Published on June 27th, 2014 | by Michaela Buckley0
Steins; Gate Visual Novel
I sometimes wonder why it is that western games don’t have any real input in the visual novel genre of games.
Sure, the west created and pioneered the point-and-click adventure game as well as being home to the interactive movie genre, spawning such games as Night Trap on the Mega CD, but there aren’t any purely narrative driven experiences such as the visual novel over here.
Perhaps having been created in Japan, and the resultant overwhelming animé stigma attached to it, in these parts, simply mentioning the term ‘visual novel’ and there will be raised eyebrows all round. Most gamers have no clue what you are on about.
Better known for its animé counterpart, Steins; Gate started life as one of these visual novels back in 2009 and was finally released in the west earlier this year. The plot revolves around Rintarō Okabe an unemployed young man and self proclaimed ‘Mad Scientist’ (a phrase made more amusing when interspersed in broken English throughout Japanese dialogue, with emphasis on the syllables) who effects semi-delusional rantings and refers to himself as Hououin Kyouma. Most of Okabe’s exploits are half-jest, talking about the Organisation which he believes is following him, pretend conversations with allies, whispering ridiculous passwords at people ‘El Psy Congroo’.
Along with Itaru, a ‘Super-Hacka’ and Mayuri who makes the costumes and makes shopping trips, the 3 are the self-styled lab members of a cramped flat upstairs from a CRT TV store in gadget and tech-centric Akihabara in Tokyo.
When starting the game you almost forget there is a story supposedly about to happen, and are quite content with the meandering conversations of the lab members and the whimsical back and forths when Okabe resentingly gets called Okarin by the affectionate Mayuri. I was initially exposed to the game through the series so I knew what to expect ultimately, but for a new person experiencing Steins; Gate for the first time, the game was much better, the characters are instantly engaging and memorable and the long wait until something happens isn’t dull and paceless like the animé series.
Well it really begins as Okabe and Mayuri attend a small conference by a well known young scientist, it sets into motion a series of events which introduce the basic concept of the story, Time Travel. So as to give a rough idea of where the game is headed while being spoiler-free, I’ll be vague and say that there are conspiracies, friendships formed and lost and split timelines.
What I love about Steins; Gate is that unlike other narrative heavy games of this genre, the main character is very much his own character, not in anyway presented as if you are to play the role, choices play a part in the pathway but not much on his character.
The gameplay element is rather small but is all managed on a phone in game, people will call and text and you can decide whether or not to answer, but mostly the game just rolls out and most calls serve only for light-hearted humour.
There are two major pathways altering vastly the end of the game, if vastly were binary that is, however all others are just branches and can be achieved in a single playthrough, albeit with small use of multiple save datas.
Being an extremely linear game, it isn’t for everyone and the overwhelming nature of the characters can get on people’s nerves after such a long time, the game clocks in at nearly 30 hours, but it is significantly better than its animé and so fans of that will probably really enjoy it.
Less gameplay than other Visual Novels of this type, overt animé tropes and characters and the colour filter can be blindingly migraine inducing, but its clever plot and pervading humour manage to win over this cynical git so it could stand to do a whole lot worse. El Psy Congroo.