Steins;Gate, the popular video game turned anime turned manga has been going strong for a while now. Originally released in 2009, the game has slowly but surely spread across the formats and mediums, until now finally becoming available on Steam for our (Europe) part of the world (the game was already available on PC in both Japan and North America).

 

Its rise and popularity isn’t surprising if you’ve experienced one of its forms – personally I watched the anime first – and for those who have, I’m sure will attest to its endearing nature and brilliant characters.

 

So is this new release a big deal? If you were waiting for a Steam release then I suppose so, but for anyone else it’s nothing to scream about – if you’ve already played the game, then I doubt there’s much new to enjoy here. It really just seems a case of Japanese games taking absolutely bloody ages to be released across platforms in the West (hello Yakuza franchise). But if you haven’t played it, or are looking for a PC version, then you’re in for a very good time.

 

A science fiction visual novel developed by 5pb and Nitroplus (who developed Chaos;Head, the previous game in this series – not sure they are related, and which to be honest I had never heard of until writing this sentence), Steins;Gate follows the shenanigans of a group of friends who make a rather disconcerting and dramatic discovery.

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Our self-proclaimed ‘mad scientist’ main character, Okabe and his ‘super hacker’ friend Daru manage to stumble upon a potential time machine in the form of their microwave oven. Originally just jellifying bananas, the group soon discover it is also able to send messages to the past. Along with the uncomfortable experience of seeing genius 18 year old Makise Kurisu dead, and then just the next day back to life again, Okabe has a lot of questions he wants answered.

 

It sounds a bit hokey, but honestly it’s brilliantly delivered and quite a deep tale. One thing that impresses me so much about this story, and particularly the game itself, is how it’s able to engage and explain such a complicated idea for a story, while also maintaining its integrity. It offers up a lot of information about complex scientific theories and technological mumbo-jumbo, yet it’s not particularly difficult to follow. In a way this is helped by the notes/tips you unlock as you progress through dialogue (basically an entry into a guide that explains what certain names/phrases and subjects are about), but it’s also down to the easy going, humorous nature of the game’s writing.

 

Of course, there is a lot of reading involved – it’s a visual novel, that’s basically all there is – though Steins;Gate does include quite a bit of voice acting, and the odd interaction by the player. The promise of multiple endings leads one to believe that there will be exciting pivotal decisions to be made, though this aspect I felt was a tad misleading. You do make decisions, and some have an impact on the game’s ending, however these are simply through the use of your character’s phone.

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Essentially, the phone plays a vital role in the story as it’s a key component to sending messages back in time. But it’s also the only tangible gameplay the game offers. The various characters in the game will text and call you throughout, and with some of those contacts you can choose from a selection of responses. The game’s theme follows the whole ‘butterfly effect’ notion, asserting pretty clearly that even really small changes in a world line can lead to a different outcome, so it’s an understandable dynamic, though it all feels pretty innocuous as a result. For example, responding to a message with the subject ‘cup noodles’ seems silly, but actually plays a role in whether or not you get the ‘true’ ending or not. It means that repeat playthroughs are given much more validity, but at the same time, it’s not quite as considered as you might hope. Also, it’s a 30+ hour visual novel…how much is there to gain from playing it through again? Maybe I’m just missing the point, after all I’m not the sort of person who reads books more than once.

 

On the plus side though, whether or not these little choices seem relevant or dramatic enough, they are good fun to respond to, and that’s all down to the brilliant characters and writing. The game’s story is a little less subtle than the anime, I’ve noticed (also a tad more pervy, but we don’t need to get into that), but it’s such an engaging and thought provoking experience. The gang of ‘lab mems’ (as dubbed by Okabe) feature the slightly aloof, yet genius 18 year old Makise Kurisu – a constant source of friction as she struggles to put up with Okabe’s silly ‘mad scientist’ angle; Daru, a skilled hacker and massive Otaku nerd; and Mayuri, a sweet, ditzy girl who somehow has managed to form a very close bond with Okabe. Their constant bickering, banter and their insane discoveries are a joy to experience, and it only gets better as other characters are introduced, such as Suzuha, who’s a bit of a weird girl working part time at the shop below their lab, who for some reason has a strong dislike for Makise, despite them having never met. There’s not much more that I can really say about this, just that it’s all really charming and on point.

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The art and music are both fantastic with decent character design and a few varying backgrounds so that our eyes don’t get too bored, and that soundtrack is honestly worthy of listening to separately. There are a couple of issues with regards to the presentation, such as eyebrows clipping over hair and the odd repeated still, but the issues are negligible. Same with the translation and more technical aspects – the odd word incorrectly translated, and some clunkiness with the user interface and controls, but nothing much.

 

I can’t say much about how the game compares with the other ports as I’ve not played them, though we also have a review of the Vita version here if you are interested. I don’t think there are any noteworthy improvements or flaws with this version, and if you’re a fan who’s already played another port then I can’t really see this being of interest to you. For everyone else, however, I would thoroughly recommend if you’re into visual novels or even just the anime or manga. It’s such a great story and theme, with lovable characters and solid writing. For a visual novel the game is also more interactive than some, though obviously it’s rather simplistic. It’s easy to see how this series has rocketed in popularity, and if you do decide to invest the time into getting into it, then I doubt you’ll regret it.

 



Author

John Little
John Little

I started gaming with the release of the PS1 - Crash Bandicoot and Ridge Racer Revolution being the first 'real' games I ever set eyes on - and have been enthralled with the medium ever since. I particularly love strategy and horror games, the sort offered by titles such as Total War and Silent Hill, though I also have a soft spot for a good RPG. I studied Journalism at university in the hopes of progressing into writing about games. You'll most likely find me covering indie games as I'm always on the look out for interesting little titles, and generally I stick to the PC and PS4 platforms. I'm not interested in MMOs or really any kind of online game, and I have an unusual and frankly worryingly expensive obsession with collecting gaming guide books, but aside from that I like to think I'm a well rounded average gamer. Find me on twitter @JohnLittle29