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Visual novel Steins;Gate 0 launches into the bad timeline

Hacking to the Gate

Even as a semi-frequent consumer of visual novels, there are few that I would recommend almost unreservedly. Steins;Gate would be one of them - a time-travel mystery/thriller that (one character arc aside, which is a bit tone-deaf to contemporary gender issues) contains very little in the way of overbearing anime cliche to wade through. Its sequel, Steins;Gate 0, launched on PC yesterday, continuing the tale of young self-described 'mad scientist' Rintaro Okabe through a potentially doomed timeline.

Rather than pick up after the happiest possible ending of the original Steins;Gate, 0 returns to follow our protagonist through a partially failed branch in the timeline. Not everyone survived this time round, and the predestined World War 3 now seems inevitable. Okabe is also shaken from his less-than-cheerful adventures through time and space in the previous story. Gone is the irrepressible teen wunderkind, his experiences transforming him into a rather sullen and morose university student. Less mad scientist, more sad scientist.

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While time-travel and parallel worlds are still a key focus of the story, the third string added to Steins;Gate 0's repertoire of sci-fi standards is advanced, potentially sentient artificial intelligence, and all the many implications of it. As with the first game, there's a decent amount of interactivity and enough minor and major plot branches to lead to six possible endings, although for the most part you'll just be doing a lot of reading. Steins;Gate, while largely self-contained is also part of Mages' Science Adventure series, which now encompasses five (soon to be six) main VNs, plus several non-canon side-stories.

For those of you who aren't feeling up to a lengthy read, the anime adaptation of Steins;Gate 0 recently started airing on Crunchyroll. While I've not had a chance to look at it myself, the original Steins;Gate adaptation (sadly unavailable in the UK) was surprisingly solid, if perhaps a little too heavily abridged in places. A remastered version of the original Steins;Gate is also due out some time this year, featuring art, audio and video from the animated version in place of the original materials, plus several newly translated extra stories.

Steins;Gate 0 is out now via Steam for £27.79/30€/$35, or can be bought in a (slightly discounted) bundle with the original.

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Dominic Tarason