Popular visual novel Steins;Gate is well loved for its endearing characters and scientific foundation. Having recently reviewed the game, I remember all its twists and turns, as well as the feeling of loss when there was no more of the story to discover. That being the case, I was pretty excited to hear that Steins;Gate 0 was coming to Europe and North America.
Steins;Gate 0 takes place on the Beta world line (opposed to the Alpha line of the original game). Everything begins with Okabe half falling out of the time machine, covered in blood, after killing Kurisu with his own hands. No longer being able to take the mental strain of everything he’s been through, Okabe gives up on saving her – choosing to live with the guilt of causing World War III, and the heavy loss of a dear friend.
The story goes on to show Okabe throwing off Hououin Kyouma and trying to lead a normal life. One day he attends a lecture by Professor Leskinen and Hiyajo Maho who have created an AI called Amadeus based off Kurisu’s research and memories. Upon saying that he was friends with Kurisu, Okabe is made a tester for the software and given access to this AI that looks, sounds, and acts like his old love interest. From here, the plot is about Okabe’s relationship with the AI, and how the existence of the software can affect the future of the world.
While a number of basic elements are clearly the same as Steins;Gate, Steins;Gate 0 changes on a couple of points. The visuals, for example, are a cleared up version of the same style, giving an almost HD-remastered feel to the graphics. The return of the same voice-actors also allowed me to quickly snuggle back into the story.
A very noticeable difference is how while Okabe is still the forefront of the plot, the perspective will occasionally switch to some of the other characters. It felt rather strange at first, but with Okabe’s story being so heavy, it soon became a welcome break. I also enjoyed the way it allowed me to see additional scenes or memories that Okabe wouldn’t be present for – such as how Maho and Kurisu interacted at the university labs together.
Anyone who enjoyed the first game is going to appreciate the opportunity to have extended time with the characters. That being said, a lot less time is spent just getting to know people this time around. Certain older characters take more of a backseat role, while other new friends – such as Mayuri’s cosplay group – are given very little screen time. The upside of this is much more fluid pacing, with meaningful conversations. So instead of 30 minute science lectures, Steins;Gate 0 has space for some interesting side stories, like the father-daughter relationship between Daru and Susuha – as Daru learns how to mix his love of H-games with being a caring parent.
While I did feel the loss of some of the banter and wonderful mad humour present throughout Steins;Gate, I have to admit that I ultimately I prefer how Steins;Gate 0 had me completely glued to what was happening. Don’t get me wrong, there were plenty of times that had me chuckling, but could never shift the feeling that something bad was about to happen.
Susuha’s threat of WWIII’s beginning is constantly looming, giving way to events with wonderfully disturbing descriptions and visuals. Characters we know to have killed people in other timelines are casually going about their lives, with no way of knowing what they’re really thinking. Then, most worrying of all, there are the moments when Okabe is pushed to a new world line. With no way of doing it himself, questions of who’s pulling the strings pose worrying questions for the fate of the world.
Something that will feel very familiar is the phone interruptions, made famous in the original game. Instead of texts and calls, it’s picking from 1 of 3 responses to RINE messages (an instant messenger) and choosing whether to answer calls from the AI Kurisu. The choices then affect what happens to Okabe and his lab members at the end of a playthrough.
All the little interactions on RINE made for a pleasant break from the action. Being an instant messenger, I tended to get a quick conversation in reply to my choice. The addition of stickers also put a bit more humour into this as characters could show disinterest, confusion, or happiness very quickly. I had more fun than I expected just going through different responses; one favourite being telling Daru there was lots of food at a fancy party and him asking for a doggie bag.
Unlike the original game, Steins;Gate 0 offers two main branching stories, which are satisfyingly different to each other. These then split off, depending on choices, to give 6 endings in total. A first playthrough offered few ideas of exactly what had pushed me towards a specific ending. It didn’t take much thought to realize that Kurisu’s AI was actually the biggest key, and everything went pretty smoothly after that.
On obtaining an ending, I was happy at having gained a few pieces of the puzzle, and desperate to discover the remaining answers. It’s a feeling that constantly nagged me until I managed to fully complete the game. I did find some endings to be more engaging than others, but was never left disappointed. Getting to know characters in different ways, or being able to see a situation from a new angle, was its own reward, and I was left satisfied by the ways everything managed to merge together in ways that were surprising, while staying logical.
After falling in love with the characters of Steins;Gate, there was a warm sense of nostalgia from getting to spend time with them in the Beta world line of the story. Sure, some of the characters didn’t quite get the attention owed to them, yet the all-round cleaner experience made up for any niggly issues. In fact, the only real disappointment upon completion was having to deal with the knowledge that my journey with Steins;Gate 0 had come to an end.
This review is based off a Vita copy of the game, which we were provided with.
Steins;Gate 0 easily lives up to the emotive journey of the original, delivering a darker half of the story that fans didn’t know they needed.