Steins;Gate is my favorite visual novel and I recommend it to anyone. It’s a time travel story that makes as much sense as a time travel story ever can and includes a healthy dose of science to keep everything appropriately grounded. Steins;Gate’s “true ending” felt complete and it never occurred to me that we’d get a follow-up. After about 30 hours with the sequel, a few false endings, and a corrupted save file, I’m still not sure whether we really needed Steins;Gate 0, but I’m glad I played it.
Given the nature of Steins;Gate 0’s story and setting, it’s impossible to get into the meat of the game without spoiling Steins;Gate. I highly recommend you play Steins;Gate first because its brilliant.
A time machine has rarely felt as useless as it did in Steins;Gate. Protagonist Rintaro Okabe tried over and over to save his friend Mayuri in the alpha timeline but he failed every time. In the end, he had to settle for moving to the beta timeline which meant not only watching, but being culpable for, the death of Kurisu and the march to World War III. Rintaro started that game as mad scientist Kyouma Hououin creating inventions with his friend Itaru Hashida and giving them crazy names such as Phonewave (name subject to change). By the end of the game, he was devastated by the loss of someone he loved and yet we eventually arrived at a happy ending. The “true ending” reunited Rintaro and Kurisu and I put the game down with a smile on my face. It felt complete. How naive I was.
Despite the title, Steins;Gate 0 is largely a sequel to Steins;Gate although given all the time travel going on, that gets understandably confusing at times. In this game’s timeline, Rintaro has watched Kurisu die, but he doesn’t know she’s actually still alive and well (or she will be alive once his future self has done certain stuff which he will then tell his past self about for his past self to do it but that’s probably on a different worldline so Kurisu is actually dead on this worldline but the worldline’s going to change so it’s okay. Okay?). Rintaro starts off depressed and spends most of the game that way. Gone is the crazy scientist Hououin; he’s replaced with a moody-teenager who is passing time until his inevitable death in 2025 and the outbreak of World War III.
Despite being killed off in Steins;Gate, Kurisu returns via an AI system known as Amadeus which is based on Kurisu’s mind from shortly before she died. The Amadeus system was created in part by Maho, a 21-year-old who, in true Japanese tradition, looks about 13, and plays a similar role to Kurisu in the first game. She’s kind of a love interest for Rintaro, but then so are most other women in the game.
This sense of impending doom casts a bleak shadow over most of Steins;Gate 0. There’s nothing wrong with a dark story but it does make the game harder to enjoy. That might be why you also experience the game from the perspective of Suzuka, Hashida’s daughter from 2036, and Maho, a new character who used to work with Kurisu when they were students in America. The alternative perspectives are welcome although Rintaro is still the star of the show.
Steins;Gate took a few detours for alternative endings but it was clearly a linear story. Stein;Gate 0 splits its story early on and requires you to keep track of two separate timelines which you’ll need to complete to reach the true ending. There’s nothing in the game that helps you keep track of where you are in the story or the endings you’re working towards, so I recommend using a guide even though that’s not something I typically like doing.
The two-pronged story brings about a lot of repetition. Apart from one instance, time spent on other timelines doesn’t alter subsequent “playthroughs,” so Rintaro ends up discovering the same information multiple times and it always plays out painfully slowly. It would have been nice if the story had changed slightly to avoid going through the same information twice. You’re supposed to be able to skip sections of text you’ve already seen but that function doesn’t always work properly. Steins;Gate 0 has a built-in story reason for Rintaro being able to remember what he’s already experienced from other timelines, so it’s bizarre that this mechanic isn’t used to help speed things along a touch. Perhaps that would have made the game too short.
And that brings me to the problem which nagged at me for most of my 30 hours with Steins;Gate 0. Most of the game feels unnecessary. One of the two routes—and therefore half of the game—has nothing to do with the conclusion and yet it is necessary for a final character moment right at the end. The story ends up plodding along until the final few hours when the Rintaro we knew and loved from the first game comes back and the narrative starts heading in a clear direction.
Despite the slow pace of most of the story, the ending is one big information dump that sent me straight to Google to figure out what the hell happened. Steins;Gate did an excellent job wrapping up most of its outstanding plot threads, so it’s disappointing that the sequel seems to have made things more confusing. Fortunately, it looks like there will be a third game in the series and presumably there is a plan in place for where the story goes from here. Steins;Gate 0 is a touch disappointing, however all will be forgiven if it has set up an epic climax.
Huke’s artwork is as gorgeous as it was in the first game, with the added benefit of more post-apocalyptic images that have me excited for what we might see in the next game. My only complaint is that I’d have liked more images to help match what’s going on in the story. It can be odd to see a character described as “covered in blood” only to see her clearly not covered in blood on the screen. I appreciate there’s a limit to the amount of artwork that can be created for one game, but that doesn’t make it any less jarring.
Steins;Gate had an annoying habit of forcing the text into “auto” and “skip” mode when I tried to move through the story. Steins;Gate 0 fixes that problem, but introduces a much more problematic issue: corrupted save files. My save file got wiped twice. I read that the problems are to do with a patch that messes with saves that were started before you patched the game, however I had the same problem without the patch. There’s not much you can do about this problem. The autoskip function means you can get back to where you left off fairly quickly, but it’s worth bringing to your attention. I also wish you didn’t constantly have to click through “…” that represents silence or hesitation from the characters. That’s a common visual novel issue, but it bugs me nonetheless.
I didn’t enjoy large parts of Steins;Gate 0. It’s dark and the characters lack a driving force to keep the narrative moving. It wasn’t until I got to the end that my I realized that misery was largely the point. I’m not sure to what extent I should let the ending influence my opinion of the game as a whole. I had a similar issue with Nier: Automata where I found large parts of the game tedious, but the ending left me on a high. I love the characters in Steins;Gate 0 and came to realize that much of the negativity throughout the story is here for a good reason. It’s a dark middle chapter which is heavy on the dark.
Steins;Gate 0 could be better. It could be shorter and do more to explain the complicated parts of its story. However, it’s the follow up to one of the best visual novels out there. It contains the same awesome characters (and minimizes the impact of the annoying ones) and puts them through serious trauma until they come out the other end. It’s a tougher read than Steins;Gate, but you should persevere until you reach the other side. The reward is worth it and I cannot wait to see where this story goes next.