This will contain Major Spoilers for the Steins;Gate 0 Visual Novel, Anime, Steins;Gate, and Steins;Gate film.
I finished the Steins;Gate 0 Visual Novel several hours ago. I had been playing mostly non-stop due to lack of anything else to really do during the Coronavirus pandemic. I mostly loved everything regarding the narrative. Both the old and new cast were exceptionally great for the most part, the music and how it set the tone of various scenes was fantastic (even better than the previous VN which itself was amazing), and I want to be clear in stating that I loved almost everything just like the previous iteration. For this review, there’s several different aspects that I want to discuss and I’m honestly not sure where to begin or end with some of these points, so this review might be a bit of a ramble. This review will also consist of comparisons to the anime, because – perhaps in opposition to the overwhelmingly popular opinion – I found that the anime handled certain specific aspects better than the visual novel or otherwise fleshed out particular events to make them more cohesive to the narrative and plot. To be clear: I am not saying that the Steins;Gate 0 Anime was better, but because it chose to zero-in on certain particular storylines instead of having the branching storypaths of the visual novel, I feel that what the Steins;Gate Zero anime chose to focus on overwhelmingly benefited as a result.
Unlike most reviews which begin with the positives first and then finish with the negatives, I want to begin with the negatives before I finish this review with the positives. Now, English is my first language and I read the English localized version for the PSVita, and the grammar mistakes were so noticeable that I have to take a point off because it was that awful. For a better context, it is so awful that at a certain point in the game, the word “Kochel” is repeatedly mislabeled “K?chel” in the text boxes of multiple characters when discussing the subject of Mozart’s music. The decision to not include “senpai” and to come-up with English words to ignore the Japanese meaning ends-up being one of the dumbest choices by the English translators because it actually becomes a plot point in one of the major branching stories of the game which is mentioning that Kurisu used the term when speaking to Maho Hiyajo. Most annoying of all, the English translators chose to translate the names of the characters in the English style instead of the Japanese style of Last name first and first name last. I thought it wouldn’t bother me, but it ended-up infuriating me in certain parts when the text boxes clearly didn’t label the name being spoken. This was particularly irritating when referencing Hououin Kyouma as the reverse as if it mattered. The previous English translation for the predecessor Visual Novel is leagues upon leagues superior to this annoyance. It doesn’t even fit as a standard when you go from the first visual novel to this prequel novel. Overall, a very stupid decision by the translators with nothing positive about it. In fairness, to the best of my knowledge, everything else seems excellent as far as the translation. I’m not trying to say that it was utter garbage, but some decisions just had particular irritating qualities or otherwise had grammar mistakes often enough that I just couldn’t bring myself to overlook it.
That all being said, the plot, character development, most of the narrative, and the dialogue – holy fuck the Steins;Gate 0 dialogue – was amazing. Even on slow stories after drastic tonal shifts such as choosing Kagari’s ending storypath, the dialogue and depth of character introspection outshine most of my expectations and the conflict-oriented dialogue often blew me away. I absolutely loved the introspection and character development of Suzuha, Kagari, and especially Okabe Rintaro. As far as the narrative goes, I think these three were genuinely the best. Some may find it disappointing that Makise Kurisu and Shiina Mayuri were never given narrative introspection, but I think one of the key purposes of the Steins;Gate narrative is for us viewers to interpret both of these characters without being privy to their thoughts. That’s why we can have Hiyajo Maho’s views contrasted with Kagari and Okabe’s on Makise Kurisu. For me though, the dialogue between Okabe and Dr. Alexis Leskinen during the second hospital visit for Fubuki, where Okabe thinks over the Encephalitis cases and discusses it with Leskinen, was one of the best dialogue discussions in a visual novel. Not only did it feel like a real conversation between two very intelligent people, but Okabe’s reasoning was always on point. Unlike certain small moments in Steins;Gate, Steins;Gate 0 never feels like any of the characters are stupid for the sake of the plot. Their character flaws, introspections, and actions all feel like realistic people having internal debates and making choices given the best information that they have available to them in every storypath and scene. I absolutely loved it. It really is one of the highest aspects of this story.
