App Reviewed on: iPad Air 2
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Steins;Gate HD EN is the English version of a long anime-style visual novel about teens in Japan who time travel. If any of the things I mentioned in the previous sentence sound unappealing to you, I recommend you stop reading here, because Steins;Gate is not the kind of game that compromises on its vision in the slightest. That said, if you're looking for some anime storytelling and don't mind a relative lack of gameplay, Steins;Gate may very well be worth your investment.
Time to read
Steins;Gate is first and foremost a visual novel, which is not a genre I'm entirely familiar with. In the case of this game, it means you'll spend a lot of your time reading the action as it plays out on screen.
You experience the game from the perspective of a science-minded teen named Okabe Rintarou and his alter-ego Hououin Kyouma as he and his friends make a breakthrough that allows them to alter time. At certain points in the story, Okabe's phone will go off, and it's during this time that you–the player–actually get to have some input on the game besides just reading.
Most of this interaction is a lot less obvious than other narrative-heavy games with choice systems though. In Steins;Gate the casual response to an innocuous email about a card game might completely change the course of your story without you really realizing it.
The butterfly effect
Speaking of story, Steins;Gate has quite a long one and it's quite the focus of the game considering it's a visual novel. If you're at all familiar with the plot or ideas of the 2004 film The Butterfly Effect, the beats of the narrative may not be surprising, but the way the characters in Steins;Gate develop make it feel compelling throughout.
As a game that takes about 20 hours to complete just by tapping through dialogue and responding (or not responding) to phone messages, Steins;Gate has a lot of room to explore its characters, which makes it hard for you not to feel invested in what happens to the by the game's end. Throughout the course of the game, Steins;Gate also manages to throw in a few good twists and character reveals that are genuinely pretty surprising and rewarding.
As much fun as I had with Steins;Gate, there are quite a few things with it that make kind of hard to recommend. On top of being light on gameplay and very lengthy, the game is very Japanese. This is to say it makes a lot of references to concepts that may seem unfamiliar and handles some plot situations in ways that might cause some discomfort depending on your own cultural norms.
Also, Steins;Gate doesn't really communicate how its systems work very well, making it hard to know if and when you're impacting the story, if at all. This is kind of a cool thing, since the phone interactions and their ramifications are so seamless that they conceal the inner workings of the game, but this could be frustrating to anyone that wants more control over their game experience.
All of these reservations are compounded by the fact that Steins;Gate has an asking price of $25. To me, the price seems well worth it, as the game looks and plays great, but will only feel worth it if you're open to its specific brand.
The bottom line
Steins;Gate is an excellent game, provided you know what you're in for. It may not provide a deep set of gameplay systems, but its story interactions are more seamless than other ambitious narrative-focused games like Indigo Prophecy. If you're ok with reading a lot and you have an open mind toward Japanese culture, you'll find a lot to like in Steins;Gate.