When Steins;Gate released last year on the PlayStation Vita, I went into it not knowing what to expect. It soon became clear to me that this time-travelling visual novel was something special, and I was soon hooked due to its excellent narrative and likeable (yet odd) characters. In my review I gave it full marks and it remains to be one of my favourite games on the handheld that we all love and cherish. This meant that when Steins;Gate 0 was announced as being localised, I knew I had to get my hands on it to see what happens next in the world(s) of Okabe Rintaro and friends.
Although named Steins;Gate 0, it is worth noting that this game is not a prequel as some people seem to think. Instead, the game starts during the middle of the end of Steins;Gate – albeit on the Beta worldline as opposed to the original’s Alpha – so you really do need to play the original to fully understand and appreciate the story here.
It is due to the events that took place in the original Steins;Gate that makes Okabe Rintaro a shell of his former self. He has all but given up on the Future Gadget Lab, stopped making the crazy gadgets that he was ‘famous’ for and no longer has the mad-scientist-like alter-ego Hououin Kyouma that made him both annoying and strangely likeable. Instead, what we see is a character who is a broken man and traumatised due to the events that have transpired, a character who just wants to live his life as a normal student.
It is here that Okabe meets Maho Hiyajo – a scientist who worked alongside Kurisu Makise. Once Maho learns that Okabe knew Kurisu, she invites him to become a tester on a program something she has been working on called ‘Amadeus’ – an Artificial Intelligence program that has the memories, voice and personality of Kurisu. This AI is installed on Okabe’s phone as an app so that Okabe can contact Kurisu whenever he likes, and she can contact him – which confuses Okabe the first time he picks up his phone to see her calling!
Similarly to Steins;Gate, Steins;Gate 0 has multiple plot branches for you to playthrough. Which one you go down is dependent on choices that you make at certain points in the game. In the original this was decided based on the response you chose when answering an e-mail (or D-Mail as they were known), here it is your interactions with Amadeus Kurisu that will decide on how the worldline changes. Whether you decide to answer Kurisu’s call or not will decide upon how the worldline will shift. What causes these shifts is one of Steins;Gate 0’s many mysteries, and one that gets Okabe thinking like his former self – with memories of previous worldlines flooding back to him.
Other characters from the original game are present here of course, and with this game taking place in a different worldline altogether they are familiar yet different. Everything you learnt about characters like Mayuri, Daru and Moeka Kiryu in Steins;Gate may now no longer be true. You will, however, still find their characteristics the same – Mayuri is still a cute, ditsy young girl, Daru still the pervert and Moeka the shy reporter who hides behind her mobile phone. There are also quite a few new characters introduced in the game, including Mayuri’s cosplay friends Kaede and Fubuki joining the fray alongside Yuki Amane – who has a big role to play in how things pan out, and Dr Alexis Leskinen, an American university professor who is the mentor of both Kurisu Makise and Maho Hiyajo.
All of these characters are welcome additions to the game, especially Dr. Leskinen who – despite his age and position – seems almost childlike in his behaviour. This leads for some really entertaining scenes that break up from the drama and despair that makes for the majority of Okabe’s story.
Steins;Gate 0 feels a lot darker than Steins;Gate, particularly now that Okabe has dropped the mad scientist persona – but there are still a lot of great comedy moments in the game to break up the heavy stuff quite nicely. The atmosphere in the game is helped by the superb soundtrack and art that accompanies the story. The scenes look just as good (if not better) than they did in the original with some great artwork on show and the accompanying music that plays behind the brilliant Japanese voiceovers adds to the tension that builds throughout the game. If you know Okabe well you will know that something terrible is always coming his way, and although there are moments of respite for him you will always be anticipating what is going to make his world come crashing down next. Even though this game involves a lot of reading I would implore you to keep the sound turned up throughout, even if you (like me) cannot understand what the voice actors are saying you will be doing yourself a disservice to miss out on the excellent performances that bring these characters to life.
It is hard to write this review while trying to avoid giving away anything that may spoil this game or the one that came before it, but hopefully I have managed to do just that so far. The main reason for me doing this is that with these games you need to experience everything first hand – as they contain some of the best stories and twists that you will find on the PlayStation Vita.
Steins;Gate 0 may not have had the same impact on me as Steins;Gate did, but that is nothing to worry about. Steins;Gate introduced me to these wonderful characters, and this game serves as an extension to the story and world that I enjoyed so much the first time round. I guess knowing how the first game panned out meant I was always guessing what was coming in this game, meaning I was not as shocked by some of the scenes.
Steins;Gate 0 is just as good as the original, and you will definitely want to playthrough all the various endings to find out what is instore for Okabe and friends – which will push your playtime up to the thirty hour mark, making it a longer game than the original. Playing through this game brought back all the memories I had from playing through Steins;Gate last summer – Steins;Gate 0 is neither a prequel or a sequel, more a continuation of the same story. And when that story is one of the best visual novels that has ever been told, that can’t be a bad thing, can it?