Late last year, Steins;Gate 0 was released and was given mostly positive reviews (you can check out the review by AniTAY’s RockmanDash12 here) that led me to purchasing the visual novel on day one. The only issue for me, however, is that with exception to one blunder I made early into my exposure to otaku stuff with a visual novel that had regrettable content in it, I had never actually finished a visual novel. With that being said, I struggled to get through my first playthrough of the game (and got the worst ending to tote) and the visual novel got lost in the shuffle of a very busy year.
Recently, I fell for the ultimate Internet trolling of 2017 that was Doki Doki Literature Club. There is a long forum rant somewhere in my article drafts that essentially is a vicious reaction to being triggered by some of the content. I realize that I’ll never see eye to eye with other people with that game, and it was probably for best that I avoided the fallout from something that came from the hip right that. What this experience did, however, is serve as the catalyst for my desire to finish my first full length visual novel.
Before I go any further, I have to embarrassingly admit that I’m really slow at reading subtitles. Sometimes I have to rewind anime to read lines or rewatch scenes to get the full scope of dialogue (I had to rewind entire episodes of Monogatari). This isn’t a reading issue or anything, but rather a multitasking issue. This might sound groundbreaking coming from a millennial, but I struggle to sit down and do nothing but read subtitles in anime or put all of my concentration into a game. Surprisingly I can focus on books and work tasks just fine, but it is the digital entertainment that can’t be honed in on. Visual novels are a fascinating beast because they kind of marry the two things I find myself multitasking with, and leave the only option to be focusing on it. With that said, there has to be the perfect mood to be invested in such a medium.
Thankfully, I was completely consumed in the story of Steins;Gate 0. My familiarity of the series, like most, was the prequel anime(I know Rock has gone into detail how this game isn’t really a sequel, but you get the idea). To date it is the only 24 episode series I have watched multiple times (once subbed, once dubbed, dubbed again for Dubs w/ Dil, then a fourth time with my mother) within a year. Going into this, I couldn’t really begin to explain why the series won me over so much. There was no question, however, that this particular game kept the same appeal. The first hour or so (again, my time frames might be off from the norm) has the same slow boil that the original series had with a twist. Compared to where the original could sell itself mainly as slice of life, there is a can of worms already opened up as soon as things begin here. So whereas “twists” in the original were introducing the audience to the brutal consequences of time travel, Steins;Gate 0 really blends together the daily lives of Okabe and co. as a result of the consequences of time travel.
Over the entire year it took me to finish the game, the biggest critique I’ve seen come from this was how difficult it would be to make an anime adaptation out of it. Obviously there was a curiosity going into the other endings (like I said, I got the worst ending the first time through, so I had to take that loss and keep going) wondering how it would play out. Without spoiling anything, the game doesn’t work the endings in a smooth narrative flow like the original did, however I don’t find it that difficult to pull off. The paths are there, so we’ll just have to see how the anime will play out when it debuts in 2018.
With that elephant out of the room, I have to get straight to the point here: I loved this game. It made me realize the aspects of Steins;Gate I loved so much and doubled down on my favorite aspects of that work. The science fiction fantasy elements are ridiculous, yes, and they leave a lot of inconsistencies the further out the net gets cast. The real ending is known almost immediately, but that isn’t the point of this journey. It sounds like the oldest cliche in the book, but getting to peek into the characters and meet new ones and their respective narratives is so incredibly entertaining that the journey really is more important than where it ends up. If you’re playing Steins;Gate 0, you’ve committed to the story already established so it shouldn’t be so shocking that the ending is what it is.
For such an absurd premise in time travel, the character drama is so relatable that it had a cathartic effect on me personally. Is there is anything more effective in a drama than establishing characters you care about? What about somehow building upon those characters in following installments? The game takes a crazy guy, breaks him down into a pile of depression, then builds him back up. The way that his friends reached out to him and acknowledged his trauma and still in the same breath gave him the push by addressing he has to be the one to get back up because people needed him to was left me awe-stricken. There is a stoic character who serves nothing other than being an antagonistic threat in the original and tears off a really heavy hitting discussion of fear for the future that every young adult has had to consider at least once in their early 20s. What might be the most effective character introduced has to be found in the genius scientist Maho. Most of the story as was would have Okabe remembering the person he lost, however with the introduction of Maho, we get a second person so deeply affected by loss and her own struggles to come to grips with it. Through her there came my favorite quote of the game: “You’re not Salieri. You’re Amadeus.”
No it isn’t perfect, but Steins;Gate 0 is an essential emotional journey that is well worth forgoing the nitpicking it has sustained over the tenure of being in the spotlight online. It takes the fantastic character drama from the original and gives a tremendous environment for even more to be given to its characters. There is a little bit in every character that is almost guaranteed to pull an emotional reaction from the audience, and it manages to become the pulse of young adults of this era somewhere in the middle of all of the dark abyss that is time travel.