The scenario writer went on to work on Bravely Default. The title itself was adapted into a two-cour anime and subsequently localized in North America to critical acclaim. The game itself has been released on every single major platform.
Now the original visual novel has been localized in English. Set in a modern-day Tokyo, Stein’s Gate is a suspenseful and thrilling mystery wrapped in a highly-stylized package, and it is not a story to be missed.
Stein’s Gate was originally released in 2009 on the Xbox 360 as part of a collaboration series of “all-ages” science-adventure novels between 5pb and Nitro+. Don’t let the moniker fool you though, as these tales are anything but for children (Stein’s Gate has received an ‘M’ rating from the ESRB).
Set in the electric city Akihabara, the real-life Mecca of Japanese pop culture, Stein’s Gate follows the adventures of the Future Gadget Lab, a small group of university students, as they fiddle and tinker with their “experiments.”
Events quickly spiral out of control as the main character, Okabe Rintarou, and his friends accidentally create a functioning time machine capable of sending text messages back to the past. Embroiled in conspiracy, the Gadget Lab soon finds its members in very real peril.
The plots and machinations of Stein’s Gate draw heavily on real-world entities and pseudoscience pretty close to the proven physics. Names like the Large Hadron Collider and Kerr black holes run amok and the game’s theory on time travel, the core device of the narrative, is handled extremely well.
As with most visual novels the game is played by reading text superimposed over images, occasionally making choices. Where Stein’s Gate diverges is the use of Okabe’s cell phone. Players can receive and to messages sent by other characters, directly affecting the events of the story as they unfold. The unfolding, however, does go on for as long as any game. Most gamers might be unaccustomed to reading for 40 hours, but the story is gripping and will keep ’em coming back for more.
Even the artwork itself separates this one from the pack as a cut above the rest. Designed entirely by Huke (known for his work on the Metal Gear series), the images are crisp and give off a futuristic feel while simultaneously being somewhat creepy. Characters are drawn uniquely, and a heavy reliance on odd perspectives and warped anatomies draw the reader into the atmosphere seamlessly.
As with many visual novels, the characters are the focus. Stein’s Gate does feature multiple routes with one “true” ending, each one focusing on a different heroine. Here it excels again, masterfully mixing a character-driven story into a complex conspiracy theory. The rabbit hole only goes deeper as each route is explored, culminating in a full circle that leaves the reader satisfied and wowed.
Music is the icing on the cake for Stein’s Gate. Highly reminiscent of the X-Files, the electro-techno feel of the atmospheric sounds complement the art and story well, exponentially heightening the narrative’s emotional impact.
And what a story it is. Written by Hayashi Naotaka who eventually went on to write the plot and characters for Bravely Default, it’s easy to see the reason behind his eventual success with the 3DS smash hit. Complex without being inaccessible, Hayashi’s story of time travel, conspiracy, betrayal, and romance is well-paced and thrilling, prone to jaw-dropping and possibly a tear or two.
Balanced with humor and wit, Stein’s Gate also features a star cast of voices (in their original Japanese) that drive the drama and emotion home. Listening to Okabe Rintarou rant makes the laughs come a little easier; conversely, listening to some of the other moments in the game read aloud can sometimes be bad for the eyes. Each voice over delivers exactly the right amount of emotion for every scene, with no nuance left unnoticed.
Stein’s Gate does everything right. From its unique portrayal of time travel to a dynamic cast of characters, this visual novel is one of the best examples of the medium. If you loved the story of Bravely Default, fancy a good thriller, or are just a fan in general of excellently-written character-driven stories with excellent art, music, and themes (a Joss Whedon fan, perhaps), Stein’s Gate is the read for you.
El Psy Congroo.