Steins;Gate 0 (Visual Novel) Review — Can’t Keep A Mad Scientist Down

But maybe we should.

I don’t understand the whole “let’s pay attention to this thing because they made one good product” fad, but I can tell you this: chances are that if you make something good, it should probably be the last thing you ever make. Because otherwise, you’ll be hounded for the rest of your life trying to live up to that once-in-a-lifetime standard like Tsukiko Sagi in Paranoia Agent or Will Wright in his post-Sims career, which hasn’t exactly turned out well for them what with the former nearly destroying humanity as a result of her stress and the latter making fucking Spore. Ever since Steins;Gate a lot of people have been paying attention to the Science Adventure series even though nothing they’ve made since has ever been worth a damn. I mean have you ever seen anyone who’s looked forward to one of those shows go “I hope this is as good as Robotics;Notes” or “let’s hope Chaos;Child is as good as Chaos;Head“?

Okay yes, I pay attention to Spiderman a lot since I grew up on him even though all of his shows and films have been shit, but the thing is that Steins;Gate was mostly good in spite of its flaws, because that’s all it seems to share with the other SciAdv entries. Most importantly, being a fucking visual novel with all of the boring ass build-up, fan-pandering conclusion, high female to male ratio, and dialogue that’s so focused on being “naturalistic” or “cool” that it forgets to push the story forward. Plus now that the impact of its first discovery is gone, it can no longer surprise us like it did back in 2011. All it can do is add more bullshit and make the franchise more mediocre, which is incidentally what Steins;Gate 0 is: a long boring stretch of diminishing returns that is about as unnecessary as it sounds, given that it’s a sequel to an alternative universe where Okabe was unable to save Kurisu after going back in time once – which by the way, I call a load of horseshit. Having an out-of-nowhere option to force a happy ending is bad enough, but if you end up failing anyways, what’s the point of even having it? Why don’t you just end your story before said option even shows up, because otherwise you’re just hammering in the nail that life sucks very unnecessarily, like an NTR hentai where the main dude moves on with a new girl, only for her to get fucked by someone else too.

Several months after that ending, Okabe has pretty much ditched the Kyouma personality and is now a regular college student, wearing all black and angsting about how he’ll never indulge in time travel again whilst future Suzuha continues to make sure that her mom and dad get together, and the other girls are still cosplaying around Akihabara like the shallow stereotypes that they are whilst adding a few more supplementary females for good measure. One day though, he’s introduced to a female scientist who looks like a middle-schooler (because visual novel logic) named Maho, who in turn introduces him to a program called Amadeus – a bit of a mix between Alter-Ego from Danganronpa and Scarlett Johannsen in Her. Said program takes the form of Kurisu and even has some of her mannerisms, which causes Okabe to become conflicted when it gets downloaded onto his phone regarding how to treat her. But as he’s dealing with that, he also has to deal with a Kurisu look-alike named Kagari, a new male character who is so obviously the villain he might as well have had a sign on him that said “anyone male in this universe who’s not the main character is either supplementary to one of the girls or the bad guy, and we already have Daru, so who the fuck do you think I am?”, and the impending WWIII that’s looming on the horizon for reasons I could not really grasp considering SERN isn’t in this game.

Steins;Gate 0 was never really going to get a fair trial from me considering it’s not one of those Spike Chuunsoft visual novels that have actual gameplay and mostly linear stories so that the pacing and focus can be tight enough to carry me through the points when I’m just clicking the X-button. Instead, it’s the regular kind of visual novel with multiple routes and a whole lot of padding/setup to get to those routes that I ended up pressing the square-button to put the game on AUTO and just play with my 3DS for a bit whilst occasionally looking at the dialogue. This was before I discovered that pressing L1 allows you to fast-forward through the story, and once I figured that out, I could not use it quick enough, I’ll tell you that. Even compared to visual novels like Rewrite or GrisaiaSteins;Gate 0 is very unintuitive. The only real input the player has is to pull out Okabe’s cellphone to answer calls or text messages in the middle of conversations, but since the game doesn’t tell you that you use L2 to do that, I ended up completing Mayuri’s route whilst wondering where the fuck the decision-making that’s usually put into these things are. And when the credits rolled up, I was convinced there was a glitch because it pretty much ends in what seemed like the middle of the story.

Doing research on the game afterwards, I learned that there was an actual true end following Mayuri’s route that I could only achieve after getting Kurisu’s ending, which is very lacking in actual Kurisu whether in RL or her Amadeus form for something that has her image on it in the “ending logs” section. There’s also a bad ending where Okabe rejects everything and ends up suffering for it, an ending involving Maho that goes into her relationship with Amadeus, and an ending involving Kagari that’s not interesting enough to dwell on. All of the routes are pretty much just character development for the sake of character development with no real finality to any of them. I think only Maho’s had something of a lasting impact after it finished because it involved the death of someone very dear to her, but other than that, it pretty much treats the whole impending WWIII stuff as a setting rather than the focus. There’s one cool scene where Okabe gets transported to that dystopian future for like a month, but that’s pretty much the only time you actually see it getting utilized. The rest of the time is just spent on the characters exchanging quips or getting shot at by masked assassins with no flow to it even when you’re settled on a fixed route.

