Monday, August 21, 2017

Steins;Gate 0 (Vita)

Steins;Gate 0 is the sequel to Steins;Gate.  Being a pure visual novel, there is no gameplay to speak of.  The whole game consists of reading and thus, the plot is the main draw card.  The story takes place in an alternate timeline (or World Line using the terminology of the game) where Okabe fails to go back in time to save Kurisu from the first game.  While the previous game focuses on time travel, Steins;Gate 0 not only has a heavy element of time travel, but also that of AI.

Via the story, the game introduces deep through provoking questions and the implications of the subject matter.  From the concept of true AI to the intricacies of time travel, it is embedded with real world science which helps with the immersion.  There is a Tips section which explains some of the terms used in the game, including otaku and gaming terms.  These definitions can be very funny and you'll probably learn a thing or two.  Naturally, having played the first game is a must, since it builds upon those concepts, plus, there are heaps of spoilers for it over the course of the story.

You'll probably get confused even if you have played the original, let alone without.  The story is told via various viewpoints, which is surprising when you first encounter it since you get each character's inner monologue.  A slew of new characters are introduced and you'll grow to like them.  All the characters from the first game returns.  The story is told via character portraits over beautiful static backgrounds.  The artwork is crisp and looks amazing on screen.  The game has a unique aesthetic, in particular, character portraits have a hand-painted texture to them.  The style is slightly different compared to the first game so it seems off at first.

Some of the music is reused but there are also new tracks.  These excellent pieces of music elevate the emotions contained within the scenes.  Coupled with the slick presentation and Steins;Gate 0 is one of the prettiest game you'll ever play.  Just like the first game, you start to suspect some things but the game takes a while before it confirms or denies any of your suspicions.  Even if you are right, you might not know how it works and you wait for the game to tell you, although the pacing seems to be slower and lacks the hook of the original game.

The story explores more of what happened on the path towards Steins;Gate, including developing more of Suzuha's backstory and what the future entails.  With the high bar set by the first game, unfortunately, Steins;Gate 0 doesn't quite reach the same levels.  This is because the story doesn't contain the same tension and high stakes, especially since the true ending of the original makes this sequel seem somewhat superficial, as you know that Kurisu did not die (however, this makes sense later on).  It is still a good story, but doesn't grip you like the original.

The storytelling is hampered with constant confusing World Line shifts, with reasons that are only lightly explained since even the main character isn't too sure.  If you play the game unlocking all the endings as you go along, it can get confusing since things that happen in one ending, which contribute to the plot, does not happen in another route towards another ending.  You will start confusing yourself when similar events occur or when characters reference another event that happened.  Okabe doesn't use his mad scientist persona as much which fits into the darker and more depressing theme of the game, but also feels out of character as we're so used to it from the first game.

Naturally, there are multiple endings, for a total of six.  Each one is different in terms of which concept it incorporates so it can be confusing and disjointed.  Each bit ignores some events while including others, and combined together, you gain a greater understanding of the bigger picture.  That said, the true ending was clever and ties back neatly to the ending of the original, making this visual novel a worthwhile read.  It still felt incomplete though since it borrows so heavily on the ending fo the first game, such that there doesn't seem to be proper closure.

The game does a poor job of connecting together all the various elements.  While it takes around 12 to 15 hours to fully complete the game with all endings, there were a lot of scenes that felt like padding and were ultimately not essential to the plot, which is in stark contrast to how tightly knitted and perfect the first Steins;Gate was.  The limited amount of player interaction involves the Smartphone functions, which is an upgrade from the flip phone we're used to, to a touchscreen.  At predetermined points in the story, you can receive and send text messages to characters, which is usually for something humorous.  The other big factor is receiving and responding to phone calls, which determine which endings you get.

The triggers for changing the endings doesn't feel as impactful or intuitive as the original, since you don't know why the decision on whether to take a call or not would change events so drastically.  Therefore, it lacks the regret and indecision that you should feel in these choices.  Overall, Steins;Gate 0 isn't a bad visual novel, it just lives in shadow of the masterpiece storytelling that the first game was.  The plot lacks intricacies and subtle complexities you've come to expect, with a bit of confusion added to the mix.  Steins;Gate 0 is a definite must-play for fans of the original, since it depicts the struggle and pain Okabe had to go through in order to get to Steins;Gate in the first place.


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