Graphics and Sound:
Now I usually do this section later but since Steins;Gate 0 is a visual novel, the majority of this review is going to be focusing on the story so I’m saving that till last.
The first Steins;Gate was game that looked great and sounded great. The art was unique, the soundtrack varied and memorable, and the voice acting spot on. Steins;Gate 0 unsurprisingly continues this with some excellent art (albeit in a different style to that of the first game), an excellent soundtrack, and great voice acting.
Art-wise the actual art-style has seen a significant change with characters looking closer to how they looked in the anime than then first game. Old art does show up from time to time though, and it can get a bit daunting seeing it mixed in with the new art. It’s not a huge issue, but it is awkward at times. (Editors note; Think back to the Morrigan sprite that Capcom kept re-using in all of the SNK vs Capcom games if you need a point of reference.)
The soundtrack contains a mix of happy go lucky tunes, more intense nerve racking tracks and some really beautiful tracks which usually accompany the more important moments in the game. My favorite track would probably have to be Hoshi No Kanaduru Uta. More specifically, the rendition of it which accompanies the end credits for one route. The vocals on that version really make it that bit better, especially since they were sung by the Voice-Actor for the character of Kagari. The soundtrack does a good job of both setting the tone of the scene and adding to the overall memorability of scenes. It does exactly what a good soundtrack in a visual novel should do, and it does it well.
For voice acting, the entire cast of the original Steins;Gate retain their original voice actors, and they all sound as good as ever. Line deliveries are enthusiastic and really do make the characters feel more alive. The new characters also sound good with some solid performances all around, my favorite being from Maho Hiyajo, whose VA perfectly reflects her character in her acting. Dr. Leskinen's voice actor is a bit goofy with his broken English thrown everywhere, but overall his performance is pretty darn good as well.
Being a visual novel, Steins;Gate 0 doesn’t really try to sell itself on gameplay. Overall it’s a pretty standard visual novel affair although it is less linear than the first game. All the visual novel basics are present along with the ability to both lock your save file to prevent yourself accidentally saving over it (a very welcome addition) and automatic quick saves which allow you to pick up at important events in the game if you aren’t liking the results of your decision. It’s a small but very welcome change and is something I wish more VNs had. Also present is the tips system which provides you with information on special objects, items etc that are mentioned in the game. A vast majority of these tips are quite useful and helped clear up some confusion I had surrounding some things but some are a bit on the silly side, so your mileage may vary. You’re also able to advance text and menus using the Vita's touchscreen, although you can disable this if you’d prefer otherwise.
The only slightly irritating thing about the game is that the only way to access the dialog archive in case you miss something is to pause the game and select it. A vast majority of visual novels have a button that allows you to quickly access the archive without needing to pause the game so this comes off as a bit clunky. It doesn’t help that the menus lag, and aside from the main menu, you aren’t given any visual or audio feedback upon selecting an item, which can be awkward. I also found myself having to reboot my Vita on one occasion, because Livearea had slowed to a crawl after leaving the game open for so long. Again, your millage may vary.
With Steins;Gate 0 being a visual novel, the story is the most important aspect, and for the most part Steins;Gate 0 does a good job at crafting a solid plot with a believable set of characters. However it isn’t perfect. I’ll touch on why later on. For now though lets look at the characters.
The entire cast of the original Steins;Gate makes a return with the obvious exception of Kurisu who is well… dead. We also see a variety of newcomers in the form of Maho Hiyajo and Dr Leskinen from an American University that Kurisu used to attend. Fubuki, Yuki and Kadee, who are close friends of Maiyurii, and finally Armadeus, an AI who takes on the form of Kurisu for most of the game. Out of all these new characters, I’d have to say my personal favorite would have to be Maho, one of Kurisu’s closest friends before she passed away. The story does a great job of portraying her as a likable well rounded character, and portrays her inner struggle and love hate relationship with Kurisu very well.
