When I got my PlayStation Vita, one of the first games I bought was Steins;Gate.
Steins;Gate (which is also available for the PlayStation 3 and PC, although the PC localization is older) was described to me as a visual novel about a self-proclaimed mad scientist. Since I love mad scientists, that was enough to catch my interest.
It could have lingered in my backlog of doom, but after I got it, the Vita subreddit had a post encouraging people to play one hour of an unplayed Vita game and report back with their impressions.
I chose Steins;Gate. One hour was about enough to get me through the prologue, and I was hooked.
Before we get into the review proper, here are a few basic things you should know about Steins;Gate:
- It’s about time travel, and includes discussions of the theories, paradoxes, and science behind it.
- Visual novels aren’t short. Steins;Gate took me about 30 hours to complete everything.
- When I say “play,” I really mean “read.” There are small gameplay elements, but you mainly read Steins;Gate.
Sound good? Then keep going, because Steins;Gate is a fantastic read.
The main protagonist, Okabe Rintaro, is indeed a self-proclaimed mad scientist (and he prefers to be called Hououin Kyouma) who claims a sinister Organization is out to get him and that he intends to bring chaos to the world.
I found his mad scientist act funny and endearing. However, you might find it irritating, especially with his accompanying arrogance. However, even if his attitude bothers you, don’t give up. Okabe is a nicer person than he initially seems, he undergoes excellent character development throughout the visual novel, and he actually has a good reason for being “Hououin Kyouma.”
Instead of dialogue options, like many visual novels have, Steins;Gate lets you answer emails Okabe receives. You have a choice of phrases to respond to, although you don’t get to see the responses themselves until he replies. Different email branches lead to trophies, teach you more about the characters, or put you on the path to the True Ending.
Okabe runs a “laboratory” with his friends Daru (a hacker and otaku) and Mayuri (a ditzy cosplay enthusiast), and one of their inventions accidentally leads them to discover time travel technology.
More characters become involved with the lab as the story continues, most notably the genius researcher Kurisu. As they delve into the secrets of time travel, they get mixed up in a conspiracy led by SERN (i.e., CERN).
There are many layers to Steins;Gate’s writing. Sometimes it is hilarious, between Okabe’s quirks and the many wacky characters he knows (with occasional moments of sexual humor, usually led by Daru, who is an unabashed pervert).
Other times, it’s scientific. It takes the time to analyze the theories of time travel and why they’re impossible, and later explain the scientific principles behind its own time travel.
If you love talking about time travel, these sections will delight you. And if you don’t, don’t worry. Someone like Daru or Mayuri inevitably asks for the explanation to be framed in less scientific terms.
And other times, Steins;Gate is intense.
I spent the start of Steins;Gate interested in the science and conspiracy and enjoying what seemed to be a lighthearted story with some darker elements. Then I hit the turning point, and I was glued to the screen in tense anticipation.
From then on, it was a thrilling and emotional ride. When Steins;Gate drops its silliness for seriousness, it doesn’t pull any punches.
The intensity of its themes is matched by the quality of its writing, which is why I call it one of the best games I’ve ever read. It is incredibly well-written and caught me up in the struggles of its characters more than I expected. This is most easily seen in its multiple endings, each of which is satisfying and emotional in its own way.
Steins;Gate has 6 different endings. Most of these are determined by choices you make at key points during the story. On your first playthrough, it doesn’t make these choices apparent. You, like me, will probably get the disturbing ending achieved early on if you make no choices.
Subsequent playthroughs (even if you just reload your save after reaching any one ending) make it clearer. A special icon appears when you can take certain actions.
Fortunately, it’s easy to replay for different endings (and trophies). Steins;Gate includes a “skip” feature that speeds through the story, stopping whenever you reach new content or a phone trigger.
The one thing I’d criticize about it is that the True Ending almost requires you to follow a guide, since it relies on you picking the correct responses across multiple emails. Nevertheless, it is definitely worth it. The True Ending brings everything together in such a way it made me realize just how well-written this story is.
It was an epic and entertaining ride, and I’m thrilled Steins;Gate 0 is being localized. There’s so much more we could talk about, but it’s better you experience it for yourself.
So while we wait for the sequel, check out Steins;Gate for the Vita, PS3, or PC. (If you prefer digital games, you’re in luck, because Steins;Gate is on sale right now on PSN.)
Thoughts on Steins;Gate? Questions? Let me know in the comments.
El Psy Kongroo.
Buy Steins;Gate (Vita) from Amazon
Buy Steins;Gate (PS3) from Amazon
Buy Steins;Gate (Vita) from Play-Asia
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