By Fabrice Stellaire / November 10th, 2016
|Release Date||September 9,2016|
Japanese video games sometimes surprise Western players with the themes or stories they evoke. Steins;Gate counts among those games that immerse you in a foreign culture while telling you a rather complex story involving time travel.
The first few minutes in the game confused me a lot, and I had to re-read it several times to be sure I was clearly understanding what was happening. I was apparently playing as Rintarou Okabe, a Japanese teenager who believes he is a mad scientist and keeps talking to an unknown organization while his phone is turned off. His friend, Mayuri Shiina, is a rather innocent and naive 17 old teenager girl. Both are attending a conference about time-travelling. They meet Makise Kurisu, another teenager who is a real genius. She is my favourite female character as she is timid but can sometimes display self confidence, like when she leads a conference in front of university teachers. She is also clever and knowledgeable. Soon after the conference, mysterious events happen and Makise Kurisu is murdered. Or so Okabe thinks, as he meets her alive several hours later. It seems Okabe was the only one to witness the murder. Then hundreds of people mysteriously fade away on the street. Was this another hallucination? That mystery will slowly unfold during the adventure.
But this adventure is not only about time-travelling. Maybe time travelling is in fact, a secondary aspect of the game. What struck me while playing is how the game wants you to discover Japanese otaku culture. Cosplaying, maid cafés, androgynous men or doujinshis count among the numerous references to Japanese otaku culture. Specific terms are explained through a small glossary you can consult at any time during the game.
All interactions in the game are made with Okabe’s phone, which you can use to call his friends, send messages, or control the mysterious microwave oven, which can freeze bananas. If like me, you are rather new to visual novels, you may want to enjoy the game through short sessions. Visual novels offer a very different approach from most of other video games, and it can take a while to get used to being more “passive” than most games.
Your decisions can impact the story of the game, but those decisions only happen at specific moments in the game and can be very hard to notice. For this reason, I would recommend using a guide while playing if you want to unlock a specific ending. Note that you have the possibility to fast forward dialogue at any moment in the game, so if you have already beaten it once, this option will be useful to discover other paths. The rhythm of the game seems to constantly oscillate between casual events where you discover the daily life of protagonists as well as elements of the Japanese culture, and more mysterious events related to the time paradox part of the plot. The music in the game is there to convey those changes in the pace of the game.
Steins;Gate is an odd game, maybe it’s not even a game but rather a curiosity to approach with a different mindset. You may not understand everything immediately and feel a bit lost. I still do feel lost when playing this game, but this is not a problem. It’s a game to play to delve into an unusual universe. You will need to play it for several dozen hours to complete it, maybe even more if you want to see all endings. The game is sold for $31.99 on Steam and will surely entertain fans of visual novels and Japanese culture in general .
Review copy provided by the publisher.