Steins;Gate Elite Review – Definitive El Psy Kongroo

    Title: Steins;Gate Elite
    Developer: Mages
    Release Date: February 19, 2019
    Reviewed On: PC
    Publisher: Spike Chunsoft
    Genre: Visual Novel

Remakes happen all the time. Often, it’s a chance for a game to be improved or expanded upon, allowing developers to heed feedback on the original title or to try and implement ideas that didn’t make the original cut. Steins;Gate is the second entry in the SciADV (science adventure) series of visual novels and the most well known. It’s an utterly fantastic visual novel starring a wannabe mad scientist and his friends who accidentally turn a microwave into a machine that lets them send text messages back in time. Its individual popularity has led to a 24 episode anime adaptation, a movie, two spin-off visual novels, a sequel, a 24 episode anime adaptation of a sad sequel and a host of other things including now, a remake in the form of Steins;Gate Elite. And I couldn’t be more excited to try it out.

It is interesting, the third game in the series to obtain a remake, following the remakes of the first and third game’s Chaos;Head and Robotics;Notes. Chaos;Head Noah, added a collection of extra scenes and endings to the original title to flesh out the main cast along with some redone visuals to improve the art. Robotics;Notes Elite added an extra ending and tweaked the 3d models and animation the original game used to again, improve it.

However, Steins;Gate Elite isn’t really a remake of the original visual novel in the traditional sense. The director of the franchise, Chiyomaru Shikura, wanted to increase the immersion of the currently unreleased entry in the franchise, Anonymous;Code, by applying unique artwork to every scene and use full animation during major events. The numbers were run and the dev team realized the game would need approximately 3000 different pieces of art, more than thirty times the number of CGs usually present inside a large visual novel. This idea for this presentation was scrapped and a brainstorming session on how to lower the costs of an immersive visual novel led to the idea of reusing old animation. An idea that would become the experiment that is Steins;Gate Elite.

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Steins;Gate Elite stars a wannabe mad scientist named Okabe Rintarou, a hammy college student who would prefer to go by the overly elaborate fake name Hououin Kyouma (roughly translates to ‘phoenix rising from the ashes’). Okabe and his friends, Daru and Mayuri, run a small ‘laboratory’, the second floor of a CRT TV shop they rent out from the owner and use as a hangout. The group make all sorts of useless inventions and have all sorts of fun, until one day after Okabe visits what is supposed to be an official scientific conference, he stumbles upon the scene of a murder. Panicked, he texts his best friend for advice, but the world around him changes. The conference never happened and the murder victim is found alive. Nothing makes sense to Okabe, until the group of friends and the murder victim, intrigued by the crazy man spewing facts about her alleged death, accidentally discover the group turned their microwave into a machine that lets someone send a text message back in time. Inspired by this insane invention, the crew begin to experiment with the limits of time travel and see what caused it and what they can do with it.   

Visual novels are known for their lack of gameplay elements and Steins;Gate Elite is no exception, bringing over the single phone trigger system. The phone trigger system lets you control the response Okabe gives to his friend’s texts, but his responses are often barely related to the options you were given, often leading to moments like The Wolf Among us’ infamous ‘glass him’ except in text form. The mechanic is largely irrelevant as well until you need to pick out the right responses to get various endings. Even more frustratingly is the fact that whilst there are about technically six endings, only three of them are of any real value and obtaining two of those three require specific phone choice with no indication that you’ve made the correct choice. It makes it a rather frustrating mechanic and I would seriously recommend a guide.

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Steins;Gate Elite does not use any of the original art from the visual novel, instead choosing to use footage from the anime adaptation to replace it. Yes, you are essentially playing the anime. On paper, this sounds absolutely ridiculous. Why would you play a TV show? As it turns out, this idea was the stuff of legends. On the flipside, the gameplay is actually completely irrelevant to what makes Steins;Gate Elite one of the most immersive visual novels ever created. It’s how playing the anime is actually implemented.

By tying animations, movements and reactions to your clicks or presses, it becomes a truly cinematic experience. You may not control the story very well, but you control the pace at which a scene moves. That’s the key point here. You make the characters move and as a result feel like you’re right there with them in Akihabara. When each action that is made, is tied to a button that you pressed, you’re like being the 4th-dimensional entity peering in and watching these friends unlock the secrets of time travel.

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This is the story of Steins;Gate after all. It was already an utterly fantastic visual novel and a damn good anime. The story has a colorful cast of major and minor characters that are easy to adore. And if you do particularly dislike a certain character, you may find some enjoyment when the game decides to flesh out the cast, giving a notable amount of screentime to nearly every member — even the cast members that join later. Okabe also gets to be an uncommon visual novel protagonist with lots of actual screen time letting him really chew the scenery, which makes him an utter blast to follow and allows him to be fun and unique from the get-go. The story retains its heavy blasts of tension and emotion perfectly, and it’s always fun to play through something like that again.

There are next to no flaws with the usage of the animation. With the added movements, the pacing of the game is heavily improved from the original making the opening hours of the title feel far less slow-paced than before. The script is modified to be a fair hybrid of both anime and visual novel scenes with lines exclusive to both making it in this title. Amusingly, a very minor antagonistic character, a gangster type dude named 4C is cut from this title due to reusing anime footage for that section of the game. If you hear anyone complaining about this, you can be sure they’re a purist who is acting extremely pretentious as the anime cutting him was a good idea as he contributed nothing, and to be honest, it improved the pacing of the title at that point.

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Other visual novel exclusive scenes, such as various endings and a couple of minor tidbits, received newly animated footage to keep them in this game. I seriously think the endings needed to be restructured or removed, however, as half of them contribute nothing else to the overall experience, and they don’t add any more than a couple of hours tops to the game’s approximate length of 20 hours. Again, I recommend a spoiler-free guide to obtain the true ending. It will be well worth it.

As far as UI goes, the menu transitions are really smooth, and the text window being opacity-based doesn’t impede your viewing of the motion and keeps the text easily readable. The chapter cards are also far too good looking. Takeshi Abo’s score rears its triumphant head once again, but the original soundtrack does now feel a bit outclassed as it competes with music from later titles like Steins;Gate 0 and Chaos;Child.

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The concept of Steins;Gate Elite is a bizarre one, but this experiment well pays off. Steins;Gate Elite is a visual novel that offers a new way to experience a fantastic story and may be easier for someone to sink their teeth into if they’re new to visual novels. I would lean on the side of Elite being the best way to experience the story, as the animation just does so much for the immersion, and I hope the game does well enough to encourage more of these animated adventure games.

But first, I’d like to get Robotics;Notes Elite and Chaos;Head Noah in English, please.

Score:
/10
A review copy of the title was provided by the publisher for review purposes

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Jacob Kavanagh

Staff Writer - Illusions to illusions. Will solve murder mysteries for money so he can buy more murder mysteries. @JacobPFZE on twitter