- Great art.
- Fantastic translation.
- Interesting plot.
- Clearly explains complex ideas.
- Great, varied cast.
- Protagonist is likable, if odd.
- Intriguing cellphone-based interface.
- Supplemented by great Glossary.
- Some endings fail to resolve all questions.
- The effect of your choices on the story can be confusing.
I firmly believe in the idea that you should accept the ending you get in a game. That going back and attempting to change the ending you get lessens the impact of the ending you got. Even in a visual novel that supposedly has “one true end” like Steins;Gate by Nitroplus and 5pb, localized by JAST USA, I stuck with the ending I got. And to be honest, I was more than a bit unhappy with the ending I got. Oh well, it was the will of Steins Gate that I got that ending.
Steins;Gate is quite possibly one of the most well-written visual novels I have ever read. The story is excellent and makes great use of its theme of time travel, constantly reminding you of the dangers of time travel, constantly exploring every possibility that could occur. From the very beginning, the novel lured me in with its in-depth talk of both real and fictional scientific theories and its off-kilter protagonist, the self-proclaimed “mad scientist,” Rintaro Okabe, who goes by Hououin Kyouma, and insists that some entity called only “The Organization” is after him. The first scene that takes place in the lab gives you a good idea of the kind of person he is and gave me a good laugh.
Supporting Okabe is a strong, varied cast. The ditzy friend, the pervy “super hacka,” the uptight “genius,” and more. Even their stories end up being rather complex and the way everyone ties back in is not easy to guess at times.
For all the in-depth talk in the novel, however, it is easy to keep up. Complementing multiple descriptions of complex ideas is a Glossary of terms, a large portion of which are simply labeled “otaku,” to help you keep up. When a term that the authors thought you might not understand is used, it shows up in red and you get a notification that it has been added to the Glossary.
Despite the in-depth talk, however, Steins;Gate is relatively simple to read through. All interactions you have with the storyline take place through an interface made to mimic a cellphone. You will get texts and emails, to which you are given multiple underlined words or phrases that you can click to respond based on that topic. To be honest, there were a number of times that it wrote up responses based on what I clicked where I wondered what in the original word or phrase made him respond in such a manner but Okabe is enough of an oddball that it is easy to shrug off.
What is not easy to shrug off, however, is how insignificant each of these choices seem compared to how they affect the story. I can think of a single time that it felt like I had clear control, giving me a clear sign that I had screwed up by not taking action, and, to be honest, I am not sure that I was ever truly given the option to take action or if it was only an illusion.
I think part of that mystery is what kept me going, though. Wondering how my responses would dictate what would occur, how something so simple might change so much. And up until the very end, the novel kept some of the mystery, always keeping me guessing. When the primary source of conflict reared its ugly head, events began happening more quickly but answers were still slow to be revealed. It was an interesting contrast, to say the least.
The novel truly did not ever fail to surprise me. While I had guessed several of the twists ahead of time, even the characters mentioned how obvious those twists were. The truly surprising twists blew my mind a fair bit. Furthermore, despite the consistent surprise, the novel managed to keep an air of humor throughout most of its happenings.
However, with the ending I got at least, there were a number of unanswered questions. The entire opening scene was left completely unexplained, relegated to “it never happened, get over it.” I also expressed unhappiness with the ending I got.* This is because the implications were staggering and the motivations impulsive without a whole lot of explanation as to why. Furthermore, it felt incomplete. It was “hopeful” but left the fate of almost everyone completely up in the air.
At this point, I should probably talk a bit about the translation quality. Over the course of the entire novel, I saw maybe two typos. There were also a few oddities in the way certain things were said but they were relatively unavoidable, given the implications of the original sentences. In short, the translation quality was nothing short of fantastic and it made the novel a joy to read.
As of the last recommendations chart I can find from the visual novels subreddit, Steins;Gate is a recommended beginner visual novel. Honestly, I can see why. The visuals are great, the story is fantastic, the theme is relatively abnormal, the cast is varied, there is quite a bit of humor, I did not find a single character annoying, and there are no H-scenes, despite the stereotype that follows visual novels around. It took me about 13 hours to complete my playthrough and I am currently debating going back to get the “one true end” despite my normal reluctance. El Psy Kongroo.
If you are interested in reading Steins;Gate, you can purchase the English edition directly from JAST USA for $39.95. If you have never read a visual novel before, this is a good place to start!
*If you must know, I got the Suzuha Amane route.