Hands-On with the Steins;Gate 0 on Nintendo Switch
Since it’s localized release in 2016 for PlayStation 4 and Vita, I’ve probably experienced the story of Steins;Gate 0 about four times. The original Steins;Gate is an incredibly impactful work that I still adore to this day, but I've always have mixed thoughts on its sequel. It was a flawed story brought down with a localization full of inconsistencies and awkward translation choices, but the palpable sense of atmosphere has always kept me from outright dismissing it. The plot plays with some genius ideas, but unfortunately fumbles the execution as it approaches the story’s conclusion. Despite its flaws though, I do recommend that fans give 0 a chance.
In December, Spike Chunsoft decided to surprise us all by stealth dropping Steins;Gate: My Darling’s Embrace (A charming romantic comedy spin-off) for PS4, Switch, and PC, as well as a Nintendo Switch port of Steins;Gate 0. This version is great for people who played Steins;Gate Elite last year on their Switch and want to see the canon sequel, but unfortunately, there are issues with this port.
It's worth mentioning that this isn’t quite a standard review of Steins;Gate 0 as a whole, but an analysis of what is currently wrong with the port and what still hasn’t been addressed. I won’t be going over flaws of the actual story (but I’m certainly side-eying Kagari’s whole arc), but as someone who has played this game several times, there are things that were quick to jump out to me. To many of you, this might seem like nitpicking, as none of these issues impact the main storyline as a whole, but they stood out to me because, ideally, this could have made for the perfect portable Steins;Gate 0.
This is going to come off as very negative, but that’s simply because there’s not much to say about what the game does right that hasn’t already been said. This Switch version keeps the game’s strong atmosphere, occasionally brilliant story beats, stunning user interface, and interesting cast dynamics. From a pure surface-level perspective, this will be a totally adequate first experience for many people out there. First-time players might notice certain things flowing differently, but they’re unlikely to pick up on things fans might during this replay on Switch. They don’t have as little of a life as me, but that’s my job and geeking out about Science Adventure is my thing.
When Spike Chunsoft obtained the license for all Science Adventure titles, they started by porting Steins;Gate 0 to PC. Due to what I can only assume are licensing issues with the game’s original script, they weren’t able to make substantial changes, but this was still a big improvement over the original console release. There were still typos, mistranslations gone unfixed (The infamous “Operation Aquila” instead of the intended “Operation Arc-Light” are still there), and inconsistencies with the original game’s translation (Kyoma instead of Kyouma, and how 0 displays the order of character’s names).
I wasn’t expecting a clean-up of the translation. Chaos;Child also couldn’t get one on the transition to PC, but I would have been relatively content if this port was of the same quality as 0’s PC port. One especially nice thing about Steins;Gate 0 on PC is the RINE message system. The RINE messages are 0’s take on emails, but it really just boils down to providing a vessel for extra character developments. It’s mostly fluff, but it works well to ground the game with a sense of realism and lightens the tone when needed. Since 0 has the cast using smartphones now, they frequently would post image stickers in response (like the namesake, LINE, can do). It gives messages between these group of friends a bit more character. However, these stickers and the UI on Okabe's home screen were not translated in the original English release of the game. It was a minor detail, but one that sticks out to hardcore fans. So you can imagine how happy I was that Spike Chunsoft would go as far as to translate both when they brought the game to PC.
Due what must be engine complications or licensing issues with MAGES, the Switch port lacks these improvements. I don’t know what happened behind the scenes, but this was very disappointing for me. It’s a minor detail, but I can’t see any reason for the removal of these since they were already done. But if this were the only issue with this port’s phone mechanic then this whole segment would only exist as a small footnote. From what I’ve played of this port so far, it appears there are two other issues with RINE. One is that the text still overflows awkwardly from one line to the next (which felt much more noticeable in this version than the PC release), and that some times RINE messages don’t even display properly. I don’t know how many times exactly this shows up, but it’s apparent enough to throw both fans and newcomers alike. For example: The very first RINE message in the game is cut short, changing a wholesome exchange between Okabe and Mayuri into an almost comical one. I don’t have any info on if any of these will be addressed and when that would be, but it was a letdown.
I’m conflicted about these two main issues of mine. The translated phone UI carrying over was something I wanted the most, and I likely could have forgiven the RINE messages glitching out if that was ported over. The fact that this isn’t just equal in quality to the Steam version makes me recommend that over this, but as I mentioned before if this is your only option to play Steins;Gate 0, then you’ll still be in for a solid experience. All the art looks very clear on both docked and undocked play, and there weren’t any noticeable glitches outside of what I mentioned. I enjoyed revisiting this darker timeline on my Switch, flaws and all.
This might be a hot take, but I found the 2018 anime adaptation to actually remedy almost every single flaw the visual novel had. There are some things the VN will naturally do better by nature, but in terms of story and character development, the anime is much superior. It fleshes out under-cooked ideas and actually adapts in material from the Epigraph Trilogy, the light novels that Steins;Gate 0 was actually based on. I can only hope that the recently announced Steins;Gate 0 Elite can combine the story improvements of the anime with the in-depth format of the VN. A perfect version of Steins;Gate 0 deserves to exist, but the two versions we have at the moment are still sure to please fans of the original to various degrees. I hope Spike is able to patch this soon to clean up some of the issues, and I’ll gladly make an addendum if that happens.