Disclaimer: This review will spoil key events from the original Steins;Gate game/anime. The game being reviewed expects you to have knowledge of the events that take place in the true ending of Steins;Gate. By the nature of the plot, it’s impossible to discuss this game without spoiling the original game’s ending. Rest assured however, there will be no spoilers for Steins;Gate 0! El. Psy. Kongroo.
We all have something in our lives which, by its very existence, helps shape us into the people we are today, and for me that was watching Steins;Gate back in 2012. The anime for that easily become one of my favorites of all time and is responsible for my love of time travel and science in media. When I heard that Steins;Gate was getting a sequel, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t at least a little worried. Steins;Gate 0 released in Japan on December 10th, 2015 and western fans have spent nearly a year waiting excitedly to finally delve deeper in the incredibly well-written world of Steins;Gate. The question is, was the wait worth it? How do you follow up a game that wrapped up as well as it did without tainting the quality of the ending? It’s a tricky feat to accomplish, but I can confidently say that Steins;Gate 0 manages to follow the original in an incredibly respectful manner and deserves your attention if you care about Steins;Gate.
August 13, 2010. In the Beta Timeline, Okabe Rintaro travels back in time to try and save the woman he loves, Makise Kurisu, and fails miserably. He is told that if he does not succeed, the world will be thrown into a third World War and billions will die. However, right as he’s about to give up, a miracle happens and he receives a video message from his future self. With this extra push, he was able to deceive both fate and the world to save her and all of mankind, reaching the Steins Gate world line. The thing is, there was a whole history of suffering the future Okabe had to go through to reach the point where he was able to send that video message, and that’s the history Steins;Gate 0 explores. The story of 0 is a darker take on the idea of time travel, but also features the themes of realistic Artificial Intelligence and what the repercussions would be of that existing.
Three months after failing to save Kurisu, Okabe has become a broken man, a mere shadow of his past self. He suffers PTSD from extensive use of leaping through time hundreds to thousands of times and being the one to accidentally kill the love of his life. He frequently has vivid and horrifying flashbacks to trying to save her, requiring him to take anxiety medicine. Giving up on his mad scientist persona of ~Hououin Kyouma~ (Imagine a dramatic pose and a lab coat fluttering in the wind- rest in piece you crazy bastard), he has begun to distance himself from his friends and his lab in order to spend the remaining years of his life trying to finish Kurisu’s work. He discovers that the old memories of Kurisu were used as a basis for a stunningly realistic AI called Amadeus, and from there Okabe is thrust back into a world he never wanted to be a part of again. Seeing this new side of Okabe is jarring and depressing, but good God is it well-written. After being by his side through the entirety of Steins;Gate, the player is able to understand just how he ended up in this state. I felt such a wide range of emotions while playing through 0, desperately wanting Okabe to come back to his senses but loving his new characterization. There are hints of the Okabe the fans grew to love still there, shining through the cracks of his broken self, but his suffering adds so much depth to an already amazing character. I felt his severe depression was written extremely well and realistically, he’s trying his best to live a normal life but his subtle mannerisms show a deeply saddened individual. Many games make similar transitions of characters feel constantly edgy and one-dimensional, and I’m glad the writers for this game were able to avoid the mistakes of so many other games.
