The best visual novel ever created finally comes to the west. Out Steins;Gate review.
For those of you who have not come across one before, a visual novel game is exactly what is sounds like. More of a graphical representation of a story than an actual game, visual novels are incredibly popular in Japan but rarely see a release here in the west. After a 4 year wait, Steins;Gate has finally reached our fair shores on PS3 and PSVita and it is intelligent, full of character and is one of, if not the best visuals novels ever created.
Steins;Gate tells the story of 18 year old Rintarō Okabe AKA Okarin – or “Hououin Kyouma” as he prefers to be called. A deeply flawed but strangely relatable main character, Rintarō is a self-declare “mad scientist” who lives with one foot in a fantasy world of his own creation. He’s paranoid, talks to himself while pretending to use his mobile phone and has crafted an imaginary foe, “The Organisation”, that he believes is stalking his every move. He’s arrogant, blunt, delusional and often quite dim but oddly endearing in his own special way.
It’s not often we get to play a game through the eyes of such a flawed main character and it is a refreshing turn of pace.
Rintarō is nothing without the supporting cast and fellow members of the “Future Gadget Lab” (a sort of club house situatied in that Rintarō uses as his base of operations to plot against the elusive “Organisation”) who are just as outlandish. There is the childish and innocent Shiina Mayuri (Nickname: Mayushii or “Lab Mem 002). A childhood friend of Rintarō and cosplay enthusiast, Mayushii never stops talking about food. Then there is “Lab Mem 003”, Hashida Itaru AKA Daru the “Super Hacka”. Okarin’s right hand man, Daru is a self confessed Otaku and is obsessed with a woman that dresses up like a cat. As you can tell, the cast of Steins;Gate is colourful and fascinating.
While some visual novels (like Danganronpa or Zero’s Escape) add some form of puzzle solving or interactivity, Steins;Gate sticks to the purist approach. Very little actually happens on screen with anime art work phasing and zooming in, the only movement in-game often being the animated lip movements of the characters. Using Rintarō’s phone to answer emails, surf message boards and make calls is as much interaction as the game ever asks of you.
If reading a perplexing and curious tale isn’t your bag, Steins;Gate won’t be a game for you because it contains thousands of lines of text and dialogue and very little else. While that might sound daunting, the game uses every line to its benefit, avoids filler and respects your time by keeping the fluff to a minimum. What Steins;Gate presents is an intelligent, thoroughly gripping, genuinely funny and brow furrowingly bizarre tale of time travel and its effects.
It all begins when Rintarō & Mayushii attend a press conference at the Radio Kaikan building where a shamed scientist was to announce he had discovered the secrets to time travel. While at the conference, Rintarō finds the body of Kurisu Makise (a famous 18 year old neuroscience researcher) lying face down in a pool of blood. From here on out, Rintarō’s life spirals through a series of odd events and it becomes apparent that time travel is indeed possible and the gang must travel to the future and past in order to stop the nefarious SERN (yes, that SERN) from taking over the world.
Steins;Gate has a non-linear story line which changes based on the decisions that you make during “phone trigger” moments. The game does have a “true ending” but there are several other plot destinations that you can arrive at, some more pleasing than other. It’s a truly nerve racking game at times, especially when trying to decide on a lose/lose situation.
Steins;Gate is a game that hides its plot twists well, telegraphing obvious story points while setting up others. Just when you think the plot is starting to head in one direction, it spins off in another using the time travel mechanic to great effect. The characters are fleshed out and develop along with the plot, often proving to be the driving force behind the most emotional moments of Steins;Gate.
One of the most impressive aspects of Steins;Gate is how accessible it is. Even though the genre itself is an acquired taste and the plot combines complex scientific theories, Japanese culture references and its own fictional nuances, the game explains it all in detail thanks to a comprehensive glossary. When ever red text shows up during the games story, a new entry to the glossary is unlocked providing extra reading on the subject. While those who don’t know the difference between an Otaku and a Miko still might find parts of this game a little too obscure, Steins;Gate is an excellent entry point to Visual Novels because of the steps it takes to be as accessible as possible.
Steins;Gate is the reason why I have not been going to bed until 2AM and getting up an hour earlier in the morning. Visual Novels are not for everyone and Steins;Gate can be taxing because of to its text-heavy plot but once it grabs you, it will pull you along a thought provoking and intelligent plot that is as nail bitingly tense as it is funny. Its accessibility and story depth mean it is a perfect starter game for newcomers to the visual novel genre as well as dedicated Otakus alike.
Steins;Gate is available now on Playstation Vita (version reviewed) and PS3
Developer – 5pb
Publisher – PQube
Disclaimer – In order to complete this review, we were given a code by the publishers.