Steins;Gate Review

SG cover

Spiritual successor to Chaos;Head. Steins;Gate first gained mainstream attention of the casual fans through it’s anime, in which was also from where I first watched it (I did heard of the visual novel beforehand though); being an extremely good adaption and with it’s palpable success-I assume, is what propelled JAST USA to license it.

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I believe time travel stories are something done to bits. From the little that I had come across however, Steins;Gate is one of the most captivating ones I had ever seen. You are put into the shoes of Okabe Rintarou; a self-proclaimed mad scientist who, by some extreme stroke of fortune, invented a time machine of sort, through some bizarre banana-turning-gel experiments. His possess the ability to send, not people, but text messages into the past. Later on, when the story gets more serious, he and his lab members created an improved time machine, which compresses the time traveller’s memory and experiences and send them to the time traveller’s body of the past. We all know from our experiences with time travel stories that meddling with time, a natural law and order of the universe, has consequences; and while time travel is definitely a basis of the story, the central focus of the narrative is Okabe fighting against fate itself.

I feel a general complain about Steins;Gate is the pacing, but I think I’m one of the rare among the few who are quite fine with it, and actually think the pacing is great. The beginning parts of the visual novel is admittedly slow, but it served as a great introduction and development to the cast, while excellently foreshadows the rest of the plot to come. The seemingly light slice-of-life atmosphere here helped with the introduction too, and the length of it is just right in my opinion. The story shifts into a very serious mood midway into the narrative, and the transition while sudden, still feels pretty smooth, probably due to the foreshadowing in the first part of the visual novel. One other thing that I feel Steins;Gate really deserves praise too, is their explanations and infodump. The time-travel theories and mechanics in Steins;Gate are handled pretty well-they seem coherent enough, and follow their own rules to the book, making it easier to follow; unlike some other time travel stories, their thoeries sometimes get so far-fethced players required extreme leaps in logic to comprehend. The way it uses real life elements like SERN, IBN 5100 and John Titor (some of these names are changed slightly in the visual novel) is brilliant too. While I loved I/O, another visual novel I played a while back, these two aspects of Steins;Gate is what I would actually love to see in I/O, proper pacing and infodump which avoids making the story unnecessarily long and draggy, yet, still feels like a large-scale story. Because the narrative seems to have a clear idea of how things should unfold, everything seems to tie in conclusively, perfectly and beautifully by the end.

Best Girl

Best Girl

The story aside, characters are a fun part of Steins;Gate. They all have their quirks, and interactions between them are fun and entertaining. Admittedly, some of them is obviously conformed to certain archetypes *coughKurisucough* Yet each character has reasons to act like the way they were. Most of the characters are given ample attention and development for the player to care about, and thanks to the slow pacing on the beginning parts of the visual novel, the build-ups of most of the characters are solid. Additionally, you, as the player, are at times given the mentally herculean task of whether or not to save your friend, who you had been with for the majority of the time. What the visual novel did great is that through it’s attention span given to it’s characters, it really makes the player care about them, making that choice in the end that much harder. Characters in Steins;Gate are definitely top-notch, no doubt about that, though I did notice Okabe’s characterization to be hypocritical, if not slightly. Steins;Gate uses a branching structure similar to that of G-Senjou no Maou or Grisaia no Kajitsu (is there a proper name for this?), to those unfamiliar, I will try to explain the best I can – typical visual novels usually start with a common route which branches into different routes. However, visual novels like G-Senjou no Maou, Grisaia no Kajitsu, and Steins;Gate, use a structure where everything happen in “one straight line”, with other heroine’s routes as a sub-branch and with the main canon heroine on the very last branch.

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Because everything happened in one flow, everything that happened with the exception of heroine’s sub branches, can be regarded as canon events, and this can make Okabe’s characterization appear hypocritical, aforementioned, especially if you’re going for other heroine’s routes at the moment. It’s as if Okabe was okay with sacrificing [insert character’s name] and all of a sudden, he was not okay with sacrificing [insert character’s name]. This is not bad per se, since Okabe is a character obviously designed for us to feel his struggles and hardships as he fought against fate, and of cause, the narrative did one hell of a great job with it. This hypocritical side of his also painted even more complexity to his character, and I can’t help but feel that it is produced as a “side effect” due to said branching structure. In the end, it still works well though, since like I said, it really does adds a bit more complexity to his character, and highlighting his flaws, whether or not if it’s intentional or a coincidence.

