Platform: PS4, PS3, Windows, Steam, PS Vita, Mobile, Xbox 360
Reviewed on: Windows
Genre: Visual Novel
Players: Single player
Written by Dragoon 18th October 2016
It’s safe to say I’m a big fan of Visual Novels or VNs as they are also known, having spent hundreds of hours poring through so many of them. A lot of my favourite games take a visual novel approach to their storytelling such as the Persona games so I have a lot of experience with the genre spanning a good ten years or so. I and many other fans of the genre would agree that Steins;Gate is without a doubt one of the all time greatest examples it and a must read for anyone who’s interested in sci-
It was initially released on the Xbox 360 in Japan only back in 2009 but it finally hit western shores in 2014 after the popularity of its animated series and has since spread to pretty much every popular platform. My first exposure to the VN was a fan translation for the Japanese Windows release and I was hooked from the very first chapter. That was a long time ago now so when I found out it was coming to Steam I leapt at the chance to experience it again.
The story follows the life of the 18 year old student Rintaro Okabe who insists that people refer to him as the mad scientist Hōōin Kyoma. During his summer break he and his friends get themselves embroiled in events that none of them could have expected, events which could have dire results based on your choices. Okabe has his own secret lab, which is really just a tiny apartment over a TV store, where he and his friends hang out. He accidently creates a device which lets him send texts back in time using his phone and a microwave and while his first few experiments seem harmless he soon finds out that changing the past in small ways can have huge consequences.
Time travel has always been a difficult subject to base a story around but Steins;Gates’ unique premise and masterful writing allows it to avoid many of the common pitfalls that come with the genre. A lot of work was put into the scientific accuracy of the story with many of the plot devices relating to real world time travel theories. What sets it apart though is the focus on all aspects of altering time with a lot of attention being given to the moral and spiritual elements as well as the scientific ones. I never once doubted anything I was told and it even made me read up on all the different subjects. One minor issue that some may have is that the game sometimes goes into too much detail about these subjects which makes the first few hours a little slow. But this strong foundation helps the reader build up the story for a fantastic payoff at the end.
The game does throw a lot of terminology at the reader and there are many references to modern day Japan due to the story being based in the Akihabara prefecture of Tokyo. Luckily the game comes with a handy reference section which lets you select a highlighted term during a scene and read more about it outside of the story whenever you want.
This is a fantastic feature which helps you learn a lot about Japanese culture as well as time travel theories that I made liberal use of throughout my time with the game. If you ever forget a character or want to find out a little background on something it’s all there with some amusing little touches to boot.
The characters are the star of the show and there are plenty of great ones on offer. Okabe himself is delightfully eccentric, often breaking out into grand monologues and fits of maniacal laughter.
He seems to think that he is being monitored by a shady organisation and will often pretend to talk into his phone like a secret agent to mislead them and those around him who mostly seem to just ignore him, much to his chagrin. The supporting cast are wonderfully varied from the cutest airhead Mayuri with her trademark ~tuturu~ to the level-
What really helps bring these characters to life is the stellar voice acting throughout the game. It’s all in Japanese only but you can really feel the emotion in their words, there isn’t a bad voice among them and while it might have been nice to have an English voice track the game doesn’t hurt for it in anyway. While we are on the subject of audio the soundtrack is beautifully atmospheric and perfectly accompanies what is happening on screen. The art is stunning with its unique style for the characters and well-
The way the story progresses is pretty typical for a Visual Novel with choices you make sending you down a different story path but the way in which you make the choice is certainly not typical. As you progress through the story you can receive and reply to texts on Okabes mobile phone and while it’s not clear at first you soon learn that these texts are affecting the way the story plays out. Even just reading or ignoring texts can have a big impact on the route you go down which is a brilliantly personal way to involve the player in the story. The only issue with this and one that tends to plague the genre in general is the fact that you won’t know how your choice will affect the ending you get until you get it, which means you might need to look up a guide to get every ending.
Steins;Gate is the epitome of the Visual Novel genre for me but that doesn’t mean I would necessarily recommend it to newcomers to the genre.
The heavy themes and slow start would understandably put many people with less patience off, I’d more likely recommend they watch the excellent anime series and if they enjoyed that to read it then. For fans of the genre though Steins;Gate is about as good as it gets and is a must read. Everything about it blends perfectly together into a story that is as heart-
Well written story,
Varied and developed cast,
Great voice acting and soundtrack,
Useful reference guide.
Slow to get going.
A timeless classic of the genre, Steins;Gate earns a 9/10. El Psy Congroo.