GAME REVIEW | A Time-Space Journey of Growing Up Awaits In "Steins;Gate"
Steins;Gate was released back in 2009 to the PC, and over the years it's seen many ports to other platforms. Hell, it even got a couple manga and anime adaptations, most of which have never made it over to the West. The game even got some retooled versions and a sequel of sorts. However, the only format that made it overseas was the anime from about a few years ago.
That is, until recently. Following a few years after its JAST USA release, the PS3 and Vita versions were localized by newcomer PQUBE Games. And I'm grateful, as Steins;Gate is one of the better visual novels that I've experienced, and PQUBE seems to show no signs of slowing down with their near-constant stream of releases.
Experience is the key word, as those who know anything about visual novels know that there no gameplay in many titles, where clicking and reading text and listening to spoken dialog in Japanese, accompanied by visuals. Visual novels live and die by their ability to draw on the attentions of it's audience, and I'm happy to say that the story in Steins;Gate is very well done considering the content of it's subject matter. The game's plot is about a young university student named Okabe Rintaro, who after attending a conference at Radio Kaikan, finds a dead body on another floor. After calling for an ambulance and texting his friend about it, he unknowingly sets off a chain of events that will have him doing time travel to fix the timeline that he unwittingly had warped.
Okabe himself is somewhat of a delusional 19 year old who fancies himself as some kind of mad scientist bent on bringing the world to chaos, imagining that there is a large conspiracy from an Organization that secretly controls the world. It's a classic anime trope that you might have seen in shows Like Chu2koi. He imagines that he's on the run from things like the Organization or that his hand contains murderous impulses. The funny thing is, he's not too far off the mark, as he actually does get wrapped up in a conspiracy involving CERN. To his ends though, he and his friends have a club of sorts called Future Gadgets Laboratory where they develop technology in hopes of combating this threat.
That's the basic plot without spoiling too much. Steins;Gate, despite it's age, has a well-done story, with an interesting take on time travel. The game will often throw out terminology which might be unfamiliar to players. Thankfully there is an in-game lexicon to explain all of them. It's pretty interesting learning about all kinds of Japanese internet otaku cultural terms, as well as all of the science terminology and theories out there.
The game being made in 2009 makes it a tad dated, although it still holds up a bit even if some aspects are now incorrect (i.e. theories might have been altered, Radio Kaikan being demolished and rebuilt in 2011). It's easier to see this as a period piece within a work of alternate historical fiction, as the game's biggest thing is the worldline concept, or the 'many-worlds' theory. Steins;Gate does take about a good three hours before it really gets going, but once it does, it doesn't let up. (Trust me: stick with it!) It's also fairly long for a visual novel, coming in at about 30-50 hours depending on whether you go for its multiple endings.
The interface for the game is interesting for a visual novel. Most VN's have you make all path altering decisions by a simple choice made in the dialog box. This game incorporates the use of Okabe's cell-phone to do that, either by sending or receiving calls, or replying to emails. You can even change the wallpaper and ringtones for the phone. The game also makes extensive use of hot-keys. But if you forget them, you can just right click with the mouse to bring up a help list.
The music is also very well done and sets the mood for every part of the game. The voice-overs are also well-known Japanese voice actors, and their talent shows in the game. It's a shame that there wasn't a budget for a localized audio track option, though, as the English dub for the anime was well-received. The art style uses an interesting pattern for the character's eyes, and there hair and clothes use a texturing technique that looks marble-y.
I do hope that the game does sell well this time around, as I'd like to see Steins;Gate 0 and the other Nitroplus titles like Chaos;Head get localized. This visual novel is definitely worth the $35 price on Steam, although the PS3 and Vita options are good, too. Steins;Gate uses a newer HD assets that the JAST release doesn't, bumping the HDD space requirements from 2.3 to about 13 gigs, so make sure you have room. The script is largely the same, though, but some corrections were made like character ages and fixed typos. (Its font also seems to be a bit different as well.) Regardless of which version you pick-up, you definitely can't go wrong with this visual novel.
The Good: The story is really good once it finally takes off.
The Bad: Enduring those slow, first few hours to get to the good part.
The Ugly: Okabe's immaturity in the beginning is gross.
SUMMARY: Steins;Gate is a fine visual novel with a great story and multiple endings. There's also a lexicon to help people understand the terminology if needed.
Promotional consideration made by Gail Salamanca of Strangely Compelling PR