Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Pocket Review - Steins;Gate 0

First things first, Steins;Gate 0 (zero) is a game that very highly reliant on players having enjoyed the original Steins;Gate. This sequel's primary purpose is to build on one of the endings of the excellent original game, and so really isn't a game suited to newcomers. As one of the best visual novels out there, fresh faces should go and check out the first title before deciding whether to come to a worthy follow-up to the twisting original story.

Steins;Gate 0 takes place in the Beta world line where the trigger for the original game's true ending doesn't happen. Protagonist Rintaro Okabe has unsurprisingly not coped well with recent events including his last attempt to fix things, and is trying shake off their weight by discarding his Hououin Kyoma persona and living a more normal student life. The universe, however, has other plans as Makise Kurisu's associates from America turn up and introduce him to the project that she that was working on.

Unsurprisingly, given what players know to be coming in this world's future, Steins;Gate 0 manages to be even darker that the original, as things really go to pot as the world's superpowers and secret organizations fight for dominion over time. Okabe is never certain who is closest to finding the breakthrough, and the game handles the intrigue and the potentially very messy business of time-travel and multiple universes, superbly. However, the game is not all doom and gloom. It still gets in the fair share of lighthearted moments to provide a solid dichotomy, and the game manages to keep the sense of hope that the route to the original true ending is there somewhere. All the characters from the first game return in one way or another and stay true to form, and the new characters are all solid additions to the cast, particularly Kurisu's colleague Maho Hiyajo. While Okabe is understandably a bit more subdued, his supporting cast all stand out in their own ways and are key to keeping the narrative strong throughout.

Steins;Gate 0 adds in some viewpoint sections from other characters — usually Maho and Suzuha — that help to switch things up a little as it lets players to get an insight on how others' view Okabe. Small complaints can be found in certain routes having minor pacing issues, some of these admittedly caused by those alternative viewpoint sections as they take a little too long to get the point. However, overall Steins;Gate 0 once again manages to suck players completely into another thoroughly engaging tale.

This title has a slightly different route structure than the original by having a set divergence point. One particular ending is required to unlock the sixth, true ending that lies on the other path, but the other endings still build the overall story, so they are recommended to find. It retains the process of decisions being made through Okabe's reaction to phone calls or messages, but in 0 there are only three in each route that affect anything, and it's not too hard to figure out which these are (albeit likely after the fact). Outside of this, the game is unashamedly a straight-out visual novel, so those looking for something other than reading through lots of text will not find it here.

Although it's once again a shame not to hear the excellent English cast from the Steins;Gate anime series, the Japanese voice acting is excellent. Certain sections contain a fair amount of English voicing, and although it's obviously being spoken by a non-natural speaker, the grammar is surprisingly solid. The soundtrack is once again primarily scored by Takeshi Abo and strongly complements the game. The distinct art style of the original is pleasingly maintained with very nice character designs and artwork that help bring life to the story. Those who started the game before downloading the latest patch, which fixed a couple of minor graphical and text issues, should note that it has been known to cause save file corruption.

Developer 5bp. has certainly made the most of what is easily the most successful part of its Science Adventure series and treated its fans greatly while doing so. Steins;Gate 0 upholds the reputation of the original game, expanding the overall story by giving players more of an insight into what went on in the Beta timeline. It's a story deserving of the name, whatever it means.

TLDR An excellent follow-up to one of the best VNs out there (though not suited to newcomers)
Enjoyed By? Those who enjoyed the stellar original story, newcomers should head there first

This game was played on Vita and was purchased by the reviewer.

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