A few years ago, I annoyed my friends by threatening to talk about the visual novel adventure game Steins;Gate. No one wanted to hear me do this. Least of all me. It was a joke born out of wasting my time on a curiosity. I had been looking at hell-maw Twitter. I had two people I trust complaining that Steins;Gate sucked. That they hated the characters. They hated the anime-bullshit. They hated it.
Then, several hours later both of these humans, independently went “Holy Shit Steins;Gate is great!” That’s interesting. Then we need to go back to more than a few years ago. There was a podcast about Japanese Video Games. One of the hosts would not stop talking about Steins;Gate. They declared it a “masterpiece”.
Back to the few years ago present, Steins;Gate was available in English on my Playstation Vita. I had enough tolerance of anime-bullshit to eventually love Dangan Ronpa. This was on the last dying days of my need to buy anything weird and Japanese that came to the States because if I didn’t, we wouldn’t get other weird Japanese stuff. So I put on my waders, climbed into bed and tried Steins;Gate.
I hated the characters. I hate the anime bullshit. It was set in a real world place I knew, Akiba. Ah, this is exactly what I thought it was. But…what happened that changed my Twitter friends’ minds. This is the “masterpiece”? Guess I will keep playing.
Japanese Visual Novel Adventure game is what I’m calling this game. I read somewhere recently that there is distinction between Visual Novels and Japanese Adventure games, and it was real bad that people got it wrong. On every physical Japanese game release, there is a little box for genre and the developer/publisher can put whatever they please in that box. We’ve gotten a lot of stuff just from that little box. I…have Steins;Gate Elite right here in this apartment.
I checked for the purposes of where we are in this essay right now, we’ll say it says ADV (Adventure.) Well then. I will adjust my catchphrase.
JAPANESE ADVENTURE GAMES ARE THE WORST WAY TO READ AN ANIME
I hope you enjoy the company of the cast of your JAG, because you are about to spend far far too much time with them in Seinfeld levels of minutiae. And it did not need to be timed or considered for budget. Get those voice actors in a booth for hours, we have every ounce of script to pour into this game. To visualize this, we have 5 still graphics per character to represent the wealth of human emotions. If you’re real good you’ll get a “still” an original art showing what is actually happening in a scene. Often with the girls at a provocative angle.
Why would anyone choose to experience art in this way? Well, the short answer is because the medium is cheap to make, and was mostly used for some mixture of telling a story and pornography. Sometimes both.
So you wade through text, either forcing yourself to hear the voice actor’s clips as the lord intended, or slamming the text as you speed-read the text on screen. Maybe hit the skip buttons a few times to skip past hilarious tête-à-tête.
I’m not talking about Steins;Gate yet. Well I am. But I am just talking about the genre in which it is in. “Maybe you should stay out of this genre, Rudie,” you say. It’s too late. I’ve been in it. In Steins;Gate for too long. It has created a healthy and good fear of anything else out there. In that way I have found salvation.
STEINS;GATE IS MY SALVATION
That just felt fun to type. Let’s skip back to the beginning of this article, when I was annoying my friends. My feeling at the time was honestly you didn’t need to play it. It was too filled with anime-bullshit that if I couldn’t stand, my friends would stand it even less. That didn’t stop me from delightfully annoying them.
The problem with doing a joke long enough is it stops being a joke. Suddenly I was the teacher with 15 giraffe things on my desk, getting a new giraffe calendar from a student.
There’s a point early on in S;G where our protagonist logs onto the internet. And you the player proceed to read a message board. It’s great. You get to decide how little or how much to read. There is clear junk-troll messages. You just keep reading. It eventually has minor pay-off later.
And then it has Japanese otaku-nerd anime-bullshit payoff that you need more than the extensive in game encyclopedia to explain. Look, our super-smart scientist girl is a poster on the game equivalent of 4chan along with the other run of the mill nerd characters, but she doesn’t want them to know that. So it is hinted at and played for laughs as the nerds suspect their new friend is also a 4channer. Am I selling you on this game yet??
Let’s move to the recent present. For even further research, I was watching the Steins;Gate anime. They got to this point. I laughed out loud. I am already beyond, redemption. There was a good delivery in the anime-bullshit.
Back to hating the game as I played it though. I was seething. I hated Daru; the 2D girl loving otaku that somehow has girl *space* friends and yet tries to get them to say things like it was one of this eroge. Hilarious. One of those girls, Mayushii, comes off so stupid as to maybe need help tying her shoes and I worry about her. Kurisu a supposed genius that also needs to fall into the “Shinji Baka!” tsundere trope that is in direct conflict with the kind of character we are told she is.
Then we have Okabe Rintaro, the “you” in this game. A bumbling college student that is also Hyouin Kyouma, Mad Scientist. At least in his own mind. He’s no scientist. He’s surrounded by people smarter than him. He gets even more people around him that are smarter than him. He gets an incredible amount of trouble with the whole world for his friend inventing a time machine.
