Steins; Gate 0: review

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  • Format: PS4 (version reviewed), Vita, PS3, PC
  • Unleashed: Out Now
  • Publisher: PQube
  • Developer: 5pb/Nitroplus
  • Players: 1
  • Site: http://steinsgate0.jp/
  • Game code provided by the publisher

It’s hard to know who to write this review for, really. Surprisingly perhaps, those who played the first game will come near the bottom of the list; generally speaking they’ll already have bought a copy, or know for sure that they will in the near future. Steins; Gate 0 is in the unique position, though, of being made strictly with established fans in mind – yet does not require you to have played the first game. So this is for those of you who have watched the anime.

Although we’ve been using traditional language such as ‘play’ and ‘game’, those words don’t strictly speaking apply here. This is a visual novel with the absolute bare minimum of interactivity. Literally, almost all of your time will be spent pressing ‘X’ to advance the English subtitles & Japanese voice track (there’s an auto mode, but even at top speed it wasn’t fast enough for us). The most significant choice you’ll ever have to make is whether or not to answer your phone and, on rare occasions, which pre-programmed reply you want to send to a text.

And yet there are multiple endings. This sums up the weird & wonderful Steins; Gate 0 very well indeed.

Stupid claw machines. We feel your pain.

Appropriately enough for a sci-fi adventure concerned with time travel and alternate timelines running in parallel, this sequel (if you can call it that) starts off almost-but-not-quite at the end of the first story. Now, we’re going to have to start referencing characters and events that only fans will understand. But heed us well, dear reader; you absolutely must have played the first game or have watched the whole of the anime in order to enjoy 0, if only because there are some true gut-punchingly effective moments of raw emotion that will only work if you’re familiar with the characters and all that they’ve been through.

Our story begins with Okabe, unable to recover from accidentally killing the woman he loves, refusing to travel back to the past again. Suzuha is unable to convince him, and so her mission runs into a dead end. At his lowest point, an utterly broken man, Okabe guiltily avoids Suzuha and all but abandons his previously beloved lab.

Naturally, things don’t end there. The twisted path that fate forces Okabe down brings him into contact with a revolutionary AI program that looks, talks, acts, and learns just like a human. A cruel coincidence means he engages with the AI with painful fascination, and it’s not too long before everything in his life begins to converge once more…

It’s an excellently written tale, and utterly gripping for fans hungry to dive back into the world of Steins; Gate once more. Unfortunately, the uncomfortable mix of intelligent sci-fi and typical “harem anime” tropes returns. While the good forcefully overcomes the bad, there are still moments of “oh come on, really?”. You probably won’t be surprised to learn that many of them – probably most of them – involve the self-proclaimed “perverted gentleman” Daru. There’s no sex, and no nudity (no full frontal, anyway), but there are plenty of lines the script could really have done without. It doesn’t really help the game’s credibility that many of the illustrations portray the female characters hefting around breasts that could crush a small car, each at least as big as her head.

Is that…?

But anyway. As we say it’s not nearly enough to kill the experience, it’s not constant, and there’s always an unforeseen turn of events round the corner to take your mind off it. There are, as with the original story, bits of interesting real-world facts and obscure scientific history thrown in. The writers then use these to build on for their own theories and story, making it all more feasible and relatable. The science is never too heavy in the telling (an achievement in itself) and it remains a very human story. Between the careful sci-fi and exaggerated actions of the often larger-than-life characters, there are moments of deep sadness and anguish.

As previously mentioned, there are multiple endings to be had. Unlike the slightly more game-y Psycho Pass: Mandatory Happiness, there’s no choice of paths at the beginning, and you’re never explicitly asked to choose any dialogue or course of action. In fact, your only influence on the story path relates to your phone. This is subtle to the point of obscurity, and it’s never clear when answering or not answering your phone could affect the story (especially as you often have no choice in the matter). You may prefer to search the interweb rather than engage in hours of trial and error (we certainly did).

Although alternate paths and endings are difficult to find by story design, reaching the right points (once you know where they are) is actually pretty quick and easy. We strongly advise that you do not save over any of the autosaves. Many appear to have been purposefully set at or near points where you can push the story in a different direction, and you’ll almost certainly want to see every possible story path (though things can start getting a little difficult to keep track of when you do).

We’re fairly fast readers, but it took us over eight hours to reach our first ending (one of the ‘good’ ones). It’s difficult to know how long it will take to cover everything – that involves going back to the story from various partway points multiple times – but it’s certainly a runtime to rival many traditional games, and even easily surpass some. The most important thing, though, is that the lack of gameplay is no barrier to enjoying this new & exciting entry in the Steins; Gate universe.

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Written by Luke K

He plays lots of videogames, now and again stopping to write about them. He's the editor in chief at Critical Gamer, which fools him into thinking his life has some kind of value. He doesn't have a short temper. If you suggest otherwise, he will punch you in the face.

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