I’ve had a falling out with visual novels in recent years, replacing my time spent with them with more traditional gaming experiences. That said, I’ve never completely stopped playing them, and I’m glad I didn’t.
Steins;Gate A Linear Bounded Phenogram (PS3, 360, PS Vita)
Developed by 5pb. / Mages – Published by 5pb.
Many western fans of the Steins;Gate anime series are anxiously awaiting the English release of the visual novel, which the anime is based off of. Meanwhile there have been no less than three titles released in Japan already, the most recent of which is the subject of this review.
To those unfamiliar with the franchise, Steins;Gate is actually a sub-franchise of 5pb.’s Science-Adventure series, of which Chaos;Head and Robotics;Notes are also a part of. The Steins;Gate core themes revolve around the concepts of time-travel and alternate realities.
Phenogram takes a step back from Hiyoku Renri no Darling, which was essentially a Steins;Gate themed dating sim, and into it’s roots. Phenogram is essentially filling in the gaps of the original, and occasionally expanding upon the original story. Thus the story has a dark and serious tone to it, though still allowing for the comedic aspects of it’s much beloved characters as well as several “what-if” scenarios. For instance, Faris’s father appears several times throughout the story, and you’ll even get to see Daru’s wife.
And speaking of characters, Phenogram takes an interesting approach to the way it handles perspective. Instead of being told entirely from the perspective of Okabe Rintaro, it actually has 11 chapters (1 of them being a secret chapter) with each chapter putting you in the perspective of a different character. Aside from Okabe, you’ll also get to experience the point of view of Faris, Daru, Kurise, Mayuri, Moeka, Ruka, Suzuha, Mr.Braun and Nae. This radical change in the approach to plot presentation can likely be attributed to the involvement of Kotaro Uchikoshi (Zero Escape) who collaborated with the writer of the original Steins;Gate, Naotaka Hayashi.
Each chapter takes approximately 2 hours to complete and there are no alternate routes, essentially making this a one and done experience. However the idea of texting via your phone is heavily implemented, and you can occasionally choose your response in regards to a text message, which does not alter the story, but gives you a few extra tidbits of conversation, as well as adding a tiny bit of replay value to the chapters.
While this phone mechanic sounds, and is at times a bit lackluster, it’s something I’ve not come across in a visual novel as of yet, and it definitely changes the way to play through the story in comparison to traditional dialogue choice based visual novels. While each character has their own phone, with a hilariously fitting wallpaper to match, you can also fiddle around with the settings of your phone to customize the ringtone and wallpaper to your liking. You can also set the phone to “vibrate” which will trigger the rumble in your controller, alerting you that you have a new text message, which is useful when you’re not paying attention. Still beyond that, there isn’t much more the phone aspect adds to the overall experience, as the story would likely have been almost the same without it.
Unless you’ve already played the original Steins;Gate and are thirsting for more, Phenogram isn’t something anyone can jump into. It assumes you’ve played the first visual novel, and jumps right into the story with little explanation. This isn’t an entirely new experience but is does an excellent job supplementing the original story as well as letting you experience the story through the other characters.
Ultimately, Steins;Gate A Linear Bounded Phenogram is made of the same cut as the first Steins;Gate, and I can’t recommend it enough… after you’ve played the original that is.
Final Score: 9.0 / 10