Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Steins;Gate - Review

Every once in awhile a game comes along that is unlike anything else in it's genre. They take something that has been done to death, but put their own spin on it to make it something completely new and unique. It doesn't happen often, but when it does the result is something that will be burned into your mind forever -- that's exactly what will happen if you play Steins;Gate.

For anyone who's never heard of it, Steins;Gate is known as one of the world's best time travel stories in any form of media -- not just in gaming. This entry in 5pb's long running "Science Adventure" series has gained a large following since it's debut, and since it's original release it has received multiple spin offs and sequels, multiple manga series, a full anime series, and even an anime movie that continues where the game's plot left off. Needles to say, Steins;Gate has already had a big impact on the world, and now the game has once again been released in the west to a much larger audience on multiple platforms. No longer the 360 exclusive it once was, the game can now be played on PC, PS3, Vita, and soon PS4 and others such as iOS devices. It's a game that many people now have access to, but the real question is, is it worth for you to pick it up?

Despite being critically acclaimed, the simple fact is that it may not be for everyone. First of all, if you're not a fan of novels (or reading in general), then you may be better off watching the show. As a visual novel, Steins;Gate is something you watch and read with minimum input from the player. Second, if you're not a fan of sci-fi, well, again this may not be for you. Although this game is much more grounded in reality than many other similar stories, it is still sci-fi and it may turn you off -- there's no getting around that. As for the final reason however, it really does come down to what type of media you enjoy in general. If you're not into anime, gaming, or any other form of Japanese culture, once again Steins;Gate may flip that switch and you'll be stepping away from it. With the game's setting being Akiba a lot of both worlds are seen throughout it, and it is much more enjoyable if you can follow everything that is said (especially when it comes to the references that may make you laugh).

Now, with that being said (assuming you're still interested), let's get on with the review.

Opening the Steins;Gate:

The story of Steins;Gate is something that not a lot of games are willing to do in today's world. Rather than coming up with some new fantasy or sci-fi story completely invisioned for the game, S;G's story is one that is much more grounded in reality. Taking place in 2010 roughly a year after the events of Chaos;Head (which outside a few references is not important for this story), S;G follows the story of the "Mad Scientist Hououin Kyouma" -- real name,  "Okabe Rintaro." As a 19 year old collage student, Okabe and his fellow classmate Daru and childhood friend Mayuri have opened a mini laboratory where he goes about his dreams of becoming a scientist and inventor who will bring chaos to the world (at least in his mind). In this makeshift lab, which is really a room being rented above a CRT TV shop, the three friends live out their daily lives in Akihabara as they work on creating "future gadgets" that may or may not change the world. While a lot of these devices are simple little contraptions that have no real practical purposes, one accidental invention is about to change their lives forever.

When the story begins, Okabe and Mayuri are attending a lecture by a man who claims to have figured out time travel. Upon arrival, Okabe runs into a young woman named Kurisu who tries to question him about what he "tried to tell her before." As he looks at her like she's crazy, he pulls out his phone and begins talking to himself about some sort of "organization." This is just who Okabe is. He's a guy who's caught up in his own fantasies, and is willing to pull anything out of the air to deal with the situation. When he's questioned by a girl whom he's never met about what he tried to tell her "before," he uses this craziness as an excuse to ignore her, and get as far away as possible. Of course, this is only the beginning of what's to come. After escaping Kurisu, Okabe makes his way to the lecture and he instantly notices something is wrong. This so called "scientist" in front of him is nothing but a big fake. Nearly everything his lecture covers has been ripped off from none other than John Titor -- yes, the "REAL" John Titor.

