Steins;Gate has been re-released with new anime visuals that completely revitalize an already interesting storyline.
It’s not very often you hear about the visual novel genre outside of niche communities or mostly Japanese development teams. From my point of view, as a newcomer to the genre in recent years, I notice there’s a lack of developers experimenting with new ways of expanding visual novels to a broader audience as other genres stemming from Japan have attempted to do in recent years. There are some outliers like Danganronpa, Zero Escape, and even the Persona series has some strong visual novel elements. Steins;Gate Elite comes off as a traditional visual novel but attempts to shake things up a bit with fully animated visuals that have been brought over from the anime adaptation.
Whether you’re returning to this story or a newcomer entirely, there’ll be something great for you to experience here as new endings and scenes have been added to the game that cannot be seen in the anime adaptation or the original visual novel. I can’t pinpoint all of these exact scenes as I’ve not seen the anime myself, but Steins;Gate Elite provides an interesting narrative that only stumbles in the first few hours. If you fell in love with the cast and narrative the first time around, there’s no reason to avoid picking up Elite.
With a runtime of 20 to 30 hours, Steins;Gate Elite starts at a snail’s pace, but once it gets going the narrative is pretty gripping. I do think it’s a bit rough asking new players to get invested in a story that doesn’t really hook you until six or eight hours in. But the latter half of the game is definitely worth checking out as the ending is really quite lovely.
From my point of view, Japanese narratives that revolve around themes or topics related to time travel tend to be muddled or confusing. But with a fairly hefty runtime, Elite is able to flesh out its story. In return, this makes all of its concepts and themes fairly easy to follow even if you didn’t pass a physics class in high school. Players who aren’t interested in slow-burn sci-fi though may not enjoy Steins;Gate as much as others.
Visual novels are all about characters and this title has plenty of unique ones to offer. While it does fall back on a lot of conventional tropes that I don’t enjoy, the game’s two protagonists–Rintaro Okabe and Kurisu Makise–are two very dynamic heroes. Mayuri is another character who’ll accompany Rintaro throughout the journey, acting as his close childhood friend and the ditsiest character in the group. While she isn’t nearly as smart as Kurisu or Rintaro, she sort of acts as the cheerleader of the group and not much more. Daru is another prominent character and acts as Rintaro’s high school friend and a super hacker in his laboratory. Of course, this lab is nothing more than an apartment that sits right above a CRT shop in Akihabara.
The story begins with Rintaro and Mayuri attending a press conference on time travel. This is also where we’re introduced to Kurisu, a prolific scientist who, as previously mentioned, becomes the second protagonist in the story. Things quickly go off the rails when a satellite crashes into the building and Rintaro finds Kurisu’s body in a pool of blood. After that, another odd turn of events happens and Rintaro finds that the press conference never happened at all and Kurisu is happily alive once again. It’s an interesting setup that immediately had me hooked, but as I mentioned the game begins moving very slowly after the opening chapter.
Back at the laboratory, Rintaro, Daru, and Mayuri find that they have the means to study time travel with a strange microwave invention they have lying around. Rintaro slowly pieces together that there may be something bigger going on behind the scenes. Kurisu joins the crew and they begin conducting different experiments, trying to figure out the mysteries behind time travel. This is where a lot of the other characters begin getting introduced, and they’re all a mixed bag of personalities that really flow well into the game’s quirky and weird narrative. It’s very unique, and I appreciated that overall.
As a whole, the storyline is really solid. However, I did find some of the bigger Japanese tropes to be really uncomfortable. There’s a handful of scenes that seem like they’re meant to be more comical when from my perspective they were just all around bizarre. That said, I think some of the more interesting story beats really make up for my initial problems with some of the tropes.
And honestly, you come to expect these things in stories coming from Japan. While things are slow to get going at the beginning, everything, even things that don’t seem like they contribute to the overall story, do in some way. Since Steins;Gate Elite is a story about time traveling, things are constantlchangingng and events that once seemed meaningless actually push the storyline forward in cool ways.
I found the player-choice in the game to be a bit odd. You’ll be responding to characters using text messaging, choosing your responses, and it’s never initially clear what your chosen replies will do to the story. I didn’t find it all too engaging, however, Steins;Gate Elite works as a really solid passive experience due to its animated cutscenes. You can also set the game to auto mode so you can sit back, relax, and experience it as if it were a traditional anime.
Hardcore fans of visual novels or even those who played the first game may be turned off to the fact that visually, the game can look quite different compared to the original artwork. I personally didn’t find that the anime visuals hampered the game in any way though, and in fact, found them to be more enjoyable in my experience. They work as a means to make every scene feel more expressive and the differing personalities of each character really come through scene after scene.
While Steins;Gate Elite certainly delivers a storyline that’s unconventional and interesting once you get through the first couple of chapters, new players may be turned off early on due to the monotonous nature of the slower paced storyline. However, the second half really does pick up and with new story content that’ll certainly appeal to longtime fans of the series, Steins;Gate Elite is a worthy visual novel that’s worth jumping into once again.