A few years ago, my wife started telling me about a cool game she was playing called Steins;Gate. She described it as a dark sci-fi story about time travel from one of her favourite game companies; Nitroplus.
After watching the excellent anime version on Netflix, I found out there was an official English translation of the game available. I got it as a Christmas present, and dove in.
First off, Steins;Gate is more of a visual novel with some branching choices as opposed to an adventure game. You play Okabe Rintaro, an aspiring mad scientist in Akihabara. Rintaro spends his time hanging out with his friends (referred to as lab members), attempting to come up with new inventions and overthrow The Organization. The story revolves around the accidental invention of a time machine consisting of a cell phone and a microwave, but is driven by your interaction with your group of lab members. Everyone takes turns making small changes to the past, which end up having catastrophic effects.
Decision points are very subtle and all involve your cell phone: you can choose to answer or ignore incoming calls, you can choose to send or not send messages to the past, and you can choose if and how to respond to texts. There are 6 different endings based on how the story progresses.
What I found interesting about the game was the level of immersion. Because you are reading the story from the main character’s POV, you are really becoming the main character. You experience what he experiences. You have to make choices that could result in the death of your friends.
Make no mistake, this game gets dark. One possible ending involves Okabe reliving the same few days over and over to avoid having to let anyone die. Eventually he / you start considering all of the horrible things you can do and get away with. One possible timeline involves a homicidal little girl bent on revenge. And most plot lines involve watching your close friend Mayushi die over and over again despite your best efforts. Your character does not die, so all of the endings have you living with the results of your choices.
Even though it gets pretty dark, the game itself is very interesting. It’s very well written, well translated, immersive, and even comes with a glossary of otaku words and science terms. By the time you get to any of the endings, you will feel like you have spent weeks in Akihabara on a grand adventure.
If you like well written sci-fi, Japanese geek culture, or time travel stories, play this game. It’s worth your time.