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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.
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.