Steins;Gate 0 is a traditional visual novel with rather limited gameplay, but has unique changes to the formula that makes it stand out in the medium. Like the original game, the paths the story takes are designated by key events involving use of your phone (which can be taken out at any time), but this game changes things up. Since there aren’t actual dialogue choices, there’s a lot of reading to be done with not too much player input, but if you’ve played through Steins;Gate then chances are you are already used to that. There are small choices you can make in this game by texting your friends via the new RINE service, and while it didn’t drastically affect the outcome of the story it was a big improvement on the email system from the previous game. Steins;Gate had one large path that would branch off slightly depending on emails you responded to and when you would choose to use your phone. Steins;Gate 0 features two story routes, and the path branches happen based around how you respond to certain key moments when you are called by Amadeus Kurisu. I enjoyed the drastically different paths this game features, and it only makes it better that the way to get to one of those routes requires players to use their phone at a key moment many would not think about doing so. Not to mention, the side endings in this game are a MASSIVE improvement to those featured in the first game, and each felt like they added to the overall story. It’s a nice change, since many of Steins;Gate’s side endings were just romance-based and really didn’t provide the player with anything important to the overall plot. That’s not to say that those endings were bad, but during my initial playthrough of that game I never felt a need to experience them. Every single ending in Steins;Gate 0 was incredible, and I’d actually recommend going through and seeing them all. I’d recommend giving this a blind playthrough on your first run, and after whatever ending you get using Reading Steiner’s (A very prominent member of the Steins;Gate fanbase) fantastic flowchart which can be found here (Warning: very slight spoilers).
Visually, this game is a huge step up from its predecessor. The text boxes and menus are leagues better than they were in Steins;Gate, as 0 oozes a dark charm and style. The portraits are also redone, and seeing the evolution of artist Huke’s style is wonderful. It took some getting used to at first, but the change in style ended up being a welcome one. I played this via a PS4 code provided by PQube, and the visuals are stunningly beautiful in 1080p. I’d recommend playing on Vita for the ease of use and portability however, and I personally made extensive use of remote play. I’d say my one downside with the visual presentation is that at some points it’ll reuse many of the original game’s portraits, which really clashes with the new art. Some of the characters with updated art end up even reverting to their older portraits later on temporarily, and I wish their artwork was just redone in the new style than create this weird dissonance. I’d say it’s a nitpick at best, however, and didn’t ruin my enjoyment of the game.
The audio design succeeds across the board on this game, and is perfect in pretty much every way. The music is just as good as Steins;Gate’s, with great tracks that both make the soundtrack stand out and pay homage to the original game’s music. The score knows when to feel haunting, emotional, and joyful when the situation calls for it. There are four vocal tracks, a single OP song and three EDs, and each are incredibly emotional and will have you listening to them on repeat, which is easy thanks to the gallery you can unlock. Voice acting is also a big positive, which is Japanese-only like its predecessor. I’d say that the darker tone makes the voice acting even better, as it gives the voice actors more of an opportunity to deliver incredibly touching performances. The entire cast kills it, but I have to say Okabe’s voice actor completely steals the show and nails the new direction the character has taken.
The localization was handled by the publisher, PQube, this time around instead of JAST, who translated the original game. I don’t have any major complaints with the quality of the localization- the dialogue feels natural and authentic to the culture that the game takes place in and it’s still full of clever references to internet culture. The translators did a great job with such a text-heavy game in the time allotted (only 5 months!), and I hope to see more of their work in the future. I honestly couldn’t even tell this was handled by a different team than the original, and they even removed the formatting problems the official English version was plagued with. The one downside to the translation, however, is that there were some very rare typos that would just stick out like a sore thumb. I believe the game will be receiving patches (Hell, a patch had released halfway through my time reviewing it) to fix any translation bugs however, so this gets a pass by me and I’m pleased to see PQube is working so hard to make their game as good as it can be.
I mentioned story a bit earlier, but I think it’s important to go into the characterization of both the returning and new characters. One of the most lovable aspects of Steins;Gate was its unique and multi-dimensional cast, and I’m pleased to say these characters still manage to get plenty of development and feel fresh. The character development that happens to the returning cast is subtle, and the writing doesn’t go out of its way to add more to characters that never needed it. I was surprised that this game actually made me like Daru a hell of a lot more by the end of it then I did in the original, which seemed impossible. Mayuri also gets a very large character arc, which vastly improves an already fantastic character. Not every character who returns gets a significant arc, however, and I think this is one of the reasons that makes Steins;Gate 0 feel so realistic. The entire cast doesn’t get a personality overhaul or given stupid reasons to grow. There isn’t character development for the sake of needing the cast to change, and the way the cast grows subtly over time is wonderfully-written. The new characters also managed to fit well in the universe, and their inclusion never felt forced. Kurisu’s friend Maho is a very important main character, and I ended up liking that grumpy little gremlin far more than I ever thought I would.
