon would. The inconsistency was a tad annoying.

But my biggest gripe was how the audio would NOT cut when I progressed forward after Pollon declined my suggestion to Load. When shit would hit the fan, I found myself attempting to load after every dialogue (so I wouldn’t miss the opportunity) and would either have to wait for him to finish declining (i.e. “Now’s not the time.”, “Shit, shit shit!”, or “Yeah, we’ll probably need it soon”) before progressing… or else endure it overlapping with the new audio dialogue.

Still a great VN though, with an amazing story!

5 months ago

Lmao. Imagine being a site of enthusiasts of visual novels and praising garbo English dub. If you played with dub, you didn’t play the same thing. This is just pure cringe to read about dubs in review posted on so called enthusiast site.
And no, the translation is no better than all other Sci adv (except 1st Steins Gate that was actually great). It’s still butchered with braindead localization, culture washout etc. It’s just a trash dub script for brainlets copy paste.