[Visual Novel Review]: Steins;Gate

Steins Gate

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.

Steins Gate3

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.

Steins Gate4

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.

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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

Steins Gate2

About Silvachief

I'm a Gamer that dabbles in a little bit of everything. I'm big on Video Games, Visual Novels, Anime, Books and TV Series, but there's more to me than just those!
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21 Responses to [Visual Novel Review]: Steins;Gate

  1. Lazarinth says:

    Okay – this review only makes me want to recommend you the anime even more because the two main elements you complain about in the visual novel; pacing and unsatisfying pay off, I believe are done much better in the anime. The ending in particular is one of the best ending in anime I have watched. I know you want to clean your palate a a bit before you go on to it and that’s fine but I’m very eager to see if my prediction on this is right. Also the dub is very good.

    • Silvachief says:

      Alright, you’ve convinced me. I’ll give Steins;Gate another shot, with your head on the line if it’s not any better =P I’ve heard that it still doesn’t get good till about half-way through, though, so what’s your opinion on that?

      Dub or sub…i’d probably go sub, to be honest, since they will have the voices that i’m used to from the VN. And for the timing, maybe when I head down south in a few weeks’ time.

      • Kevin Mai says:

        It’s not that much different, I’d personally say. I actually preferred the execution of the ending in the VN, and had no preference with the pacing. I personally didn’t think so, as I’m a S;G nut, but a lot of people would agree with that statement and I don’t think it would be that much different than the VN in that aspect. If you thought that the VN was just OK, I can’t see you thinking anything differently with the anime.

        • Silvachief says:

          I think at this point I have to give the anime a go just so I can have an opinion on it XD To be honest, though, i’m leaning towards thinking more or less along those lines.

        • Lazarinth says:

          On the contrary, I’m a S:G nut as well but some times the anime portrays things more smoothly. In the end of episode 24 for instance makes the music dsiegetic with the scene giving it a more effective sync and fell. Because of the reading this is generally is not as effective in VNs. It’s true that the exciting bit start at episode 9-10 but the foreshadowing and pacing is so much more effective in the anime.

  2. fire says:

    All fair criticisms – your enjoyment of SG does depend on how much you enjoy the slice-of-life parts, which I thought were well done.

    It’s unfortunate that you’ve not enjoyed Nitroplus’s VNs – they do tend to be good (except Chaos;Head – fuck that shit): SG, Saya no Uta, Hanachirasu, Dra+Koi.

    If you have time, do check out Hanachirasu. It’s pretty short, and I found it pretty thrilling, to be honest. I didn’t think you could make swordfights seem suitably epic by mere description, but it Hanachirasu did.

    • Silvachief says:

      I’m not quite at the point of giving up on Nitroplus forever. Regardless of my opinion of their writing, their VNs tend to have interesting concepts. Hanachirasu and Dra+Koi are both on my list, and though I can’t see myself rushing toward them i’ll certainly be giving them a go in the future.

      • fire says:

        Dra+Koi is really, really short. Probably the shortest I’ve ever read.

        It’s more funny than anything, with a dose of thoughtfulness – the perfect kind of VN to read during university term, in my opinion. Doesn’t require much emotional commitment, nor a significant investment of time.

        I’ve been convincing a friend to try Muv Luv, but he’s put off by the art (the retarded hair, especially). Have you ever avoided a VN, or had to really force yourself to read it, based purely on how bad its art was? Higurashi?

        • Silvachief says:

          I’ll bump Dra+Koi up my list then, if it’s going to be that easy to get through =P I’m just about done with Ayakashibito (hint: it’s going to make the recommendations list) so it’ll be up soon.

          Everyone’s tastes are different (I mean, I found Muv-Luv’s art to be fairly decent, especially for when it was released), it’s a shame that he’s missing out on the story though >.<

          But yeah, I wouldn't be able to read anything with Ryukishi07's original art. Without trying to be mean or anything, it's pretty horrid. Otherwise, I can't think of anything i've avoided playing because of art. If I have then they were probably pretty old visual novels. What about you?

          • fire says:

            Not for VNs, not, but for anime, I just can’t bring myself to watch Ping Pong the Animation. The art is, not to put too fine a point on it, complete horseshit. If you were generous you could say it’s impressionistic and avant garde, but honestly it just looks ugly as incest.

            I’ve been slowly getting back into VNs since January – read Phenomeno and Hanachirasu, and will probably try Killer Queen next. Relatively short VNs that can be completed with minimal effort over a few days at most – then hopefully I can start on something serious like Umineko come Easter break.

            You’re watching Shinsekai Yori? Hope you enjoy it!

            What’s your VN backlog like now? You seem to have finished all the major stuff that people have recommended: Steins Gate, Grisaia, Comyu.

            • Silvachief says:

              I had a similar reaction to Ping Pong’s art but still plan to give it a go, so i’ll let you know if I think it”s worthwhile. The reviews are too good to pass it up.

              How did you find Phenomeno? I’ll be interested in hearing about Killer Queen as well once you’ve finished it (probably best to start a new comment, as these are starting to get pretty compressed). I’ll also be very keen to hear your thoughts on Umineko!