In the year 2000, user named "TimeTravel_0" appeared on the internet and began posting across multiple forums about the future. According to him, he was from the year 2036 and that he had been sent back in time to 1975 to retrieve an IBM 5100 (renamed to "IBN 5100" in game). According to Titor (which is a name he didn't use until 2001), the IBM 5100 and it's secret programming language was needed to debug legacy programs in 2036. Besides this, Titor also went on to explain that his time machine was small enough to fit into the back of a chevy, he stated that the many-worlds interpretation was correct (in which all possible choices and outcomes are on their own world lines), and that because of this the grandfather paradox is impossible. He also mentioned that CERN (called "SERN" in game) would be the ones to create mini black holes (a fear many people had when the LHC began testing), and pave the way to time travel. On top of this, he also went on to make predictions about what would happen in the future, and due to him stating that the many-worlds interpretation is right, he also made it scientifically impossible to say he was wrong when his predictions didn't come true (which they didn't).

With Okabe being the crazy mad scientist he is, he already knew nearly everything there was about John Titor, and was easily able to call this "scientist" out for being a fraud. This resulted in the lecture ending shortly after, and everyone going home feeling ripped off -- except for Okabe. As he makes his way out of the lecture room to begin his search for Mayuri, he hears a scream coming from a hall close by. Curious as to what is happening, he quickly rushes to the source and is greeted with a horrifying sight. Makise Kurisu, the woman he had just had an awkward conversation with only moments ago, is laying on the ground dead in a pool of her own blood.

As Okabe rushes out of the building, along with others, he sends off an email to his friend Daru back at the lab, and is quickly overcome with a strange feeling. In a blink of an eye everyone around him is gone, and above him in the building he just came from is some sort of satellite lodged into it's side. Did it crash? When did this happen? Where did everyone go? The questions race through Okabe's mind as he realizes the world has now changed. Upon returning back to his lab he finds that the lecture he had gone to was canceled due to the crash before it started, and that the girl he saw dead was in fact still alive. After seeing her at his college lecture, Okabe can't help but to approach her and find out if what he's seeing is real. He asks her about her death, he angers her, and gets into a debate over time travel which she claims is impossible. While this may deter most people, Kurisu becomes interested in Okabe and his mad ramblings about her being dead -- so much so she decides to track him down. Unknown to her, she's about to be caught up in something she never expected. The moment she sets foot in Okabe's lab, her life is changed forever. This is the choice of Steins;Gate.

A World of Drama and Comedy:

At first glance it really is hard to tell what type of story Steins;Gate will be. On one hand it is a science fiction story that heavily relies on real world events and theories, but on the other it's also it's own unique storyline that builds off of what is previously set. While the early sections of S;G build on the characters and set the story in motion, there's a moment where the button is pressed, and it becomes a non stop emotional roller coaster to the end. It's a story filled with many twists and turns, and moments that will pull at your heart strings and refuse to let go. Of course, this is only one part of a larger picture.

Hououin Kyouma (Okabe), Daru, Mayuri, Kurisu, and the others are all very likable. Okabe rambles on about his own fantasy world, Daru is a die hard Otaku, Mayuri is a nice simple girl who is... hard to explain, and Kurisu is the genius scientist who may teach you a thing or two before the game is over. The other characters also have their own charm, and it's easy to get pulled into their lives because of that. The interaction between these characters is easily some of the best moments in Steins;Gate, and many of their conversations will have you laughing. The way Okabe calls Kurisu "Christina" and his "assistant" just to tick her off, the way Daru can completely change the meaning of a conversation with his otaku ways, and Mayuri by just being Mayuri will bring a smile to your face. You can tell the writers had a lot of fun with this game, but of course not everyone will catch every little joke or nod. While brand names are kept to a limit (with the exception of Google and a few others), many references are parodies from other forms of media, and anyone who understands the joke is sure to enjoy these moments much more. Okabe grabbing his arm and yelling "releasing restriction s-" only to be cut off from saying the rest, the nickname "Shining Finger," and even the naming of a system key to both the gameplay and plot are just a handful of the many references you can expect to see, and they are ones you are sure to remember.

