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Review

Review: Steins;Gate 0

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The ori­gi­nal Steins;Gate is one of the most well known visu­al novels out the­re, and when a sequel was announ­ced we were exci­ted to see if it would be just as gre­at. What we actual­ly got was a some­what disap­poin­ting release that, even with the poten­ti­al to be gre­at, offers litt­le to the over­all Steins;Gate sto­ry.

For tho­se that haven’t play­ed the ori­gi­nal Steins;Gate, we’d high­ly recom­mend doing so. Not only is it a fan­tastic visu­al novel, but the ent­i­re con­cept of Steins;Gate 0 is a mas­si­ve spoi­ler for events in the first game.

The true ending of Steins;Gate is whe­re the sto­ry of Steins;Gate 0 starts, whe­re main cha­rac­ter Rin­ta­ro has suc­cee­ded in esca­ping the world line whe­re his child­hood fri­end Mayuri dies. Howe­ver, his girl­fri­end from the other world line, Kuri­su, is fated to die ins­tead. In an attempt to reach ‘Steins Gate’, a time­li­ne whe­re both Mayuri and Kuri­su sur­vi­ve, he acci­dent­al­ly kills the lat­ter in an attempt to save her from her cra­zed father. Ins­tead of recei­ving a mes­sa­ge from his future self sho­wing him the way to Steins Gate, as is the events in the ori­gi­nal game, Rin­ta­ro has no mes­sa­ge to help him and the trau­ma from Kurisu’s death and the events of the other word line cau­se him to give up on try­ing to chan­ge the past fur­ther.

The tone of Steins;Gate 0 is dar­ker than the first game, thanks to the chan­ge in Rintaro’s per­so­na­li­ty. Dit­ching his mad sci­en­tist per­so­na ‘Kyou­ma Houou­in’, Rin­ta­ro is far more mel­low, just wan­ting to com­ple­te his uni­ver­si­ty degree and live a more nor­mal life. The way his depres­si­on and PTSD is hand­led is believ­a­ble, and it shows just how the events of the first game affec­ted Rin­ta­ro. Even though his per­so­na­li­ty has chan­ged becau­se of this, he’s never writ­ten in a way that makes him seem like a com­ple­te­ly dif­fe­rent cha­rac­ter. This excel­lent cha­rac­te­ri­sa­ti­on also extends to the rest of the retur­ning cast. From “super hacker” Itaru to the silent Moe­ka, they are all as gre­at as they whe­re in the ori­gi­nal Steins;Gate.

The new cha­rac­ters intro­du­ced in Steins;Gate 0 are a mixed bag. Maho, sci­en­tist and fri­end of Kuri­su, is our favou­rite of bunch. She offers new insight into Kurisu’s per­so­na­li­ty and back­sto­ry, while also being an inte­res­ting cha­rac­ter herself. 0 some­ti­mes swit­ches the per­spec­tive from Rin­ta­ro to other cha­rac­ters’, and Maho’s per­spec­tive is usual­ly the one that offers the most when it comes to the over­all sto­ry and cha­rac­te­ri­sa­ti­on. Asi­de from Maho, the majo­ri­ty of the new cha­rac­ters eit­her have litt­le impor­t­an­ce or are hand­led rather poor­ly.

Ama­de­us, a pro­gram that can crea­te AIs from digi­ti­sed memo­ries, is meant to be an important plot point in Steins;Gate 0. Rin­ta­ro gains access to Ama­de­us ear­ly on in the sto­ry, and with it a digi­tal ver­si­on of Kuri­su using her memo­ries from befo­re she died. When she’s first intro­du­ced, we assu­med that she would appe­ar fre­quent­ly, but Rin­ta­ro rare­ly inter­ac­ts with Ama­de­us in a lot of the game’s rou­tes. The way Ama­de­us is used during the sto­ry feels like a mis­sed oppor­tu­ni­ty and it seems like most of the rea­son it exists is to try and give Kuri­su more impor­t­an­ce even with her death.

As with the ori­gi­nal Steins;Gate, choices that affect which rou­te you take in the sto­ry are made by using Rintaro’s pho­ne. In 0 he has upgraded from a fea­ture pho­ne to a smart­pho­ne, which fea­tures the messa­ging app ‘RINE’ along with access to Ama­de­us. In the first game, Rin­ta­ro could respond to texts he recei­ved and his reply would chan­ge based on which key­word you cho­se from the text. Some of the­se texts were important for acqui­ring the true ending, but even tho­se that weren’t still had a chan­ce of giving you extra cha­rac­ter deve­lop­ment and secrets. RINE on the other hand has no real pur­po­se in the sto­ry and the replies you choo­se have no impor­t­an­ce to the sto­ry. Bet­ween the six dif­fe­rent rou­tes in Steins;Gate 0, the­re are only a small hand­ful of choices that need to be made. This lea­ves long sec­tions with no actu­al inter­ac­tion asi­de from the occa­sio­nal unim­portant RINE mes­sa­ge.

This leads to the main issue Steins;Gate 0 has com­pa­red to its pre­de­ces­sor. The first Steins;Gate had two main rou­tes focu­sed on the main heroi­nes, along with shorter rou­tes for some of the other cha­rac­ters. This meant that most of the focus was on the main sto­ry and the other rou­tes were a nice but brief dis­trac­tion. Howe­ver in 0, every rou­te is fair­ly long regard­less of their over­all impor­t­an­ce to the sto­ry. This leads to the game’s over­all plot fee­ling some­what dis­join­ted, and can lead to con­fu­si­on if depen­ding on the order you play through the rou­tes.

The­se issu­es fur­ther show just how gre­at Steins;Gate’s wri­ting was. It exp­lai­ned the mecha­nics of time­li­ne mani­pu­la­ti­on well, so you always knew the limits of what Rin­ta­ro was able to accom­plish with his time machi­ne. Here it’s less obvious, with your choices affec­ting the time­li­ne in ways that aren’t pro­per­ly exp­lai­ned to the reader. The­re were many times whe­re we couldn’t under­stand why some­thing hap­pen­ed, and even after finis­hing every rou­te the­re were still plot points that made litt­le sen­se over­all.

Visual­ly, Steins;Gate 0 is an impro­ve­ment for the most part. The art is far more con­sis­tent com­pa­red to the ori­gi­nal game, most­ly lacking some of the stran­ge faces that the first game had. The UI had also been chan­ged to bet­ter rep­re­sent the chan­ge in tone, using a rusted metal look com­pa­red to the clea­ner look in Steins;Gate. The game’s sound­track is also fan­tastic, giving each sce­ne extra emo­tio­nal depth.

Conclusion

Steins;Gate 0 was a some­what disap­poin­ting game to play, espe­ci­al­ly after play­ing through the ori­gi­nal direc­t­ly befo­re this. While it was gre­at to see the fami­li­ar faces of the old cast and some of the new addi­ti­ons, the game’s over­all wea­ker plot makes it hard to recom­mend this to Steins;Gate fans. The­re are some good moments, but they’re buried behind a sto­ry that is far, far wea­ker than the first game’s.

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