Steins Gate 0 is a visual novel set directly before the ending of the original Steins Gate, as such if you have not played that I advise against playing 0 or even reading this review. With that warning out of the way, 0 is centered around Rintaro Okabe, the protagonist of the first game that has now given up and is a shell of his former self. He has given up in trying to change to world line and is now trying to live a normal a life as possible while suffering from a pretty serious case of PTSD. This huge change of personality makes him that much more interesting of a character.
Okabe is not the only to have changed, many other of the characters have also transformed to reflect their grim world and The Lab now being mostly abandoned except for Daru and his daughter Suzuha. Now playing at being a normal person, Okabe attends a seminar involving Artificial Intelligence which is where he meets the first new character, Maho Hiyajo, a 21-year-old with the physical appearance of a child. Soon after he also meets the Professor hosting that seminar, Alexis Leskinen whose character sprite looks unintentionally bizarre due to having a low-poly face that reminds me of PS1 era games.
Appearances aside, they are both excellent characters that don’t feel forced into the universe and most of the other new characters are similar though a few are useless additions. Due to Okabe’s relation to the now deceased Kurisu, the Professor decides to take him on as a new beta tester for his new AI program that features both Kurisu’s memories and personality. How it plays out talking to the remnants of someone long since dead is up to the choices you make which can branch off to 1 of 6 different full-fledged endings. She/it does not have any memories of their time together as the last time Kurisu backed up her memories was 8 months ago, making for any interesting dynamic between them.
The phone is still how you make your decisions and while easier than the original a guide is pretty much still needed to unlock the true ending. In fact, you cannot unlock it the first time you play, you will need two playthroughs minimum to reach that point. Your story will change a fair bit after making a choice so even if you play multiple times there is still plenty of new material to read. All of it will be fully voice acted and solidly translated for the most part minus a few errors here and there. The soundtrack contains many remixed tracks of the original game and features a lot more somber songs overall.
World War 3 is inevitable in this world line and with Okabe unwilling to get anywhere near a time machine again that is unlikely to change. It is far too moody in fact, it does feature some light hearted scenes though do expect to be listing to that sad piano track a large portion of the time. Most of the game still takes place in the Akihabara with very little of it being told in time of war. This story has more of a focus on the events leading up to the next Great War as various nations all race towards building a time machine first and them believing Kurisu holds the key.
This scramble for power is a great setup that leaves us unable to gauge which or how many of the various organizations are the cause of your troubles. Previous enemies may become allies and is such a minefield of political agendas that it truly does get the feeling of war being unavoidable. The timeline will warp and distort even without any of Okabe’s meddling, leaving him feeling that much more helpless & depressed. At times we will see events play out through the eyes of others characters which is a new addition to the series though it will still primarily be centered around Okabe.
The interactions between characters are as interesting as every and the new additions to the cast fit in perfectly. Stein Gates’ main problem is that we know how it ends. It is a mystery game where the mystery is already solved, leaving this to be unnecessary to the overall plot. This is a case of enjoying a journey over the destination as it serves to show the huge struggle that leads up to the end of the first game but doesn’t have anything that you simply must know story-wise. Not to take anything away from Steins Gate 0. If you enjoyed the first game and want more of its unique universe, this will surely fill that need and is not just a throwaway addition.