When it comes to stories, there’s a lot of genres to choose from, whether it’s horror or romance, sci-fi and fantasy or even a mixture of a few. With visual novels, the same still applies, there is vast assortment ready to be found. For a while now, I’ve wanted to get back into reading, so I thought why not give a visual novel a try, and the science adventure Steins;Gate caught my eye.
However, this particular novel is about 20+ hours in length, so for first-timers if they would prefer something shorter, I encourage people to try out Doki Doki Literature Club. It’s a perfect starting visual novel, lasting about six-hours with captivating characters, but features some darker tones, such as depression. So please, read the warnings before reading it.
Steins;Gate is a science fiction novel all about time travel. It was initially an Xbox 360 title which released in 2009 before it got ported to Windows in 2010. It’s entirely Japanese voice-acted, and that even includes the main character. Yet, in some visual novels, this doesn’t happen, as the author wants the reader to give their own voice to the protagonist.
The central concept is time travel; which is all that’s needed to know. Don’t worry; a degree in physics is not necessary to understand what is going on or to get fully immersed, as it’s ‘hypothetical science.’ For anyone who wants to learn more, the developers 5pb and Nitroplus have added in a nifty ‘tip feature’, where certain words in the text become highlighted. This tip feature explains what the highlighted words mean.
Like any form of storytelling, there are twists and turns to get viewers hooked, and Steins;Gate is no different, from the get-go I was thoroughly intrigued. Visual novels can offer so much more than reading from a book, mainly because the artwork of the story is already in place, so there is no need for readers to create their own imagery. Then by adding music and sound effects, it all works together flawlessly to add to the overall immersion. Although for avid book lovers, this might deter them, as they might prefer using their full imagination.
By adding in interactive elements, visual novels can truly set itself apart from traditional storytelling. In Steins;Gate one of those elements is the use of a basic phone, which even though it’s integral to the plot, it serves as something much more than that. As progression through the story is made, character relationships start to develop, and a lot of these interactions are through email. Very much like the tip feature, certain words within the email will become highlighted. These terms are the basis of how replies work, and each one will send an entirely different message. It’s a small but essential feature, that adds so much depth, especially when replying to multiple characters with different personalities. But do not think that these little interactions are meaningless as they’re incredibly significant.
Visual Novels aren’t perfect; there is an awful lot of clicking involved, or luckily in this case pressing the A button on my controller, which is less effort. Of course, there’s an option for ‘auto mode’, this makes the game automatically scroll through the text, which is perfect for sitting back and relaxing. Fear not, for the fast readers; it’s possible to interrupt the voice acting by moving onto the next line. A backlog is also available, where all previous dialogue is stored, so if anything is misunderstood or missed, it’s possible to reread/listen it.
Remember, this is still a game and saves are just as important – as progress can be lost! Fortunately, there is a skip text function available, that the user can hold down to fast-forward through the novel. However, be mindful as it skips through everything, even phone interactions.
I’ve put 20 hours into the game in the space of four days and finally finished my first playthrough. However, this is a game where the ending achieved might not be the true ending of the narrative. I was having to much fun replying to people that I forgot there were even different endings, that my choices held so much weight! My finale was one of many that Steins;Gate offers, and without a doubt, I’m going to replay it again instantly. What is the true ending? I must know! Therefore it’s advisable to play through it again and make different choices – though by using the skip function, those 20 hours are shortened down by a considerable amount.
Overall, the story enthralled me. When I was playing, my concept of time was non-existent; I just wanted to keep ongoing. I highly recommend giving this visual novel a try, the artwork, the music, the characters, everything is fantastic. I’m thrilled I gave virtual novels a try, but I’m disappointed in myself for taking so long to acknowledge how brilliant they are. Nevertheless, visual novels are not for everyone, if that is the case, then I suggest watching the anime instead, as the story is genuinely worthwhile.
There is a newer version of Steins;Gate called Steins;Gate Elite that incorporates scenes from the anime into it, which is is the penultimate version of the visual novel medium. However, it changes a few things from the original, so if players want to experience the raw unchanged version, then play the original first.
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What’s your favourite visual novel? Let us know in the comments section and while you’re at it why not check out our The Last Of Us Part II review!
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