OH IT’S A TIME TRAVEL STORY
I honestly liked the Time Travel Story. This was the thing that happens 10 hours into the game, that my friends flipped on. I had almost flipped. I enjoyed the Time Travel Story while batting away at the anime-bullshit.
The story eventually is about the weight of loss and having the tools to change fate and being unable to change it. Ultimately maybe, it takes a self-obsessed delusional idiot to be the one to escape fate. We need a happy ending.
And I did reach that happy ending. I sat there with complex mixed emotions about how I had read an anime for 30 hours and didn’t love it. Because well, if I spend 30 hours on something, I should very well love it. I didn’t. So maybe, in that grief, I turned to comedy to try and inflict that grief on my friends.
AND THEN STEINS;GATE ZERO WAS RELEASED IN ENGLISH
Look I could explain S;G0 but like I said at the beginning no one wants me to do that. Let’s say S:G0 is a bad ending of S;G. In this world, in this timeline, our hero (I, you, me, we) couldn’t change fate. He had to see friends die, over and over as he tried to save them. He eventually decided he couldn’t. He couldn’t deal with it anymore. He gave up. Even as a girl from the future begs him to “Get In The Time Machine
And now we need to get personally serious for a few paragraphs. Eventually in life someone you care about dies. In the days, weeks, months, years that follows you form questions and conversations you wish you could of had with them. You maybe just want that chance to say goodbye. To say that they mattered.
In S:G0, Okabe is dealing with that loss. Those conversations. The pain and burn that comes with them not coming back. The second wave of pain that comes with the first wave of pain going away. Is that love fading away with that feeling? Why don’t I break into tears at the briefest thought anymore?
This grief causes shockwaves in the other characters. They are visibly changed. Which is strange, because time travel. In this timeline, they never even met the character he grieves for. And yet because he is different, they are different. They are suddenly more bearable, likable. With the cut to actual human emotion, I suddenly want to be around this anime stereotypes. They’ve gained something in dealing with a friend who is in mourning for unknown reasons.
If you are in that grief and mourning, and you meet someone that also knew the departed but you don’t know each other, you seek something. You don’t know what. You just ask questions trying to learn some never complete puzzle of the lost.
Okabe meets this person. A classmate of the dead. She also has questions to a friend of the dead. They dance around secrets. Okabe is a time-traveller. The classmate has a complete AI of the dead created by the dead. He keeps his secrets. She needs see how the AI can grow. Right now it is just…a complete brainscan of the dead. So she wants to introduce them.
This is me talking to the reader. You ever meet the dead in a dream? You wake up and feel incredible pain for not asking those questions and comments you’ve held up in your heart. You were dreaming. You couldn’t know.
Okabe gets to meet the AI of his dead friend. At this point playing I broke into full sobs. Okabe here was a one-to-one match for my own grief. To what my reaction would have been. To what I did feel. The line pulled tight, and the game had hooked me.
BACK TO THE NONSENSE
When describing Steins;Gate Zero to people after I played it, I would say it felt like the cast were different people from the first game. They couldn’t possibly have the same writer. They felt like humans with motivations. Only when I played Steins:Gate Elite did I realized some of the characters were in fact different people. It did have the same writer, and maybe I should give him credit for doing a great job.
At hour 10 in Zero it also becomes a Time Travel Story. It becomes a great one actually. There are lot of different details going on. I enjoyed Zero all the way through. If I had written this article last year, I would have probably sai-.
No let’s say it here
Steins;Gate Zero is my Game of The Year 2017
And I played a lot in 2017. But I need to put my stamp on how much it effected me. How much reading an anime was good for once. How I now had a problem. I couldn’t recommend Steins;Gate Zero. You’d have to play S;G first! And I hated that. but Zero has so much payoff to S;G. It is like the writer read thread upon thread of “uhh what about…”, “What was the deal with…” .
I had been teasing my friends for a year about this dumb anime-game. Now I wanted to genuinely recommend it but can’t, because it required playing a game I didn’t really like. I wasn’t going to sit there and watch the anime and see if that was a good way to prep for Zero. That would be an incredible waste of my time and I played that story for 30 hours. I wasn’t going to do it again.
Turns out I would do it again
Because in September 2018 Steins;Gate Elite finally came out. The first FULL ANIME JAPANESE ADVENTURE VISUAL NOVEL. Wow! Now instead of being the worst way to read an anime. It was the worst way to watch an anime. I have to get on that train. Also it came with a little bonus famicom Steins;Gate game. That’s cute! And I am in a pit of my own making.
If I played my cards right I could the first person to review the game in English! And then life happened. So I played it for myself all the way through. Then to add insult, I started watching the anime to compare the anime-game and the anime.
