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Steins;Gate (Vita) artwork

Steins;Gate (Vita) review

"An idiot's guide to time travel "

Steins;Gate (Vita) image

When a friend recommended this to me, I thought he was crazy. Steins;Gate is a visual novel that takes around 40 hours (more or less, depending on your reading speed), all the voices are in Japanese with the text translated into English (not always perfectly), and it spends a lot of time on what I assume are very typical anime tropes, like all the female characters falling in love with the male lead, even though he spends most of the story being an insufferable, yet strangely likable, idiot. I donít know, I donít really like anime that much. I wasnít expecting to like this.

But I did. Steins;Gate tells a story that examines the cause and effect of interfering with the timeline, and the importance of memories. Okabe Rintaro, our lab coat wearing protagonist, attends a lecture about time travel, but instead he finds a dead girl in a hallway. Sheís covered in blood. He sends a message to his friend Daru about it, and then the world seems to change. The whole building is now behind a security perimeter and only Okabe can tell something is different. He then goes to his university and meets the girl who was dead, but sheís now very much alive.

Steins;Gate (Vita) image

Itís a tantalising hook, and from there Okabe brings Makise Kurisu into his lab. The existing members are Okabe, the leader, Daru, the overweight pervert and ďsuper hackaĒ, and Mayuri, a childhood friend of Okabe. She seems naÔve and kind of slow, but sheís way more emotionally intelligent than anyone else in the group. Kurisu is the typical girl genius and hardcore scientist. The group have created something they call ďDmailĒ which allows them to send short messages back in time, by using a mobile phone hooked up to a microwave.

Their experiments are careless, fully up to the whims of the characters who donít understand the consequences of their actions. The first four chapters are basically setup for the last four, where the story behaves like a typical anime with typical anime characters and typical jokes and typical embarrassing situations, and lets the characters develop. Thereís Luka, a boy who looks like a girl. Faris, an energetic young girl who runs a maid cafť and wears cat ears and meows a lot. Moeka, a socially anxious young woman who can only seem to communicate through text messages. And Suzuha, a girl who takes up a part time job at the shop under the lab.

Each of these characters are way more than they appear to be on the surface, and due to the nature of this game, I donít want to spoil anything. All the main characters are well developed, the science fiction elements are well thought out, and the story is engaging and well written. Itís slow to start, but without that slow start, the dramatic tension in the second half of the game would likely fall flat. By the time we get big revelations about the characters and increased stakes, you will actually care about these characters enough to become fully invested in the story Steins;Gate wants to tell. When Okabe starts to break down, it is earned.

Steins;Gate will just run from start to finish, with minimal interaction from yourself. I have criticised games for lack of interaction before, but I feel this game gets a pass because it doesnít try to sell itself as anything other than a virtual novel. Iím in a place in my life where this sort of game appeals to me. I might play through an hour or so after work. I can set the text to auto and just lean back and watch the story unfold, only having to interact when the phone prompt appears.

You have control over Okabeís mobile phone. Youíll direct how Okabe interacts with his friends by text message interactions and whether you answer a call or not. Some of these events will impact the story. There are multiple endings, with the latter half of the game including one potential ending per chapter. They range from bittersweet to absolutely devastating, and they are all worth viewing before you get to the normal ending. And once youíve done that, youíll probably need a flowchart or a guide to get the ďTrue EndingĒ.

Thankfully, replaying is easy. The game auto saves at sensible points of the story. There are options to skip any text youíve already experienced, with the game slowing back down to a normal pace when you encounter something different.

Steins;Gate (Vita) image

Steins;Gateís presentation is a little hit and miss. The artwork is fantastic, with the characters and scenes drawn well, but it also seems to be a bit lazy. A lot of the time, youíre simply looking at the same few backdrops of the labís interior, or the streets of Akihabara, with the characters standing in front of it talking to you. Action scenes are usually depicted with one still image, or they are described in prose. Thereíll be sound effects and the screen may flash white or red, but quite often the story will tell rather than show. It tells it well, though. The writing is descriptive enough and it remains engaging, but it does sometimes feel like the camera is pointed away from the action. The translation is a little messed up in places, with the text sometimes displaying weirdly on screen with odd spaces or line breaks. These are minor distractions, though.

The music is fantastic, with a range of tracks that can conjure up the mystery and emotions of the story. Songs range from quiet piano pieces which can be slow and sad, or much louder orchestra or synth pieces that perfectly accompany the rising tension. Steins;Gate also knows when a scene is better served with no music, something a lot of games donít understand. There are plenty of quiet moments where two characters are talking, and itís up to the Japanese cast to convey the nuances of emotion the characters are feeling. It works surprisingly well. I donít understand Japanese, but emotion is universal.

Even after putting fifty hours into this game, I still donít like Anime, but I like this. I did watch the Anime series after finishing the game, and I found that surprisingly enjoyable. Itís a great way to experience the story without having to hold a Vita for hours on end, but you do miss some elements of the stories, particularly the alternate endings. Like Suzuhaís ending. That is going to be a difficult one to forget.

jerec's avatar
Community review by jerec (January 20, 2017)

On very rare occasions, Jerec finds a game that inspires him to write stuff about. The rest of the time he just hangs around being sarcastic.

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Nightfire posted January 20, 2017:

A game with a semicolon in its title? INCONCEIVABLE.

Come to think of it, what is with Japanese games inserting random punctuation into their titles these days? I first noticed this when I reviewed "Resette's Prescription ~Book of Memory, Swaying Scale~" a while back, and I wondered about the random use of tildes. Are they intended to make the title more compelling somehow? I just don't know.

I thought it was an isolated incident, but then I saw other Japanese titles on Steam doing the same thing. Why? Is this a fad? What is it based on? These are the questions I need answers to!
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jerec posted January 20, 2017:

Seems to be mostly an aesthetic choice rather than a particular type of grammar.
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EmP posted January 21, 2017:

In game, they came up with the name Stein's Gate because they were two foreign words the 'lead scientist' liked the sound of, so I've always assumed he threw the semi in there for no other reason than because he liked the way it looked.

He's a silly fellow. Also, very good review - Jerec's comeback trail has been a delightfully random collection of games.
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jerec posted January 21, 2017:

Thanks EmP :)

They seem a lot less random from where I'm sitting.

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