Steins; Gate is one of my favorite animes because I am a human. There’s nothing special about this – it’s in everyone’s top 10 and the fact that it’s not considered completely overrated by now is a tribute to its quality. But way before it was one of my favorite animes, it was one of my favorite “games”.
Before we jump into my little rambling, let’s get to know each other a little better. This will give you an idea of where I’m coming from. First, you should know that I am a time travel groupie. I simply adore a good time travel story. I attend multiple international film festivals each year just to see every movie available on this theme. I considered becoming a quantum physicist for a long time and still haven’t ruled it out. Debating Schrödinger vs Bohm is a huge turn on for me – which, when I think about it, may explains a few things… Point is, when I first played Steins; Gate (I played the game before seeing the anime which has undoubtedly clouded my judgment), it thoroughly captivated me. I have an almost unhealthy attachment to the visual novel and have played it a lot through the years…a lot…
I doubt it will come as a shock to anyone when I say that I heartily recommend playing the game but I will attempt to actually give you a reason to do so.
First, of course, is content. If you liked the show, the game expands on it substantially. Even though the main/true path was pretty faithfully retold in the animation, the game still provides countless extra scenes and moments which never feel unnecessary or superfluous. After all, they were meant to be in the story to begin with, so although the anime is a great adaptation, it still had to cut things out that served a purpose.
But the real treasure trove is in the secondary routes. Unlike most visual novels, Steins Gate is not structured with the traditional common route beginning which then splits off into various individual routes. Rather the “common” or true route is a central thread that spans the entire narrative and you can veer off (diverge, heh!) at specific points to go into different world lines that will lead you to particular character endings
The non-true endings are completely optional and in my opinion completely necessary! What I mean is that seeing these routes, which I would estimate to equal one to two episodes worth of content each, has a huge impact of how you view and understand the story as a whole.
Suzuha’s path really illustrated the toll that the time leaps are having on Okabe in a way that is never quite as obvious later in the story. After seeing her ending, it made me cringe and worry every time there was a leap. I really understood why Okabe was starting to lose it and in fact was impressed by his stamina. It also introduced us to the sacrifice implied with each of Okabe’s choices when changing the future. By negating certain events, Okabe feels like he’s robbing people of their experiences memories and in a way of a bit of themselves. On top of that, it usually comes at the expense of his friends’ happiness, even if they do not realize it. He carries this guilt around with him adding to the weight of it with each leap. The burden of his conscience becomes an almost tangible thing as time goes by and you can really feel it in the game. This repeated motif really serves to underline the larger inferred questions of the responsibility/ethics of science.
I’ve played my share of VNs and have gotten pretty good at figuring out which route I’m likely to enjoy after a few lines of dialogue, so I thought I had Farris pegged. The fanservicy cute girl who’s secretly a manipulative genius but plays dumb to get what she wants. Possibly with a dark and/or tragic past… I could tell at first glance and I was looking forward to getting her route out of the way. I was an idiot. This said, I was right, Farris is pretty much exactly who I thought she was but I didn’t account for the excellent writing which made a stock character, complete with all the traditional trappings, so much more than the simple stereotype she was embodying. The Farris I discovered had complexity and charm and I am actually grateful I got the chance to get to know her. I wish we could be friends. I would have never imagined making this statement at the beginning of the game.
On the other hand, I figured I would love Ruka’s route and was surprised. Not that I didn’t like it, but I liked it for completely different reasons than I had anticipated. I figured my lovely little Ruka would finally come into his own and I could cheer and tear up as he finally became a fully confident and self-assured young man or something along those lines anyways. Not so much… Ruka is gentle, meek, soft, uncertain and in the end, you are who you are (in many ways Steins; Gate is about accepting yourself as you are ) What Ruka’s route brought for me though, was a very organic but visible growth in Okabe’s character. I was so proud of him!
I find Mayuri sweet but ultimately a little annoying so her’s was another path I wasn’t particularly looking forward to yet by the end I was as desperate to save her as Okabe, maybe more. The game patiently and so caringly painted a picture of a little girl lost and isolated that I instantly forgave all her irritating quirks. I wanted Okabe to save her even if it meant the end of the world. Heck I wanted to save her myself.
Even though the entire game can’t exactly be considered short by any stretch of the imagination, by the time I was getting close to the final route, I wished there were more. Personally, I would really have liked a Daru route. I love best friend narratives in Visual Novels and in my opinion, Daru more than earned his own ending.
