An excellent introduction to the genre, Steins;Gate comes to the Vita a few years after the visual novel was first introduced in Japan.
Steins;Gate is the first visual novel I’ve ever played, and it’s proven to be a great first choice. It’s accessible, it doesn’t have a crazy length some of the others do and it’s crafted with style and attention to detail.
What sets visual novels apart from other videogames (if you even want to call a visual novel that), is the lack of interaction. It takes a bit of getting used to, but for the most part you’re quietly clicking through screens of dialogue and experiencing the story as though you’re a part of it. You get to choose responses at key moments in the game, but that’s about it as far as ‘gameplay’ goes. If you have a severe lack of patience and/or a happy trigger finger, visual novels are not for you.
In Steins;Gate, you play as Rintaro Okabe, a scientist of sorts who stumbles upon a way to send text messages back in time. This results in a storyline full of time travel-related intrigue, alternate timelines and all that other stuff I love in movies and novels that deal with time travel. Sending a message back in time means that you can alter the course of time – in such a way where everything and everyone around you changes, but you still remember how things were before you send back the message.
It’s a fascinating and wonderful story, partly interwoven with real-life science such as the work being done at CERN. You will also be able to discover and experience multiple story branches, based on your choices when sending text messages back in time. It’s worth pointing out that sending those messages is also the only real way in which you interact with the game. That makes for an experience that is far less interactive than most gamers are used to, or perhaps even want, but it’s a great experience for those who enjoy story and character development over gameplay.
While lengthy interactions between people in Japanese RPGs have always felt to me like they get in the way of the actual gameplay, it’s different in Steins;Gate. Here you know what you’re getting into – a visual novel, a storytelling experience rather than a role playing game. There are times when you wish the story would bring you to your next moment of interaction sooner, but it never takes too much away from the narrative experience that developers 5pb and Nitroplus have crafted.
We really enjoyed Steins;Gate, and if you’re part of the group of gamers that also likes to pick up a good book to read every now and then – chances are you’ll love this too.