SPOILER ALERT! Steins;Gate 0's story completely spoils the ending to the first VN from the word "go". It'll be impossible to avoid spoiling the original's story while talking about Steins;Gate 0 - do yourself a favor and watch or read the first Steins;Gate before reading this review.The original Steins;Gate was a story about many things, with growing up, what makes a person who they are, and time travel among them. Steins;Gate 0 is a story that's both old and new; it's not completely accurate to call it a sequel, or a prequel. The best way to describe it would have to be the "other side" to Steins;Gate's story, that allowed for the original VN to end the way that it did. Remember the True Ending of the first VN, and the video message that Okabe received from his "future" self? Steins;Gate 0 is a story about the Okabe Rintaro that failed to save his love, and ended up becoming her killer. The story of a broken man, and his journey to recovery - and eventually to the true "Steins Gate" that would save him from his pain and suffering.
I'd like to save my thoughts regarding Steins;Gate 0's story for last, as I feel like if I don't mention some of the improvements to the VN's art, and the new soundtrack, I might not end up talking about them. Steins;Gate 0 does end up reusing a lot of locations from the previous story, and I can't really think of one area from the previous title that doesn't show up in one way or another. Character portraits from the previous VN show up occasionally, though every character has received entirely new art for most sections of the title, with old portraits only showing up when appropriate. This makes sense, since both stories take place in the same general world, though in different "worldlines". The only problem I have with recycling character portraits is the fact that Steins;Gate 0's art style differs slightly from the previous title, meaning that old portraits stand out, especially next to newer ones.
There isn't much negative to say about Steins;Gate 0's fantastic soundtrack, especially the main theme "messenger" that is scattered thematically throughout many songs in the VN. Despite the darker tone of the story, Steins;Gate 0's OST still manages to include some more lighthearted tracks, and at least I feel that the developers succeeded in placing them at the right points in the story. I'd like to make special note of the VN's three ending themes, as well as the title's "Amadeus" OP. Each ED manages to capture the feeling of the specific route that it's attached to well, and the OP succeeds at setting the tone for the novel as a whole. "Amadeus", with its depressed but eventually turning to optimistic lyrics frames the title's tone almost perfectly.
With that out of the way, it's time to talk about the most important aspect of Steins;Gate 0 - the story. The first thing to note about Steins;Gate 0's story in comparison to the first title's, is the fact that Steins;Gate 0's story branches off much more than the first Steins;Gate did. For all intents and purposes, the original Steins;Gate was a linear experience: whichever route you ended up on depended upon whether or not you decided to erase a D-mail when prompted, and whichever D-mail you might have decided to leave intact. As such, almost all of these other routes felt like afterthoughts. They gave interesting backstory and details for some characters, but overall had no actual bearing to the meat of the narrative as a whole. On the flipside, despite the fact that players know how Steins;Gate 0 will inevitably end, the title manages to make every route important to the story in some way, with even routes that might seem "throwaway" at first containing interesting information that inevitably lead to the true ending of the first title.
Naturally, it's pretty difficult to give an example of this without spoiling at least one of the routes of the game. Even then, the title only asks for you to clear one specific ending before you get the chance to unlock the true ending by clearing another ending. However, even though only two of the games five endings are required to see the true ending, it's easy to see where information from other endings (or "loops") might've had an impact on the "main" story as a whole. Although the connections aren't immediately spelled out to you, looking just a bit below the surface helps make the connections seem clear. For that point, I'd recommend reading blind for your first route and then using Reading Steiner's ending guide so you can finish the rest of the routes before viewing the "true ending" of the game. Some of the strongest emotional impacts in the story are hidden within these "optional" routes.
This is, in part, due to some of the new characters introduced in Steins;Gate 0, as well as additional character development for the characters from the previous title. It would take me all day to explain what I loved about all the new characters and to go into detail about how each character develops throughout the story. Without a doubt, Maho, Kagari, and all the other new characters flesh out the cast without feeling shoehorned or out of place.
With all that being said, Steins;Gate 0 isn't perfect. The original Steins;Gate was amazing, and in my opinion, this one is even better, but it still has its problems. Although I was able to piece together some of the parts of the puzzle that explained exactly what happened in the true ending after discussing the details of it with a friend who had played through the Japanese release, it was still easy to see how the true ending might seem pretty vague at first, and maybe anticlimactic. Granted, even before I got that explanation I had started to understand what the ending was going for and was less confused, but I can definitely see players not understanding the impact of the True Ending at first. For what it's worth, I think the ending is fantastic now that I've thought about it; it's probably the most important part of the puzzle for reaching Steins Gate in the original VN, even if you're never aware of that possibility until viewing a few of Steins;Gate 0's endings.
Steins;Gate 0 is without a doubt one of the best VNs I've ever read, and even a step above the original Steins;Gate in regards to quality. Although the story isn't quite as straightforward as the original's, the added emphasis on many separate stories coming together fits in with the game's theme, and in the end, strengthens the final words that the player is left with at the end of the original Steins;Gate. If I could only praise one thing about Steins;Gate 0 as a whole - it would have to be how, with how great it is, it manages to make the impact of the original Steins;Gate's ending even grander. Make no mistake: if you loved the original Steins;Gate, Steins;Gate 0 is an absolute must-read.
Steins;Gate 0 was reviewed on PlayStation Vita and PlayStation 4 with codes provided by the publisher.
After finishing Steins;Gate 0, I can't think of it as a sequel. With how well it fits into the original story, complimenting it - Steins;Gate 0 feels like the missing half to the original that I didn't even know I wanted, let alone needed. Now that I've read it though, I can't think of Steins;Gate without it.(Review Policy)
- Substantial Optional Story Content
- Engaging Stories
- Interesting Characters
- Slightly Confusing Ending