There are a lot of stigmas associated with the visual novel genre. Many of these games are horny wish-fulfillment fantasies that toss every anime cliche under the sun into a crock-pot of fanservice-y hijinks, while even the more subdued ones are still primarily focused on emulating romantic entanglements with an ideal cast of sparkly-eyed bachelors and bachelorettes. Of course, there are many visual novels that break that mold, setting out to craft dark worlds and intricate, interweaving storylines that could only ever be accomplished with the massive scale and length of a visual novel.
One of the kings of subversive visual novel experiences is Steins;Gate, an iconic science fiction time-travel game that has gone on to spawn countless sequels, spinoffs, adaptations, and more. It’s a dense story full of heavy scientific terminology and time-manipulation theories that’s carried by one of the most memorable casts of characters ever to grace the medium. Many Steins;Gate spinoffs carry the same tone, telling similarly grim tales in divergent timelines and alternate realities. Steins;Gate: My Darling’s Embrace, however, pursues a much simpler goal: to give fans of the series a cheesy, goofy Steins;Gate dating simulator.
Now, for some, the quirky humor and anime hijinks in the original game probably aren’t what got them hooked on the visual novel. If you’re one of those people, then Steins;Gate: My Darling’s Embrace is going to be a tough sell. It’s going to be an even harder sell if you’ve never experienced Steins;Gate to begin with. While the game takes place in a separate timeline from the main series, the events here loosely follow the first act of the original game, meaning you might be a bit lost if you haven’t been exposed to that chunk of the story.
The game takes place in an alternate World Line from the original story, and while the time-manipulating D-Mails are still a presence in the lives of Okabe Rintarou’s team, the main dilemma facing our crew is the fact that their lab is out of money. As the Future Gadget Lab members attempt to raise money by creating a bevy of new gadgets, mad-cap protagonist Okabe Rintarou spends a majority of his journey in Steins;Gate: My Darling’s Embrace simply getting closer to the various members of the lab, even sparking some romantic developments with them based on which story path you fall on.
There’s a lot of fun characterization happening in this game and even a surprising amount of heartfelt moments that shed some new light on your favorite characters. Still, the gravitas and high stakes of the original story are entirely absent. If you aren’t down for the basic, trope-heavy kind of visual novel that the original game was such a far cry from, Steins;Gate: My Darling’s Embrace likely won’t hold your attention for long.
The slapstick bend of Steins;Gate: My Darling’s Embrace is facilitated by a much simpler progression system that comes as a fresh change of pace from the usually complicated branching paths of the series. There are multiple story routes to go through in the game, but rather than landing in them through a series of specific cellphone interactions and message choices, there’s just one specific point in the game that will launch you into any of the routes based on how you use the phone. It’s nice to be able to turn your brain off in terms of keeping track of decisions to ensure you stay on the correct story path. At the same time, though, the lack of player agency in the story ends up making the experience a touch less immersive than Steins;Gate usually is.
Despite a shift in focus from dramatic storytelling to goofy romance, Steins;Gate: My Darling’s Embrace contains all of the heart and charm that you’d expect from the series. The art is as gorgeous as ever, the music is strikingly addictive, and the characters are just as fun and bizarre as they’ve always been. For fans of the franchise who have always wanted to see the cast in a fresh, funnier light that feels more like a traditional romantic visual novel, this game is the perfect treat.
A review code was provided by the publisher.