There are a couple things I’d like to discuss briefly before sharing my thought about the ending, and that’s the pacing and the point of view change. Visual novels have it rough, and they live and die on how well they are paced. The original game and anime are often criticized by having really slow starts that take ages to pick up, (something I disagree on, as the setup is intentional and is vital to the second half of the story being as great as it was, but I digress) and it seems they took note of this. The beginning of the game has an incredibly fast pace, and would jump ahead in periods of a couple of days to weeks at a time, instead of the day-by-day approach that the original took. It slows and feels more natural once you split off into one of the main two routes, but there were many times during the opening hours that slowing down would have helped the immersion just a slight bit. I’m sure that this is something only a very minority of Steins;Gate fans will have problems with, and even I don’t see this as a detrimental flaw. The transition might shock you is all, but rest assured that it doesn’t compromise the writing. Another interesting feature this game has is that the point of view doesn’t stay completely on Okabe this time around, but actually jumps around between many of the main cast. Suzuha and Maho get the most use with this, but many side characters will also get the occasional scene where we get to see things from their perspective. I was worried about the inclusion of this, and while I still enjoyed Okabe’s perspective the most, it managed to help the plot move forward in a lot of interesting ways. It’s good that this was used in a non-intrusive way that still made Okabe feel like the main character.
After completing a certain set of requirements, which has been streamlined significantly from the original game, you will be able to see the true ending scene. Honestly, at first I was… very confused by the events that transpire during this relatively short extra chapter, and wasn’t sure how I thought about it. The game built up a lot of interesting events, and does indeed pay off on pretty much all of them, but I was expecting a true ending to be of similar length to the original’s whopping 3 hours of content. Why did this not have something similar? Then I thought about it, and I realized I pretty much answered my own question. Steins;Gate 0’s “True Ending” never needed to be long, because an actual true ending to this saga already exists in the form of the original game’s true ending. A lot of thought is required to process and appreciate an ending like this, but the information is all laid out to the player in subtle ways as the story goes on. I had to talk to Steiner about exactly what the hell I had just witnessed, and after having it broken down for me I have to say it was incredibly satisfying. I apologize for the vagueness, but I’m trying to avoid spoilers to the best of my ability. The ending managed to leave me with such an incredible feeling, and made me fall in love with just how everything in this game played out.
To sum my positive and complex feelings about this, I love Steins;Gate 0 so much. Steins;Gate was incredibly influential on my tastes, and basically changed my life. I spent a total of 34 hours devouring this game’s incredibly well-written story and characters and getting sucked back into this magnificent world. I’m a little saddened that this might be the end of Steins;Gate, as I’ll miss this confusing and wonderful series I hold so dear. I can confidently say that Steins;Gate 0 had the best story I’ve seen in a game all year, and is easily my Game of The Year.
- Steins;Gate 0 is better than Zero Time Dilemma (Another big time travel-related game this year), and deserves a spot right next to its predecessor.
- Having said that, if you get Addicted to Steins;Gate 0 I’d highly recommend giving the Zero Escape games a shot.
- A better name for this game would be Steins;Gate 0 Waifus Left in this World Line.
- Buy/Rent/Avoid: An incredibly high recommendation to buy. If you are the kind of person who wouldn’t buy a visual novel for full price, the Steins;Gate duology features a strong enough story and such a unique take on how a visual novel works that I can’t recommend it enough. Supporting this amazing game means we will probably get other games in the Science;Adventure series!
- Kurisu will always be the supreme best girl. Your other best girls mean nothing. Amadeus Kurisu was also incredibly adorable and killed me inside.