Title: Stein’s Gate
Genre: Visual Novel
Release Date: (Originally Released) October 2010; Preorders Now (2013) onsale for “official” English version localized by JAST USA: http://jastusa.com/blog/2013/09/20/steinsgate-preorders-open/
Platform: PC (for the upcoming English version); the game has also been released in numerous languages for numerous consoles and mobile devices. There’s also an anime based loosely upon this game.
**My play experience is based on the fantranslation but should be relatively close to the same as the final official version – I’m in the midst of playing this still so may update this review and it’s reflected scores as some point. Also I have never watched the anime as I want to beat all the routes first in the game to avoid spoilers :).
Story: The story of Steins Gate revolves around a group of youths who accidentally discover that their microwave has the ability to send emails into the past. There was a ton of thought and research put into this game. It combines science, theories, facts, and pop culture, to create a very believable back story. I like it’s use of real theories and intellectualism. It spurred me to look up many of the concepts and do my own research. As expected, most of the game revolves around time travel,, black holes, time/space theories, and butterfly effect theories. In addition to this it also deals with mental health issues, psychosis, paranoia, etc. Making it a really “heavy read”. I personally like that it’s very thought provoking, but there may be some who find it hard to follow.
Gameplay: The gameplay in this one is hard for me to wrap my head around. It’s a visual novel style game for sure, but the way in which the player interacts is very ambiguous. You do make choices, however, the ramifications of those choices are really not apparent, in the least. You interact with the game through your in-game cellphone, replying to text messages and emails from your friends, when you get a text, it will have a few hyper links in it (one to 3 words per each “link”). Some emails have 3 links, others have only 1, some have none, etc. But once you select a link by clicking on it, you will be shown your character’s response to the email he has just received. Often times, it’s anyone’s guess as to what he will say. (a lot of times its not very nice lol). This makes it really less about strategy and more about random chance in my opinion. — maybe they will improve this with the official translation – or maybe it is intentionally ambiguous, just as the characters in the game are unsure of how they are changing the past,, and the consequences these actions have on their future, we as players are unsure of how our actions are shaping the future for these characters as well. But regardless, it’s a bit “different” from typical visual novels, where the choices you make are more apparent.
Concept: The game references many real life events and borrows heavily from internet culture, rather it’s John Titor (a supposed time traveler who appeared online several years ago), or referencing 4chan, there’s also starbucks, pokemon, and dr pepper. Because it’s rooted so strongly in popcultural references as well as scientific debate and theories, it makes it seem like a very true and believable adventure.
Characters: The cast of characters is a bit weird in this game, you play as a “mad scientist” who often talks to himself and frankly, has many “crazy moments” and your group of friends are equally eccentric from cosplayers, to otaku (in the sorta negative sense of the word, obese, nerdy, perverts, etc), to cross-dressers, to young super geniuses, and even neko-maids, it’s a very eclectic mix. I have mixed feelings on the cast. They lend themselves well to the setting and story, since it’s once again referencing “today’s trends” in popculture, it gives a good overview of many of society’s stereotypes, But these characters can be a bit too stereotypical sometimes and tend to annoy me at points, especially the main character. The fact that I don’t really care for the character artwork could also be causing some slight disconnect here for me.
Graphics: I’m just not a fan of this game visually speaking. It’s highly stylized, to where you either love it or hate it I think. Also it combines some 3d here or there with the 2d which just looks cheap in my opinion and disjointed. Like the two art styles do not mesh well. The highly stylized art is shaded in an odd way, looks like water color almost, but much more muddy and murky. The character designs themselves are also not typical of what one might expect in such a game. They are rough and unclean, almost sketch like in appearance. While I know this was a stylistic choice, it’s one that I just can’t get behind. Mayushi’s bushy eyebrows also annoy the heck out of me, as well as her hair style and clothing. I really don’t like her character art, but I like her character and voice actress. It’s not a bad character concept, but the style is just… not attractive to me.
Music: I really like the music in this game, there are a lot of different tracks, and each one is well suited to the different moods of the game. There are even hidden tracks you can unlock with some of the choices you make in replies to emails you send; sometimes your friends will send you back mp3 files you can listen to in the game; it’s a very unique concept. The music itself is very good and long enough that it won’t annoy as it begins to loop and repeat.
Voice Acting: The game is FULLY voiced, the only thing not voiced are narratives and inner thoughts of the main character – although he sometimes breaks into monologue and begins voicing those too lol. The voice acting for the most part is good. I did get confused once in awhile about who was speaking; the scene with Suzuha and Nae comes to mind as being confusing to me. I would have liked to seen different colored text, or a nameplate system used, but that’s not really the voice actor’s faults. The main character sometimes over(re)acts in my opinion. Other times though he’s really good. It’s a bit hit or miss for me with him. He tends to annoy me at times, but when he’s not being a total nutjob, he has a really good voice with a good range of emotion. I hate his laugh though its insanely fake. I know it’s supposed to be a “mad scientist” laugh, but it’s cheesy as heck, I’d rather a more natural laugh personally. The rest of the cast does a good job and seems more natural to me.
Voice Acting: 7/10
Overall: 71% C- “Good Game For Girls”