The PS Vita has become home to some of the finest visual novels out there, and the list keeps increasing with. As a handheld, the platform is a natural fit for these sort of games, and what better way to celebrate the genre than the release of the first ever portable version of the Steins;Gate visual novel.
Steins;Gate is visceral and best experienced without any presumptions. It borrows effectively from its anime origins and offers a Nolan-esque take on time travel and temporal paradoxes. The protagonist is Rintaro Okabe, a genius hell bent on creating gadgets to define the future of technology but hasn’t really achieved anything down that path. The story kicks off when he invents a phone that essentially communicates messages across timelines. Okabe’s experimentation with this temporal ability coupled with his over the top eccentric personality result in a joyful duet of exposition and observation, lending itself greatly to Steins;Gate’s intriguing plot development. The plot does take a little while to get going, much like the anime itself but the second half of the visual novel is intense and really throws everything at you.
Time travel concepts, quantum physics, computer jargon and philosophy are convoluted together to present a complex yet interesting foundation for drastic pace shifting storyline. Those who haven’t experienced this kind of visual novel game design with branching storylines will be overwhelmed with the additional layers of complexity especially in terms of mechanics. The flow of the game is punctuated by key moments where decisions have to be made. Ignoring a voice-call may be as consequential as answering one and determines the outcome of you, your supporting cast, and even the entire dimension!
When Okabe receives a message, you’ll be able to pull up his phone and choose from a series of highlighted words. These words essentially act as keywords that trigger a specific response. Your response plays a significant part in the how the story unfolds. Ultimately, your decisions can lead you to one of six possible endings. This does lend the game a decent amount of replay value, as the endings are all distinct and not just minor variations of each other. Though, unless you’re extremely lucky, finding your way to the true ending is next to impossible without following up on a guide.
Going through the game over and over again in order to unlock the different endings can get rather monotonous, however. Despite Steins;Gate’s interactive mechanics, it’s possible to go on for long stretches without having any player involvement outside of pressing X to advance the game’s narrative. Though, it’s not entirely unexpected, as this is a visual novel after all, and there is bound to be much to read. However, those with lesser tolerance for such things may find themselves losing patience and eventually quitting on the game without having seen all that there is to see.
Steins;Gate may not be for everyone, but those looking for a deep and intriguing storyline will definitely find themselves hooked to the game in no time. It doesn’t shy away from its narrative-driven genre, and what it lacks in terms of gameplay, it makes up for with an engrossing plot and a fascinating bunch of characters.