Steins;Gate Review (PC Visual Novel)

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While first conceived as a visual novel back in 2010, the world outside Japan only got its first glimpse through the twisted time tunnels of Steins;Gate when Crunchyroll began to simulcast the critically acclaimed anime adaptation.

After two years of waiting – and fighting off ‘illegal’ fan translation patches – JAST USA has finally managed to bear the fruit of their labours as they deliver the original Steins;Gate experience in its final form.

The story of the Steins;Gate is a long and treacherous one. 40+ hours of sci-fi brain melting, to put a number to it. A sum of hours not too daring when it comes to the ill-forgotten genre of the Eastern world, but an amount usually reserved for RPGs and addictive puzzle and/or social games that attempt to absorb your own soul in the process.

Being a ‘game’ within a book, Steins;Gate takes the route of spinning its tale with heaps more visual aids than if it were a book. Each line of the title’s massive script is fully voiced by the original Japanese cast, with no forced upon – or even available – English vocal-track ready to cause a pitchfork-wielding mob to stir from within the fanbase.

While it’s fair to point out many of the main character’s inner monologues and narration remains un-spoken, general chitchat between the complex and varied cast of characters remains in place. Sure, it may be difficult for an Englishman to detect and applaud the readings of a different language, but the sheer amount of quirky personalities and unnatural tones/phrases Japanese voice-actors are expected to cover more or less assures me they’re doing the job well. I’m not Japanese, but hearing their language and reading to understand makes it feel like maybe I am!

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Focusing around the unfortunate turn of events targeting Okabe Rintaro, his ‘Lab mems’ and the unusual range of cast members introduced along the way; you’re placed into a 2010 rendition of Japan through the eyes of the self-proclaimed ‘Mad scientist’ who spends his days working on unusual scientific experiments. During the opening chapter, you’re quickly brought among the long streak of mysteries lining the game’s whole narrative outside of its otaku tones, terms and stereotypes. Sure, you’ll have the spaced-out, innocent girls and pervy men, but it’s still mostly about the science at play and a phone-equipped microwave oven.

And that very same science is what makes Steins;Gate such an engrossing tale. Kicking off by gate crashing important lectures, seeing a girl face first in her own blood and witnessing a satellite burying itself into the building you stood in not 2 minutes ago is all the excitement you really need to have you clicking through hours upon hours of in-game text.

Beyond that lies conspiracy theories, embarrassingly accurate representations of 4chan threads and microwaved bananas all in one incredibly long read. Of course, there’s a lot more plot to follow in a story revolving around time travel and the S(C)ERN supercollider; so much so that I couldn’t get anywhere near the end by the time of this review. And with the solid amount of effort needed to reach each of the game’s multiple endings means you’ll be waiting on the consistent spamming of in-game emails and carefully selecting how to reply – if at all – as each of a single message’s multiple responses alter the flow and direction of the in-game events.

At the end of the day, the script, visuals, game design and all other manner of Steins;Gate‘s being is the pure handiwork of Nitro+ and 5pb themselves; while JAST USA merely went through the trouble of translating and adapting thousands of lines of in-game text to an legible combination of the Latin alphabet.

While I noted numerous formatting errors in the regrettably short amount of time I spent frying my brain with the concept of time travel, they’re certainly not dire or consistent enough to draw much attention away from the end product. The small team over at JAST USA have undeniable dumped their entire reserves of attention and effort into delivering unto us (again) what Japan would not. That’s worth a round, right? This review is hardly mistake free, after all.

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