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Time and time again (and again)

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August 10, 2018

Time and time again (and again)

Steins;Gate is a timeless visual novel with a well developed cast of characters, a distinct art style, and an intensely captivating plot.

by William Hong

Date Published: 01/21/2016

Steins;Gate finally makes it debut on North American consoles six years after its release in Japan. Since then, this time travel tale has seen a beloved anime adaptation, a movie, and an English language PC localization last year courtesy of JAST USA. Steins;Gate is the entry in 5pb and Nitroplus’ Science Adventure Series, although it’s not necessary to play the other games, Chaos;Head and Robotic;Notes, since all three games have standalone storylines.

The game follows the perspective of Rintaro Okabe, a self-proclaimed mad scientist with an obsession for conspiracy theories. In reality he’s an Akihabara based college student who formed a club with his friends to invent new gadgets. One day Okabe attends a time travel seminar, where he rudely interrupts the speaker and is scolded Kurisu Makise, a young researcher famous for her work. Sometime later he hears a scream and when he investigates, he discovers the blood splattered body of Makise. After leaving the scene in horror, he experiences an odd vision where everyone disappears. Much to his confusion, he’s the only one to have any memories of this and Makise’s apparent death. Hours later he encounters Makise, who is very much alive and unharmed. Not long afterwards he discovers that he can send email messages and memories back in time.

The story is a bit of slow burn and doesn’t hit its stride until the 5th chapter, but when it does, it’s indeed full of conspiracy, world altering events, and unexpected character twists. Time travel stories tend to be messy, but thankfully Steins;Gate establishes and adheres to rules established early on. Some of the rules are based on real theories, which lends a bit of realism to the time travel science used in the game. The characters, depending on who you choose to interact with, are all given ample time to develop. Okabe is a bit irritating initially, but he experiences significant growth and change as he copes with the traumatic consequences of his temporal manipulations. There’s an intense sense of urgency in the final chapters as the characters struggle to fix their timeline at great personal cost. As with most visual novels, the game play is limited to advancing text and making decisions. Periodically you’re prompted to pull out Okabe’s cell phone to answer phone calls, read emails, or open attachments. Certain emails contain specific keywords that can be emphasized in a response, which can completely alter the the direction of the game. There are also multiple endings that depend on this, so the game does require several playthroughs to see whole picture. Whether you choose to answer his phone is optional and can alter the plot progress, as well as affect Okabe’s relationships. Favoring particular characters can even lead to romantic endings, though Steins;Gate is definitely not a harem game.

The game features character designs created by huke, best known in the west as the creator of Black☆Rock Shooter. The characters pop out through his distinctive shading and the radiant colors used for the eyes of various female characters. The backgrounds and event scenes are also of rich details. The PlayStation 3 and PC versions offer full 1080 resolution while the Vita version has the convenience of being portable along with touch screen controls. Both versions make use of JAST USA’s translation from their PC release last spring. Aside from the irritating lack of text wrapping for the cell phone text and odd punctuation usage, the translation is solid.The soundtrack is headlined by Kanako Ito’s opening song, Non-Linear Geniac, a dramatic song that establishes the tone for the game. The in game music is more subdued and mostly serves to establish atmosphere, aside from the more dramatic events when the main theme kicks in. The game’s excellent voice acting is only available in Japanese. Both the game and anime shares the same cast.

If you’ve seen the anime, should you still play the game? Yes, because the visual novel offers much greater insight and detail into the lives of the characters. There’s a tremendous amount of written detail that fleshes out and explains the various topics and terminology used. The alternate endings are also a nice treat for fans who favor specific pairings like Okabe and the pretty male shrine maiden, Lukako.Steins;Gate is an outstanding visual novel with a well developed cast of characters, a distinct art style, and captivating plot. It’s an exceptional work of science fiction and easily one of the best time travel stories in recent memory.Steins;Gate is available as a digital download on the PlayStation Network. The North American PlayStation 3 and Vita retail versions are available exclusively on Amazon.

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Kalai Chik

Kalai Chik

Pop culture writer focusing on animation, music, and games. Los Angeles native, USC alumni, and contributor for Asia Pacific Arts since 2015. Follow me on Twitter, @kalai_chik.