Steins;Gate is a visual novel which was originally released, in Japan, for the Xbox 360 on October 15th 2009. This was followed by numerous ports to different consoles, an anime series spanning April to September 2011, and, eventually, an English localisation for PC was released in North America March 31st 2014. Fast-forward to December 2014, and publisher PQube announced that both the PS3 and PS Vita version would receive an English localised release in both North America and Europe. Whilst the NA release is still merely tentatively listed as ‘TBA 2015″, the game recieved it’s European release on June 5th 2015 as a digital download, standard physical edition and two different limited edition offerings. It certainly is extremely gratifying to see a game get released here before the NA release. Steins;Gate managed to chart at #18 in the All Formats chart, and, the Vita version, at #28 in the Individual Formats chart. Hopefully this shows that there is a demand for more localised Japanese games, and with physical releases at that.
Steins;Gate begins with Rintaro, effectively the player character, heading to a Time Machine Press Conference with his childhood friend, Mayuri. He accuses the doctor holding the conference of being a fraud, attracting attention. A girl, Makise Kurisu, takes him out of the room to speak to him. Shortly afterwards, a scream is heard and Kurisu is found dead. Rintaro exits the building and, whilst with Mayuri, everyone nearby disappears and a satellite appears, already crashed into the building he was in moments earlier. Mayuri doesn’t remember people being nearby; additionally, they are in a cordoned off area. Rintaro’s recollection of events does not correspond to those of others. The prologue ceases here and chapter 1 begins…
In terms of gameplay, Steins;Gate is a visual novel; you read through the story whilst viewing the amazing artwork and listening to the emotive voice acting. You can skip through text, set it to automatically play through, or take it slow and move to each next line as you are ready for it. There are times throughout the game that choices need to be made by the player in order to progress; these choices affect the outcome of the game. Saving and loading can be carried out at any point, a useful feature for achieving the multiple endings. Save slots can be locked, to prevent saving over a save at an important point in the game. Any previous line of dialogue can be listened to again from the in-game menu via the ‘back log’.
The artwork is stunning, with high resolution images showcasing the textured images. It is difficult to find an instance of solid colour in the art, with gradients used wherever possible to great effect bringing the both characters and scenery to life.Steins;Gate features only the original Japanese voice acting, with all on screen text translated to English. The voice acting exceeds expectations, and, with Kana Hanazawa voicing the childhood friend, expectations were already through the roof. Opting to only have the original language audio is to the benefit of both the game itself, and those playing it. The Japanese VAs consistently provide more evocative performances than their English counterparts.
The sountrack is impressive, adapting to the scene taking place at any given time. There are scenes featuring metallic, expansive melodies that just scream “other-worldly” and a sense of majesty; these can trail straight in to a gentle, reserved offering, almost timidly scoring the sound of cicadas in the summer. It is unfortunate that, while showing attention to detail in the mix of environmental sounds alongside the music itself, there are occasions that the score completely overpowers the protagonist’s voice. This never seems to affect other characters, and, thankfully, only affects the protagonist on occasion.
Unfortunately, the localisation of the game is hindered by repeating minor issues. The text consistently word-wraps to the next line in the middle of a word if the final word in a line contains an apostrophe. An isolated instance of this, or two, would be enough to ignore; alas, it happens often enough to spoil immersion in the game. In addition, when viewing messages on the in-game mobile phone, words will be split over two lines without any regard for hyphenation.
For a niche target market, it is impressive to see the game recieve both a physical and digital release for PS Vita. The standard edition is available from most retailers for as low as £20. Therefore, it is disappointing that the digital version is priced at £39.99; a price few Vita games even retail at. The Limited Edition version of the physical release includes a box, utilising different cover art, that houses the standard edition game and an artbook. There was also an ‘El Psy Kongroo’ edition that included the Limited Edition, alongside a metal Upa and a pin badge.
While the game itself is perfect in terms of gameplay, voice acting, and artwork, it is let down by localisation issues. References to other fictional works and reality are abundant, and should be varied enough to suit anyone. The game is easy to pick up and play for a few hours, and then return to a few days later to continue; one of the benefits of visual novels. Having not finished playing through the game myself, I am certain that this aspect of the title will enable me to keep coming back for more, a few hours at a time, until I have completed it. The voice acting is remarkable, breathing so much life into the characters that, otherwise, only really have mouths that move on-screen. The story is truly mesmerising, suited perfectly to the visual novel genre; if it weren't for the localisation issues effectively punching you to distract you from total immersion.
Steins;Gate is definitely worth purchasing, even for those unacquainted with the visual novel style of game. It should be noted, however, that the digital version of the title for Vita is priced at £39.99; the physical version can be bought for as low as £20 new. If not for the availability of an appropriately priced physical version, this title would have scored lower due to inaccessibility to Steins;Gate newcomers.