With visual novels growing ever more popular in the West, it only makes sense that one of the most popular franchises, the Science Adventure series, continue to grow and what better platform to take advantage of than one that has mobility in the form of the Nintendo Switch. Although already released in various forms, Spike Chunsoft has now brought Steins;Gate 0 to the Switch, following the release of the original entry and alongside a more light-hearted spin-off. So now that this darker continuation of a time traveling story has arrived on the Switch, is it worth diving into?
Now before going any further it is worth noting that Steins;Gate 0 is, in many ways, a direct sequel to Steins;Gate in both its original form and in the recently released Elite version. In fact it even begins during the ending sequence of one of the game’s routes so those who do not want to be spoiled about certain key events in Steins;Gate should avoid reading further or be prepared for certain key events to be discussed due to their heavy role in Steins;Gate 0’s storyline.
Now that that is out of the way, it is interesting to note that Steins;Gate 0 plays both as a sequel to one of the game’s routes and also not one, primarily due to the time traveling nature of the series and the True Ending of the original. Steins;Gate 0 begins partway through the final chapter of the first game where Rintaro Okabe, in an effort to prevent World War III, travels back to the past to prevent the genius, and potential love interest, Kurisu Makise, from being slain by her father. Unfortunately during this trip Rintaro accidentally ends up killing Kurisu himself and despite his friends telling him that he still has a chance to make things right, this final loss after losing Mayuri so many times breaks Rintaro who gives in to the thought that the past cannot be changed and abandons his old friends and previous mission as he falls into a deep state of depression.
In an attempt to try and move on with his life, Rintaro also attempts to abandon his goofier alter ego and focus on learning more as a college student and having a normal life, though given that one of his friends is already from the future, things still remain a bit strange and it also seems that the realm of normal will never be within Rintaro’s reach as five months after moving on with his life he meets with a number of prominent scientists who previously had worked alongside Kurisu and were continuing her line of work learning that she previously had worked on a cutting edge artificial intelligence called Amadeus. Just as luck would have it, Amadeus was developed by these scientists through the uploading of it’s creators’ memories in an attempt to recreate the thoughts of a living being that can grow and develop its own personality.
It doesn’t take long before Rintaro finds himself as one of the testers for Amadeus and it just so happens that the version he receives is the one featuring Kurisu’s thoughts and memories. Throughout the story Rintaro, and now the players, will be able to interact with this AI version of Kurisu through Rintaro’s phone and it is through this AI as well as Rintaro’s new allies and old friends that Steins;Gate 0 once again delves deep into the science fiction world of time travel, extreme technology, and morales that come with it. In an interesting turn from the usual visual novel experience, Rintaro doesn’t serve as the player’s only viewpoint through this story as the perspective does shift from time to time to different characters, though it is worth noting that Rintaro does serve as the primary protagonist through most of the game’s storyline.
Since Steins; Gate 0 expects players to have already played the original game, the title does not pull any punches when it comes to its story presentation and dives quickly into advancing the main storyline. Along those same lines players shouldn’t expect quite as many light-hearted humorous moments in this release compared to the first game. Whereas the original Steins; Gate took some time before taking a more serious tone and tackling darker themes, Steins; Gate 0 begins with its main character already in a horrific state and in the middle of grieving the loss of someone close to him.
While there are still a number of light-hearted moments spread throughout the game, there is a lack of the original’s charm because of this but in its place Steins; Gate 0 captures the struggles that people go through when faced with loss and emotionally damaging events. All is not horrible however as the game’s writing does show that Rintaro’s friends are still with him and watching these relationships develop through the course of the game and seeing Rintaro grow and interact with the AI Kurisu makes for some incredibly interesting scenes, but players should be prepared for a much darker toned game compared to the original.
Many of the various gameplay elements found in the original Steins;Gate return here in Steins;Gate 0 as players will find themselves presented with an encyclopedia that fills up over the course of the game’s routes in the form of TIPS. These tips cover some more unique terms that range from being scientific themes, both real and made-up, as well as internet slang and even otaku cultural terms. Along those same lines players will still be able to use the “RINE” mobile phone app to answer phone calls and messages throughout the game on Rintaro’s phone. It is also worth noting that the Amadeus AI can also be accessed through the phone in a manner similar to the RINE app and talking with Kurisu is available most of the time.
As before, it is worth noting that certain endings will require the player to make or ignore certain calls or take certain actions with Rintaro’s phone at various points in the storyline. Many of these extra interactions don’t play a major role in the storyline but be wary that a few will play a major impact as the choice system isn’t quite as clear cut as one may expect.
Visuals & Audio
The transition of Steins;Gate 0 to the Nintendo Switch has been handled flawlessly as the visual novel’s aesthetics work wonderfully on the console, both docked and on the go. Unlike the Elite version of the original game Steins;Gate 0 features all of the classic artwork that fans have come to expect from the franchise with its unique artistic style. The character portraits here look crisp and polished, with a few characters given a bit of a different look compared to the original game and the CG artwork is gorgeous looking.
With a more somber tone, Steins;Gate 0 does feature a soundtrack that matches it quite well but also features a handful of songs taken from the first game and remixed to work with the darker themes of this game. It is also nice to note that all of the original Japanese voice work has been retained in this release of the game with all of the previous voice actors retaining their roles.
Steins;Gate 0 tells a darker storyline than fans may expect compared to the original release but while this may throw fans a bit alongside with the fact it immediatly tosses readers in the deep end, this storyline ends up managing to tell a grand story that makes players empathise with Rintaro all while telling a sci-fi storyline that never feels overly complex. While those who played the original may have found themselves satisfied with the true ending there, Steins;Gate 0’s extra take on how things could have gone is certainly worth exploring, especially since it does fill in a few gaps in the orignal’s storyline.