Succeeding a great work is a tricky business, as works that attempt to do so are
bounded by expectations: expectations of greatness, expectations of maintaining the status quo, expectations for doing
something different. When you consider that expectations are not static, it becomes easy to see how complicated
sequels are, with the rules bounding the works changing drastically given the circumstances of the work.
Enter Steins;Gate 0. It’s a successor to a beloved franchise, but given the circumstances, Steins;Gate 0 is a work bounded to these expectations more than usual. You see, despite the 0 in the name, Steins;Gate 0 is not a prequel, nor is it a sequel like one would expect. Instead it is a midquel that takes place during the game, near the end of the story… near the end of a work that never really needed any more material. In a world of serialized media, endings that are cohesive like in the original Steins;Gate are a rarity, and adding more to complete works like this run the risk of diluting the story. Has Steins;Gate 0 managed to beat the odds, fulfilling expectations that go counter against the nature of the work itself?
The answer to that, is thankfully, a resounding YES, exceeding many expectations that have been put in place, and it does this by doing something different entirely. They made the right decisions in almost every step of the way, adding to the existing story, while enriching what was already there. With a shift in focus and a shift in tone, Steins;Gate 0 manages to maintain everything that was great about the original while becoming a very different but equally compelling work by itself.
-Note: This is a review that assumes knowledge of the original Steins;Gate, so it will be hard to understand if you haven’t, and there will be spoilers. You have been warned. -
A key part of how Steins;Gate 0 manages to exceed expectations is because
while the game is embedded in the original (telling a story that was crucial success of the original ending), it is
drastically different than anything Steins;Gate had to offer: a character driven story instead of the plot
driven story that we see in original Steins;Gate. While Steins;Gate 0 maintains all of the elements
that made the original great, it is first and foremost a work of hesitation and reflection: Instead of telling being a
grandiose tale about time travel and how it’s mechanics affects the fate of the world, Steins;Gate 0 looks at
how these concepts impact the characters themselves, exploring the 0, the voids, the what ifs, the doubts that lead
one to destruction.
This is all because we have a vastly different lens on the story: while Steins;Gate followed an Okabe entrenched in the persona known as *Hououin Kyouma*, Steins;Gate 0 follows an Okabe Rintarou that has been destroyed and traumatized after he fails to save Kurisu, failing to reach the promised Steins;Gate in the process. We see the story of an Okabe who is coping with the events that he was forced to see, attempting to live a normal life while ignoring the foreshadowed doom that lies in this world. It’s a story about devastation, regret, all told in a fashion that may remind you more of works like Muv-Luv and Welcome to the NHK more so than Steins;Gate itself, and it’s fantastic for it. It’s a difference in tone and presentation that makes all the difference, as the muted colors, the downtrodden character interactions shows the pain that Okabe deals with on a daily basis. This is story of loss and despair, one that forces you to live with the mistakes and pain that you have and all of this is very compelling because we saw what lead to it, and we are along for the ride.
Steins;Gate 0 is consistently more engaging because of this too: There’s less slice of life to slow the story down, the story is much more tonally consistent, and due to the nature of the story, it becomes easy to get attached with the cast. We are with Okabe: we experience the same events has he does in a similar fashion, forced to experience an alien world after we have witnessed despair, and the execution of this that’s what makes this character driven work great. We’re dealing with the differences in this shifted world just like he is, he is dealing with the distortions from memory and the reactions that come with it… and all of these elements bring this game to the next level, making it all that much more compelling. Add to this excellent character interactions, an excellent handling of characters throughout, and you’re left with an excellent story that can blow your mind, making you shout in excitement and greatness. The game has the skill to manipulate you. With every decision Steins;Gate 0 makes, the game very rarely makes a bad turn: it never ceases to amaze you, never failing to make you feel a way that only truly quality works can, always blowing your mind. I can’t even begin to count the amount of times where I declared how great this game was because of something it did, how much I fell in love with the game because of some of things, and this shift, this handling of a story is something I truly adore.
This happened in multiple routes too, as this game peaks at many points in the
story. You see, unlike the original Steins;Gate which was linear with ends that branched off from the main
path, Steins;Gate is structured more like a traditional VN with branching routes, and each branch tells it’s
own story. From Gehenna’s Stigma to The Promised Rinascimento to the True End,
there’s a lot of compelling stories that Steins;Gate 0 has to tell and for the most part, all of them are
great. The way they play with different concepts, the events that they show, this game never ceases to impress. There
are definitely weaker routes (Twin Automata comes to mind) but even those have their moments.
That being said, Steins;Gate 0 is not perfect: it has several flaws that
can drastically impact your experience. Here’s a few:
- No longer linear: Not really a flaw by itself, but because of the entirely different routes, the work as a whole isn’t as cohesive because of this decision. For example, some of the impacts that this has are: elements of the story are left and forgotten, never to be developed, plot elements that were prominent in one are completely ignored in another, and more. All of these are little things make the side routes feel a bit hollow even if they are solid stories by themselves, and make the work feel like a more fractured experience.
- Slice of Life: A common complaint about the original Steins;Gate was that it took off slowly thanks to the slice of life there. While the slow start isn’t an issue with Steins;Gate, nor is SOL by itself an issue, the issue is how the slice of life is implemented: it feels increasingly out of place in the story, breaking the flow and cohesion of the story. Going from a Sci-Fi plot to SOL on the drop of the dime is annoying and the times it was implemented it didn’t even add much to the story. (Twin Automata, I’m looking at you.)
- Cons of a Midquel: Like every decision made, the decision to make the work a midquel has its pros and cons, and while I’d argue for the most part it was a good decision, there are definitely negatives. For one thing, this makes S;G 0 inherently a less repeatable experience, and will always stand as a lesser work to S;G as it is encapsulated by it. It also limited the scope of the game, as everything had to be a subset of the ideas in the original, not messing with anything that was established. They did a fantastic job, but these are worth noting.
- The Ending: This is probably the biggest issue with a midquel, being forced to conclude the story in a manner that does not impact the original story while trying to make a solid ending yourself. It’s a hard task, and i’d argue this is the only really disappointing aspect of this game, due to the very nature of the game itself. Being rushed and predictable, this ending doesn’t provide any catharsis, being over before it started. You already knew how it would go anyways, but what they offered was basically a half-assed fanservice measure.
PS: I wasn’t able to fit this in the review itself, but I wanted to mention this:
Fun fact! Steins;Gate 0 isn’t a completely original game: it’s an alternate interpretation of the
story told in the Light Novel Spinoff series, the Epigraph Trilogy.
There’s significant changes here, but the basic premise is the same with Amadeus and that jazz.
Thank you for reading! This is Rockmandash Reviews, a blog focused on everything revolving Visual Novels, with stuff like tech and anime every now and then. If you want to read more of my writing, check out FuwaReviews and AniTAY where I am a contributor