Story-wise, Steins;Gate 0 in and of itself takes place before the true ending of the original Steins;Gate, so if you have not played Steins;Gate, then play that before even thinking about touching Steins;Gate 0.
In essence, Steins;Gate's true ending involves our main character, Okabe receiving a video from himself twelve years in the future giving him the keys to discover the world line knows as steins gate, a world line where neither his childhood friend Maiyurii, or his lover Kurisu has to die. Now that’s all fine and dandy, but how the heck did that video even get sent in the first place? This is the basic premise behind Steins;Gate 0. It works on filling in the gaps present in the true ending of Steins;Gate and bring a bit more closure to everything. On top of that. Steins;Gate 0 goes more into depth around the concepts of AI, time travel and time manipulation, and the consequences of such technologies, which is something I absolutely love. The portrayal of these topics is very well done, and most importantly, thought provoking. There’s a lot more of them as well. While Steins;Gate 0 does have its fair share of slice of life bits, it is far darker in tone than the original Steins;Gate. This really works in its favor, with the story exploring more possibilities that really wouldn’t have been possible in the original game. There’s a constant feeling of danger as the group realizes the size of what they have gotten themselves into, and it makes for an incredibly gripping read. It isn’t as dark as say, Zero Escape but it doesn’t need to be. The story is also paced really well, which really helps a ton.
All this stands true for the vast majority of the game, and compared to the original the story had definitely improved on the problems the original had with pacing and tone. HOWEVER, Steins;Gate 0 isn’t perfect. While the vast majority of the story is excellent the remaining minority kinda crashes and burns. Let me explain, but first here’s your obligatory spoiler warning.
SPOILER ALERT FOR STEINS;GATE 0! DO NOT READ THIS PART IF YOU HAVE NOT FINISHED STEINS;GATE 0. SKIP AHEAD TO THE VERDICT SECTION TO HEAR MY OVERALL THOUGHTS. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED. SERIOUSLY, I’M NOT JOKING.
I’m going to be blunt, Steins;Gate 0's story feels a bit unfinished. I came away from the game feeling like I had missed something or that a chunk of the game was missing. Now I’m not talking about the obvious cliff hanger due to how Steins;Gate 0 carries directly into the true end of Steins;Gate. The problem is that the true ending to Steins;Gate 0 is so incredibly disconnected from the events of the other endings that it in fact drags the rest of the game down with it a bit. Up until then the other 5 endings had been pretty incredible and had dropped little mysteries and tid bits here and there that stuck with me and kept me hyped up for the true ending where I’d learn what was going on. Then I actually played the true ending. My hype turned to confusion which then turned to disbelief which then turned to disappointment.
The true ending, rather than serving as an epic conclusion to my twenty-hour journey, was more the closest thing the game could do to blowing its own foot off with a rocket launcher. It commits one of the cardinal sins of storytelling by NOT SOLVING ALL THE MYSTERIES IT SPENT TIME CREATING. Not only that but the extent that it does this to is enough to drag the rest of the game down with it. All those mysteries you had learned in the other endings? All that stuff that happened when Armadeus got deleted in Maho's ending? The mystery surrounding the song in Kagari's ending? Kagari's lost memories? I hope you weren’t expecting answers to any of those mysteries because the game NEVER EXPLAINS THEM. Yes, those technically happened in separate world lines, so from a story perspective it at least has an explanation as to why it doesn’t get explained. However that doesn’t make it any less frustrating.
It ALSO doesn’t excuse the true ending from not answering questions about mysteries and events that happened in its OWN DAMN WORLD LINE. Who was that guy who attacked Maho, Okabe and the Professor in the carpark? What was all that garbage text Armadeus Kurisu left to Maho as a message on @channel? Why was Yuki given plastic surgery and brain washed with Kagari's memories? Where even WAS Kagari in this world line? All these seemingly important events and mysteries that happen in the true ending's world line? NEVER. EXPLAINED. What the hell happened?!? Why put in mysteries to advance the plot and then never give the player closure on the damn things? It isn’t like the player is left enough hints to figure it out themselves so they’re just left scratching their head and wondering where the rest of the game went.