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A unique thing about Steins;Gate is that instead of using the typical dialogue-choices interface, you will be using a cell phone for the majority of the visual novel, which other than involving said dialogue (or more like text) choices, which is actually what effects which routes you will be branching to; you will also be using it to check storyline text, dial/receive calls, check attachments, browsing 2chan and to initiate the PhoneWave (name subject to change). While using your phone to dial or receive call is definitely obvious, you, as the player, can also choose not to receive the call, or not to look at the text messages despite clearly receiving the notification tones, and so on. During storyline progression when you need to make some calls, you can also choose a number of people to call, in which your choice also cause some level of effect to aforementioned elements. These can actually effect a number of things; from perhaps a few changed dialogues, to the routes and even accomplishments, the latter similar to how you earn accomplishments on PS3/Vita. I remember there was one accomplishment where you even had to even dial the wrong number a number of times. All these are fun features and additions, but can be just a bit frustrating without looking at a guide, especially if you’re trying to access a certain heroine’s route. If more information is needed, the added glossary also helps when you need to know more in regards of some of the scientific/technical terms mentioned by the characters.

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In a creepy sort of way, the visuals are definitely great. Huke’s art style, who you might be familiar with his works on Metal Gear Solid and Black Rock Shooter, is an almost perfect match for Steins;Gate. As you can see, the colors are a very monotonous, unlike most modern visual novels where strong, vivid colors are more of a common thing. And if you scrutinize the illustrations, or even just in the middle of the visual novel with sprites/background, they look very “faded”. It’s almost feel like someone was recording the whole thing with his phone or video recorder in a very poor quality. It’s brilliant, and it gives a sort of sense and immersion that something feels wrong.

I also have high praise for Steins;Gate OST. Newcomers to the visual novel are greeted with haunting melodies and chord progressions in the form of the intro song in the menu “Gate of Steiner”, which after a while, shifts into a more hopeful tone in the chorus. It uses string, synth orchestra and electronics in an almost orchestrated arrangement. For those who had finished the story, I’m sure this song would relieve a lot of memories of the visual novel-just from the melodies alone. “Gate of Steiner” also has various rearrangements throughout the OST, like “Believe Me”, “Solitude” and “Fake Verthandi”. So in a way, “Gate of Steiner” is pretty much the flagship theme of Steins;Gate. Some songs like “Suspicious eyes” evoke sense of anxiety and some like “Chaos Mind” shifts the tone into a more darker, creepier mood. There are also some songs like “Quiet Air” which I believe was used during the more calmer moments of the visual novel. “Yanabayashi” also deserves a noteworthy mention for it’s creative fusion with modern electronic synth and traditional Japanese instruments. There are also upbeat songs like “Noisy Times” too, in fact, there just seem to be a wide array of different emotions and atmospheres in Steins;Gate, and Takeshi Abo did a great job composing a variety of different tracks each with a different feel to them. A number of them may be odd playing as standalone, but when played with the visual novel, the songs feel extremely natural.

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Steins;Gate is an excellent visual novel, in fact, I personally find it difficult to discern any issues at all. Engaging plot, thrilling atmosphere, interesting characters, great artwork and soundtrack and an extremely satisfying ending. It had great ideas and concepts to work with, and follow them coherently and meticulously. I think those who are a fan of sci-fi story, and especially those looking for a time-travel story in visual novels; there are undoubtedly a number of them, but Steins;Gate is definitely the one to try – it is one of the best visual novel I had stumbled upon in recent years.

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Rating
Story: S
Character: A+
Visuals: A
Sound: A+
System: A-

Final Score
9.5/10

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This entry was posted by Kai.

14 thoughts on “Steins;Gate Review

  1. I agree with much of what you’ve written, so I think it’s the pacing and story that have formed our differing opinions, like we’ve discussed. Having slow-moving slice of life segments to introduce characters and connect readers to them is fine (heck, I even enjoyed Muv-Luv Extra). Unfortunately, for me, Steins;Gate’s payoff didn’t end up being enough to balance out that initial slowness.

    I found the character routes to be shallow, which I also guess is understandable considering the approach other VN’s take. At the same time I thought that while the main route was a step in the right direction (and was certainly enjoyable), it simply didn’t last long enough to anchor the visual novel. I would have loved to see more scenes in which…well, that kind of stuff happens (avoiding spoilers here), perhaps having one per character route and a few of them for the finale.

    I didn’t hate the story or anything, just didn’t like it as much as others have.
    Also, now I have to struggle to find different screenshots for my review XD

    • The thing about Steins;Gate is that it doesn’t try to be overly complex nor is it too ambitious – this may be why you think the payoff isn’t too huge, but personally, I think it’s more than enough :p Additionally, I just love the ending to bits, and didn’t really need avant-garde payoffs.

      Just like how G-Senjou’s other routes can be a little dull compared to Haru’s, I think this should be a common problem for visual novels who share such a branching structure. Although I guess it kinda depends on the execution, in some visual novels, particular heroine can be counted as flagship character for the visual novel before you even started playing. Their portraits are shown on the cover, they get more exposition, etc… For example, Haru’s definitely the flagship heroine for G-Senjou, likewise for Kurisu for Steins;Gate. For visual novels like Grisaia, kinda tricky.

