Steins;Gate has always been a bizarre franchise to me – It’s been one that I’ve looked at from the outside with curiosity, wanting to indulge and get into, but for whatever reason have never comitted to.

Having been exposed to Steins;Gate’s amazing anime opening, Hacking through the Gate via one-too-many anime OP compilations, and hearing the feverish tone of “~Tuturuuu~” echoing through the anime void like some sort of echolocator for fans of the series, I stared at this abyss… And it stared back at me.

Steins;Gate: Linear Bounded Phenogram – developed by 5pb and published worldwide by Spike Chunsoft – is a selection of spinoff titles from the original Steins;Gate visual novel, exploring the different themes, characters and events that play out in the original through the lenses of different characters – This, unsurprisingly, presented a bit of an issue for me…

…See, I’ve never even met these characters.

I’ve never seen the original anime, the other visual novels, or any other sort of Steins;Gate media, so delving into this world was both exhilarating and extremely difficult at the same time. The game opens up with a man in a cardboard box, hiding in the back of a videogame PR truck, when two young women, Faris and Mayuri, are attacked by a man aiming to hijack the bus as the game’s developers have supposedly ruined the franchise, where the bizarre and enigmatic ‘Alpaca Man’ jumps out to save the day… This opening not only confused the everlasting hell out of me, but it also confused me as to this game’s tone – The game flip-flops from bizarre surrealist joy to utter dismal depression in extreme circumstances, with the first scenario of the game looking to obtain a game for your landlord’s daughter, slowly escalating in tension from stopping a homeless scammer to eventually inavertadly causing an innocent man’s suicide.

Steins;Gate: Linear Bounded Phenogram takes the concept of slow-burning escalation and absolutely runs with it in ways that other visual novel franchises, such as Danganronpa or Higurashi, fail to do so; this, however, leads me into one of my first issues with Steins;Gate: Linear Bounded Phenogram; a lot of these stories are slow escalations, somewhat predictable, and most importantly for fans of the original, all technically non-canon – Having these characters recap their struggles and feuds with one-another becomes a bit of a ‘detective’s web’ for newcomers, figuring out who’s met who, who’s done what and where people have been, and it does certainly tax your head – This, however, can’t detract from the original experience in this title due to my own inexperience with the franchise.

One thing I will praise, however, is the absolutely magnificent Japanese voice acting in this game – Characters with mental breakdowns and shocking revalations show true horror and grief, sorrow and sadness and joy in happy situations, and you can properly feel the emotion put into these lines – It’s a large step up from it’s competitors. Another thing that does gripe me, however, is the clunky UI that this game fumbles around with – Garish ‘grungy’ details and metallic WordArt plauges this game, and makes life a bit of a hellscape when trying to navigate it – Too many times have I accidentally bumped one of my trigger buttons, only to have fast-forwarded through around 5 paragraphs of bloody content and to be left trying to pick the pieces up.

Environments and rendered areas look great with realistic inspiration and high quality screens that look great on a 55′ inch TV, let alone a smaller screen like the Nintendo Switch, however similar to Persona 5, character sprites seem to have an odd ‘grunge’ surrounding them, like a sort of ‘dirtiness’ – It’s not neccesarily distracting or jarring, but it’s just… Odd. This is coupled with a few of the game’s screens, such as the illustrious Commander Alpaca or Alpaca Man, sharing this odd sense of bizarreness similar to something you’d see in Katamari Damacy as opposed to a visual novel – The OST as well is something more of an afterthought rather than anything stellar like in Danganronpa or Ace Attorney.

Steins;Gate: Linear Bounded Phenogram is an odd visual novel amongst odd visual novels. It’s a difficult game for me to review having not consumed any form of media from the franchise prior, and sets a difficult standard for me to assess against – My base impressions, however, is that Steins;Gate: Linear Bounded Phenogram is a masterfully told visual novel with excellent voice acting and memorable twists and characters (At least for a first-time experiencer) that gets just a little bit caught up in it’s repitition, clumsy UI and afterthought OST – Perhaps the franchise has better to offer, however to be able to decide that, I’ll need to experience the rest of the franchise first. Perhaps I’ll update this review once I have?

I give Steins;Gate: Linear Bounded Phenogram a:

8.0 / 10