GAMES - Article
16:15 - 5th June 2015, by David West


When a wannabe mad scientist accidentally invents a time machine, he unleashes a wave of chaos that threatens to sweep away everything and everyone he cares about. As the original visual novel follows the hit anime series to the UK, NEO’s David West asks what lies beyond Steins;Gate?

When self-proclaimed mad scientist Rintaro Okabe accidentally discovers a way to send text messages back through time, he thinks he has made the scientific discovery of the century. But he soon learns that every message he sends through the time-stream alters reality in ways he can never foresee. Or control. Moreover, each time reality changes, Okabe is the only one who remembers the differences. The more he meddles, the more chaos he unleashes with potentially disastrous consequences for Okabe’s own life and the lives of his friends. Can he put the world back the way it is supposed to be, or has he tangled the threads of time irreparably?

;Gate debuted as a visual novel in Japan in 2009 from developers 5pb. and Nitroplus. The game inspired a superb anime series that was released here in the UK in 2013 by Manga Entertainment, and now the visual novel is finally coming to British fans thanks to PQUBE.

“It’s based around the idea – ‘What if you could send a message into the past?’. I think it’s an exciting idea, because it means, in a way, everyone can become a time machine!” says Steins;Gate producer Tatsuya Matsubara. “I think time travel has always been a scientifically attractive theme – it allowed us to think of interesting scenarios that hadn’t been done before, and brought some intelligent conflicts to explore – but this was also very challenging.”

Challenging ideas are not in short supply in Steins;Gate, which blends elements of the harem genre with plenty of hard science fiction. On the first front Okabe, the aspiring mad scientist who finds himself forced to save the world from a mess of his own making, is surrounded by a squad of beautiful young women who have important roles to play in the story and whose fates hang in the balance when time goes awry. Okabe has the weight of the world on his shoulders, and is producer Matsubara’s favourite character in the game. “He has some real inner struggles to deal with, and through that shows himself to be a character of real, human depth,” he says. The choices the player makes during the game influence who Okabe can save and who will steal his heart. “We wanted players to feel the weight, the gravitas of an ‘either-or’ situation,” says Matsubara. “You, the player, have to have a cool-headedness as you work your way through decisions with irreversible consequences, and then also to deal with the sacrifices within that. But also to allow players the catharsis of experiencing an alternative ending.”

Given the popularity of the original, it shouldn’t be a surprise that a sequel – Steins; Gate 0 –is in the works. The only plot details released thus far is that Okabe failed to save ‘her’ last time and is on a mission to put that right. “Steins;Gate 0 is a story of a different world line (which I can’t describe as it will spoil one of the paths of Steins;Gate for you!),” says Matsubara. “However, I will say that it is a very dark, very serious story.”

Explore parallel worlds and time-travelling text messages with Steins; Gate, available now on the PS3 and PS Vita from PQUBE.

This is an extract from a feature that originally appeared in NEO 137. Text by David West.

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