The story of Steins;Gate takes place in Akihabara and is about a group of friends who have customized their microwave into a device that can send text messages to the past. As they perform different experiments, an organization named SERN who has been doing their own research on time travel tracks them down and now the characters have to find a way to avoid being captured by them.
While carelessly experimenting by sending emails to the past (D-Mails), Okabe Rintaro finds that he has to undue all of those emails to save the ones that he loves, while also saving the world from becoming a dystopia ruled by an organization named SERN.
The story is split into chapters, with 11 in total. Chapters 1-5 focuses on the lab members developing and using the Phonewave (name subject to change) to send emails into the past. The pacing throughout the first half of the novel was great, with lots of comedy to balance out the science and drama.
Things finally get serious afterwards, as chapters 6-9 focus on the supporting characters and undoing their emails. Chapter 6 in particular was my favorite out of the four chapters, as it focused on Amane Suzuha; It felt nicely paced, provided significant back story, and had an emotional ending. The pacing in 7-9 was not quite as good unfortunately, and the likability factor depends on how much you like the character that the chapter focuses on.
Overall I found the story to be very engaging, with a great balance between comedy, science, and drama. While there is some romance in Steins;Gate, it is hardly the focus of the novel and doesn’t come into play til very late. The true end was quite satisfying, as it was very well delivered and conclusive. All the questions that I had while I was reading were answered by the time that I got to the end, so there are no major plot holes in Steins;Gate despite it being a time travel novel!
Now this section would have gotten a 4.5/5 if not for Okabe Rintaro. He is the protagonist of Steins;Gate and truly the star of the novel. Okabe often times invokes his other persona, Hououin Kyoma, the mad scientist, when he deals with the other characters. As Kyoma, Okabe spouts Chuunibyu nonsense and often times whips out his phone and pretends to talk to someone. All of Okabe’s lines are voiced by Miyano Mamoru (likewise for the anime port). Miyano does a fantastic job of playing the emotional, and delicate Okabe while adding a touch of insanity to Kyoma’s lines. I often times found myself listening to Okabe’s lines just to hear Miyano’s voice as it is rare for a VN protagonist’s lines to be voiced, so it was quite a treat!
Without Okabe, the supporting characters would not have been able to shine as much as they did. The supporting characters are quite quirky, but in a lovable way and they play well to both Okabe Rintaro and Hououin Kyoma. The seiyuus for the other main characters do a fantastic job in their roles in Steins;Gate, nothing to complain about here.
Fitting, but nothing special really… I can’t think of a particular track that stood out to me. That being said, the music did what it was supposed to do without detracting from the story.
The artwork in steins;gate is a bit unique. The characters are drawn in a semi-distorted way, especially with the eyes. It might be strange at first, but I found myself liking the style quite a bit after I started reading. However, the quality of the pre-drawn character sprites were much better than the quality of the CGs. It was pretty inconsistent for some reason. The backgrounds featured in Steins;Gate were very well drawn though, and features places from the real Akihabara. For screen shots and pictures of the in-game locations vs the real ones, check out the Steins;Gate fansite, ibm5100.net.
Being a fairly modern VN, Steins;Gate has a nice and intuitive UI. In addition to the usual settings, Steins;Gate also has a glossary which features scientific or otaku terms that the reader may not be familiar with. It certainly helped me a lot, since I was curious as to what a lot the scientific terms were. They interested me enough to actually look some of them up on Wikipedia!
As an added bonus, a couple of references were made to Chaos;Head, one of Nitroplus and 5pb’s previous novels. I’m actually in the progress of reading Chaos;Head, but those who have read it will know what these are!
Ultimately the reason I read visual novels is for its story, but I also feel that the other aspects, such as the music, art, voice acting, and the UI play a large role in the overall enjoyment of a VN. Good music, art, and voice acting helps to enhance the experience and the feeling of actually being inside the VN as the protagonist.
A good UI makes it easy to access the save/load, auto, and skip functions so that it doesn’t get in the way of enjoying the other aspects of the novel.
Steins;Gate pretty much gets all of that right. The story was exhilarating, intriguing, at times funny, but most importantly, very coherent. It was a joy to read through Steins;Gate especially with Okabe Rintaro’s lines as Hououin Kyoma. All the characters are lovable for their quirkiness and their dialogue with Okabe (Well… Moeka’s constant barrage of emails were kind of annoying). While the music was nothing special, it did what it’s supposed to do. The art was overall pretty good, save for the inconsistent CGs. The integration of sci-fi in an almost-real scenario was effortless and feels the events of Steins;Gate COULD just happen in real life.
As such… Steins;Gate is really as good as it gets for a VN. There’s no wonder why it’s rated the #2 VN on VNDB. If you are looking a realistic sci-fi novel about time travel, then don’t hesitate to put this novel on your reading list.