I’ve played a variety of Visual Novel games over the last 12 months. Thankfully, I’ve not played any generic ones as each one has its own identity, mechanics and visual style to pull you in and keep you invested in their story. From the adventure and combat gameplay of Death Mark to the 3D rendered panty-spying of Punch Line, I thought I’d seen everything the genre had to offer in terms of how a Visual Novel could present its story. However, Steins;Gate Elite presented me with a rather unusual, yet fascinating new way to experience a narrative story.
Have you ever played Street Fighter before? Sure you have. Do you remember how they brought out a Street Fighter movie when the game hit its peak in popularity? What happened next… They made a ‘Street Fighter the Movie Video Game’. A game based on the movie which was based on the game – that’s pretty much what we have here. Steins;Gate Elite is a game based on the anime which was based on the original game. ‘Based’ is the main word here, as the experience you’ll have isn’t going to be identical to simply watching the show.
So, let’s take a closer look at why you need to pick this up today if you’re a fan of visual novels…
I won’t talk about the story of Steins;Gate Elite much as I don’t want to spoil any of the events which happen throughout the narrative. Briefly, the story follows a group of young friends, a dipsy cosplayer, a tech-savvy nerd, a young genius, and a self-proclaimed mad scientist. Whilst attending a conference one day, Okarin (the mad scientist) stumbles upon a tragic event after being thrown out for accusing the lecturer of plagiarism. He did the only thing he could think of doing upon discovering this horrific event, he ran!
However, upon leaving the building, things began to change. People vanished, a satellite appeared in the roof of the building he was just in, and nobody had any memory of recent events other than himself. Was he going crazy or was it a dream? As our story advances, we find out that the group have a strange microwave, a microwave which can turn bananas into jelly and even teleport them back in time to the point before they were ripped apart from the bunch! Was it time travel? Has a banana boldly gone where no banana has gone before?
There’s only one way to find out – grab yourself a cup of tea, cosy up on the sofa, and get ready to tap your controller as you engage with a rather unique Visual Novel…
Visual Novel or anime?
Okay, the first thing that will jump out at you whilst you’re playing Steins;Gate Elite is the fact that it’s not a Visual Novel, it’s basically a Visual Anime – but Anime is visual, so it is just an Anime? No, it requires interaction from yourself – it’s an Interactive Anime Experience. I think that’s the best way to explain it. You see, the game is essentially the entire 24 episodes of the anime but presented in a Visual Novel format, where you press Cross to advance at the end of each sentence. The way the developers have merged the anime into this medium is outstanding as it works perfectly.
However, just like your standard Visual Novel, or at least a Steins;Gate VN, you can opt to have the game progress automatically after each sentence by pushing Square, you can enable skip and then whiz through the narrative by holding L1, you can look up lore and keywords in the glossary by tapping the Touchpad, and you can remove the text to look at the images with Circle. So, you still have full control over the game as if it’s a Visual Novel, it’s just presented to you as if you’re watching the actual anime – which is really cool as the anime looks amazing.
Personally, this is what I would love Spike Chunsoft to do to their other brilliant Visual Novel, 428: Shibuya Scramble, That game is amazing but it’s very long with tonnes of text. If they remade it via actual FMV or anime, that would be awesome!
Visual Novels are a bit hit or miss for most people. The vast majority of them revolve around young Japanese girls with big boobs who are out looking for love within dating simulation style games. Then we have games like Arcade Spirits, a game which lets you be whoever you want in a comedic inclusive adventure as you work in an arcade shop. Finally, the aforementioned 428: Shibuya Scramble. Word’s can’t really describe that game; it’s wacky, fun, exciting, mysterious, deep, and very different to anything you’ll ever see. Steins;Gate Elite is another story which doesn’t focus on the sexuality of the characters (even though it does touch on it here and there), instead, it puts the main focus on the amazing storytelling, the characters personalities, and the brilliant narrative.
One of the best things about Steins;Gate Elite is how much it actually feels realistic and like something that could happen. For example, towards the beginning of the game, Okarin attends a conference, which is being held by the young genius, all about time travel. Instead of just making stuff up or rambling about unrelated things, we’re actually given an informative lecture on how time travel would work, in theory, and why it’s not technically possible. The game continues like this, combining the realistic with factual scientific information in order to both educate and entertain at the same time.
Also, the fact that the game is essentially the anime means that it’s much easier to read and follow along with. My biggest complaint about 428: Shibuya Scramble was simply the fact that the text was literally a wall of text on each screen – Steins;Gate Elite is much more manageable as you read along with the superb Japanese voice acting.
Throughout the course of the very long narrative, you’ll become easily attached to all of the loveable and quirky characters, something a lot of these games usually fail to accomplish. As such, the game develops and changes based on your input. Even though there isn’t much interaction by yourself, you’ll pick the odd response to a text or a choice at certain points, the game takes note of everything you do in order to deliver one of a multitude of endings. This is where the anime and Visual Novel differ, the developers have created a bunch of new ending segments which weren’t present in the previous media, this allows the game to offer new branches and endings for the player. So, even if you’ve played the original game or you’ve watched the anime, there are new aspects of the story and visuals this time around which have never been seen.
Another cool addition for picking up the game for a second time, if you already own it, is that you also get a digital copy of Steins;Gate Linear Bounded Phenogram if you pick up Steins;Gate Elite on the PS4 or PC. This separate game (which has no trophies) originally came out in 2013 as an additional supplement to the main Steins;Gate story. It contains ten stories which are based on each of the Lab Members inner thoughts. The reason why this additional download is special is that this is the first time it’s ever been localised outside of Japan.
If you’re picking up Steins;Gate Elite on the Nintendo Switch, you don’t actually get Steins;Gate Linear Bounded Phenogram, you get 8-Bit Adv Steins;Gate, an 8-bit de-make with a whole new story for you to play through. Personally, I would have liked to have the 8-Bit game over what we got on the PS4 although I’m not sure why they decided to make certain bonuses platform-specific.
So, you’ll get a different bonus based on the platform, the PS4 bonus doesn’t have trophies (yet the PS3 version and the PC version does) and there is no way to purchase these extras without buying the main game. It’s nice to have something extra but I don’t 100% agree with this process if I’m being honest.
As someone who’s played and enjoyed the original Steins;Gate, Steins;Gate Elite felt very fresh and enjoyable to play. The way the developers have seamlessly changed the anime into a full-on Visual Novel is both amazing and very intuitive. If you’ve already played the game previously then expect gorgeous visuals, a new look to the story, and your bonus platform-specific treat. For those who have seen the anime, the game is offering you an enhanced story with more endings and narrative based on choices.
For those who are new to the series, if you like Visual Novels and/or anime, Steins;Gate Elite won’t fail to impress you on many levels.
- - Seamless integration of the anime into a Visual Novel setting
- - Amazing story, one of the best I've experienced in a while
- - Loveable and quirky characters who you quickly grow attached too
- - Free bonus game (depending on system)
- - Brilliant music and voice acting
- - The free gift is great, but why not offer both products to each platform?
- - No trophies in Linear Bounded Phenogram, yet the PC does have trophies in it
- - If you've already played the game and seen the anime, you've pretty much played this version