Okabe’s Chunniybou behavior as Hououin Kyouma from the previous visual novel being foreshadowing for the events of Steins;Gate 0 has a huge payoff here. If people began playing this visual novel without playing Steins;Gate or remembering it very well, they might be thoroughly confused on why worldlines seem to change haphazardly and at the most random times. The tonal shift can be jarring, but the dialogue in the previous visual novel foreshadows much of it. Even Dr. Reyes being part of a shadow organization of the USA had small elements of it foreshadowed in the previous visual novel with Okabe’s dialogue. Perhaps such comments of mine will be met with either confusion, distrust, or the belief that I’m reading far too much into random bits of dialogue between both visual novels, but allow me to point to one of the most brilliant moments of foreshadowing in Steins;Gate 0. When we first get into Fubuki’s viewpoint, she talks of fears of Mayuri dying because of her frequent nightmares where she watches Mayuri die in various strange occurrences. Also, in the beginning, when Suzuha and Okabe argue about using the time machine to go into the past and re-try saving Kurisu, when Okabe brings up the province of God as an argument, he mentions Suzuha’s death from previous worldlines as an argument against Suzuha. He doesn’t explicitly mention that it was suicide, but rather that it was a horrifying death. What the narrative did was brilliantly flip our expectations; we think Mayuri is safe because she’s in the Beta worldline where events don’t converge on her death and this obviously isn’t the visual novel where they reach “Steins Gate” while the context for Suzuha is simply her past versions of herself in the Alpha worldline. Yet, the narrative flips those expectations and they both die in three of the three pathways with two of the three endings, the Mayuri and True Ending paths, obviously having Okabe save them before they die using the Time Leap machine to prevent the outcome. For those who weren’t aware of where Mayuri and Suzuha’s stories were headed, the beginning dialogue was brilliant foreshadowing because it uses the knowledge of the previous novel against the viewer’s expectations.
I really loved Okabe Rintaro’s development in Steins;Gate 0 from start to finish. His post-traumatic stress and deep emotional trauma over accidentally murdering Kurisu felt so realistic that I was amazed at the emotional impact of Okabe’s introspection. It never felt as if Okabe’s thoughts or feelings were trivialized or overused for the sake of the plot. Okabe’s changing views felt very realistic and Daru and Suzuha’s behavior towards him likewise felt realistic given their circumstances as friend and the person who has the most to lose should Okabe not try to change the future. In both branching storypaths, when the narrative focuses on Okabe Rintaro, the development is excellent. I love what they did with the multiple character perspectives where we see Okabe Rintaro from an outsider view in the Leskinen and Mayuri story routes as Hiyajo Maho as it shows us how Okabe can disturb people with how quick-witted his responses seem and how bizarre it is to feel as if Okabe is reading your mind and responding to your thoughts before you can even utter them. Most of all, the branching storypaths for the Leskinen/Mayuri routes show Okabe at his most pitiable and his most daring as direct narrative contrasts. In both, Okabe has access to Hiyajo Maho and Daru after Mayuri and Suzuha are horribly murdered by a helicopter bombing Suzuha’s time machine. In one path, because Okabe relied only on himself, seeing everything as his burden to bear alone, and due to exhaustion from torture; he completely gives up. While in the other path, he shares information with his friends, he has strong faith in their professional capabilities, and implicitly trusts them which helps him get Mayuri and Suzuha to leave in the time machine before the helicopter with the fatal rocket ever comes near them. Okabe’s changing perspective on his decision in the Kurisu route after seeing the mountains of bodies being eaten by dogs, the blasted buildings, smelling the vile stench, and realizing what his friends were going through didn’t feel forced and I was happy to see Suzuha and Okabe’s development come to a head when Okabe asked Suzuha what she honestly thought of him as a person and then asked her to punch him. He realized that he truly hadn’t understood how awful the future really was until accidentally arriving there and experiencing it firsthand.
