The original Steins;Gate released 10 years ago, and has since become one of the standout visual novels in the genre. Much like the time-traveling scientists in the game, Spike Chunsoft is taking us back in time to revisit the events of the original with Steins;Gate: Elite via a sort of remake, with the game been completely rebuilt from the ground up rather than simply polishing some rough edges from a decade ago.
You see, since the 2009 game released we were also treated to an anime series based on the same plot from 2011. By using footage from the anime alongside original animations built for the game from White Fox, developer 5pb has recreated the whole game using entirely new visuals, meaning that even those who played the original will certainly get a whole new experience by diving in this time around.
The content, we should clarify, is exactly the same in terms of the script and voices. If you've watched the anime it'll be more familiar than if you've only played the game, although we were a little disappointed that there was no option for English voiceover at all in Elite, since we'd watched the anime with English voices. English subtitles were of course provided.
The visual novel follows the story of Okabe Rintaro - or as he likes to refer to himself, Hououin Kyouma - who is a teenager with delusions of grandeur looking to become a mad scientist with his inventions. All of these inventions aren't exactly world-changing though, and at the start of the game, he's nothing more than a quirky guy experimenting on ridiculous projects in his lab with childhood friend Mayuri Shiina and hacker buddy Itaru Hashida.
It's not until he goes to a talk on time travel by a professor that his life starts to change. Here he meets renowned teenage scientist Kurisu Makise, and in pretty much the first half of the game we see these four and a few others join the lab in pursuit of one goal - time travel. You see, early in the plot, Rintaro discovers his microwave might have the ability to send small things like emails back in time, which of course leads to other things.
And that's about all we'll say on the narrative because anything further than that would enter majorly into spoiler territory. All you need to know is that it involves time travel, and there's a surprising amount of detail that's gone into the science behind it. We're not quantum physicists believe it or not, so we're not sure how much of it is about throwing big words and theories at the player in the hopes that they won't question the logic, but we'd guess it's best not to poke too hard at that thread. It all sounds plausible, although we felt in the first 10 hours that it got bogged down in a lot of theory, postulation, and insignificant experiments without much in the way of exciting plot points to keep you hooked, especially when compared to events in the latter half of the game.
As with many visual novels, 99% of the time your input to the plot is pressing a button to keep events moving, and even then you have an 'auto' option so it plays without you having to hold a controller. There are odd choices to make at critical points in the story, and every now and then you can choose how to respond to text messages too, but for the most part, you'll just be following along with the narrative given to you.
That said, there's extra depth in there for those who need it, like explanations for key terms either in the real world or the fictional one, and there are plenty of options like message speed, text size, and volumes for each character. This makes it a little less impenetrable for newbies coming into the game and gives a deeper understanding of more specialist terms from otaku to quantum teleportation.
It goes without saying, but it's worth making clear that the updated visuals look fantastic, and everything is exceptionally bright, having an almost dreamlike quality to it. The game takes place in the heat of summer and the piercing sunlight really makes the whole package shine (we even captured 70 screenshots for our review, because we were always taking pictures). The characters all look great too, and if you've watched the anime you'll know exactly what we mean with the visuals.
Speaking of characters, they're all varied, distinct, and contain a lot of depth past their facade. They're first presented as a bunch of goofy teenagers trying to make the preposterous a reality, but once you learn more about each, the relationships between them are really engaging, as are the questions that are raised about time travel and the morality of changing the past. The story is really strong overall, and once you get into the meat of the experience in the second half it's even more gripping since the stakes are raised.
One thing that really didn't sit right with us was the presentation of the character Luka Urushibara, known as Lukako in-game (minor spoiler warning ahead). We won't go into the details of the character arc, but the whole point is that this character is androgynous, however, the presentation of that is unsettling. At several points a character is attracted to them and is disgusted at the thought that this could happen, to the point where it becomes uncomfortable, although not as much as when the same character wants to check their gender and so forcefully grabs Lukako by the crotch. The game defaults to the music played during funny carefree moments during this encounter, which just punctuates how uncomfortable it all felt, and it left a bad taste.
Elsewhere the sound design overall is very good, and you'll hear distinct tracks throughout your 20-30 hours in the game. All of them are memorable and for the most part work to highlight the story notes on show, especially during the emotional climax at the end. Silence is just as important here, as the more tense moments are deafeningly quiet.
Overall the more questionable content in the game is certainly troubling, but that doesn't stop the plot as a whole being very good. As a game, it already had a great narrative about time travel with some strong characters included, but with these new visuals and updated package it's the most complete way to experience Steins;Gate, even if you've played the first and watched the anime already.
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