              Shinsekai Yori is…well, let’s say that I really don’t understand how it has managed to get such positive reviews. I think it’s disjointed and boring, though I have yet to decide whether i’ll continue with it for reviewing purposes (up to episode 11).

              I still have a massive backlog but it mainly consists of older or lesser-known VNs. Still need to go back through Kira Kira, Deardrops and Dengeki Stryker for their new content as well. I don’t really have a plan for them at this stage.

  3. rikuo06 says:

    I think I watched the anime up until the dying started, then switched to the VN, was satisfied, and haven’t returned to the anime since. I didn’t find the pacing to be a problem. Part of what makes the story interesting to me is how the seemingly inconsequential events during the beginning stretch become links on a chain to disaster that Okabe must painstakingly dismantle in the latter half. In the meantime, I quite enjoyed the “slice-of-life” with its diverse, excellently-acted cast, as well as its setting in contemporary Akihabara. Much of the all-star voice talents, including Miyano Mamoru, Hanazawa Kana, Tamura Yukari, and even Haruko Momoi, are among my favorites. I can understand feeling let down from not getting revelations about big-picture stuff like CERN, but I think it also fit thematically that Okabe was fighting shadows and fate the whole time rather than a knowable enemy. Overall, Steins;Gate may not be among my true favorites, but it remains a solid and memorable time-travel drama/thriller that I could recommend to just about anyone.

    • Silvachief says:

      Whether or not the reader enjoyed the slice of life/pacing at the start seems to be where people differ on Steins;Gate. For me, personally, it wasn’t enjoyable on its own and instead represented a long, drawn out pause before the real story began.

      I enjoyed the final portion in which Okabe was directly involved in time sequences that he remembered and wish there had been more of those. While the concept of those seemingly inconsequential events needing to be worked back through to resolve issues appeals to me in theory, in practice it seemed more like a checklist that needed to be gotten out of the way. Of course, that’s all down to the individual experience of the person reading. Maybe I felt that way because of the long intro period, or perhaps it was because there was never any real urgency to Okabe’s plight (except for the first real encounter with CERN). I mean, he just keeps going back in time whenever he screws anything up, right? And he’s been in all of those places before, so there isn’t really anything truly unexpected that occurs.

      Now that you’ve mentioned it, I agree that the idea of Okabe struggling against the abstract more than the physical is an intriguing one that fits the story. I didn’t feel too let down by not finding out any more about SERN, since they were a big, shadowy organisation that was in the background throughout the story anyway.

      Steins;Gate to me was alright. I don’t regret reading it but feel that the praise others give to it is over the top. If someone were asking me for a VN recommendation and I thought Steins;Gate would fit their tastes, I would still recommend it.

  4. Kai says:

    Yea, sad to hear you didn’t enjoy Steins;Gate as much. I don’t really mind the pacing and slice-of-life myself, though I did notice that Steins;Gate isn’t too ambitious, so I can see your point of it not really breaking it’s boundary and being something truly amazing-I’m still sold though despite it playing safe.

    • Silvachief says:

      As I mention, some of my disappointment stems from the huge buildup of expectations previous readers had given me. If I had enjoyed the slice of life at the start then the pacing issues would have disappeared (or at least been less relevant to me) and i’m sure I would have enjoyed the experience a lot more.

  5. I tried playing the VN ages ago after I’d watched the anime (and loved it!) but there was just so much reading and not a lot of things going on. So I can totally see where you’re coming from. I’m gonna get on the bandwagon and recommend you the anime tho. Imo it’s got a slow start, and functions more as a slice of life during the first half, but by all means isn’t bad. Second half just has a lot more story in it. Perhaps it’d be a good idea to wait a bit if you’ve just played the VN, but I’d say definitely watch it at some point!

    • Silvachief says:

      Looks like I have no choice now XD

      Have you played many visual novels? I actually been trying to get my girlfriend to give them a go. She’s enjoyed a few but feels that, like I feel about Steins;Gate, they take a huge amount of time to get to the meat of the story.

      • Unfortunately this is the only one I’ve tried so far /; Sorry I can’t be of any help here!

      • I think short visual novels (up to and under 10 hours) feel inconsistent because there’s little content. They need to focus on just a few characters. As the number of characters goes up, we have the longer novels that tend to have dramatic/epic plots such as Steins; Gate. If you have around 5 people talking and doing things during days, it’s natural it gets lengthy, as is the case. Add to that a fair number of routes and you get hours of gameplay. It all depends if you’re willing to sink a few hours or some 50 into a game, for one with the time the short game may be unsatisfying, for one with time constraints the beefy game might be too much. Anyway the critical point is whether the game hooks you up enough or not.

        • Silvachief says:

          I think you’re absolutely right here on all accounts. I know a number of people who aren’t willing to spend that much time on longer titles regardless of how good they might actually be.

          It’s tough to balance story progression and character development especially when a slice of life component is thrown into the mix. For me Steins;Gate’s common route’s time commitment didn’t match up to the payoff afterwards, which seems to be the difference between myself and the readers that really loved it (that is to say, they enjoyed the common route more than I did).

          That all said, i’ve played shorter VNs that hit me harder than Steins;Gate did as well as longer ones. I suppose that for my particular reading preferences they just managed their time better.

  6. Pingback: [Visual Novel Review]: Steins;Gate 0 | The Geek Clinic

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