Steins Gate is a Visual Novel centered around the self proclaimed mad scientist Rintaro Okabe and his make shift “laboratory” where he makes useless objects with his friends in order to “bring chaos to the world”. Okabe and his friends are all extremely nerdy, each having their own nerdy habits such as Daru being a fat eroge loving pervert, Okabe taking his mad scientist roleplaying too seriously and Mayuri being into cosplay. They are the first three lab members but eventually many more unique and memorable characters join for one reason or another. There is a lot of otako (weeaboo in the West) slang and references so those not familiar with Japanese nerd culture will likely be using the in-game encyclopedia every other sentence. Everytime an unusual word like “otaku” or “yuri” shows up for the first time you can simply press a button that will instantly take you to the description of that word in the encyclopedia, making it a rather seamless transition.
This game also has a strong focus on science and scientific theories that will require a bit of brainpower on your part as at most you will get a short brief explanation in the encyclopedia for rather complex subjects. It is a very intricate plot kicked off by Okabae accidentally building a machine that allows him to send text messages to the past and inadvertently sets the Butterfly Effect in motion which truly does bring chaos to the world. After accidentally sending a message to the past he looks at his surroundings and finds himself completely alone in a previously jam packed Akiba street. At first he was freaked out but eventually shrugged it off as a delusion since he was the only one that seemed to remember that people where there and decided to keep experimenting on his makeshift machine that consists of both a microwave and a cellphone crudely stuck together which they call the Phonewave. It’s original use was to be able heat food by setting the timer via their cellphone so they were naturally very curious with it’s unintended affects.
At first it is a very light hearted and funny game but as they experiment more and more it quickly spirals into a depressing and lonely experience as our character Okabe is the only one that can remember the changes made to the world after using the Phonewave while everyone else memories are altered to not remember and accept the change. As an example a man being changed into a woman will have everyone’s memories altered to remember him as always being a women while only Okabe remembers the experiment and the change it caused. Without spoiling much else it is a pretty unique and well thought out setup for a game that will have you feeling lonely even when your not alone as everyone’s memories are altered and you are left to desperately attempt to fix the world to what you once knew. Events that happen never happened in the eyes of everyone else, people who where once your friends disappear or forget about your time together and has you wondering about some rather philosophical things about reality, time and memories.
Characters themselves are pretty outlandish to the point of being walking cliches like Daru the fat pervert or Kurisu the genius girl tsundere but eventually become rather memorable and like-able characters the more you get to know them. All characters are fully voice acted in Japanese with English subtitles that are rarely subject to typos or other oddities throughout though they do happen. It is a pretty great translation considering how long this game is and you can count the amount of miss translations I’ve spotted on one hand. At first Steins Gate is a rather slow burner for a couple of hours as they get you attached with the characters and their carefree, peaceful life mostly spent joking around in the laboratory before the gravity of your past changing experiments catches up with you. It is the longest visual novel I have personally played clocking in at over 40+ hours yet manages to never be boring and never having you feel like it is artificially lengthened. Everything you do has an effect on someone or something be it your own sanity or far more apparent changes.
Being this lengthy of a game it is very hard not to get attached to the characters and getting some emotional response when something tragic happens. That is greatly aided by the voice acting. Even though I don’t speak a lick of Japanese you can really feel the emotion they put into their performances that really amplify the scenes where characters scream in pain or feeling the pain in their voices when our character tries to remain his usual goofy self after all he’s been through. It is a pretty dark game with murder, suicide and so many deaths that your character becomes accustomed to it. It’s not extremely graphic with it’s death scenes, at most it shows a bullet hole in the head and a bit of blood though it is definitely not child friendly or any less impactful. With so much bad things happening they thankfully still throw in some light hearted moments and funny moments though ironically enough makes it that much sadder when their memories are once again altered to not remember any of it.
For the most part you will just be reading lots of text though on occasions you will be making vital decisions whether you know it or not. Your cellphone plays a major role and simply not answering it or not responding to text messages can affect the story. You can customize multiple things about your phone such as ringtone and backgrounds though it is entirely optional. When you receive a text message you can respond in multiple ways and you are able to choose how by the highlighted words you click on such as clicking on the word family will have you reply about that subject. Which is where my only complaint with Steins Gate lies and is unfortunately a rather crippling one. You have more of a chance of getting struck by lightning than getting the True Ending without looking up a guide. Even if a friend tells you how, you will still need to be looking at a guide to know exactly what you must do as the requirements are so insanely obscure and luck based. It would have been cool if it was something like unlocking concept art, an easter egg or something of that nature but a pretty important part of the story is hidden instead.
Steins Gate does feature multiple endings and while some are pretty much dead ends for making the wrong choice they are pretty interesting as well as lengthy enough to not realize you did something wrong and are headed towards your doom until much later on. Regardless of what ending you get you’ll unlock the soundtrack, artwork and movies from the game in the extras menu which is a nice touch. Even if you hit a dead end you have a ton of save slots to use and the game quicksaves at the begging of each chapter just in case so you won’t lose much time getting back to where you failed if you didn’t have a save. The artwork in this game is definitely unique and gives off this vibe that something is wrong. I can’t quite put my finger on why exactly it feels that way other than the strange eyes of characters and the subtly washed out colors of the environment. Music is well done and expertly placed in order to set the appropriate mood. Steins Gate is truly an unforgettable visual novel that does everything right minus having insanely obscure requirements for getting the true ending. After 40+ hours of game time and just recently having finished it, I already want to replay it to experience the expertly written story once more.