The true ending to Steins;Gate 0 is simply a train wreck. That isn’t to say it isn’t enjoyable, on the contrary, I still enjoyed reading through the true ending. However the unfinished feeling it leaves the player with upon finishing it along with how it unsuccessfully ties up a surprisingly large number of mysteries CAN and most likely WILL get on your nerves. It isn’t enough to ruin the whole game and make me feel like I wasted my money but it is enough to weigh on my mind for a few days while the game is still fresh in my mind.
SPOILERS END HERE
Steins;Gate 0 is an interesting one. If it weren’t for all the loose plot threads and the train wreck of a final ending I’d have no trouble recommending it to anyone who had played the original Steins;Gate. However, it isn’t perfect and the flaws that it does have are in areas which are very likely to effect your potential millage. If there was ever a game fitting of a Your Millage May Vary badge it’s this one. The vast majority of the game is absolutely excellent, with a great story exploring the potential consequences of AI, time travel and a third world war coupled with excellent character development and great pacing but the overall penultimate ending to everything kinda causes the story to run itself smack into a solid steel wall because it wasn’t looking where it was going.
Granted the fact that the true ending ended the way it did was due to Steins;Gate 0’s placement on the overall timeline but I still feel that even taking that into account they could have done better than what we got. It isn’t a deal breaker but it does mean the satisfaction you get from finishing the game is a bit dampened.
Despite the shoddy true ending, Steins;Gate 0 is still well worth playing if you are a die hard fan of the original Steins;Gate. I have no doubt in my mind that you’ll love it if you loved the original. If you’re on the fence about Steins;Gate 0, then you really need to consider one thing, “Do I really care that much if the game ends with mysteries left unsolved?”. If the answer to that question is "No" then by all means go and play Steins;Gate 0, you’ll be in for a treat. However if unsolved mysteries are more of a big deal to you then I’d probably either wait for a price drop or give it a miss. For the most part though the experience Steins;Gate 0 gives you is well worth the price of admission.
For Steins;Gate fans, Steins;Gate 0 gets a Highly Recommended.
For those on the fence about it Steins;Gate 0 gets a Recommended, but wait for a sale first.
For those of you who haven’t played/seen Steins;Gate, Steins;Gate 0 gets a PLAY THE ORIGINAL FIRST YOU GOOF.
Seriously, if you haven’t played the original Steins;Gate yet and are interested in Steins;Gate 0 then PLAY THE FIRST GAME OR WATCH THE ANIME ADAPTION FIRST. I can’t force you, but you’ll be doing yourself a disservice if you do otherwise.
Wow, the last review of 2016 from me (although by the time this goes up it will probably be 2017 already but I wrote this on December 31st so meh). At the time of writing I would have had my Vita for exactly one year now and what a year it has been. I can’t wait to see what is in store for the Vita in 2017 but I’m hoping to potentially get a review of Danganronpa V3, Mary Skelter and a few other games on the cards if everything goes well. In the meantime I’ll probably get to work on writing up a review for Danganronpa Another Episode Ultra Despair Girls since that’s the only Danganronpa game I have yet to cover so far. Either way I hope you have a safe and wonderful New Year and happy holidays.
This is BDVR writer Nathan Green signing off
OFLC: M (Unrestricted)
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Steins;Gate 0 was played and reviewed on PlayStation Vita (also on PlayStation 4) using a digital copy of the game purchased by the reviewer.
Steins;Gate 0 is developed by 5pb, and Nitroplus, and is published by PQube Games. All rights reserved to their respective owners.
This review is my own work. You are not allowed to duplicate, reproduce or republish on any other sites under any circumstances commercial or otherwise.