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Review: Steins;Gate

931 Words

(Cross-posted from Steam)

This is probably the 6th time I’ve tried writing about Steins;Gate. It’s the most conflicted I’ve ever felt about a game, which has led me to writing and deleting multiple reviews, which culminated in another try last night when the Steam app on my iPhone crashed as I finished writing the sixth paragraph.

The reason Steins;Gate is such a difficult game to talk about is because it has soaring highs and literal nauseating lows. So many other games are like this, but Steins;Gate is on another level. I’ve been agonizing over this ever since I finished reading the novel back in May 2022, and it’s high time I put my thoughts in order with a review. I will not be going over the plot of the game, or whether you should buy it or not. As you can see, this review is marked as a negative but that’s only because Steam does not allow a neutral review. If you’re looking for a tl;dr, I enjoyed (some) of my time with Steins;Gate and I don’t regret reading it. I did multiple times during the play through.

Steins;Gate’s biggest flaw for me is something that might be its best aspect for other people. It’s the fact that it’s a story that cannot make up its mind on what it wants to be. It wants to be sci-fi, mystery, romance and slice of life all in a single 60 hour package, and ultimately fails at being either of them successfully. This is extremely frustrating because every now and then you catch a glimpse of what the game could be if it committed to being a Sci-Fi or a mystery novel, only for the whole thing to be undermined by the author’s relentless insistence on pointless teenage romance.

When Steins;Gate (briefly) commits to being a Sci-Fi however, it is easily one of the best stories I’ve read. The tension that this game builds up with nothing but music, simple visuals and voice acting is breath-taking, which managed to create very real memories in me. I’ll never forget the rainy night where I was reading Steins;Gate in my living room TV with my girlfriend laying in my lap, and this is something I’ll forever be grateful for. In these moments it really feels like the world is ending, and if the main character doesn’t find the stupid IBM computer everything will be over.

Unfortunately these moments don’t last long, or even long enough for me to call this a Sci-Fi game. Steins;Gate, for some unfathomable reason, decides to spend most of its 60 hour runtime building up unrelatable and annoying characters. Of course character development is an important part of every novel, but it’s really hard to care about any of them when the main character’s favorite past time is sexual harassment. Like everyone who’s ever lived I was a teenager once so Kyouma’s insecurities were actually something I could relate to, and even the ways in which it manifested through his general dorkyness and awkwardness (like speaking random English catchphrases, which was something I also did back in my days). The problem is the author seems to have a hard time distinguishing between a teenager being awkward and a teenager sexually harassing his female “friends”. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, after all characters can and often are terrible people, but Steins;Gate spends so long doing this that at a certain point it stops feeling like a character being built as an asshole and becomes just the author exposing his fetishes unto you through a cast of teenagers. It’s disgusting.

I could let this go though. I could be comfortable with a 60 hour runtime that comprises of 5 hours of Sci-Fi and genuinely interesting mystery. Hell, some of my favorite novels have a similar quality curve. The problem is, at the very end, the game throws all of it away. Kyouma’s and his friends' quest to save the world suddenly becomes Kyouma’s personal quest to save the female cast who he wants to sleep with. Of course I’m not opposed to romance, and even think there are some adorable pairs in this game, but the order of events is completely backwards. The tension is built up to literally the entire planet being in danger, only for the story to undermine itself and make it about a single person. If this happened in the opposite order I would’ve been able to care about the couple in question, and leave satisfied with a story about love and friendship triumphing inhuman odds through science fiction. Unfortunately, what I got is an anime version of The Butterfly Effect starring Ashton Kutcher (great movie by the way).

I want to note however, I really really like Makise Kurisu. She’s obviously treated like shit by the male cast, but the character itself and her arc feels very respectful as a woman in STEM. She’s strong, intelligent, and (sometimes) stands up for what she believes even if it means telling the asshole in power that he’s wrong. Every time she was on screen (and not being sexually harassed) I couldn’t wait to see what would happen. I just wish she was in a proper science fiction novel.

I want to reiterate that this is only my experience with Steins;Gate, and my reasoning for disliking it is mostly because it fails to deliver on the aspects that led me to reading it in the first place. As a general anime novel, I would say it’s probably on the better side. If that sounds interesting, don’t let me stop you.