(This review will contain light spoilers for Steins;Gate Zero, and massively heavy spoilers for the original title. You can consider this a spoiler warning. This may also be called God’s final warning to those who rebel.)
I was probably not as shocked as many of you when I initially saw Steins;Gate Zero announced. It had come at a time when my cynicism towards the series was at its highest, and I began wondering just how much they intended to milk the franchise with low-quality, low-effort stories of little consequence. The fact that Steins;Gate Zero was to be based on an existing trilogy of light novels felt like the final nail in the coffin! My apprehension was through the roof. I was fully expecting more of the same; a low effort story and the typical franchise milking fare that so many pieces of fiction suffer through.
If I could go back in time and slap myself in the face for my doubts, I would.
Steins;Gate Zero is without a doubt my favourite piece of Steins;Gate-related supplementary material. Not only does it seamlessly weave itself into the original plot, it also manages to add so much more meaning to what was presented in the first title.
“This is the story of the future that could not be saved.”
A much darker story than the original, Steins;Gate Zero explores the future of the Beta Attractor Field, and the foundation behind the Video D-Mail. It’s a long, twisting story with numerous surprises and revelations.
Steins;Gate Zero’s story diverges from the original during the endgame sequence of the Visual Novel, or Episode 23 for you anime-viewers out there. I won’t get into the details, but the basic gist is that two key things are missing from the scenario; when Okabe is at his lowest, he does not receive a D-Mail telling him to watch the news, and Mayuri does not smack him in the face. The latter seems of little consequence, but you should know from the original Steins;Gate that even the fluttering of a butterfly’s wings can have unintended and far-reaching consequences.
The absence of these two small, seemingly minor, details creates the foundation for Steins;Gate Zero’s Beta World Line— a World Line in which Okabe is not only crippled by the fact that he has lost the woman he loved, but also riddled with the guilt of knowing that he was the one to drive the knife through her.
This Okabe has given up entirely on saving Kurisu’s life. He has given up entirely on reaching the Steins Gate. This is an Okabe that has resigned himself to his fate, an Okabe who has fully seen the scope of his own grand unimportance and has completely accepted it. It doesn’t matter to him that World War Three is guaranteed. It doesn’t matter to him that he’s crushing the wishes of a girl that travelled through time itself to save the future. He’s simply tired, a man in mourning.
To cope with his grief, he has abandoned the Future Gadget Lab entirely and is focusing on his university life. He indulges in normal activities like tennis and assisting his teacher. But even that is a shallow facade— in truth he can barely keep himself together, relying on various therapists and pills to keep himself stable. He’s a traumatized mess of a man, and the darker theme of the story is clear from the get-go.
Things go as standard for Okabe until he attends a seminar and is introduced to three key characters.
The first is Hiyajo Maho, a plucky woman who, despite her short stature, is a few years Okabe’s senior. She was Kurisu’s lab partner at the Viktor Chondria University in America, where they were working on a very special project.
The second is Alexis Leskinen, a Finnish-American university professor, and a man who was supervisor to both Maho and Kurisu in their laboratory back in the USA.
The third is their project: “Amadeus”, an AI system that they claim houses the ‘soul’ of humanity. It uses the memories of a human as a base and, for the most part, is just like that person. Who is that person, you might ask?
As a person that knew Kurisu (though Maho and Leskinen don’t know the truth of it), Okabe is asked to field-test Amadeus, to talk to her regularly through his phone and gauge her responses.
It is here that the intrigue truly begins. As Okabe’s interactions with “Kurisu” pile up, so does the mystery, and soon enough our broken protagonist once again finds himself in a grand conspiracy as he struggles against the shift of worlds and the flow of time.
Steins;Gate Zero introduces several new characters to its story, and something that it does far better than the original is the development of its cast. Okabe is not the only protagonist whose eyes we see through in this story. The game has multiple narrators and often shifts between them to show us what they’re doing at any given time. I feel that this was an excellent choice on the part of the creators as it gives us a glimpse into the minds of various other characters without keeping the plot centered on Okabe. Daru and Suzuha are especially well-developed, and their family dynamic is one of the most heartwarming aspects of the game. It is through Suzuha’s eyes that we learn more about the blackened skies of 2036, and about the mysterious young girl named Kagari as well.
As with all Science Adventure games, the TIPS section remains a handy glossary to help along those unfamiliar with particular terms. The translation of these terms was done quite well in the PQube release, and I doubt anyone will find anything to complain about.
Much like in the first game, Okabe’s phone is vital to how you progress in the plot. Choosing whether or not to use your phone at pivotal moments in the plot will alter the direction of the narrative, resulting in one of five wildly different endings. These endings are also a major improvement over the endings in the original game, which were all disconnected from the final result. All of the endings in Zero feel like they mean something, and they all have bearing on Okabe as a character. Also the True End is much easier to reach, so the game gets bonus points for that alone.
The texting system from the first game has been replaced by RINE , an instant messaging application designed by Daru. RINE is a major improvement over the system in the first game; you can see the full message before you send it, you have the option of sending funny little character stickers, and the entire conversation plays out immediately so you don’t need to constantly monitor your phone for updates. One thing I will note as a slight disappointment was that the RINE stickers and phone menu buttons were left untranslated in the PQube release. This will cause minor confusion at worst for English speakers, however, so it isn’t a massive problem.
Ultimately, Steins;Gate Zero is a tale of redemption. A tale of transformation from broken and battered man to selfless hero. A… Zero to Hero story, if you will (I’m sorry). It is a much darker tale, and it has a lot to tell. I personally found it much more enjoyable than the original, and I loved the original.
If you are a fan of the first game then I strongly recommend that you play through Zero.
I feel it’d be more appropriate to say that “Steins;Gate” as a story is incomplete without this vital entry. It is not a title to be missed.
Overall I rate Steins;Gate Zero a Ø/Ø. Idds bretty gud.
I played Steins;Gate Zero in Japanese at launch and in English before western launch.
Thank you to PQube games for providing me with a review copy of their English release.