Have you ever regretted something you said? What if you could take it back? In Steins;Gate, you can. Time travel becomes reality with self-proclaimed “insane mad scientist” Okabe Rintarou’s accidental invention. Typically, people would be tripping forwards and backwards in time and stumbling across cavemen, but Steins;Gate takes a unique approach and states such things are impossible right off the bat: instead, Rintarou’s time machine sends a small email back in time.
The most compelling part of Steins;Gate is the storytelling – every aspect of the game is incredibly detailed. While I am not ashamed to admit that I am obsessed with the internet and understand a lot of the references in the game, I did have to reference the Log to understand some of the shounen anime/manga references. There are internet, culture, and science entries, as well as other categories. I found myself very excited to get new entries to read, which may say something about my personality. Regardless, I like the fact that the game used context clues and gave you an optional encyclopedia if you needed it – you only break your immersion when necessary.
Decisions in the game are made by phone, there are no static “yes” or “no” decisions except to answer or not answer a phone call. Responding to text messages will greatly impact the story, so selecting the portion of text to respond to will change more than flavor text in most cases. In fact, it was through the phone system that I discovered my only complaint about the game: even when I had autoskip turned off, I occasionally would hit a button on my controller which would cause the conversations to scroll by at exceptional speed until the next phone decision came through (or I hit the same trigger). Luckily you can pull up past conversations and even listen to the voice acting while re-reading, so the only real detractor is the missing art.
The world building takes place over several chapters, and each step along the way opens up new questions. This game offers a lot of depth that many visual novels brought to the West do not attempt – it is incredibly refreshing. While the game certainly has lighthearted moments where you go to maid cafes and have ridiculous conversation with cat girls, the darker themes of the story will come back. Ultimately, Steins;Gate is not a pleasant story about how you will get the girl of your dreams – it is more about how much you will take from those you care about to protect the one you love the most.
More often than not, Steins;Gate can be uncomfortable to play. The first few chapters make you care about all of the characters you have multiple interactions with. The later chapters will force you to make agonizing decisions while the situations become more and more horrendous. No choice will leave a friend untouched, but it is something that only Okabe can do – and something that only Okabe will remember.
Visual novels are something of a niche product, only appealing to a select portion of the Western gaming population. However, I believe that Steins;Gate has the ability to be the breakthrough VN in the western market. It combines excellent storytelling, an in-depth universe, and, most importantly, replayability, to create a game that is truly worth exploring. I have been anticipating this game for a while, and it exceeded my expectations. It will be one of the few games I will play again after reviewing it.
Review code supplied
Tested on PS3