Developer – 5pb. Games
Translator – Pqube
Length – 30-50 Hours
[A review copy was kindly provided by Pqube]
[Pqube has had no input into the content of this review]
[This review assumes you have read Steins;Gate or read my review for it]
[This review contains SPOILERS for the original Steins;Gate]
Steins;Gate is an extremely popular visual novel in the Western world. In fact, it’s rated second on VNDB behind only Muv Luv Alternative. When I finally got around to reading it I found it to be an enjoyable experience with unique art and fantastic characters, though it failed to grip me like it had so many others due to a protracted low-energy introductory segment and underwhelming climaxes. So how does this sequel stack up? For me, Steins;Gate 0 can be fully described with the phrase “more of the same”, with all of the good and bad connotations you might attribute to that description. For fans of the series, however, I’d say it represents another must-play instalment.
That was it. He’d had enough. After having chased his most precious friends across time and back, and failed to save them in every way imaginable, Okabe Rintarou has decided to give up. Even if that means sacrificing the person dearest to him, and even if that means World War III will inevitably occur. Life returns to normalcy, and Okabe hangs up the mantle of Hououin Kyouma, the mad scientist, in favour of the life of a regular academic. During his studies, however, he discovers that Makise Kurisu still lives on. Her memories had been digitized before the two ever met and now she exists as an artificial intelligence known as Amadeus. Okabe’s struggles are not over, and with new allies and enemies to help and hinder him, he may yet discover the path to Steins Gate.
Steins;Gate 0 starts out strong. Who could deny that the concept of a deceased loved one returning in the form of an AI has huge potential for entertainment and emotion? It’s also great to spend more time with the cast from the original story, while several new individuals easily find a place in the narrative, being similarly well written. Once again, characterization is a major strength for Steins;Gate. Another bonus is that the tale jumps into the important stuff almost immediately, skipping out on the lengthy slice of life chapters in the original. For those who did enjoy that aspect the first time around, those moments still exist in numbers; it’s just that the pacing is more even overall (if you don’t mind the SoL being slotted in between the more important chapters, which you just well might). However, I still feel like the climaxes of each route aren’t nearly as exciting as they could be, which was also true when Nitroplus was contributing. Another of my complaints that has been addressed to some degree is the choice system. Though it’s still impossible to tell which actions might change your route, the messaging between characters is used to greater effect with the player being able to choose responses and watch whole conversations play out. It’s not used as often as I’d like, but it’s a step in the right direction.
Unfortunately, there are still a number of issues that prevent me from calling Steins;Gate 0 a massive improvement. If you read the VNDB description you’ll note that stories from novels and drama CDs have been cobbled together into this one VN, and it really shows. Much like Steins;Gate, several character routes branch off from the main one and almost all of these feel somewhat incomplete. Story threads appear and aren’t really resolved while others disappear for massive periods of time, and that links in to another feature I ended up being disappointed by. Though several very interesting characters are introduced by 0 several others, new and old, play little to no role at all and that feels like a waste.
One of the reasons fans really enjoyed the original was the feeling of slowly working back through previous mistakes and joining Okabe in painstakingly trying to work out just what had going wrong to affect the world line the way it had. I’m sorry to say that’s more or less absent in Steins;Gate 0. Changes to the past are made almost exclusively by third parties that are never met during the story, which means you never know what was changed and, to be honest, you almost never figure out what the effect was either. Causality and resulting chains of events are interesting, but they’re not featured here.
As I mentioned earlier, I was really interested in the concept of Amadeus. How do you interact with a digital version of a deceased loved one that was created before they knew you? What about when they discover their previous relationship with you, and how they eventually passed away? For whatever reason few of those questions are ever raised or answered, and while Amadeus/Kurisu is always very accessible the story shies away from interactions with her, relegating a major character with massive potential to the status of a mere plot device. It was disappointing, much like the game’s final ending. After the last route before the finale, which was really very enjoyable, I was gearing up for something big to happen. I’d saved my last play session for a time where I’d have no distractions for several hours so I could just sit down and enjoy a good conclusion. I loaded up the game and settled in for the long haul…and the credits rolled 5 minutes later after attempting to set up a sequel. I wasn’t pleased.
When I first fired up Steins;Gate 0 I was pretty darned sure that a different artist had been brought on board, and was surprised to find that the same individual, Huke, was behind both visual novels. While the same unique style does the series a great service, character designs are ever so slightly different. That difference threw me off to begin with but with time I had to conclude that the art was of a higher quality than in Steins;Gate. On the same note, the UI and overall presentation are of a high enough calibre that 0 feels at home on the PS4. The OST fits the game well, and the voice acting is spot-on, having brought back many of the original VAs. Finally, it’s worth noting that PQube has done a fantastic job of localization.
Summary – For fans Steins;Gate 0 should be a fitting sequel to the 2009 visual novel they know and love. The characters are still excellent, as are their designs and other visuals in unique Steins;Gate style, and the story portrayed explores several interesting new concepts within its pre-established setting. However, “more of the same” also means that my own complaints from the original trickle over, like lacklustre side routes and underwhelming climaxes, alongside some news ones like missed opportunities. Like its predecessor, the story feels like it has an ace up its sleeve at all times, but consistently folds before playing it. There are also some differences in focus that fans may not enjoy so much, though I would argue that they are made up for by tighter pacing. Overall, if you loved Steins;Gate you will most definitely love Steins;Gate 0, and if you only enjoyed it (like me), well, there’s enough there for it to be worth your while too.
Score: 7.5/10 – Enjoyable