Now if mere heaps of content aren’t enough to sway you, how about the novel experience? Of course, playing the visual novel gets you involved with the story on a different level. Please note that your actual implication as a player is very limited though, even by visual novel standards, but as you are seeing everything through Okabe’s eyes (literally from his POV) and since his thoughts are the narration, you get to know him on a much more intimate level. I mean, you are him. I still get a little insulted when people say “I love Okabe’s character but I probably wouldn’t be able to stand him in real life…” I very much take it personally.
Some of the almost 300 hours I’ve poured in this game can be explained by the fact that I played the game without any walkthroughs. Whether this is a good idea is debatable. Should you choose to go that way, be prepared to get frustrated. It sometimes feels like you were supposed to use the walkthrough. But, I’ll tell you what this tactic did for me. I was forced to redo bits of route over and over again going back to previous saves (thankfully I had tons) replaying the same thing, frantically trying to remember what I did last time and what I should do differently this time to “fix” things. I felt my heart sink every time it became apparent that I had once again locked myself into the same ending but stubbornly played on in case there was something new this time. The version of the game I have is pre-steam and you can’t skip or fast forward those end credits. I’m not sure if that’s still the case. For me, that closing theme was the soundtrack of my nightmares for a while there.
However, the sheer elation of unlocking more story made it all worth it. I would scour every sentence for a clue as to what to do next. I would carefully analyze all my companions to see what effects the time change had had on them. I would rack my brain trying to keep straight who knew what and what actually happened in this timeline or what never happened at all. Basically, I no longer needed to relate to Okabe’s plight as he desperately tried to keep reality straight and save everyone, I, as the player, was living it in a very real, if very scaled down, sense. By the time that last CG came up, I wasn’t just tearing up, I truly felt the full visceral blow for myself. I was full on bawling my eyes out, my nose running like a faucet, hiccupping while trying to explain why the universe would never be the same again to my dog. Yeah, I’m pretty sure the anime wouldn’t have had that impact on me even if I had seen it first…
But what if you don’t have the endurance to go through every ending? Well, you will still get a different experience out of the game, one that you are very likely to enjoy if you happen to be an insane mad scientist!!! I’m not a complete idiot, obviously I know time travel hasn’t been proven yet (I am an optimist – leave me alone) but the Steins; Gate Visual Novel does a very robust and honest attempt at explaining how it could be realized, using real world science. Not only is there a lot more scientific explanations in the game but since you are reading them at your own pace, you can really take the time to absorb what’s being said. On top of that, the game sports an internal wiki of sorts to really define the terms being used and give you some background and at times even throws you out onto the actual internet for some updated real-world science. I really want to parse some of the theories but I’m nowhere close to qualified – I would end up embarrassing myself and annoying you. Just believe me when I say, the theories are pretty basic and accessible but also well thought out and definitely worth looking into.
Finally, there are the productions values. Now there is no animation in this game anywhere. No cutscenes, no animated sprites no real intro or ending movie at all but the art is beautiful. True story, I actually had no clue at all what this game was when I got it. Didn’t know about the time travel stuff, didn’t know I got to play as an awkward science nerd, none of that stuff. I had seen a picture of Kurisu and got fascinated by the art. Those soft almost aquarelle colours with that texture overlay, those weird, even by anime standard, eyes, that sort of sketch like quality. I loved all of it and was disappointed the aesthetic had been kept for the anime. The voice actors and music are also excellent but they were excellent in the anime too so I wouldn’t call it a particular selling point for the game. In fact, I was thrilled to hear and see Okabe so much more in the animation.
At the end of the day, I won’t lie, what you can get out of the visual novel will depend on what you are willing to put into it. It’s a return on investment and that investment can be daunting. The anime was very good and that may certainly be enough for you. I won’t judge for it, out loud. But, if you are willing to invest your time, feelings and attention span, you will get a unique experience that simply cannot be matched by any show.
What this anime taught me about myself: Time is on my side!
Nothing in life is absolute only vodka
Suggested drink: a Time Traveler – Replace the gin with ginger ale, you’re going to want your full brain power for this one!
- Every time Mayuri says Tu tu ru – take a drink
- Every time you say your true name (Hououin Kyouma) -take a drink
- Every time John Titor is mentioned – take a drink (also wiki him – it’s awesome)
- Every time Mayuri calls you Okarin – drink to her health
- Every time you change world lines – take a drink
- Every time you bring up your phone – take a drink
- Every time Daru is unashamed – cheer!
- Every time you give someone a nickname – take a drink
- if it’s to Kurisu – take another
- Every time SERN is mentioned – shiver
- Every time Kurisu says her name is not Christina – EL PSY CONGROO