I really enjoyed both Amane Suzuha and Shiina Kagari’s character arcs, introspections, interactions, and development in the narratives that focused on them. I loved Suzuha in both the Kurisu/Kagari and Leskinen/Mayuri routes. I vastly preferred Kagari in the Kurisu/Kagari storypath than the Leskinen/Mayuri storypath . . . even if the Mayuri/True End storypath has one of my favorite one-sided fight scenes atop the Radio building which made for glorious and hilarious reading. Suzuha’s guilt over never finding the young Kagari, her hilarious and heartwarming father-daughter interactions, even her serious moments where she kills people without remorse (such as when Okabe finds himself in the future), her anger towards Okabe Rintaro, and her misgivings and doubts about changing the future really help to flesh out her character. This is by far my favorite version of Suzuha and I feel that she far outclasses the Steins;Gate version in terms of depth and emotion. Admittedly, it does help to have her introspective moments be the narrative focus for major portions of the story. Likewise, I greatly enjoyed reading Kagari’s interactions with Okabe, Mayuri, and her own internal and external conflicts in the Kurisu/Kagari storypath. I think the story provided ample characterization for Kagari; her love for Mayuri being greater than wanting to change the future due to the fear they’ll never meet. The manipulation of her thoughts and feelings for her adopted mother to be twisted into becoming a human experiment for over a decade, her thoughts when brainwashed, and especially her explanation of wanting to provide value by accomplishing things herself versus having her memories overwritten by Makise Kurisu’s memory data helped to flesh out her character; Kagari’s deep love for her adopted mother, Shiina Mayuri, and the compassion she shows Suzuha even after becoming a manipulated tool of both Leskinen and Reyes after losing so much of her humanity to the extent that her face isn’t her own and even her memories probably aren’t fully her own shows the depth of her love for both of them. The Mayuri/Leskinen path strongly implies that not only did Leskinen force her to go through plastic surgery without her consent, but also that the conclusion avoided in the Kurisu path of creating the ultimate soldier by shoving AI data into human brains as Dr. Reyes wanted was instead achieved in the Leskinen/Mayuri path by using Kagari as a guinea pig to experiment on. The only real downside to the narrative for both occurs in the Leskinen/Mayuri path because neither Mayuri nor Suzuha are confronted with the evidence of what Leskinen did to Kagari. They simply see Kagari as having lost her sanity, whereas if they knew how thoroughly Leskinen had destroyed Kagari’s humanity, then there would be deeper tension in the Pre-Time Leap scene on the roof of the Radio building. I think it was a missed opportunity since we could have had a scene with Mayuri and Suzuha confronting the reality of Kagari having faked being Amane Yuki in the Leskinen/Mayuri storypath and perhaps have Suzuha shoot Leskinen dead as revenge or have Mayuri give her thoughts on her dying future daughter. Instead, they never discover the full truth about Kagari and Leskinen, after being seriously injured by Okabe to the point one of his eyes isn’t functioning due to the impact that he suffered on his head, just slumps over to the side and dies after a monologue. I liked how the narrative of the Mayuri/Leskinen route flipped the reader’s expectations because instead of seeing how similar Suzuha is to her own mother, instead we come to recognize how similar Kagari is to Suzuha and how much Kagari cared about Suzuha. However, I do feel that we got robbed of learning more about Amane Yuki, which we do learn more details of in Kagari’s own ending route and we can see how different the caring Yuki is from Kagari’s impersonation in the Mayuri/Leskinen path whereby she’s more fun-loving and interested in costumes instead of purely culinary interests. I do think the Kagari being a Fake Yuki twist has some narrative pitfalls though. I will acknowledge that it makes sense plot-wise and doesn’t cause any problems in that department, but what did it offer besides shock value? What on earth does it really add to the story? Kagari as a Fake Yuki has one or two lines about loving Hashida Itaru that comes out of nowhere and has no narrative payoff even in her own ending and the True ending, so what even was the point of that one-off line? The subtle lines of Fake Yuki that imply she’s actually Kagari could have applied to the real Yuki without much difference. If anything, the anime not having this storyline actually helps make the plot twist have a higher degree of shock value for viewers since it’s completely unexpected. It works for the thematic aspect of the series and for the plot, but I’m unsure about the narrative.