      Not sure what scenes you mean.. :x

      Well, to each his own. And it will be interesting to see an opinion of someone who didn’t like it as much, lol. Looking forward to your review.

      • *Spoilers*

        I mean scenes in which the characters have to change the past while recreating the scenes that their past selves have seen. That’s a really cool concept and I would have loved if it had featured more.

        As for compared to G-Senjou, I felt that its branches (while not nearly as good as the finale, as you say) still had a good amount to add to the story. Each one had its own interesting encounter that was exciting, while I felt the Steins;Gate’s didn’t add much at all to the experience. They started and then they were over, essentially.

        As Lazarinth suggests, I might give the anime a go at some point. We’ll see how my opinion changes =P

        • If I recall right, there are quite a lot of it during the true end when Okabe was undoing the D-Mails (was that the same concept again?) and also during Okabe’s physical time travel near the end.

          Hmm, maybe the routes in Steins;Gate is a bit too interconnected, so much that not a lot can be expanded on the sub-branches.

          • I don’t remember so much of it when undoing the D-mails, since there wasn’t a need to maintain consistency there. It was very much present with his time travel at the end, though.

  2. I watched the anime a few years back and actually like the infodump because it helped reducing the complexity of the story. I mean, time-traveling stories can be too complex to understand when not done properly. In this regard though, I applaud Steins;Gate’s infodump efforts.

    Since I only watch the anime and didn’t play the VN, I’m not sure if there’s any humor present in the game. Because that’s what worked for me during the first few episodes of the series. Okabe is an eccentric character I love watching just to know what he’s up to. He has this thirst for adventure and knowledge that made the premise a tad more interesting to follow.

    • Steins;Gate is one of those rare titles where the infodump is executed perfectly. A lot of anime tend to just throw infodumps like “right in your face”, but Steins;Gate’s feels completely natural.

      The VN definitely has it’s own humors, in fact, if I can remember right, there are even more too. And what’s best is that there’s actually a reason for such personality :-) He isn’t a “mad scientist” just for the sake of being a mad scientist. I really love Steins;Gate’s characterization.

  3. Good review,I pretty much agree with everything you said. Because i loved the characters the pacing was perfect for me as well, anymore time i could spend with them was well desired. Lol I’m glad at least one person I recommended it to like it, though you had planned to play it anyway. I’m starting to think that maybe i should have recommended the anime to Silvachief instead of the VN as the anime doesn’t have the pacing issues.
    Which did you prefer?

    • Yea, actually I would love to spend more time with the characters, lol. There’s a sequel (not sure if it’s a direct sequel or a spiritual sequel) to Steins;Gate which is less serious and more romcom in PSP, I think, and I would really love to play it just for the characters, even if I assume it no longer has all the seriousness of the prequel.

      I actually like the VN just a bit more, but both the anime and VN are close in my opinion. The anime’s adapted it almost near-perfectly, something I haven’t seen in a VN adaption in a while. There are some additional scenes and dialogues in the VN which I certainly enjoyed reading as well. For example, one scene which I think wasn’t shown, at least to such length, was Kurisu’s lecture in the beginning parts of the VN. It’s long as fuck, yes, but I enjoyed it. Besides, Asami’s (Kurisu’s seiyuu) is so lovely to hear I don’t mind hearing it longer than is necessary :p I’m also the type who don’t particularly mind slower pacing, so that’s that.

    • I forgot to mention that some alternative routes are interesting, something which weren’t really adapted in the anime. Some routes I admit are less interesting, like Faris’s for example, but routes like Suzuha’s was interesting.

      • It’s a hard one as they’re both on my top favorite anime and favorite VN lists. I’d be interested if in time it gets onto your VN list considering your praise, as I said before I got a lot of the first VNs I read off that list and when I read Steins;Gate I was surprised I finally found a good one that wasn’t on there.

        • Funny how you mentioned it, because that’s exactly the plan. I’m going to add Steins;Gate to my list, just have to stop procrastinating and add some descriptions and whatnot, lol. Glad my list helped you, though at the time when you checked it, I haven’t play the VN. Though I did add Steins;Gate anime to my favorite anime list!

  4. Can’t remember much of the anime, actually, just the funny, light hearted moments :D

    The game sounds interesting, though. I assume it’s rather long?
    I think the visual appeal is very important in these Games and SG appears to be a real feast for the eyes,
    I really enjoyed the few screens in the review, the boys look cool and the female characters look lovely in this unique look, the grunge textures add a lot of detail. Good to hear that also the other aspects of the Game can convince.

    • Kinda weird how you couldn’t remember most of the serious parts of the story, since some of them are pretty impacting Dx

      Yea, quite, especially compared to standard length of visual novels.
      And definitely! Steins;Gate visuals weren’t designed to appeal with colorful details and colors and stuffs and I’m glad it went this way, since it just matches so well with the theme. And grunge indeed, yea, didn’t know why I never thought of that word when I was writing the review, lol.

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