Steins;Gate has made quite the journey to where it is now, fully localised and playable across a growing list of gaming platforms. Originally, when it launched back in 2009, the game started life as an Xbox 360 exclusive, its positive reception soon triggering a series of spinoffs and adaptations. Before eventually making its way overseas, Steins;Gate was turned into a manga as well as an anime television series which is currently available on Netflix – with English audio, too.
Like many recent Japanese gaming imports, Steins;Gate can be labelled as a visual novel – a steadily swelling genre that shuns traditional mechanics and systems to focus purely on its characters and setting. When ‘playing’ Steins;Gate what you’re effectively doing is reading a living, breathing work of fiction that will, from time to time, react to certain decisions made in-game. Needless to say, if walls of character dialogue happen to be a pet hate of yours then, by all means, stay clear of Steins;Gate.
Visual novel aficionados, as well as those looking for something new and ‘out there’, may want to stick around, however. After all, for a game that is purely built on narrative to conjure a cross-media empire, the story it spins must be one worth experiencing, surely? Thankfully the answer to that is an emphatic “yes”.
Of course, Gate’s complex tale of time machines and dysfunctional teens won’t be to everybody’s taste. Although not as fluffy or over-the-top as other manga/anime series, the constant pop culture and otaku references will fly over the heads of many, along with its often confusing chronology. This isn’t the kind of story you can set to one side and hope to pick up again in a few months time. Although not completely demanding, Steins;Gate will require your undivided attention, especially given the absence of any actual gameplay.
Throughout, players will slip into the shoes and pristine labcoat of one Rintaro Okabe, a self-proclaimed mad scientist who calls himself “Hooin Kyoma”. Based in Tokyo’s upbeat Akihabara district, he shares a flat with his so-called lab assistants, live-long friend Mayuri and computer wizard Daru. Together, they devise a series of scientific experiments, as Okabe drags them from one crazy project to the next. Things take an unexpected turn for the group, however, when one of their inventions work, allowing the game’s unhinged hero to send a text message into the past.
Queue a complex spiral of events that mesh together over the course of several hours, introducing a network of key characters and plot twists. At times Steins;Gate can be tough to keep up with yet the payoff makes it all worthwhile. Alongside lead writer Naotake Hayashi, developers 5pb. and Nitroplus have crafted an intriguing, bizarre, and often touching story about time travel, fleshing out its cast of characters in a substantive fashion.
What makes Steins;Gate such a great visual novel is how the full package comes together. Although an option for English audio would have been ideal, it’s hard to feel shortchanged while engrossed in the game’s brilliant artwork and spot-on localised dialogue.
By nature, Steins;Gate isn’t the kind of game you can dip into for a minute here and there and expect instant gratification. It’s a visual novel and although played out on-screen, still requires the same level of dedication and focus as any other page-turner. For that reason we’d highly recommend choosing the PS Vita version over its PlayStation 3 counterpart. As with any book, you’ll want to take Steins;Gate out and about without being tethered to a desk or sofa.
Version Tested: PS Vita