The True Ending shows Kagari having changed her appearance by the year 2025 to the one resembling the Kurisu/Kagari storypath . . . and this is where I’m probably going to say something very controversial, but . . . the anime did the Mayuri route ending and True Ending better. The Anime Ending wasn’t just slightly better, It was superior by several orders of magnitude above the visual novel. I don’t mind that Mayuri and Suzuha leave before the helicopter and rocket ever even come close to hitting Suzuha’s time machine in the visual novel, but having a storyline where Kiryu Moeka learns more about Kagari’s past and feels empathy for her, perhaps even a kindred spirit due to her own suffering from FB’s emotional manipulation, and thus decides to join Okabe Rintaro’s side made much more narrative sense for a True Ending. Having Kagari pick-up a gun as Okabe returns to his Hououin Kyouma persona and gives a speech on why he shouldn’t be messed with was a much more satisfying ending and worked far better than how the visual novel depicted the True ending as having no meaningful difference until after the credits. Okabe Rintaro giving the speech alone was perfectly fine for the Mayuri ending, but if the True ending had done what the anime ending did with Kagari and Moeka by his side, then it would have been so much better and shown clear differences between the Mayuri and True ending before the credit roll. Of course, there should have been extra material establishing Kiryu Moeka and Shiina Kagari making some sort of friendship before such a conclusion, but it is clear that wasn’t even considered in the Visual Novel and Moeka’s character in the Mayuri/True route feels wasted as a result. The only real narrative purpose she serves besides harming Kagari for dramatic tension is to juxtapose her actions of mentally terrorizing Maho in the Mayuri/True route from the strong friendship established between herself and Maho in Maho’s own route. More importantly, I was genuinely surprised that the conversation between Mayuri’s past and present self in the Steins;Gate 0 anime was never even shown in the visual novel. It seemed as if there was a perfect set-up because I had thought that there would be a post-credits scene from Suzuha’s perspective with her witnessing Mayuri chat with Mayuri’s younger self before the time machine flung them elsewhere and then the 2025 cut scene could have happened. I was shocked the visual novel never showed us any scene at all of Mayuri chatting with her younger self. Moreover, the post-credits True Ending scene itself was actually a disappointment compared to the Anime. In the visual novel, Kagari just seems to have changed her appearance back to prior to having any plastic surgery with no explanation, while the Anime ending offers a lot more subtle brilliance by simply having her cut her hair short and offering Okabe her own words of support. Simply having Kagari with short hair in the anime ending is a brilliant way of depicting Kagari carving her own identity away from Leskinen’s manipulations and regaining her sense of self. Finally, I was thoroughly shocked and disappointed that the visual novel’s True Ending simply ends with Maho giving a monologue about the story being an epigraph, because I was convinced by the anime that the scene of Okabe coming to rescue Mayuri and Suzuha was part of the Visual Novel because it was so thematically brilliant and fit snugly into the theme of Okabe Rintaro being Shiina Mayuri’s kidnapper. I had thought for sure that it was a major theme and event of the visual novel due to Mayuri’s letter in the Mayuri/True End routes, but instead the rescue scene seems to be an anime-only addition that vastly improves the story. It is just like the foreshadowing of Okabe speaking of some woman kissing him after telling him about Hououin Kyouma in early episode of Steins;Gate anime only to have it revealed to be Makise Kurisu in the Steins;Gate film. In this case, the ethereal sky with strange lights that Okabe Rintaro was afraid would take Mayuri away, being repeatedly depicted in both the Steins;Gate and Steins;Gate 0 anime adaptions, was thorough foreshadowing for the ending of Steins;Gate 0 whereby Hououin Kyouma rides the prototype time machine to save Shiina Mayuri and Amane Suzuha. It fit the theme of the entire series; Okabe and Mayuri’s love for each other (in Okabe’s case, familial since he sees Mayuri as a sister while in Mayuri’s case it was clearly romantic), Okabe deceiving the world and defying his fated death in 2025, doing everything he could to save Mayuri despite impossible odds (the central theme of the prior visual novel), his recognition that Suzuha was right, and so much more that I can’t possibly write all of it down and it was Anime only?! I couldn’t believe it. Not to add salt to the wound, but if there’s no scene of Okabe actually rescuing the two women nor any scene of Suzuha seeing Mayuri speak with her younger self via cell phone, then the final quote by Hiyajo Maho of simply being an epigraph and the foreshadowing within the strict context of just the visual novels strongly implies that Suzuha and Mayuri never made it to speak with Mayuri’s younger self and instead died. Moreover, Steins;Gate 0 Okabe either died or got written out of existence a few moments after his future-message was sent to his 2010 self since the worldline shift should have happened immediately upon the D-mail video being sent to 2010 Okabe’s cell phone given how the causal chain works in the visual novels. Oddly enough, and perhaps this is the point of the narrative, even if the ending of Steins;Gate 0 is implying all this, the ending is still what Okabe Rintaro, Shiina Mayuri, Amane Suzuha, and everyone else wants. Similar to Okabe time leaping to warn the two of their impending deaths with Okabe’s introspecting being happy that they’ve left before the war starts, Okabe won in the end once the causal link was established and his 2010 self achieved the path to the world of Steins Gate. Therefore, even if it is an epigraph of obsession, it is nevertheless an epigraph of victory over the impossible.
As a final verdict, I’m having a hard time of whether to give it a 8.8/10 or a 9/10 and find myself slipping between the two whenever I think of its pros and cons, but hey, why not just round up given the positives vastly outweigh the negatives?