Visual Novel Spotlight: Steins;Gateon April 15, 2014 by Shadocchi
After years of waiting and gushing over the anime and then the movie, the Steins;Gate visual novel is finally upon us. Much like the anime, Steins;Gate follows maddo saientisuto Hououin Kyouma (Okabe Rintarou) and his team of otaku lab members. When the group discovers a way to send text messages back in time, chaos ensues.
After two or so years stuck in localisation limbo, now you can experience the visual novel that brought us one of the more popular anime series in 2011. When the Future Gadget Lab members discover that their souped-up microwave can send emails to the past, it’s only the beginning of a long journey involving time travel, life-or-death situations, wishes, maids and 2ch. Although the anime follows the visual novel very closely, the game offers a route for each main female character, which brings some bittersweet closure if you were ever more interested in anyone other than Kurisu. Of course, it also has an engrossing story for completely new readers.
Approaching Steins;Gate from a fresh perspective (with never having seen or heard much about the anime) is a welcome approach. Those who jump into the game blind can be whisked away by the usual intricate threads of a time travel plot, with a cast of lovable characters that aren’t too infatuated with a self-insert. While there may be a few conveniences, there’s a reason why the anime received much praise and the game has been eagerly awaited for so long. Those who have been looking for a lengthy visual novel that focuses heavily on story will not be disappointed. It’s honestly hard not to fall in love with its twists, unexplainable events, and its mix of casual and dramatic tone.
However, if you hop into Steins;Gate after watching the anime (as I can guess many of us have or will), the game doesn’t have much extra to offer. The story’s presentation between the two forms is incredibly close and the visual novel is linear for the most part. While the game offers cute emails and some player input, it doesn’t quite feel like it adds or expands much on the story we all know and love, until the end where routes branch off very briefly. Experiencing the franchise in reverse (anime first, VN later) has more of a low return than, say, playing Clannad after the anime, as Steins;Gate is short and the anime is a pretty faithful adaption. If you’re in it for character tidbits or small “what if”s, the game delivers, but those expecting a vastly different experience won’t be seeing it.
What Steins;Gate does potentially offer fans of the anime – besides character routes – is an explanation of all the 2ch memes thrown around. Anyone who may have watched less-than-legal subs or who streamed the anime via Crunchyroll would have noticed that translators tended to word memes in familiar terms, often borrowing from our own popular imageboard website. With the addition of a glossary, Steins;Gate’s translation is free from having to use filthy gaijin equivalents, at the same time opening up a whole new world for multilingual circlejerking.
Escaping the infinite loop that is anime–game comparisons, Steins;Gate is an interesting visual novel. The glossary feature plays well with the lingo and hard science talk while the phone feature feels natural. Choices that are usually thrown around in other VNs are kept to (mostly) unimportant emails, where instead of deciding the fate of the universe, you vary between kind Okabe or jerk Kyouma and get differing tidbits in response. The phone reply system is a little fiddly, and the obvious route branches are… well, obvious, but it seems like the VN is playing to its strengths, focusing on a strong story and taking you on for the ride. Ultimately, this choice of Steins Gate is a good one.
Steins;Gate is a strong visual novel for those who haven’t experienced anything of the franchise. With its focus on storytelling over leading players through pointless choices (though still keeping them somewhat), it comes off as a pretty damn good game. But for anyone eagerly wanting an expansion of the story they experienced in the anime, there’s not much to add. It’s very much the same experience, with bonus bittersweet endings and extended conversations.