Review: Steins;Gate

Following the jump is a review of Steins;Gate, which was released on the Xbox 360 for the Japanese audience on Oct. 15, 2009. This review has no real spoilers, so you should be good to read it.

Synopsis:
The game’s premise revolves around a man named Okabe Rintarou, who goes to a meeting regarding time travel. While he’s wandering around, he finds that 18-year old Makise Kurisu has been murdered. After leaving the building in a hurry, he decides to send a cellphone mail regarding the murder. However, the moment the mail is sent, the world changes, and Rintarou feels as if something had changed at that moment. The people around him have disappeared, and when he looks up at the top of the building he’s just left, he finds a satellite has crashed into the rooftop.

Only hours later does he bump into Makise Kurisu, who was supposed to have been killed…

Review:
The game makes use of three systems, all of which should have been outlined on the official website.

First is the Phone Trigger; depending on when and where you receive mails or phone calls, and when you send mails, you can affect what events Rintarou will encounter in the present. So instead of answering a phone call, he could end up talking to someone else, and you could piss someone off by reading (or not reading) mails while talking to them.

The second mechanic is “Delorean Mails”, or “D-Mails”. The microwave that’s in the laboratory is used to create miniature black holes, and by adjusting where the black holes go to, D-Mails can be sent to change events in the past, depending on the content.

The third mechanic is the Time Leap Machine. Later when the microwave is upgraded, Rintarou is capable of copying his memory and overwriting it onto himself in the past. Essentially the same as time travel, the only limitations are that memory data can only be sent as far as 48 hours into the past, and the person who uses it must send it to themselves in the past, and not someone else (who knows what might happen in that scenario).

The storyline is actually quite engaging. There are six character routes in all, and you don’t have to go very much out of your way to get to them. In fact, they’re quite easy to get to if you follow the main storyline, but you only get 85% of their storylines as you run through them. At a certain point, you’ll be faced with a decision whether to finish the rest of their storylines, resulting in their specific endings. The way this is worked in makes it possible to enjoy the character scenarios without having to be a parallel canon to the existing main storyline, so it felt as if all the characters had a role to play.

In CHAOS;HEAD, this was not the case for the majority of characters, and sometimes you’d wonder why they were around in the first place. The problem is further compounded with the Xbox 360 version, CHAOS;HEAD NOAH, where some routes just don’t seem to add up in terms of the build-up to the final ending of the CHAOS;HEAD NOAH game, or they just go off on a totally different tangent, completely oblivious of the events in the main storyline.

Most stories about time travel discuss a lot of intellectual stuff, and there’s quite a bit in the first couple of chapters. Stuff like wormholes, theories for how time travel works, etc. is all in here for the nerds interested in time travel. Of course, I found it a bit much, and most of it I only managed to keep up with simply because I had read up on the content beforehand. It would be nicer if things were explained more quickly and simply, though in some cases characters explained it in a “2ch” way so that other characters could understand (^^;). Speaking of which, there’s quite a bit of 2ch slang here and there, so players should watch out for these terms. The infamous, “However, I refuse” (だが断る) is also still around (though Nishijou Takumi isn’t around for this game to say it), for those who are curious.

Beyond the explanations though, the storyline becomes more intense. When crap starts hitting the fan, there’s a lot of character drama and interaction involved, as well as a lot of time traveling going on. The foreshadowing from the beginning of the game also has meaning for the final ending of the game, which players should be attentive about to understand the meaning behind everything. Of course, I won’t say what the final ending of the game is.

Music has actually gotten a bit of an “upgrade” in terms of style and easy listening compared to CHAOS;HEAD NOAH. Instead of the random techno or beats, the soundtrack for the game actually boasts stuff you could listen to in the background. Among the songs, a couple of them are sung by none other than FES–Kishimoto Ayase, from CHAOS;HEAD. Voice acting work is also up there, but that’s to be expected from a Nitro+/5pb collaboration. Though Miyano Mamoru as Okabe Rintarou feels a bit odd; sometimes he sounds like Lelouch from Geass, but who knows. I can’t get his “I AM GUNDAM” (俺がガンダム) line out of my head so it’s actually amusing when he spouts a bunch of crap every now and then.

huke may be an odd choice for an artist, particularly considering the style used for the CG. However, that shouldn’t put you off, as the art still works out quite well, and doesn’t reek of anything like misaligned eyes or out-of-proportion characters, etc. The game will take you about 27 hours to get all character routes and the final ending of the game; going for all achievements may take you a bit longer, but that’s dependent on whether you’re following a guide, or if you’re actually checking through the Phone Triggers for potential hits. 27 hours is without using a guide for the most part.

You don’t need to have played CHAOS;HEAD to play Steins;Gate; if you want to play it, go for it. I’d recommend the title to any visual novel fan or those who like stories about time travel. Of course, as the game is Japanese-only, I would hope you have a good grasp of the language before you try it. Also, as it’s on the Xbox 360, you’ll need a Japanese region Xbox 360 (damn regional locks). Besides that, it’s a great visual novel.

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