It’s not every day fans of Japanese entertainment get a treat like this. Though the idea of animated, interactive books somewhat caught on in the west in the ’80s and ’90s, for the most part the visual novel trend that’s so popular in Japan never took off, stateside. As a result, only a handful of the terrific stories waiting to be ‘read’ have ever reached an English-speaking audience, at least in any official capacity. With time the internet has given rise to more and more translations made by fans and released as downloadable ‘patches’ to the Japanese originals, but the patching process is often rather involved, and even with the likes of Amazon at your disposal hunting down imported visual novels can be challenging and expensive, not to mention the end result of it all is likely to have at least a few grammatical issues or stray lines of text that for one reason or another couldn’t be translated without breaking the game code. An official localization is always best, but remember we’re talking about a niche market for the USA. A lot of visual novels are relatively low-budget projects, so if the audience isn’t clearly there to turn a profit, an English version just isn’t going to happen.
But surprise, surprise, one of the highest-rated anime series of all time is apparently popular enough to garner a following in multiple corners of the world, and now the visual novel that started it all is following the hit TV show to American shores, set to arrive as a digital download on March 31st and physical retail April 30th. A limited collector’s edition will also be available, featuring a deluxe matte-finish box packed with the game DVD, two ‘Future Gadget Lab Member’ pins with display case, and an ‘original fanbook’ (no details on what that might be, yet).
Playing heavily off real-life (theoretical) physics and the John Titor phenomenon of 2000, Steins;Gate follows self-proclaimed mad scientist Rintarou Okabe as he journeys through a college summer break trying to successfully create ‘future gadgets’ that will bend reality and take science to a whole new level. While the ‘lab’ begins innocently enough, everything changes when one of Okabe and friends’ creations actually works, as they discover it has the mysterious capability to send text messages back in time.
As the saying goes, however, with great power comes great responsibility. More than one mystery surrounds the unlikely ‘Microwave-o-phone’ time machine, and more than one person would like to get their hands on its secrets. As Okabe delves deeper and deeper into the nature and capabilities of time travel, the situation continues to spin more and more out of control. Will he be able to get to the root of all the mysteries and save the world from its troubles, or will meddling with time ultimately cost Okabe his life, his love, or possibly even both?
Steins;Gate is easily one of the most intelligent stories I’ve ever experienced, though you might not gather that from as simple a summary as is provided above. You’ll thank me for it later—some stories just simply shouldn’t be spoiled. Suffice it to say, there’s plenty of good reason for Steins;Gate’s popularity, even five years after the Japanese visual novel’s release. While there’s no word on a Steam release as of yet that is definitely the next sensible move for getting the English localization into as many hands as possible. For now, preorders for both the physical and digital versions of the game are available on JBox, standard edition here and limited edition here for $39.95 and $59.95, respectively.