Chaos;Head Noah’s Steam ban has been reversed – but don’t believe this means anything has changed

After widespread criticism, Valve has reversed its decision to disallow Spike Chunsoft’s Science Adventure visual novel Chaos;Head Noah from being listed on Steam.

In a statement issued to the company, Valve said that their “content review team, the group that made the original decision, has re-examined Chaos;Head Noah and decided to reverse course and allow the game to ship on Steam as is. We’ve also examined the process that led to the previous decision about Chaos;Head Noah, and made some changes to avoid situations like this in the future.”

Spike Chunsoft followed up with their own statement, noting that “we believe this decision is the result of the unwavering support from fans of the Science Adventure series as well as all of the players who are eagerly awaiting the release of this title. Your voices have been heard. We sincerely appreciate your commitment. We look forward to your continued support of Spike Chunsoft and the Science Adventure series.”

Chaos;Head Noah

This is obviously excellent news, but right now I find it difficult to believe that there is really cause for broader celebration beyond Chaos;Head Noah finally getting an uncut release — something that there should never have been any questions over in the first place.

The main reason why I have my doubts over this is because Chaos;Head Noah was a high-profile case for a couple of reasons. Firstly, the Science Adventure series as a whole is broadly known as a series of classic visual novels, and one that fans have been clamouring to enjoy in its entirety ever since Steins;Gate. As such, it would be absolutely terrible PR for Valve to refuse the release of such an anticipated installment — particularly with Chaos;Head Noah coming west for the first time with this release.

To put it another way, Valve probably isn’t going to catch much flak from the mainstream for refusing to release a niche-interest dungeon crawler with ecchi content, however good it is, nor is the broader mainstream audience going to show much interest if an RPG full of explicit content from a developer notorious for including scenes of sexual assault in their games isn’t allowed to release on Steam. In the latter case, there are even some members of the mainstream audience who would prefer that sort of thing be kept off Steam altogether.

Chaos;Head Noah

But Chaos;Head Noah is a different situation from these examples. It’s a game for mature audiences, yes, but not in a sexualised way. It’s not a game that some people feel misguided “shame” about taking an interest in. And thus it’s a game that it was “okay” for people to criticise Valve for refusing to release. Don’t believe me? Compare how much coverage Chaos;Head Noah’s rejection from Steam got from larger, more mainstream and non-anime focused gaming sites, compared to the situations with Bokuten, Evenicle 2, The Expression: Amrilato, Dungeon Travelers 2 and countless others.

In other words, Valve had nothing to lose by reversing their decision on Chaos;Head Noah. Its release on Steam was not going to draw any criticism from those quarters of the Internet who disapprove of sexually provocative or explicit visual novels because Chaos;Head Noah is not a sexually provocative or explicit visual novel. And, as such, Valve seemingly admitting that they had made a mistake — and that they were supposedly going to take steps to ensure that it didn’t happen again — costs them absolutely nothing. In fact, it’s a solid PR move from them that will doubtless earn them rather more goodwill than they deserve.

This, admittedly, isn’t the first time that Valve has reversed a decision made in error. The aforementioned Bokuten, for example, was only removed from Steam due to MangaGamer accidentally leaving an 18+ CG in the game’s files, despite the fact that this could not be accessed in-game, and after this was resolved it was returned to the platform. Likewise, The Expression: Amrilato had absolutely no justification for it being removed from Steam in the first place, being a wholesome yuri visual novel with no explicit content, and a strong educational angle that helped teach players the basics of Esperanto.

However, to date we haven’t received an adequate explanation as to why Evenicle 2 was refused a release on Steam when its predecessor is there in uncut 18+ form, or why Dungeon Travelers 2 appears to have been rejected from the platform before its PC port was even announced by anyone.

Chaos;Head Noah

On top of that, certain visual novel publishers and localisers have reached out and explained to me privately and anonymously that they often don’t get the luxury of appealing a decision like this, let alone seeing it reversed. In many of the cases where they have had a visual novel rejected for release on Steam, they have been told in no uncertain terms that they shouldn’t bother appealing or resubmitting the game with edits — it’s just not happening, regardless of the efforts they’re willing to make.

Until we start to see some consistency over the long term from Valve’s “content review team” — or at least some completely transparent rules that everyone is obliged to abide by — the only cause for celebration here is that Chaos;Head Noah is getting the release it should have had in the first place, without any of this nonsense happening at all.

A cynical viewpoint? Perhaps. But Valve have a long way to go before they regain (or, in some cases, simply gain) the trust of visual novel developers, publishers, localisers and audience members. Let’s hope this really is the beginning of them doing better.

Chaos;Head Noah will be available for PC via Steam and Nintendo Switch from October 7, 2022. A physical double-pack of Chaos;Head Noah and Chaos;Child for Nintendo Switch is also available via Numskull Games.

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Pete Davison
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