It also doesn’t help that the majority of Steins;Gate 0’s narrative is heavily reminiscent of Re:Zero in that it solely exists just to make Okabe go through multiple time loops where girls constantly die in order to break him down, just so he can pick himself back up again after he’s had enough. Yeah, and The Dark Knight Rises would have been a much better movie if they cut out the part where Batman is thrown into a well and has to rediscover himself in order to get out and save the city after Bane broke him. Why exactly am I supposed to care about Okabe in this iteration anyways? In the original Steins;Gate, it was because he was stuck in situations that challenged the notion of what it meant to be a good guy. Here though, he’s just a broken man going through the motions, running away from the past only for it to force him into a situation where he has to get back to his old self without any real effort in his part to make that happen. I know these sorts of stories are trying to make it clear that being a bystander doesn’t help things, but I think that Dark Knights Rises reference I just threw a few lines ago illustrates my problem with how these “Zero anime handle it.

The crowning moment of suck came from when I actually acquired the conditions to achieve the true route and fast-forwarded through Mayuri’s route again just to see what Okabe would actually do with this new-found resolution, because it pretty much ended after he put the white lab coat back on like he was gearing up for another adventure. Going to be spoilers here, because otherwise I can’t make it clear why the game basically kicked me in the face when I actually finished it, so if you’re still playing it, you might want to close this review right now and come back to it later provided that you haven’t already given up on reading this and are now planning to burn my house down for talking shit about one of the greatest visual novels of all-time.

Okabe basically reforms the lab gang and goes to some sort of chamber where the time machine waits for him, planning to fulfill some sort of prophecy that he’ll be dead in a specific year by going to some other timeline so that technically, he won’t exist when 2025 occurs. I think he also planned to try and save Kurisu once again, but I can’t really remember and I’m not too keen on confirming that since that would require putting the disc in my PS4 again, and ending details are hard to come by using Google at the time of this writing (believe me, I tried). He makes a farewell speech to his friends, they all encourage him, the machine transports him away, and…the game pretty much just ends right there. All that buildup to get him out of his funk, and he uses it to go on an adventure that we never get to see. Honestly, I think that was more of an anticlimactic ending than that Loading Area of Deja Vu nonsense.

So in short, Steins;Gate 0 is a bunch of mishandled ideas, and I only recommend it to die-hard fans and hospital patients.

Minor Quips

  • With the exception of those Zero Escape games, I am now convinced that any anime product with a “zero” in the title is guaranteed to blow.
  • My god, the original artwork on Kurisu was ugly compared to her updated self on the Amadeus program.

6 responses to “Steins;Gate 0 (Visual Novel) Review — Can’t Keep A Mad Scientist Down

  1. So this game is exactly what I expected it to be? Disappointing. I’ll wait for the inevitable anime adaptation.

    I’m still amazed by fandom’s irrational desire of wanting to know every freaking insignificant thing about a fictional universe. The Zero timeline has been discussed in the original show/novel, so why should I care? I also don’t care about some random bounty hunter that appeared for like 5 minutes in the original Star Wars trilogy, yet somehow got several novels dedicated to him. And I still don’t see why I should be exited/angry about Code Geass S3. At least the Gundam franchise or Final Fantasy understand that you need to do new stuff to stay relevant.

    • Maybe if this thing was made as an OVA series or something, I could see it working as a serviceable extra. If they go full series with this though, I can’t see S;G 0 working short of changing a huge chunk of the source material. But of course, that would not please the fanbase, so chances of that are low.

      And I agree with you regarding the Zero timeline. The concept pretty much screamed fanfiction when I saw it, akin to that Yuki Nagato thing from a little while ago. Doesn’t exactly help that they had to make all the characters return despite most of them having no relevance or development, and they reference the first game so much that it’s hard to see this as a stand-alone entry anyways.

      Also yeah, Gundam and FF at least have the right idea when it comes to staying relevant. They’re not always good ideas mind you, but at least they’re not Sonic the Hedgehog.

  2. Chunsoft made somewhat non-linear Zero Escape (puzzle+visual novel) Series, where they use side routes to clarify true route. Have you played those?

    • Nothing wrong with that. Virtue’s Last Reward is more story-focused than character-focused and while I’m not saying that’s your preference, a good amount of people prefer that.

      For example, I like Danganronpa way more than Zero Escape. Yes, that’s the more popular choice, but most people in the community I hang out with tend to think it’s cooler to prefer the latter.

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