OR: I Tapped ENTER For 30 Hours and All I Got Was This Lousy Ending
Since I recently time-traveled all the way back to the beginning of visual novels with Portopia, I figured I would check out this more modern title to see how the genre has evolved in all these years. Steins;Gate may be 10 years old already (in effect making it retro-ish), but since it’s about time travel, does it really matter? The game will make you think about things like that; at least, it did for me, as I finally got around to playing this now-legendary title for the first time. Or maybe I’ve been here before in a different reality, and it wasn’t my first time? (Yeah, it was, I’m just messing with you.) (I think.)
In Steins;Gate, you take on the role of Okabe Rintaro, a self-professed “mad scientist,” whose small group of friends and amateur inventors end up discovering the secrets of time travel. Throughout the story, there are mysterious events, tragedies, conspiracies, otaku culture, romance, philosophy, references to real-world events, and lots and lots of science. I can’t really tell you much more without ruining the story, but suffice it to say there’s plenty going on.
The second game in the Science Adventure Team series (the first being Chaos;Head), Steins;Gate originally came out in 2009 for Xbox 360 and was subsequently ported to a variety of platforms (I played the PC version). Unlike the classic visual novel/graphic adventure games you may be used to, like Jesus, Snatcher, and the multitudes of anime-based PC Engine adventures like Bubblegum Crash and Galaxy Fraulein Yuna, Steins;Gate has no interaction via menu, e.g. your typical “Look – Examine – Talk – Move” commands. Instead, the game is mostly story — lots and lots of story — which you simply read and advance by tapping ENTER or clicking your mouse. At various points, you can use your character’s cell phone to receive and send text messages, answer calls, and other functions.
It seems straightforward at first, and you may wonder if it’s really a game at all. But about a third of the way through, it also becomes apparent that the way you use your phone (the only true interactivity the game offers) will determine the outcome of the game. Indeed, there are six different endings to achieve, with only one being considered the “True Ending.” This makes things trickier than they initially seem. Do you ignore messages or do you reply to them? If so, how? Do you choose to time travel when given the chance, or stay where you are and try to make things work under the current circumstances?
I admit, at first I wasn’t sure if I could stick with it, since there are literally hours of just advancing pages upon pages of text. But before long, the story starts getting REALLY good and engrossing, and I found myself looking forward to finding out what happened next. And when I got over the lack of traditional interactivity and got used to the cell phone mechanic being the method of navigating the game, I settled into it and learned to enjoy it.
Once you realize that your limited actions are affecting the story, you become glad that there are dozens of save slots, and you can start strategically saving copies of your game in order to explore the possibilities. While I definitely recommend playing through unassisted at least once to see how it shakes out, I must say that a walkthrough or flowchart (there are several available online) makes a VERY handy map to help you navigate toward the different endings. The game also automatically quick-saves at the beginning of each chapter, allowing you to load any chapter you’ve cleared. Additionally, there’s a fast-forward option, which speeds the text along but stops when you must make a decision with your phone, making subsequent playthroughs and attempts at different endings and achievements much more convenient. Using these tools, I managed to achieve five of the six endings including the True Ending (I’ll go back and pick up the last one soon).
In fact, I was quite surprised at the Steam achievements, stating that fewer than 20% of players achieved most of the endings. It would seem that not a lot of players actually stuck with this lengthy adventure, but I found it worth it. (For those who don’t want to play the game but still want to check out the story, there’s the Steins;Gate TV anime series, which, even at 24 episodes, is a condensed version of the game’s story.)
It’s about time. Literally, Steins;Gate is a story about time.
It’s also about time I got around to playing it. After hearing about Steins;Gate for over 10 years, I’m happy I finally delved into its world.
I’m notoriously short on free time, so lengthy games aren’t always on my radar. However, the COVID-19 situation shut down my job for two months, so I suddenly had plenty of free time on my hands. It was about having the perfect time to explore this long adventure.
And what an interesting time to get wrapped up in an adventure that deals with making decisions, changing history, changing the future, changing reality. This, right now, May 2020, is one of the craziest times I have personally lived through in my 45 years in this worldline. It was not lost on me as I played that it would be so convenient to be able to send some e-mails to the past, or time-leap our consciousness, and rectify some of the insanity in the world right now.
Even though it’s science fiction, perhaps one of the game’s concepts that different paths can lead to the same outcome, that things still happen when they are meant to happen, is true. When I started the game, I thought I would be off work for two weeks, and it ended up being two months. I did not know that I would start the game on my desktop PC and finish it on my new laptop that I just bought. I did not know how much I would like the game and want to write this blog article about it. I feel like right now was just the right time to play Steins;Gate, and I shouldn’t have done it any other time.
After it’s been out for 10 years, it’s about time. Because it still makes you think about yesterday, today, and tomorrow, no matter what time it is now.
And I’d love to check out some more of the SAT series! In addition to Chaos;Head, there are more Steins;Gate games, and Robotics;Notes. Maybe I’ll find the time to play those too.
Have you played any of the SAT series? Send me a D-mail and tell me about it!
El Psy Kongroo.