Thursday, June 2, 2011

Steins;Gate (PC VN) Thoughts and Overview

So while Nek0's (zgmf something) has been summarizing Oreimo and working on Onii-ai chapter 5, I've spent the last 4 days (clocked in @ 34 hour playtime) playing through Steins;Gate on the PC because the anime caught my interest. I have to say that in terms of story, this is the best game I've played in a long time; along with unique features, this game stands out from all the generic VNs that I've played up until now.
So since there won't be any new posts until Onii-ai ch.5, I'll do a quick write-up on Steins;Gate since Nek0 said I could.

I'm going to assume that people are familiar with the series because the anime is out, so I'll be brief about this. However, there was an important part of the introduction that was cut out of the anime. In the beginning of the game Okabe Rintarou (the main character, I'll call him Okarin from here on out) gave a tense monologue that actually sums up the entire story, but it was not included with the anime, so I thought I would take the time to translate it.

Opening Monologue :

"Everything was a coincidence
but that coincidence was also the predetermined will of the World
I'm not going insane, I'm very much normal
what I'm saying here is the truth and is absolutely not delusions or paranoia
...even though it were trivial things
it was able to determine the flow of the future
do you know something called the Butterfly Effect?
if you don't, go look it up.
understand that it demanded this level of caution
regrettably, I wasn't so cautious about it
I wouldn't have lost "her" if I understood my foolishness
the future wouldn't have taken this shape
but, how could I have known?
the fact that I held the switch that controlled the turning point which decided the destiny of all humans at that moment; how could I have known
just think about it
a normal human's perception cuts off 99% of information received
humans are a living being that are ignorant of anything outside of themselves
in everyday life, the brain either buries details nonchalantly, immediately forgets them, or doesn't bother to process them.
I want to tell this to the me in the past
Do not be careless
Do not be hasty
Do not pretend not to see something that's there
Be more cautious
The dark hand of conspiracy is closer than you think, and will eventually drag you down...!"

So the story is about Okarin and Hashida Itaru (his former classmate in school, I'll call him Daru) accidentally making a time machine. As you can tell from the opening monologue, the careless use of the time machine created a different future due to the butterfly effect and the law of causality. In order to salvage this, Okarin has to use use the time machine to fix the changes that has been made.

The cool thing (as well as the confusing thing) about this game is that all the choices the player makes is done using Okarin's cellphone (accessible at anytime by scrolling the mouse cursor over the right edge of the screen). While progressing through the text, you'll periodically receive phone calls which you can answer or ignore, and e-mails that you could reply to by clicking on underlined words in the message. There will also be times where you have a choice to call someone indicated by the dialogue and an icon that pops up in the text box (which is confusing sometimes and have caused me to go off into a different route by accident).

What's interesting about being able to access Okarin's cellphone at anytime is that the time machine functions using the cellphone (sending e-mails to the past). Being able to access the phone means you could see the choices you've made and the clues you've accumulated so far.

The art speaks for themselves. The character designer "Huke" created an artstyle that's not only unique, it's visually pleasing.
Samples :

Again, irrelevant for people who're watching the anime...but I'll be brief.

Okabe Rintarou : Our Hero, self-proclaimed evil mad scientist (handle name: Hououin Kyouma). He has delusions about fighting a secret evil organization he simply calls "機関" (the agency). His catchphrase is "this is the choice of the Steins;Gate", and ending phone calls with the words "El Psy Congroo". Lab member 001, the leader of the Future Gadget Research Laboratory.

Shiina Mayuri : Childhood friend of Okarin, has a tendency of making nicknames by stringing together the first part of someone's family name and given name (i.e. Okarin, Mayushii, etc). Lab member 002, the mascot character for the lab. Her catch phrase is トゥットゥルー (Tutturu~).

Hashida Itaru : Former classmate of Okarin, nicknamed Daru. Loves playing eroges and going to Mayqueen Nyan², and is the image of the stereotypical otaku. Lab member 003, Okarin's right hand man and "SUPARR HAKER~".

Makise Kurisu : Tsundere heroine of the story. Girl genius that recently had an article on neural science in a well-known science publication. Constantly harassed by Okarin with nicknames like Christina, the zombie, celeb 17, @channeler, but prefers this environment over a regular lab where people resented her for being so much younger than them. Lab member 004, 天才"HENTAI"少女 (Genius Hentai Shoujo).

Kiryuu Moeka : Quiet character that Okarin encounters in the streets of Akihabara. Obsessed with finding an IBN5100 for reasons unknown. Sends text messages constantly but never calls and very rarely speaks directly; because of this she can type extremely fast on a cellphone. Lab member 005, "Shining Finger".

