Title: Steins;Gate 0
Release Date: December 10, 2019
Reviewed On: PC
Publisher: Spike Chunsoft
Genre: Visual Novel
When I played the original Steins;Gate, I was eager to find supplementary material. The cast of characters in this meticulous plot hooked me, and I wanted to see them again. Luckily for me, when time travel is the primary basis, you don’t need much to justify another story, and there are loads of spin-off pieces that do just that.
One such entry into this mishmash of titles is a collection of light novels known as the Epigraph Trilogy. I never read them because they weren’t translated. However, they were adapted into an, albeit unfinished, manga which I was absolutely enamored with. This trilogy would then serve as the basis for a new visual novel known as Steins;Gate 0. To say I was merely excited would be an understatement.
If you’re reading this and you haven’t consumed the original story, what on earth are you doing? As much as MAGES or Spike Chunsoft may or may not like you to believe you can simply pick this up off the bat, Steins;Gate 0 is an interquel that starts during the original story’s finale. Aside from the original story being liquid gold, I would implore that you experience it in any of its forms before this. The game is best experienced with a true understanding of the events that have shaped the story until now. A few spoilers aren’t going to be enough to get the best experience out of this game.
With all that said, Steins;Gate 0 begins right at the end. Okabe Rintarou, the former wannabe mad scientist, has journeyed to the past to save his best friend, Makise Kurisu, from death. Apparently, an essential step to stop world war three from occurring. However, he figured he’d be the one to take her life. Driven by the fear that this event would be destined by fate always to be forced to fruition, he refuses to try again. Then his childhood friend Mayuri slaps him out of it, and Okabe receives a message from his future self, with a plan to save her.
Except that’s not what happens this time. This is the story of how that plan would come to pass.
I found the very concept of this super cool, which is why I loved the manga so much. It’s a story concept filled with all sorts of possibilities. You already know that conflict is going to arise, in the form of the early stages of world war three and that our protagonist, the currently traumatized and much more mellow Okabe will both get his groove back, and figure out how to trick time itself. The only question is, how?
To help us, here are a few new characters, the overeager Professor Alexis Leskinen and his translator/mentee, university student Maho Hiyajo. These two worked with Makise Kurisu back in the US on a particular project called the Amadeus, an advanced AI that is built off of a person’s memories. After Okabe demonstrates his knowledge on the subject, he is allowed to be a tester, and it is revealed to him that they have a copy of the Amadeus that is built off the memories of Makise Kurisu.
This title, like everything else in the science adventure series, is a visual novel, but unlike other games in this franchise, Okabe will not be your single point of view. With Okabe playing a more passive role, you get to see other character’s friend groups and follow other relationships. Someone has to push the story along if Okabe won’t.
With the rumblings of the distant world war three in the background, though, the story doesn’t take nearly as long as the original to get into things, which are more threatening of-the-bat. This means the tone of this VN is more action-packed than prior, unraveling conspiracies with far-reaching consequences is but another Tuesday for Steins;Gate 0. There are tightly-knit mysteries abound to solve with this fantastic cast of characters, that has a few fresh new faces in the midst.
To go along with this is a whole new slew of sprites. Everyone gets a sweet visual upgrade with pretty new outfits and a vast new set of CGs that once again tells us that Huke can draw exceptionally well. He just can’t draw guys. The menu is clearly using Chaos;Child’s as a base and throws in a pleasant and tasty gear motif on it, which I am all for.
Takeshi Abo is also back with another forty new tracks for the game that play on established themes that makes this adventure more than worth it. ‘Tactics in confusion,’ ‘Re-Awake,’ and the title theme, ‘Messenger,’ are some masterful standouts, and I cannot get enough of this man’s soundtracks.
The pacing, however, is weak, and this is due to the choice system. The science adventure series likes to implement these fancy-schmancy mechanics as opposed to basic choices. Steins;Gate 0 offers up a neat and simple solution. You can respond to your friend’s text messages for fun, smart conversations, but unlike the OG game, it means nothing.
Here, it comes down to whether or not Okabe accepts a call from the Amadeus that influences the story. Inherently, that’s great. Just keep track of the phone calls like a small branching flowchart, and you’ll change fate to serve your whims in no time. Except that’s not how that works. Instead, Okabe gets his current set of memories shoved into a different timeline, and then he has to figure out what’s going on. While that’s happening, the game sets up its new set-pieces.
The set pieces are mostly excellent, but this way of transitioning feels unearned. You will have to clear multiple endings to unlock the true ending, much like the last science adventure game Chaos;Child, but unlike that title, there isn’t a clear cut common route. Which is something I feel the game could have used? These different timelines are too focused on setting up their burgeoning narrative to tell one coherent story. Because of the timeline bouncing, they just become little things that happen within their own bubbles. Innately, one may think it could work thematically into Okabe’s ultimate goal, figuring out how to trick fate itself.
It doesn’t. It’s a means to an end.
This story beat, “How did Okabe learn how to defy fate,” has nothing to do with this. The timeline shifts are just there. The plot beat of “defying fate,” which should have been a climactic moment, in itself is also extremely unsatisfying. It’s more like the game is trying to mask a deus ex machina as a plot twist.
Ultimately, Steins;Gate 0 is a game that seems to have been crafted to fill a hole that didn’t need to be filled. Then, it didn’t even fill that hole. But what it does do is write some fantastic character moments and add some new faces to the list of science adventure characters that I really like.
While I was in no means thrilled about the conclusion, the game’s other mysteries, tense atmosphere, and the masterful soundtrack did keep me going, and I enjoyed taking the time to go through it. I certainly had more fun playing it than finishing it. Also, the anime adaptation is absolutely amazing! I wonder how that happened.
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