Steins;Gate is a Japanese visual novel created by collaboration of two developer companies Nitroplus and 5pb. for multiple platforms. Even though it doesn’t have any official releases in English a fanmade translation patch for it exists allowing to play it even if you don’t know Japanese.
Steins;Gate’s genre mostly could be classified as hard science fiction which already makes it stand out among most of the others sci fi stories that could be found in anime, manga or visual novels. You aren’t going to find there giant robots, superpowers, aliens, supernatural creatures, talking animals or transforming magical girls. The setting of Steins;Gate nearly completely abides known laws of physics with one exception that is the discovery of a phenomenon leading to possibility of time travel. The theme of time travel is the key focus of the story of this VN and many aspects of time travelling covered in others works dealing with it such as Butterfly Effect are being touched upon as the story progresses.
The story of Steins;Gate is set in Akihabara district of Tokyo and revolves around members of “Future Gadgets Laboratory” created by protagonist of the story Okabe Rintarou. The start of the story is rather slow and it takes a while until the events take turn into more dramatic and thrilling half of the story. This might turn off some people from the VN personally I enjoyed the first half of it as much as the second one. Akihabara is known not only for its electronics stores but as the heartland of otaku culture as well so it’s no wonder that many characters of the story to various extent belong to it as well. As the result most of activities in early parts of the story which starts from accidental discovery of strange side effect in the latest creation of the lab (a remote controlled microwave oven) revolve around either scientific or otaku related topics. Those two topics blend in together very nicely with science part building up a rather plausible base for time principle while otaku part mostly serving to fleshen up main characters. Together with its second half which brings many engaging moments, sudden twists and suspenseful drama Steins;Gate has very well written and masterfully planned story.
Characters means a lot for a visual novel and even in cases when the story isn’t that great or too cliche a lovable cast could became saving grace for it. And already possessing good story Steins;Gate adds excellent cast of characters to boot. I must admit that I end up either disliking or not caring about more than 90% of protagonists in visual novels. In most cases they end up being narrowed down to either to nice guy with no personality archetype or nihilistic jackass archetype. Steins;Gate is a rare exception to that boasting one of the most memorable protagonists that I saw. Okabe Rintarou is a chuunibyou. To those who don’t know chuunibyou is a slang term that roughly could be translated as second year of middle school (8th grade) syndrome. It refers to a certain behavior pattern that sometimes develops in age which most often corresponds to the 8th grade of school hence the name. Making up dark past background, pretending to have hidden superpowers, engaging in activities that they think makes them look “cool” and adult like those are the main qualities that identify chuunibyou. Usually it soon passes as they keep growing up but in some cases they remain being chuunibyou and Okabe Rintarou is hardcore example of that. Calling himself mad scientist Hououin Kyouma, claiming to be pursued by some kind of secret organization, suddenly engaging into monologue conversations with imaginary correspondent on his cell phone and having strange and pompous speech manner all of this makes him really stand out. Naturally he isn’t able to maintain his mad scientists persona all the time and his true personality occasionally shows up and when faced with adamant unwillingness to communicate with it or in dire situations it completely cracks up. Such “dual” personality makes him really interesting and fun character to follow after.
The others main characters although not as much flashy still hardly could be called ordinary and each of them possess one or more quirks that makes them to stand out. Besides Rintarou the others founding members of Future Gadgets Lab are his airheaded cosplay loving childhood friend Shiina Mayuri and hardcore otaku and skilled hacker Hashida Itaru. Neuroscience prodidgy with tsundere personality Makise Kurisu joins the lab soon thus completing initial cast of main characters. Several more characters joins them as the story progresses and each of them gets a bunch of development. Overall there are 6 endings in this VN, 5 of them corresponding to 5 different heroines and one true end.
The art of Steins;Gate is done by huke, an artist possessing a highly distinctive drawing style who became known from his work on Black Rock Shooter. To be honest I didn’t like his style at first since normally I prefer more traditional character designs. But as I kept playing it was growing on me more and more blending perfectly with characters and overall mood of the VN. As the result I ended up loving it so much that even ordered huke’s artbook of Steins;Gate. The music of the VN is above average. PC version of Steins;Gate has two OP themes sung by Itou Kanako: Skyclad Observer that plays early on and A.R. that plays later when the story reaches its culmination. Both of those songs are superb and fit perfectly with overall mood of the VN. Unfortunately BGM soundtrack isn’t that great although it isn’t really bad either. It has only only one memorable melody Gate of Steiner which in various arrangements plays in many moments of the story. The others tracks blend nicely with situations where they are playing but really forgettable otherwise. On other hand voice acting in Steins;Gate is excellent. Many highly profilic seiyu were chosen to voice characters of this VN and they did great job in delivering characters voiced by them.
From technical standpoint the main difference of Steins;Gate possess from the others visual novels with branching plot is that it doesnt have any dialogue choices. Instead you have to use Okabe’s cell phone in order to respond or ignore calls and text messages. An interesting decision although I wouldn’t call particularly great since it could be rather confusing early on. Another uncommon feature is fairly big tips section explaining meanings of various scientific, otaku or internet slang term which are in abundance encountered during the course of the story.
In conclusion I must say that I was starting Steins;Gate with big share of skepticism to all praises that it was receiving since previous works from its producers left me with an impression that their VNs doesn’t fit my tastes much but as I kept progressing through the story it grew up on me into being one of the most enjoyable visual novel reads that I ever had. Still I wouldn’t recommend it to just about anyone. While touching various aspects of otaku culture the character abundantly use 2channel (called @channel in the VN) lingo and memes in translation partially replaced by their 4chan counterparts and it certainly might alienate some people not accustomed to that.