Urushibara Ruka : Feminine teenage boy that works at the only shrine in Akihabara as a miko. Classmate of Mayushii, and is often asked by Mayushii to cosplay in the clothes she made. Okarin added a "子" (commonly used as the last kanji of girl names) at the end of his name as a joke and calls him Rukako accordingly. Lab member 006, Okarin's disciple, and Nek0's favorite trap.

Feyris Nyannyan : Co-worker of Mayushii and most popular waitress at Mayqueen Nyan², a nekomimi maid cafe. Not much is known about her at the start except that she's good at her job, and that she's World class level at playing Rai-net access battler. Lab member 007, the nekomimi maid princess.

Amane Suzuha : Works part time at Braun's TV & Repair store underneath the Future Gadget Research Lab. She loves her mountain bike and shows hate for Makise Kurisu even though they've just recently met. Lab member 008, バイト戦士 (Part-time Warrior).

Disclaimer : It'll be hard to give thoughts on specific points of the game without giving spoilers, so for those who plan on watching the anime or playing the VN, I suggest you turn back now because this series is really too good to be spoiled. That said, there will always be that handful of people that post spoilers in the comments to troll seriously...if you don't want to be spoiled, don't click the spoiler button, don't scroll down, don't pass go, don't collect $200, go directly

Spoilers!! :

For a story about time travel, nitro+ and 5pb did a good job keeping the plotholes to a minimum. There are some points of the plot I want to nitpick about, but overall the good overwhelmingly outshines the bad.

- The importance of the first day of the story is something that I really loved about this series. It's so easy to overlook the minor details of the introduction, but this just gave so many clues that began to make sense as you played through the game. Chaos;Head, the previous Nitro+ game, also did this type of presentation where the player isn't entirely sure what was real and what was not. In the case of the first day of Steins;Gate, the player wasn't sure whether the "satellite" landed or crashed, and whether Makise Kurisu was stabbed or not.
- The deliberate pacing of the first half of the game allowed the player to build a connection with the characters. Once that connection was in place, the drama and suspense in the second half made it almost impossible to stop reading. When I said my playtime was 34 hours over the course of 4 days, the 4th day was actually about 11-13 hours of straight playing. All of this was driven by the feeling of wanting to save Mayushii, and later Kurisu.
- The voice acting was great, and that was to be expected from Miyano Mamoru (Okarin) and Hanazawa Kana (Mayushii) because they've had so many lead roles. What surprised me was how excellent Imai Asami's (Makise Kurisu) voice acting is even though she haven't had much roles in the past. She had the balance of angry and embarrassed voices needed for doing a believable tsundere role. A lot of Kurisu's character is attributed to the scripting, but she was able to pull off what I thought was a tsundere-of-the-year level of performance; especially during the kiss scene.
- I really liked how everyone in the story had a role to play, and how some of the characters you put off as minor roles are actually characters that have a major impact on the story progression. Good examples are Moeka and Mr.Braun, but the one that surprised me was Suzuha. I suspected that she was a time traveler from the start, but I didn't think she was much more than just that.
- The aspect of time travel and the butterfly effect was interesting by itself. While there were obvious things that changed by sending a D-mail to the past, there were also very minor things that led to very major events. Examples would be Rukako turning into a girl causing the IBN5100 to disappear, and the existence of the metal upa determining whether or not there will be a World War 3 (which sounds so ridiculous it's funny).
- The use of conspiracy theories and references of things that exists in real life, like SERN (CERN), the theories of time travel, and the story of John Titer helped make this story believable. To the point where I wouldn't be surprised if CERN was withholding data from human testing from the public in real life. I quite enjoyed the revelation that John Titer turned out to be one of the characters and is closer to Okarin than he might think. That play on a real person whose identity is unknown and is revealed to be a character in the game is reminiscent of Fate/Stay Night, where King Arthur is actually a 16 year old girl named Arturia.
- One thing I was uncomfortable about is that by the end of the game, the "bad guys" are still present and their objective remains the same. The only difference is that they're no longer aware that the Future Gadget Research Lab was a threat and are no longer trying to silence them. Okarin actually knows the identity of their agents (having gone through multiple traumatic encounters with them through his 3 week long ordeal of time traveling back and forth to save everyone), but decides not to do anything about them.
- Another thing is that the story doesn't explain why the evil loli in the game is evil...(not going to say who, but if you think about it, there's only 1 loli in the entire story...) She was obviously abnormal, and it's even hinted that she was the one that kills Okarin in 2025 in Worldline alpha and beta...This is the one point in the story that I'll never understand because ever since this scene, I've rethought whether the incident with Mayushii in the subway station was an accident or she evil because she snapped? or is she inherently evil...?
- ...and to nitpick, the English documents that were shown and translated into Japanese was just plain terribad. Just try reading this and be amazed...

