What would you do if you had the ability to send text messages back in time? Maybe you’d send yourself the answers to a test at school, or maybe even the winning lottery numbers. If you knew what the future held then there are loads of little things you could do to improve your life. It all seems fairly harmless as well, right? But what happens when your seemingly innocent messages have unintended consequences that destroy the lives of those you care about most?
Steins;Gate Elite is a dark sci-fi visual novel which explores the consequences of altering the past. It’s a remastered version of the original PS3 and PS Vita game, Steins;Gate. Storywise there's not much difference between the old and the new version of the game, but it has been given a pretty significant visual makeover. Instead of 2D static images, it now uses footage from the anime series.
White Fox, the company behind the anime, has created loads of gorgeous new animations specifically for the game. Visual novels are always quite text heavy, but it’s amazing just how much more immersive it feels thanks to this.
The story follows college student Okabe Rintaro. He’s quite a quirky fellow and walks around calling himself a mad scientist while madly laughing at the top of his voice. Despite all his talk of conspiracies and secret organisations he’s really just a normal, geeky guy. He and his friends hang out in their ‘laboratory’, which is basically just a club house, and invent the kind of silly, pointless gadgets that would be utterly ripped apart if they were ever showcased on Dragon’s Den.
Their latest gadget however is a little bit different. They’d aimed to create a microwave that could be controlled by phone but instead seem to have inadvertently created something that can send text messages into the past. This leads to them getting caught up in a global conspiracy, complete with shady organisations and deadly consequences.
Unlike most video games and movies that deal with time travel, Steins;Gate actually tries really hard to describe how it could possibly work. There’s a lot of detail about different scientific theories which the game manages to break down so that even someone without a scientific background can understand. In the original version of the game this would lead to large amounts of text being thrown up on the screen and it could get a little tiresome to read though. Elite alleviates some of this thanks to its new animations, although at times the explanations can still feel a little long. There’s also a really handy glossary where you can look up any of the terminology at any time.
One of the greatest assets this game has is its fascinating cast of characters. Everyone has a vital role to play in the story and no one is introduced to you without good reason. While initially Okabe’s circle of friends is small it doesn’t take long before he starts picking up other waifs and strays to join his lab. Watching the banter between Okabe and everyone else is frequently amusing and the game spends a lot of time letting you get to know them all. This is also what makes the game so harrowing and also incredibly gripping.
The storyline has some quite drastic tonal shifts; it can switch in an instant from something lighthearted to suddenly dealing with some pretty dark issues. At times it’s quite hard to watch, but we mean that in the best way possible; you end up feeling really invested in these characters so watching some of the situations they have to go through is utterly heart-wrenching.
If you’ve already played the original Steins;Gate then the idea of new animations might not be enough to make you want to purchase this again, but there is one thing that might get you to change your mind. Bundled with this is an added extra bonus in Steins;Gate Linear Bounded Phenogram.
This is pretty great as, although it was released back in 2013, this is the first time that it’s been officially translated into English. It features 11 separate stories that all take place in the Steins;Gate universe, but all on slightly different worldlines. It’s best to play this after Elite as it assumes you are already familiar with the characters and what the time machine can do.
Some of the subject matters that it deals with are just as hard hitting as in the main game. For instance, the very first story touches briefly on everything from homelessness to suicide. But there’s also a generous helping of Steins;Gate goofiness which stops it from getting too dark. So you have everything from stories about Daru falling in love with a cosplayer, to Okabe transforming into a superhero, Alpaca Man, where he uses knowledge of the future and laxative-infused spicy salsa to bring justice to the world.
Linear Bounded Phenogram doesn’t just focus on Okabe -- there are also stories which follow some of the other characters like Kurisu, Nae, and Mayuri. It’s really interesting to finally get into the heads of these other characters. Not all the storylines are as hard hitting as Okabe’s but it’s actually really nice to see some more light-hearted moments in the Steins;Gate universe.
If you were hoping to purchase Linear Bounded Phenogram separately then you’ll be disappointed to know that this will only be available when you purchase Elite. It also doesn’t have any trophies, which is strange considering the original PS3 game does. Ignoring the lack of trophy support, with all the stories being around three to four hours long, it’s still a pretty awesome bonus.
It’s surprising just what an impact the new animations have in Steins;Gate Elite -- the additions take an already excellent visual novel and makes it feel much more dynamic and intense. What's more, being able to finally play Linear Bounded Phenogram in English is just the icing on an already very scrumptious cake. Elite is the complete visual novel package, and pretty much the best that the genre has to offer.