Whether you’re intimately familiar with the games and anime or a complete newcomer, Steins;Gate Elite is a refreshing new take on its highly-commended 2009 forbear. It both paves the way for new entrants into the series and offers enough nuance to tempt long-term fans to revisit one of the best stories of the visual novel genre, one that now feels (wait for it) right at home on Nintendo Switch.
The story of Steins;Gate Elite remains true to that of the 2009 original, focussing on self-proclaimed mad scientist Okabe Rintaro (or Hououin Kyouma as he prefers to be called). He and a group of his friends collectively form the Future Gadget Laboratory, inventing a variety of quirky gadgets to aid mankind. Although the narrative is choc-full of tasteful, well-westernised humour, the story a takes a sharp, dark turn once the lab members inadvertently craft a time travelling device.
This isn’t some grand time machine for that lets the gang step back and forth in time, but rather lets them send text messages. It using the same ‘phone trigger’ system from the original game, and you respond to keywords in text messages Okabe receives. These ultimately have a ripple effect on the events that follow, dictating which of the multiple endings you’ll secure.
At times the dialogue can feel quite heavy and long-winded, especially in the opening chapters of the game that are dominated by unfathomable amounts of sci-fi ramblings. Although these may ensure that it’s time travelling premise is not so easily picked apart, it will likely leave you in a state of confusion and disinterest for the most part. The ‘Tips’ menu can be called upon via the pause menu to break down the stacks of scientific jargon, but it doesn’t nullify the frustration derived from sitting through drawn-out explanations that are nearly always followed up with a simplified summary regardless.
Yes, the story can prove a bit of a drag early on, but this is where Steins;Gate Elite’s more engaging approach to storytelling comes into play. The main difference between Steins;Gate Elite and the original is that it’s fully animated, pulling scenes straight from the anime series and with new scenes created for story paths the anime didn’t feature. These stand in for the beautiful art style flaunted back in 2009. Even Okabe’s phone interface and menus alike have seen a snazzy spruce up that allow them to coexist more coherently with the updated visuals. The animations play out very smoothly, making for a more immersive experience that essentially feels like enjoying the anime itself.
With little interaction required, Steins;Gate Elite would make a befitting addition to any Switch players library to play on the go, but it works just as well on TV and PlayStation 4. Just alter the text speed in the settings menu, set the text to auto and put your feet up to indulge in what feels like an interactive movie. If you’re returning after a bit of a break, you can recap it’s events with the “X” button, like re-reading the last few pages in a book you haven’t picked up for a while.
In a game demanding minimal player interaction, the main focus lies on the player and the heartfelt ties they’ll form with the characters throughout. With a lovable cast boasting the same variety as a box of chocolates, growing attached to the group feels effortless. This is only enriched with the animated cutscenes that bring Okabe, Mayuri and the gang to life like never before, making it far easier to empathise with the wicked roller-coaster of emotions they endure throughout. Establishing relationships with the characters is key for maximising impact as the story grows unusually dark and disturbing.
Steins;Gate Elite is undeniably at it’s best when showcasing it’s finesse in making the player feel tremendous weight on their decisions. Once seemingly petty choices will become overshadowed by the butterfly effect and the principle of cause and effect, so much so that you’ll find yourself growing increasingly more mindful of how you respond to messages as you play on. As the group begins to manipulate time, situations have less obvious resolutions and you’ll break a sweat whenever it’s time to intervene as you battle to keep everyone from harm and ultimately strive for the best outcome in the “true ending”.