I gave a few first impressions of Steins;Gate Elite last week, and those mostly still hold true. This game version of the 2011 Steins;Gate anime – which in turn was based on a 2009 video game – retains the series’ fascinating time travel plot, stuffed as it is with mischief, intrigue and tragedy. In a nutshell, a teenage student styles himself as a mad scientist, in the same way that many youngsters create elaborate personas when they head to university, but in this case, his fanciful ramblings about an evil ‘Organization’ running the world out to be true. Oh, and he accidentally invents a time machine by attaching a phone to a microwave – although this comical beginning gets really dark as the series goes on.
However, since that initial post, my feelings towards Steins;Gate Elite have soured a little.
The trouble is that Steins;Gate Elite is barely a game at all. In fact, I’ve spent most of my time just watching it – you can click ‘square’ to enable auto play, eliminating the need to even press X to continue at the end of each sentence. In essence, I was just watching the anime all over again, as the visuals and dialogue are lifted directly from the TV series. But because I’ve already seen the anime, and know all its crazy plot twists and shocking reveals, it was somewhat underwhelming to go through it all again. It’s like watching a murder mystery where you already know who the killer is. Interesting on some level, but a pale imitation of the feelings evoked during the first viewing.
To be honest, after around six hours of watching Steins;Gate Elite, I gave up on it. I was hoping for a bit more interaction, some alternative plot lines or dialogue. But my interactions were limited to the very occasional messages arriving on protagonist Okabe Rintaro’s phone, and my responses to them had zero impact on the story.
There are SOME differences from the anime, in that sometimes you’ll get to hear Okabe’s thoughts during conversations. But to be honest, this just makes an already slow game even slower. The anime is famously hesitant to get going, and this game is even more sluggish – I reckon a half-hour episode of the anime is equivalent to about an hour of gameplay here, thanks to the padding. At six hours in, I still hadn’t even got to the meat of the game – Okabe’s disastrous attempts at time travel, and presumably the parts where your few and far between choices might actually make a difference. But I’m so bored by this point that I can’t stick it out any longer in the hope of getting to the ‘good bits’. This is a 30-hour game, after all.
I’ve been a bit negative about Steins;Gate Elite so far, but it’s far from a bad game. In fact, if you’ve never seen the anime, this would be a good alternative – for a start, there’s a helpful ‘tips list’ that explains various terms and Japanese idioms, which acts as a handy guide to otaku culture. So in many respects, this is a superior way to experience the anime series. But if you’ve already seen the anime, you’re basically just watching it again in its entirety with a handful of extra scenes and alternative routes.
I’m curious to know how this compares with the original Steins;Gate game from 2009, which I’ve yet to play. Presumably, that game had a lot more interactivity built in from the start, whereas this one has had interactive parts retrofitted into a mostly passive experience. In short, it’s a game you watch rather than play, more so than any other visual novel I’ve come across. And that’s fine if you’ve never seen the anime, because it’s a bizarre, fascinating time travel story with some unique and memorable characters. But if you have seen the anime, it’s not really worth a second run.
Steins;Gate Elite was developed by Spike Chunsoft and is available on PC, Switch and PS4. We reviewed the PS4 version.
Disclosure statement: Review code for Steins;Gate Elite was provided by Koch Media. A Most Agreeable Pastime operates as an independent site, and all opinions expressed are those of the author.