• Steins;Gate 0 Review - Sony PSVita

    Given the genre had next to no English-language representation until a few years ago, the number of visual novels thatíve made it to our shores recently is quite breathtaking. Those who arenít following closely might have the perception that most are thinly veiled vehicles for peddling under-dressed and over-proportioned anime girls, but Steins;Gate is one of those that inevitably comes up when you look for solid examples of the genre - though itís not entirely free of these criticisms, either. Whereas itís been nearly a year since the Japanese version landed, itís still a lot quicker a turn-around than for the first game, so there's some optimism to start with.

    While weíll be treading very carefully around major plot points, the game certainly doesnít make any such allowance for those who missed the first, vividly recapping crucial scenes from the end of the first game within the opening minutes. With time travel being such a key theme across both titles, trying to accurately point to where this fits into the grand canvas isnít quite as simple as a sequel or a prequel label, but it broadly picks up one of the more tragic and under-explored timelines from the original game, fleshing out the consequences it hints at in painstaking detail. The outcome of this is a pretty significant change in tone; rather than the slow-burning, carefree days that make up a significant part of the first game, thereís a lot of pressure and emotional baggage coming with you into this. No longer the delusional and loud-mouthed 'mad scientist' persona he once was, your character Rintaro has been brought crashing down to earth, bearing a heavy burden that he is struggling to cope with and keeping mostly to himself. Thatís not to say itís a complete downer - as well as most of the cast returning and keeping spirits up, there are a lot of new folks who keep you grounded, while gently, unknowingly, coercing you to reconsider the limits of possibility.

    On top of the complexities of time travel being commonplace topics of conversation, thereís a new vein of scientific consideration to lose yourself in too, as artificial intelligence is introduced as a secondary key theme for the story to dabble in. As was the case previously, one of its strengths is in how well it weaves real-world concepts and events into its story-telling, aided by a strong localisation effort that flows very naturally, and crucially without diluting its concepts or characters. This would be much more difficult to maintain without the ďtipsĒ menu that serves as a reference sheet for various bits of jargon, local knowledge, and slang that simply wouldnít be possible to explain naturally in the course of conversations. This isnít to say that youíll be in there the whole time, as many terms will be familiar; particularly if you hang around on sites like this, but also as you start to catch wind of the same conversations happening at different points as the story begins to branch out. The sum of this is a total of six endings, one of which is deemed the Ďtrueí ending, but all of which have some degree of overlap and are recommended if you want a complete and accurate picture of everything thatís going on (and can in turn, go wrong) within the gameís world. It may sound a tall order, but it is respectful of your time in this sense, offering a huge pool of save slots and quick-saves at pivotal moments, along with the option to skip through scenes you have seen before at high speed.

    As with any visual novel, mileage is going to vary enormously, and this is a very pure example of the genre at work. There are no distractions by means of navigation or puzzle solving, and the branching paths that diverge the various story chapters are based on very subtle alterations in the way that you choose to respond (or not respond) to the calls and messages that you take on your phone. Japanese voice over and some (quite gorgeous) static character art aside, little is there to distract you from the prime task of any novel - a lot of reading. The mood often jumps from incredibly serious to very silly and light at the drop of a hat too, and whereas itís often in character, anyone demanding an entirely straight laced story - or even just one that isnít drenched in otaku culture - might find this jars a little too much. That said, if you did play the original and werenít put off by that, youíre unlikely to find these to be significant issues, as this time itís certainly more widely palatable than it had been previously. Really though, all of this warning is only in place to serve as a disclaimer before then opening up and highlighting that if it you do have the stomach for it, it really does do what it sets out to do brilliantly. The characters are all eccentric, yes, but likeable and very human, and underpinning them thereís a thoroughly interesting and complex sci-fi story that manages real suspense and intrigue while also confidently delivering scenes with profoundly touching, heartbreaking, and uplifting sentiment. As the second in a series, itís marred a little by expectation, and the difficulty of pulling the rug out completely from underneath an audience as it had done for a second time running. However, as the expansion and evolution of this story, itís a brilliant addition to what's come before.

    Score: 8 / 10
    Comments 3 Comments
    1. 112's Avatar
      112 -
      I have been in two minds about this series, but your well informed review of the game has swayed me. Having not played any of the games in the series, I did have reservations about starting this series part way through, what seems like a complex storyline, given my lack of knowledge of what has gone before. Now that I know there is a recap, it should make the game more accessible.

      You raise a very valid and interesting point, how Japanese anime themed games have become very much available in the West over the past few years. Like you say, it is a welcome change from the norm of past console generations, where games aimed at the Japanese market, would not see the light of day in magazine publications, let alone on the shelf of a high street store.

      Keep up the good work!

    1. Asura's Avatar
      Asura -
      In truth, although it has received good reviews, I find it hard to try this.

      Question - after playing the first Steins;Gate and having seen all the endings, I can't help but feel it tells a complete story and a sequel isn't really "needed". Does this game ever shake off that feeling?
    1. Adrian Purser's Avatar
      Adrian Purser -
      @112 Unfortunately these brief moments don't really do justice to the weight of the scenes they touch on, particularly given everything that comes before them and builds up their significance. Much as I know it's a much bigger time commitment, it's definitely recommended to play the original first!

      @Asura I agree completely that the original does do a very good job of functioning as a stand alone story. This however, does do a very good job of carving out something additional in the world though - covering events before and after the events of the first - without having to retcon or otherwise undermine what's already laid out. I don't want to say too much for fear of spoiling, but if you enjoyed the first then there's a very high chance you'll enjoy this.
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