Steins;Gate first came out for the XBox 360 in 2009. It was shortly thereafter adapted into a manga and, later, an anime series and an animated film. It was recently ported over to Steam* for Windows.
Steins Gate. Some know it as Fate; to others, it is the will of God.
The game starts off with no preamble or cut scenes – the story begins with the main character, Rintarou Okabe, attending a press conference by a Doctor Nakabachi about time travel. Okabe is rather eccentric, and oftentimes, downright arrogant, considering himself a mad scientist (alias of Hououin Kyouma) who is on the run from the malevolent “Organization,” when in reality, he is a university student living above his landlord’s electronics shop with his two friends.
While at the press conference with his childhood friend Mayuri, Okabe witnesses an explosion on the roof of the building. He runs into a famed child prodigy scientist Kurisu Makise, who claims to have just spoken to him. Shortly after the press conference, Okabe stumbles across Makise’s dead body. Shaken, he stumbles out of the building, only to find everyone in the shopping district has suddenly disappeared. The next day, Okabe runs into Makise, who is still alive and begins to question the events he witnessed the day before. From there, the mystery builds and your mission is to figure out exactly what’s behind these strange events and why Okabe is the only one who seems to notice the discrepancies in events.
The player doesn’t have much to do in terms of gameplay, as the story is progressed by clicking through dialogue. The real influence the player has on the story is through the text messages and emails – choosing between responses or failing to respond at all affects which ending the player eventually achieves. Other than using Okabe’s phone, which eventually affects which ending you reach in the end, there is not much the player can do to change the story as Okabe attempts to unravel the mystery of his newfound time travel power and save his friends from the consequences.
I’m typically a big fan of visual novels and unusual storytelling, but I’m afraid Steins;Gate is on a level that I can’t appreciate as much as I’d like. I didn’t feel like I was an active participant in the story when I was mostly watching the story unfold in front of it; I’m also not much of a fan of time travel as a story device – things often get complicated and hard to detangle. I felt like I was missing large chunks of the story and background, even after reading the “Tips” popups that come up during game play. It took several hours for me to feel like the story was progressing, instead of merely being subjected to Okabe’s eccentric dialogue and thoughts.
I expect that experiencing Okabe’s journey might have been more leisurely and movie-like on a console – I’ve always felt like I could take more time on a console than with PC gaming, like I’m more free to lounge and settle into a game (which may have something to do with my day job, where I already stare at a computer screen all day and am under constant deadlines).
The graphics were beautifully rendered and are what originally hooked me into trying this game. Everything is crisp and lit perfectly for the mood of the scene, either moody for the suspenseful scenes or bright for the comedic ones. The music also added to the suspense of certain scenes, often building in the background to alert the player that something important was about to happen.
I think fans of gritty science fiction anime and manga who have the patience to discover each possible from the game would enjoy this visual novel, but it was not quite right for me.
*The Geek Embassy received a free copy of this game for review.