Time travel is a popular premise across almost every medium. But like most high-concept narratives, it’s often used as a catalyst for absorbing human interaction rather than an opportunity for scientific speculation. From the comical interplay between the eccentric ‘Doc’ Emmett Brown and spirited high school student Marty McFly in Back to the Future, to the exchanges between Chrono Trigger’s cast of beguiling adventurers, many stories sidestep a detailed explanation of how their own brand of temporal transportation actually works. Largely, that’s OK, as the plot device creates a number of interesting opportunities for rapport and repulsion between characters.
Delve into Switch release of Steins;Gate Elite and you’ll quickly (re)discover creator Chiyomaru Shikura’s infatuation with grounding time travel in a detailed, plausible context. The novel’s lead, Rintaro Okabe, an obsessed, possibly paranoid, first-year student at Tokyo Denki University, has crafted a number of peculiar contraptions. Inside his Akihabara-based ‘Future Gadget Laboratory’, Okabe tinkers away, building odd devices inspired by both anime and games. From a ray gun channel changer to a humidifier shaped like one of Solid Snake’s Claymore mines, the inventions are science-grounded curiosities that lack much functional value.
Immersion Through the Semblance of Hard Science
But that changes when his jerry-rigged union of a mobile phone and microware generates something called Kerr black holes. While physical items tend to become irreversibly jellified when attempted to be sent through time, Okabe discovers that email messages can be sent to the past. With this discovery, Steins;Gate’s floodgates swing wide open, extending a multitude of possibilities rooted in scientific scholarship. A lesser novel would have created a lone explanation for the phenomenon, but Shikura-san and company deliver no less than eleven scientifically-accepted explanations and even acknowledge the existence of many more.
Those with an elementary understanding of quantum theory are bound to be enraptured by Steins;Gate Elite’s jumble of theory, speculation, and high fantasy, as the novel acutely understands the possibility for implausibility to break the work’s delicate sense of immersion. For those indifferent about things like wormholes and cosmic strings, the work offers a flawless application of time-travel’s more common refrain, extending an absorbing chemistry between its characters, as well as a wealth of dramatic tension, and the occasional instance of heart-wrenching sequences.
A Reproduction of Akihabara Culture
At first glance, Gate’s cast seems to be entrenched in trope. From the requisite tsundere, to a plucky, but seemingly intellectually challenged girl who works part time at a maid café, characters seem in danger of being able to be defined by single-sentence descriptions. But the teams at 5pb and Nitroplus prove to be remarkably shrewd, challenging readers’ stereotypical impressions with engaging exposition. Sure, the game’s first few hours can be labored, but for the remainder, Gate will habitually upend your expectations and make you care about each lab member.
Gradually, the archetypes fade and multifaceted personalities emerge. And this type of development is needed, as Gate’s branching plot may force players to make a few difficult decisions. Seemingly miniscule changes to history can produce ripple effects- and as the only one capable of conceiving changes to the time-space continuum, these decisions can be devastating for Rintaro Okabe. While Steins;Gate produces moments of fleeting whimsy, it’s clear that the writers have larger aspirations. As such, some of the plot points are fated to resonate with reader long after they finished the twenty-plus hour journey.
A Spotless Journey Across Mediums
Steins;Gate Elite’s legacy is every bit as unconventional as its plotline. Originally released as a visual novel in 2009, the property was subsequently adapted into animated form by White Fox Studios two year later. Elite reconstructs the entire branching narrative, substituting the static images of the original game with assets from the anime. Amazingly, the final product arrives with few of the telltale signs of cross-media transformation. This is quite amazing since new assets had to be created for the story routes that weren’t depicted in the animated adaptation.
Hypercritical Too-too-roo-ers will find a few diminutive faults. Some of the non-animated routes don’t exhibit the same fluidity of the canonical storyline. The original release of Steins;Gate exhibited a forking narrative system that was rather distinctive. At the heart of the diverging paths was the Phone Trigger system, where players might receive a call or text from another character. If you opted to answer, occasionally you’d receive attachments to download, mimicking the kind of interactions you’d have during the flip-phone era. With Elite, the system has been automated. In execution, its more convenient, but diminishes at the sense of early-millennia nostalgia. On the upside, Kanako Itou new opener, “Cosmic Looper” and Yui Sakakibara’s “Annie’s Ring” are thoroughly pleasing.
As Delightful and Sweet as Dr. Pepper
Whether you’re new to the property and collect every adaptation with fervor, Steins; Gate Elite is a requisite experience. Delivering a rollicking roller-coaster ride of twists, turns, forking paths, and remarkably poignant plot points, its easy to see why the game has been adored since its release a decade ago. For science buffs, it’s exploration of theory is unmatched in the medium- while those more interested in engaging character interaction and ethical quandaries will appreciate just how affecting the plot can be.
I loved the original Steins;Gate for its context, with numerous illustrations and details impeccably capturing the essence of Akihabara. With Elite; the incorporation of animation endows the experience with a bit more dynamism, making this is worthwhile purchase for newcomers or OSHMKUFA otaku. Either way, the novel exhibits another form of time-travel, recapturing an imagined moment life in one of Tokyo’s most vibrant and celebrated districts.
Steins;Gate Elite was played on Switch
with review code provided by the publisher.