Developer – Nitroplus & 5pb.
Translator – I-VNTP & JAST USA
Length – 30-50 Hours
Steins;Gate is a visual novel that sits on a lot of favorites lists. It’s ranked second on the visual novel database and I’ve had others recommending it to me for a very long time. The reason I’m telling you this is because, well, I personally found it to be just okay. A while ago in my Attack on Titan Review I mentioned that it feels weird when you play or watch something popular and it doesn’t live up to the hype you’ve been hearing about it; like you’ve missed out. While it’s probably the best visual novel by Nitroplus that I’ve read (which isn’t saying much) and certainly isn’t bad, Steins;Gate simply didn’t resonate with me and I hope I can convey why within this review.
If you could change the past, would you do it? For Okabe Rintarou, his childhood friend, his best friend and the girl he’d seen killed just a few days ago, this is a legitimate question. Having stumbled onto a discovery of a lifetime, they can’t help but test out exactly what they can accomplish, and none of them could have anticipated the results. On top of that, the major scientific community SERN has a vested interest in making sure the group don’t get what they want. And did I mention that the fate of the world is in their hands, too? It’s alright, however, because Okabe and his alter ego, the mad scientist Hououin Kyouma, are well versed in dealing with international threats. Before now though, they’d all been part of his made-up delusions.
A quick note before I begin: I have a lot of complaints about Steins;Gate and that’s because I want to expand on the reasons for my final score as much as possible considering the overwhelmingly positive opinion that most people have of it.
To get the ball rolling here, I need to mention that the above summary doesn’t really apply until about half way through the visual novel. To put that into perspective, that’s fifteen hours with no change of scenery, a whole bunch of low-energy, pseudo-scientific conversations and only one or two interesting new plot points. I’ll admit that I’m exaggerating a little bit here (only a little bit, mind), but waiting for something genuinely interesting and new to happen just got…tedious. The concept is good, and to a certain degree the storyline is good, it’s just that how they’re both delivered doesn’t allow for the maximum amount of entertainment value.
So then we get into the second half of the story, with all of the meatiest events yet to occur. I’m sitting at the computer, eagerly awaiting all of the amazing material I’ve been told that Steins;Gate has to offer. I finish one route that ends rather abruptly and is kind of anticlimactic but that’s okay because most visual novels have a route or two that aren’t that great. I finish a second route that goes a little bit farther but still doesn’t add much to the story or my connection to it, and I’m starting to worry a little. Three routes in and the underwhelming conclusions have become a trend. Before I go any further, I need you to know once again that Steins;Gate isn’t a bad visual novel. It maintains a consistent but low level of excitement throughout which meant that I was never really bored with what was going on and the second half is a lot better than the first. At the same time, however, it never breaks through that base level to become something amazing. Even the true route, which I had been sure would catapult the story to new heights, only ramped things up a little and was still incredibly short.
I think character designs are one of Steins;Gate’s strengths. It’s hard to make a reasonably-sized cast of distinct and interesting people to tell your story with but this is a feature I have to give Nitroplus some praise for. It’s unfortunate, then, that those strong designs have such truncated stories to take part in. The character “routes” are, quite frankly, half-assed, failing to contribute positively to the Steins;Gate experience because they’re just too short and lack anything more than a mild (and somewhat forced) emotional impact. Because of how the story is presented the non-main characters don’t have much of an active role to play in events which means that it’s hard to feel a connection to them. It’s the difference between saying that you like a character and actually caring about what happens to them; I can praise their design all I want but in the end I don’t really miss them, which is the crux of the issue. Once again, the characters themselves and their experience are enjoyable but fail to be anything greater than that.
You’ve probably noticed Steins;Gate’s unique visual style in the pictures I’ve used in this review and I have to say that, for me at least, it’s one of the best features the VN has brought to the table. The designs just fit the characters and overall experience wonderfully; if there’s one aspect that Steins;Gate excels in, it’s visual design. The other novel feature included is the cell phone choice system (no, I don’t know its actual name) – rather than having distinct options that pop up in the middle of the screen to herd you into a particular route, in this instance your path is decided by the calls and texts/emails you receive and how you decide to respond to them. It sounds great in theory and I think it’s an innovative way to try and differentiate Steins;Gate from other visual novels but in practice I feel that it doesn’t work so well. It’s impossible to tell which calls or messages will affect the story and the opportunity to utilize it to develop character relationships isn’t used at all. While I can’t quite say it’s detrimental to the experience its full potential isn’t realized either. Finally, I felt that the BGM didn’t do a very good job of backing up the mood of each scene; there are one or two tracks that work well but most were very forgettable.
Summary – The bottom line here is that Steins;Gate’s story is okay at every level but great at none of them. It doesn’t force you to the edge of your seat, heart pounding, itching to find out what happens next. The characters, while well designed, aren’t involved in the story enough to foster any sort of connection with you and don’t have their stories developed to a satisfying degree. Overall, the visual novel takes a long time to build up to nothing much; I spent its entirety waiting for something major to happen and it just…didn’t. With that out of the way, I can say that it has awesome visuals and a high production quality along with a unique “choice” system that you probably won’t see anywhere else. It may not have appealed to me quite so much, but a lot of people love it, so you might too.
Score: 7.5/10 – Enjoyable