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Steins;Gate (Vita) artwork

Steins;Gate (Vita) review

"In English, please"

While attending a conference, college student, “mad scientist,” and man-child Okabe Rintarou comes across a murder scene. Traumatized, he heads out into the crowded streets of the Akihabara district of Tokyo and sends an email to his friend and lab colleague, Hashida Itaru, at which point the streets are suddenly emptied. A mysterious satellite appears, lodged in the roof of a nearby building. It seems that Okabe and Itaru have accidentally built a time machine that can send emails to the past.

This interesting premise is explored very slowly. The first half of the game is an overlong setup for the events that transpire in the second half. The butterfly effect is an important element of the story, meaning a lot of big events later on are triggered by seemingly unimportant ones that take place during the early scenes. These apparently minor plot points are surrounded by hours of unnecessary nonsense, including the traditional anime screaming-girls-in-the-shower scene, and the never-funny “Ha ha, these girls can't cook, they'll make terrible wives someday” gag. Such scenes add nothing to the story and have been done to death in numerous other games and anime. They wouldn't be the slightest bit interesting or entertaining here even if they weren't in the way.

Steins;Gate (Vita) image
Perhaps redoing the text in images was too much of a hassle.

Inconsistent characterization provides fodder for additional filler, as well. Okabe spends a lot of time designing and building time machines, but is somehow completely baffled by the basic principles of causality. After sending a message back in time in an attempt to change the past, he is confused when the very thing he wanted to alter has indeed changed. When the actual time travel starts, he thinks the reason he knows every minor and major event that's about to happen is that he's experiencing the strongest case of deja vu in human history. Sometimes, you'll wish you could poke your head into the game and explain the basic concepts to him so the story can proceed.

Elsewhere, it's obvious this game was designed for otaku. The script is full of Japanese Internet memes, complete with a glossary to explain them. Male characters are perverts and females are cute. Maybe that's exactly what you want from a story. If your tolerance for tired anime tropes is low, however, you should probably skip Steins;Gate entirely.

The main characters are generally acceptable on their own terms, at least, if not always relatable. Player character Okabe has a certain degree of depth thanks to the fact that he's also the narrator. Otherwise, it might be difficult to suffer through his delusions. He pretends to be a mad scientist who wants to cause chaos, for instance, and he talks to himself and pretends to possess magic powers. You'll wish he'd just cut the crap now and then. Thankfully, as things get more serious, he does mellow out a bit.

Steins;Gate (Vita) image

Leading lady Makise Kurisu is smart and competent, but she still doesn't escape the mandatory tsundere tropes, including the constant “I-it's not like I'm repeating basically this same type of phrase to fit some kind of archetypal waifu model for you or anything... baka....” lines.

Shiina Mayuri, meanwhile, is supposed to be endearing simply because she's stupid. She doesn't really understand any of the science-y things that are happening around her and just sort of hangs around and does her own thing. The other characters love her anyway, though. She plays an important role in the overall story, but otherwise she's hardly worth noticing and is treated more like a thing. Her role in the story makes a lot more sense if you think of her more as a beloved pet than as a friend. Mentally replace her with your cat or dog and suddenly you stop wondering why they never explain to her what's going on, or why she keeps making those sounds that definitely aren't words, or why everyone likes her even though she probably can't read or write.

If the pacing and characterization issues noted above make Steins;Gate sound bad, though, know that the story is positively gripping once it actually gets going. Okabe learns that his group's actions are ruining the future, setting society on a path where time travel is easily abused by those in power. Whoever controls time travel controls the world itself. There are plenty of subplots exploring themes such as loneliness, loss, and even gender identity. (Note that the game isn't always tactful in this regard; the term “trap” is used at least once, though it could be worse.) Aside from Mayuri, most of the initially-bland characters have interesting backstories and secrets to reveal. There's quite a turn in quality by the end, really. I found the game's first half to be a slog, but I could hardly put my Vita down during its remainder.

Despite all of the cliches, the script itself is actually very good, especially when it lets itself cut back on the drama a bit for the sake of humour.

Steins;Gate (Vita) image

It's also worth noting that Steins;Gate is a purer visual novel than other noteworthy games in the genre on PS Vita, such as DanganRonpa and Zero Escape: Virtue's Last Reward. There are no pointing and clicking, no puzzles to solve, nobody to interrogate. Interaction is limited to the sending and receiving of calls and emails (and conspicuously not text messages) through your character's mobile phone (which is, also conspicuously, a flip phone). Mostly, you'll receive emails from other characters with specific words highlighted. You choose which word you want to reply to, and your character will type out a message and send it. You can also just ignore most emails entirely if you prefer, though that would be ill-advised.

Typically, there's no right or wrong way to reply to a message. You can't lose and the game progresses no matter what. Sometimes you'll get phone wallpapers or songs for answering specific emails specific ways, which eventually leads to trophies. The one important thing you might miss, though, is the true ending. Accessing it requires you to reply to text messages from a certain character with specific responses that don't seem important at the time. It's fair to say that you'll need a guide to reach this ending. Thankfully, you can automatically skip old text on repeat playthroughs. Once you know what to do, you can play the entire game from start to finish in a single sitting to get the true ending.

Steins;Gate (Vita) image

Steins;Gate (Vita) image

Steins;Gate (Vita) image
In case you were wondering.

As a visual novel, Steins;Gate is perfectly suited to a handheld, but the localization feels low budget and sloppy in places. Most notably, apostrophes are treated as spaces. If the last word on a line has an apostrophe in it, such as “it's” or “they're,” everything after the apostrophe moves to the next line. Also, if the last word on a line lines up perfectly with the invisible margin, the space after that word will be inserted before the first word on the next line. Meanwhile, voiced dialogue remains entirely in Japanese. There's no English dub. By default, text appears on-screen at the pace at which it is spoken, which is annoying since you can probably read much faster than the characters speak. Thankfully, there are options for dealing with this. You can change the text speed to instantaneous and even turn off the voices if you find them distracting.

Steins;Gate is not the best visual novel available on the system. The excruciatingly slow start and a few annoying otaku-pandering tropes bring the game down, but if you can put up with them, there's an excellent story to experience in the second half. The good ultimately outweighs the bad, but it would be nice to see a version of this game that has been trimmed down by a decent editor.


Roto13's avatar
Staff review by Rhody Tobin (August 25, 2015)

Rhody likes to press the keys on his keyboard. Sometimes the resulting letters form strings of words that kind of make sense when you think about them for a moment. Most times they're just random gibberish that should be ignored. Ball-peen wobble glurk.

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