Steins;Gate Elite The Review
It is full animated anime the whole way through. That is nicer to look at than the original’s 5 stills to represent the wealth of human emotion. The stills had that nice watercolor style though. This is very plain and workman-like. Very few minutes of real impressive animation and a bit too much male-leering that made me uncomfortable.
It is still 25 hours long, which is slightly shorter than the original. You are still in the company of anime-stereotypes and characters pulled into stereotypes for far too long. The full animated style gives slightly less room for inner monologue. Except-
We interrupt this review because we have to talk about Luka. Luka is a very feminine male made to dress like a girl by her father (and never seen sister.) (YIKES!) Okabe’s ever present monologue repeated over and over in Luka’s presence is “but he’s a boy.” He is clearly attracted to Luka and cannot deal with it.
One of the Time Travel Hijinks is Luka requests to become that “maybe I will be happier if I was a girl.” Okabe timeline leaps into a world through a method so dumb you would throw your computer out the window if I told you* where Luka is “a real” girl. He has to molest her to prove her realness. Without four more paragraphs let tell you it is real bad.
In Zero, Luka is still the butt of constant “but he’s a boy” comments. Of course Luka is the most gentle and weak of them all. Luka is a bad character before we ask if are they bad representation of transwomen. They almost certainly are. But more than that ,the constant joke of “Okabe likes a dude that looks like a lady lolololol” is unforgivable. The Japanese fanbase and Famitsu seem to have embraced this real one note joke of actual human experience and it doesn’t stop being gross. They even seem to like the character, but I’m almost certain their views on transwomen or crossdressers would be questionable at best. I needed to put this somewhere in this essay. It is going right here.
-everytime Luka shows up in the story they cut to Okabe’s monologue to mention Luka is a boy but is SO CUTE SO WOMAN LIKE. It sucks.
It follows the original game right down to a nonsense flowchart of answering emails to get the different endings. Open a guide, it was bad in the original and it is bad here.
Should you play Steins;Gate Elite?
*Big nasal inhale*
Just watch the anime. Then play Steins;Gate Zero. The anime is so palatable that I have people that hate anime able to sit on the couch and watch it. The characters are given more time to interact outside of Okabe, which builds them as people. It hits all the same story beats as the game and Elite. Elite was actually delayed for them to redraw more scenes, which well the anime looks worse than the game.
And I would hold off on playing the Zero even. Japan just announced the Switch is getting a pack of Zero and the S;G dating sim and the S;G sidestory “what if” game. I can’t speak to the quality of the later two, but the sidestory is a pre-order bonus for the Western PS4 version of Elite. I am almost certain those last two are for if you want to enjoy more of the character’s company, which despite playing three of these games and watching the anime, I don’t really.
So Tell Me About The Famicom Game
M2 are the real mad scientists. They made a 90 minute Famicom-style Adventure bonus game for the Switch, that would work on an actual Famicom. It’s cute. It has some good Famicom Adventure style tropes and does very little of “it’s a video game silly wink wink.” You even go to more of Akiba than you do in the normal series.
Way up there, I implied there is a minor plot point in the first game that you need knowledge of Japanese message boards. A larger plot point is about how Akihabara has changed over the years. Everywhere in Tokyo is changing and you are almost always chasing the first to-let’s not do that gaijin essay. The game is steeped in Japanese nerd culture. There is an ingame encyclopedia. That wasn’t a joke. I put this down here in the essay, because I just thought of it, but you’d have to get this far to even have a chance of enjoying Steins;Gate.
So Tell me About the other Science Adventure Series of Games
hahaha no. (NSFW) Steins;Gate is the most baseline normal of them, and just glancing at the others in the series goes past my tolerance for anime-bullshit.
Okay what else?
That’s it really. I strongly recommend Zero but you have to suffer for it to work. I can even put that in context of the game. At one point in Zero for time travel nonsense reason you end up in the timeline of the original game. The graphics and stands even revert back to the original game’s. When I played it, the characters were immediately back to their grating irritating selves that I just pulled through because I’m stupid and there. must. be. something. good. here. The scene is brief and almost touching. Then you return to the world of Zero with much better and easier to be around versions of these characters.
Playing Elite, I went back a lot in my mind to Zero. Zero does a terrific job of pulling these characters out of their anime bullshit into a real serious story. Which while not charming to me, part of the charm of the original. The Original is about these anime-idiot numskulls that get sucked into a very serious problem and then one of them has to get all his friends’ help to try and undo it. Our delusional hero holds a fantastic anime-like fantasy life in his head and doesn’t recognize when it becomes the very real dangerous reality and until people around him are dying.
At the end of Zero, well, it works in reverse. I did not expect it to work as it did, but I think I fistpumped when it happened. If I was more of an eye-rolling writer instead of an off the top essayist that writes one article every two years, I could have tied this whole thing to Okabe’s delusion as a mad scientist and me not shutting up about Steins;Gate as a joke.
Dec 27th, 2018