In summary, this game is time-traveling gelled bananas.
Very few pieces of general entertainment have managed to pull off time travel as a core plot element, and even fewer games have managed to do so. Nintendo fans have had access to two of the most prominent examples in Chrono Trigger and The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, but I would be hard pressed to find a third. With the release of Steins;Gate Elite on Switch, we may have that triple crown finally finished.
Although most Western fans are more familiar with the superlatively dubbed anime version of the Steins;Gate story, the Switch release brings it back to its roots as a visual novel. The “Elite” version’s chief inclusion is animated cutscenes drawn directly from the anime, which are almost indistinguishable from the in-game graphics. The voices are the original Japanese; there’s no dub here, because J. Michael Tatum doesn’t work cheap. Buying the special edition of the game on Switch also offers an 8-bit rendition of the game, but that will be reviewed separately.
Steins;Gate is set in the Akihabra section of Tokyo, and the main character is Okabe (aka Okarin to his friends, hacker alias Hououin Kyouma), a socially inept “mad scientist” who randomly sends a text message one day that causes a reaction of events that gelifies bananas and causes him to shift universes. He quickly finds himself enveloped in a conspiracy, largely of his own making, that involves finding a rare computer and trying to save the past of revived internet urban legend John Titor. The names are barely changed to protect the innocent; the rare computer is an “IBN,” and the particle physics laboratory in Europe Okabe and his friends try to hack into is known as “SERN.” A version of the famous Japanese discussion board 2channel (known as @channel in the game, inspired a prominent Western imageboard) is even present, but trying to read through hundreds of typical internet comments to get to the plot-relevant stuff was about as annoying as reading the replies to any Nintendo of America tweet prior to a Direct.
Steins;Gate has seven endings: one for each of the six possible romantic interests and a true ending that unlocks only if particular story choices are selected during the course of the game. This is where the replay value came in for me, as right from their introduction in the first chapter, I was really into the characters and seeing how they put up with Okabe’s quirks. In light of recent events, the character Luka deserves special notice; they are in love with Okabe, but present most of the game as male even though they are frequently dressed as a Japanese shrine maiden. For a story originally written in the latter part of the last decade, it’s nice to see Luka treated with respect and equal footing even if their transition is tied to time travel in some technobabbling fashion.
The interface is functional and I didn’t notice any lag during the story, even when trying to rapid-fire into the “Tips” screen. The text can be made to appear instantly, though it still holds the text on screen while the line is read. I did have one hard lock during the game, which cost about an hour of speeding through the text I had already read as the promised autosave didn’t end up working as well as possible; I was a bit more paranoid for the rest of the game and didn’t see the issue again. A nice improvement from other versions of the game is that the text never broke to the next line in the middle of a word, though I did catch a couple of minor typos.
Steins;Gate is already one of the most dynamic visual novels, and the added anime cutscenes of the Elite version makes it worth exploring. If you can handle a main character who is extremely delusional and doesn’t have a filter… you’re probably comfortable dealing with me. Either way, Steins;Gate Elite is the best pure visual novel we’ve got right now.