- Steins;Gate's main story might be great, but I feel that because of the nature of its story, it's not suitable for a conventional VN story branch. In a conventional VN, the common route is basically a character overview, and the path split depends on either the 好感度 (level of affection) of the heroines and the critical choices. From there, the game will enter into an individual heroine's route where the real story telling begins.
This game tries to use critical choices to split the common route with individual character paths, but the problem is the common route itself is the real story, and the character paths are actually just 1-2 scene endings that feels so hollow compared to true end that they may as well be bad ends. In reality, the individual endings ARE bad ends because Okarin is destined to be killed by 2025 and the timeline will either lead to a future with a SERN controlled dystopia or a World War 3 that kills 5.7 billion people. That and by choosing the individual heroine path, you're sacrificing the happiness of the previous heroines for personal happiness, because the story up until this point was about Okarin reversing the wish of previous heroines for the sake of saving the world. Anyone who've played the game up until that point and paid even a little bit of attention to the story would sympathize with Okarin and think saving the world is much more important at this point. So unfortunately, no matter how much Nek0 likes Rukako, that ending is just plain unrealistic.
- With that said, I think true end is one of the best things I've read...ever. By the 75% completion mark, Kurisu was already my favorite character; and knowing that she has to be sacrificed to avoid the dystopian future made me cringe. The game actually trolls you by rolling the end credits while the realization that she's gone forever is setting in, and then have Okarin receive a phone call halfway through the credits to initiate true end. That was, to me, the best moment of this game.
- Another scene that impressed me was in the final minutes of the game, the meaning of title of the series, as well as the term that Okarin uses so often but seem to have no meaning, was revealed. Steins;Gate is actually the world in between the attractor fields of the two worldlines, and was given that codename by the Okarin from 2025. The reason why Okarin named it that is because it doesn't particularly mean anything, and that applies to that world because because a world's existence is meaningless if it isn't observed by anyone.
I enjoyed this game thoroughly, and would recommend it to anyone who can read JP at a reasonable level. If not, I recommend the anime to anyone who isn't already watching it, because if it's done well (and it has been doing well so far), it has the potential to be the anime of the season if not the year. 

...and with that time has officially been killed. Mission complete, El Psy Congroo.

- 暗闇傭兵 -


  1. Hmm, the fact that you actually wrote a review of the game of my favorite anime of the season... yes... it must be a the choice of Steins;Gate!
    Now seriously, thanks a lot for this it was quite a good teaser. The only negative side-effect is the fact that i now want even more a group to take it an translate it to English so that i can play... anyway, thanks a lot. Over and out, El Psy Congroo.

  2. ^^^
    TL wiki did a patch for Chaos;Head I think, but JAST USA got the rights to it and got them to take it down. However, they've only released Demonsbane, a game that came out in 2003 (there wasn't even a hint at Chaos;Head being worked on as far as I know). Unfortunately, if Steins;Gate ever becomes localized (emphasis on the 'if'), it'll be years from now when people won't even care about it anymore.

  3. Well, that the unfortunate reality for non-japanese VN-gamers... Even so i wouldn't´t go as far as to say that at the point that it reaches localization(if it does happen...), people wouldn´t care about it anymore. Most of the current localized VNs in the market, are either pure hentai or old series that have had a good amount of success... Steins;Gate is of the latter with a great number of copies sold and a 24 episode anime(Just like Fate, though well, Fate and Ef, though of course those two might be better overall). Anyway this is a bunch of "Ifs" stringed together and as you say, at the very least a couple of years will come past before it even gets on the "might be good to translate" list of some fan-group or a proper company.
    PD: I´m the same Anon than earlier.

  4. There's always the choice of hooking up a game to AGTH and translation aggregator. Google translate and ATLAS actually translate the literal meaning of most sentences decently (but the order and structure might be messed up). That and you can copy words directly from AGTH and paste it directly into a web dictionary or something.
    Though the downside is only chatbox text is captured, and graphic text isn't.


  6. This is kinda late but actually, the evil loli girl you were talking about? it was explained if you chose not to send the d-mail right away. She time leaped 2000+ times from 2025. And she was the one who time leaped (you know, someone used it but you didnt get to know who it was). The reason she time leap(ed) was to avenge her father and kill Moeka herself. (because Moeka was going to be killed no matter what). The little girl was one crazy bitch. She was kind of like a yandere. She sliced Okarin's arm y'know.

  7. Does it has H scene?