Story – Some of the best writing and storytelling I have ever experienced in a video game, or any medium for that matter, even rivalling the best sci-fi narratives in movies, books, and television. Unlike most shallow sci-fi stories, Steins Gate is hard science-fiction, which goes into detail on how the science works. However, a lot of hard sci-fi usually suffer from being convoluted or lacking characterization. Steins Gate strikes a great balance, dealing with many current scientific theories in an understandable and digestible way without becoming convoluted (there’s a glossary to help), yet this never gets in the way of the amazing characterization. The plot twists are also very well-done. Unlike a lot of sci-fi plot twists, the plot twists in Steins Gate don’t come from nowhere, but are always foreshadowed and well-explained within the context of the narrative. And because of the strong characterization, making you care for the characters, the story always packs a powerful emotional punch.
Characterization – This is where Steins Gate truly shines. The cast of characters are very well-written and memorable. The star of the show is Okabe, a self-proclaimed “mad scientist” and one of the most likeable protagonists I’ve ever come across. At first he comes across as being arrogant and delusional, but as we listen to this thoughts, he comes across as a well-developed, three-dimensional person, with human flaws and anxieties beyond his arrogant and quirky exterior. The lead female character Kurisu is also very well-written. She’s a mentally strong character, with an intellect rivalling Okabe, and has a well-developed, three-dimensional personality. This makes the relationship and banter between Okabe and Makise immensely enjoyable. The supporting cast are also well-developed and likeable in their own ways, including the naive childhood friend Mayuri, the Otaku nerd Daru, the fake “moe” character Faris, the CRT-obsessed landlord Mr. Braun, the part-time “warrior” Suzuha, etc. Steins Gate makes you care for the characters, adding a great deal of emotional weight to the story.
Gameplay – This is where some of the more traditional gamers might have an issue, but something most visual novel fans should be used to. Like most visual novels, you’ll be spending a lot of time reading, with the gameplay mostly limited to making choices and decisions along the way that impact the non-linear narrative. Like most visual novels, the decisions you make have a big impact on how the story unfolds, much more so than non-VN video games. Unlike most RPGs, for example, where the choices usually have very little impact on how the story unfolds, the choices in visual novels like Steins Gate can have major unforeseen consequences and lead you down different narrative paths and timelines. Compared to your average visual novel, Steins Gate adds more interactivity with Okabe’s cell phone, which becomes a type of time-texting device in the story. This is where you make your choices, with the way you use your cell phone affecting how the story unfolds, whether it’s deciding whether or not to answer calls or read text messages, or how you choose to respond to calls and messages. This innovative gameplay mechanic helps give the game more interactivity than what you’d find in your average visual novel.
Visuals – The visuals in Steins Gate are unique and original. The dark tones, the water-colour art, and the grimy look, all give the game a dark, unique feel. The character design is also unique, such as the eyes having a swirly hypnotic look to them, adding to the game’s dark mood. Overall, the art-work is very impressive.
Audio – This is something that visual novels (also called “sound novels”) usually excel at, and Steins Gate is better than most. While the voices are only in Japanese, the voice acting is excellent. The voice actors did a great job at portraying the characters, perfectly capturing the personalities, tones, expressions, and emotions. The sound effects are also put to great use, with the right sound effects at the right moments. And the music does a great job of capturing the right mood at the right times.
Pros – The writing, storytelling, and characterization, are some of the best I’ve seen in any medium, let alone video games. The visuals and audio are excellent. The gameplay, revolving around a time-texting cell phone, is also unique.
Cons – The gameplay is somewhat limited compared to your average video game. There’s a lot of reading, for those not used to reading.
Overall – Steins Gate is a masterpiece. Highly recommended to anyone interested in science fiction, non-linear storytelling, or just a great story.