Steins;Gate 0 Review – Time Shenanigans

The idea of a Steins;Gate follow up seemed kind of weird initially, seeing as the first visual novel ended on a very conclusive note, with not much wiggle room for a sequel. Once I figured out the approach Steins;Gate 0 would take, I was interested in where they would take the story. Does it live up to the legacy of its predecessor, or does it leave us yearning for something more fulfilling?

Title: Steins:Gate 0
Publisher: PQube
Developer: 5pb, Nitroplus
Platform: PS4, PS Vita (Reviewed)
Release Date:  November 29th, 2016
Players: 1
Price: $59.99 PS4, $49.99 PS Vita (Review copy received)

This is a review coupled with a supplemental video review. You can watch the video review above, or read the full review of the game below.

Right off the bat, fans of the previous entry will notice that the artwork has undergone some significant changes.

Gone are the beautifully drawn character portraits from the first entry. Instead, we get character portraits that are far less detailed and expressive and more basic and generic. My initial thoughts on the new art direction were relatively negative, but after completing the main story my opinion of them changed a bit.

For starters, the new character designs translate better into the CGs than they did in the previous entry, with the characters looking way more consistent and no weird, bizarrely drawn models to be seen, which the first game suffered from on several occasions. The CGs are also better drawn, if not as interesting to look at. It seems that the character art changed for narrative purposes, although I’m not entirely convinced of that since the game uses a handful of the older character designs for seemingly no reason.

Background art is almost exactly the same as Steins;Gate, that being that they re-used most of them with a couple of added new ones. This would normally be a complaint, but the old background is just as good to look at now, with the new ones being of the same quality if not slightly superior in certain instances.

Steins;Gate 0’s strongest point is how they took the story telling mechanics from Steins;Gate and vastly improved them. Instead of having one long path that can end prematurely pending the decisions you make, with the only real story split happening at the very end of the game, we get drastically different routes fairly early in the game thanks to the Amadeus mechanic.

The D-Mails from the first visual novel are gone, with most of the important choices done through conversations with an AI Kurisu Makise. The fact that the game splits off into two very distinct paths early on with multiple endings in each is a huge improvement, and is by far its biggest strength.

It also helps that the choices are integrated more naturally into the story’s narrative, much like how D-Mails worked. Instead of having the game stop to have a several boxes for the player to choose, it flows more naturally. It almost comes to the point where if you’re not paying attention, you can miss an important choice and radically change the path you’re taking.

The only nitpick I have with the mechanics is the new RINE feature, which only serves to have side conversations with the games cast. While they never amount to anything and aren’t particularly interesting, they are a step down from the side conversations in Steins;Gate, which were more interesting and actually provided ringtones, songs and wallpapers for your phone.

If you liked the music in Steins;Gate, then you’ll like the music in the follow-up as well, seeing as a good chunk of the soundtrack uses the same songs, ranging from songs you’d fine in a slice of life anime to very moody piano pieces. The new songs they do add in feel right at home, to the point where I almost thought they were from the first visual novel.

Steins;Gate 0 boasts some very good voice acting, with an incredibly talented cast across the board from both series veterans and newcomers. Rintaro’s voice actor is by far the stand out from the cast, delivering a performance that excellently portrays a broken, apathetic man who’s given up his past aspirations in the hopes of chasing something more obtainable. His performance almost makes him a completely different character from the previous entry, which is exactly the goal he was trying to reach.

In terms of the newcomers, Maho’s voice actress delivers a typical tsundere performance, but with a nuance that I believe rivals that of Makise Kurisu’s voice actress. There is a lot more subtly with her performance then I initially thought I’d get, probably because I thought I was getting a more by the books kind of tsundere, but I instead ended up being presently surprised.

My one complaint with the voice acting, and this is a given with any game dubbed in Japanese, is that the English spoken by non-Japanese characters is not convincing in the slightest, and is actually quite distracting. It’s actually weird since one of the voice actors actually puts in the effort to make his Japanese sound like it’s spoken by a non-native, but evidently he couldn’t do the same for when he actually had to speak English.

Steins;Gate 0’s story is both its greatest strength as well as its biggest weakness, although maybe not for the reasons you might think. The story takes place in the timeline in an alternate timeline from the original Steins;Gate. Rintaro has now given up all aspirations of being a mad scientist, opting to instead pursue his university education.

After catching the attention of Maho and Leskinsen, two researchers for in the field of artificial intelligence, they invite him to become a tester of the AI program they’ve been working on, called Amadeus. He is then presented with a program based on someone who he is very familiar with. He’s assigned to simply have conversations with it while they gather any and all important data from their interactions.

Steins;Gate 0’s biggest asset is its cast of characters. It boasts a strong main cast, with both complex and nuanced characters. This is best represented with both Rintaro and Sakura, who are so radically different from their Steins;Gate counterparts that they feel like brand new characters. Fans are in for a treat as they get to watch how both of them are essentially reinterpreted to fit the current timeline.

The new characters are also very good, with Maho being the stand out from the lot. She acts as both Rintaro’s foil as well as his emotional support, and fills the role that Kurisu would have filled without feeling like a carbon copy. It’s incredibly enjoyable seeing her work off of Rintaro and the rest of the main cast.

Another improvement is how it tells its story. Like I previously mentioned, the story changes depending on the choices you make via the interactions with the Amadeus system, leaving a possibility of things changing drastically. Steins;Gate 0 essentially has two stories that all come to fruition in the true ending. Because of this, you get radically different interactions with the main cast, which makes you want to seek out all of the visual novel’s endings.

It also helps that the story is steeped in science. Depending on who you are this can be seen as a turnoff, but personally I love when a game takes its time to fully explain the science behind everything that’s going on, with a very handy glossary to boot.  It loves to explore its themes and subjects, and it helps to enrich the world that the story is trying to establish.

With all that said, it’s most glaring flaw is unfortunately of no fault of its own: the story is ultimately pointless. It is still a very well written and enjoyable story, but ultimately a pointless one. We already know what the conclusion is before it happens by the fact that the first visual novel was a perfect, self- contained story that didn’t leave any loose ends. Steins;Gate 0 serves more as supplementary material rather than a continuation, which ultimately I feel detracts from the overall experience.

It also doesn’t help that, surprisingly, it appears to tease another story, as it deliberately leaves a pretty big plot point with no resolution. When I realized that was how it was going to end, I felt very unsatisfied with the ending, with me wanting the studio to wrap up the story in a nice bow rather than drag it out for another sequel. Instead we get an ending that doesn’t end with a bang, but instead a fizzle.

Steins;Gate 0 improves on its predecessor on many fronts, but fails at giving the player a satisfying conclusion, opting instead for the hope of another sequel. That being said, what it does well it does exceedingly well.

If you were a fan of the original Steins;Gate visual novel and want to continue exploring the characters and the world that it established, Steins;Gate 0 will be able to provide that need in droves.

Steins;Gate 0 was reviewed on PS Vita with a digital copy provided by PQube. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here.

Verdict: 8.5

The Good:

  • Great cast of characters
  • Two branching story paths
  • Tons of science jargon for those who love that stuff

The Bad:

  • Character portraits are pretty bland
  • Story feels ultimately pointless
  • Ending leaves much to be desired

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