Steins;Gate 0 Vita Review
The original Steins;Gate had a slow journey to its eventual release in the UK, almost six years after its debut on Xbox 360 in Japan. I was never sure why it took so long. I had heard rumours there were licensing issues due to the PC version being handled by a different publisher, but eventually PQube managed to get things sorted and bring what is most likely one of the best stories in a visual novel that I have played. Steins;Gate was purely a visual novel, with gameplay limited to picking email responses, which in turn determined which ending would happen. It wasn’t for people who hated reading, but for anyone who stuck with its initial slow opening were paid off with an intriguing and terrific science-fiction story so deep in time travel physics, philosophy and psychology. The sequel arrives bringing more of what made the first so captivating, and this time PQube has cut down the wait between Japanese and English release to a more respectable 11 months. But enough of my introduction, let’s get on with the good stuff and see how it stands up against the original.
But before I move on, I must state a huge warning about Steins;Gate 0. If you have not played the first Steins;Gate (or at least watched the anime), then stop right now! A story heavy game like this has to be experienced in the best possible way, so jumping straight into Steins;Gate 0 not only means that you don’t understand a lot of how the characters tick or how their state of mind has become this way, loosing all connection that players make from playing the first game, it also spoils the hell out of Steins;Gate as well. I would advise to stop reading this review and either watch the anime or play the first game before continuing on, as this review will touch on topics about the first game that are clearly spoilers intended to be experienced first hand by the gamer.
Steins;Gate 0 does not continue exactly where the true ending of Steins;Gate finished. That ending was too happy for this alternative sequel. Instead, in Steins;Gate 0, the main character, Rintaro Okabe, returns to the Beta worldline, a worldline where Kurisu Makise is never saved, but his longtime friend Mayuri lives. It’s a time where all his repeated efforts to save Kurisu end in vain and eventually brings the destruction of most of the world through the events of World War 3. The game hits home with this concept right at the start where Okabe explains how he has failed every time, eventually even killing Kurisu himself, causing him to spiral into despair and giving up on the idea of trying to save her. It’s too much of a traumatic event for him, to the point it has left him suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), where every little thing relating to Kurisu triggers Okabe into a panic attack.
This is even more evident when he meets the new character, Maho Hiyajo, a friend of Kurisu, who specialises in neuroscience and happens to be working on the world’s most sophisticated AI program, Amadeus, which for poor Okabe, happens to be a digital recreation of Kurisu before she took her trip to Japan and met her end. As you can imagine, this translates into all sorts of mixed feelings for Okabe – it sounds, looks and behaviours just like the person he loved and spent ages trying to save, but failed. Just as Okabe comes to terms with the AI, things begin to kick into action, as behind all this, something else is at play that is messing with the timelines that is out of Okabe’s control, and in turn pulls him back into the brilliant scientific mysteries that unfold within the world of Steins;Gate.
Being a visual novel, I can’t really continue talking about the story for fear of spoilers leaking out through my fingers as I write this review. One difference in terms of story delivery is how Okabe is no longer to sole character the player is part of. This game switches perspectives between a few characters to gain insights to their points of view and for added character development. The rest of this visual novel is presented identical to Steins; Gate , so I can say overall, and probably what fans are happy to hear, is that this game continues to be well written with its big use of scientific explanations and hypothesis on AI and time travel. For anyone fans of science fiction, this series is certainly for you. This game still suffers from a slow start, albeit not as bad as the original game, but the subject matter and theory behind Steins;Gate 0 begins to rear its head faster, leading into the eventual best parts of the plot when things begin to hit the fan.
A big difference between the two games comes in how they deliver the alternative endings. Steins;Gate 0 includes six endings, with one of them regarded as the true ending. It’s simpler to get these endings, as it’s often related to a couple of choices throughout the game, either be it answering a call, sending a certain messages or speaking to Kurisu in the Amadeus application on Okabe’s phone, which will then swing the game in a different direction. Unlike Steins;Gate, where I felt in that game the alternative routes were more ways to flesh out characters and tribute a little more information to the story, in Steins;Gate 0, the alternative routes feel like whole new stories that build its world much better. There are whole chapters of plot to miss, including some big reveals and emotional situations that can change your view on the overall story if you do not decide to unlock all the endings in the game. And while on the topic of endings, there is a sense that there is going to be a third game coming, as the ending – which requires some thoughtful analysis to find a satisfying conclusion – simply does not offer as much closure as the ending of Steins;Gate.
The series’ beautiful presentation remains intact from the first game, including the distinctive, detailed visuals crafted to bring life to the world and its characters by Ryohei Fuke, who appears to fine-tune what he created with the original to make the new art cleaner, something that is easily demonstrated when old assets make an appearance from the first game. A lot of locations are reused in this sequel, but with the focus more on story than anything else, you soon become too absorbed in what is happening to care. Steins;Gate 0 uses its predecessors traits and mannerisms that are often used in anime, but its more mature look and darker themes allows it to push past some of the anime exaggerated expressions that appear throughout the story. Sadly, there are some unforeseen translation errors, such as typos and wrong tenses used that spoil what is otherwise a job well done in translation.
Audio is, unsurprisingly, Japanese only, but it does retain the original voice cast. While I can’t tell you exactly how the delivery is, the voices feel presented correctly, be it happiness, comedic quirks or the sadness that the main character goes through, all have a tone that is understandable enough to fit the mood that is currently unfolding, particularly with the great soundtrack that encapsulates scenes within its score for a superb balance between visual and audio delight.
I think it is fair to say that if you read this review and didn’t listen to my warnings about the first game, you are at least interested in visual novels. People should know that this game is tightly packed with text, while lacking any real gameplay elements – no puzzles or movement. Steins;Gate 0 focuses on delivering a powerful narrative instead, with no dialogue options apart from interacting with a mobile phone and replying to messages sent from friends of the main character. This might put people off who enjoy the long waves of text broken up with mini games or puzzles. All I can say is that if you feel a little put off by the large amount of text, at least try picking up the first game for cheap and see if its brilliant story makes up for the lack of interaction for you.
With that note, it’s time to bring this timeline to an end and sum up my feelings for Steins;Gate 0. The biggest question initially was “Did Steins;Gate need a sequel?” Well no, I don’t believe it did, but even so, while I think the true ending lets this sequel down a little, the idea of an alternative timeline to move forward with more Steins;Gate is one that I didn’t know would turn out as great as it has. This is a worthwhile follow up, and Steins;Gate fans will have to snap up and experience this right now. It upholds what its predecessor did and retains the fantastic writing, beautiful art and its many layered storytelling that will have anyone who jumps into this talking about it well after the 40 hours needed to finish it, making it an essential purchase for visual novel enthusiasts.