Although it doesn't look like it at first glance, Steins;Gate is a pretty funny game, but it is also a serious one. It has something for both fans of comedy and drama, and it blends the two elements perfectly -- something not many stories are able to do.

The Cell Phone:

Despite S;G being mostly reading, there is some gameplay elements you have control of, and it all stems from the use of Okabe's phone and game menus. Throughout the game Okabe will receive emails and brows the popular online community @Channel. During these sections you'll be able to read and reply to characters you meet throughout the game to get to know them better, and you'll also learn more about John Titor and the events revolving around SERN. While some of the email (and phone calls) you receive will only be for extra information, there's also moments where this can change the plot. For example, Okabe may receive a phone call and it'll be up to you to answer it or not. If you answer it, you'll learn some piece of information that leads you to a new location, but if you ignore it Okabe may stay there instead and run into another character. Branches like this help give the game greater replay value, and it encourages you to try different things. Of course the story is in fact linear with the major events still taking place, but seeing these extra scenes does teach you new information about the plot, and helps character development. On the other hand, some emails and phone calls are key to seeing the story's true ending, as well as the many different extra endings as well -- all of which are very much worth seeing (and not covered in the anime).

Another feature, while not tied to the phone alone, is the "collectibles" system in place. During the game some emails you receive will also send you different attachments that add something a little extra to your phone's settings. For example, some emails will send you songs from a popular band seen during the events of Chaos;Head, while others may give you a new background to use on your in game phone. On top of that, key words seen throughout the entire game are also added to a "tips" library which helps explain terms you may or may not understand or have heard of before (for example, the references to Back to the Future and the "jigowatt" misspelling). These tips are a nice little extra that help flesh out the game and keep everyone in the know. Endings and images seen during the game are also added to a collection accessed from the main menu, so anyone who's familiar with visual novels will be happy to know it's still a thing here as well.

The Good and the Bad:

Steins;Gate is a game that many will enjoy, but it's also one that many may want to avoid. When it comes down to it, this game is a visual novel, and because of that there isn't a lot of "gameplay." You'll be watching, reading, and listening, and there will only be a handful of moments where your decisions to send email will actually change the game. This isn't a "game" in the normal sense of the word, it's actually a novel with visuals and sound. If you're not into reading, or if you're not into the whole anime style -- then Steins;Gate may not be the game for you. As for anyone else though... This one does a lot right, and is a story you really shouldn't miss out on.

Although Steins;Gate is a visual "novel," the game relies a lot on sound, and every single line of dialogue is voiced. Of course this voiced dialogue is in Japanese (with some English and other language words used here and there), but even if you are unable to understand it, it still helps get the character's emotions across to the player. The acting itself is done very well, the descriptions of the action in scenes paint a perfect picture so that you don't miss a thing, and the game's part has a unique style to it that really helps make it stand out. Everything is nicely detailed, character's mouth's move as they speak, and extra full art (CG) scenes help bring key moments in the story to life. In short, Steins;Gate does everything that a good visual novel should, but what makes it stand out above all else is the story.

Using a mix of real life and sci-fi, S;G goes where not many others are willing to. It keeps it's sci-fi story grounded, it uses real world theories to get it's point across, and it's not afraid of showing you the consequences of time travel. While the game has a slow start, the build up to the critical turning point in the story is a very much needed one. Steins;Gate does an amazing job of pulling you into it's world, and before long you'll find yourself loving the characters and never wanting to leave their side. Although in many games it may take nearly the entire story for you to form a connection with the characters, S;G accomplishes this early on, and by doing so you'll find yourself sympathizing with Okabe when the story takes it's turn. The emotions you'll feel from this game will change from time to time, and by the time it is all over, you may never look at things the same way again. All throughout your life you'll come across stories that will have a great impact on you, and Steins;Gate is most likely going to be one of them.

If you're a fan of sci-fi, drama, comedy, or even a bit of romance -- then Steins;Gate is something you shouldn't pass up. El Psy Kangroo.