If you can’t even save the one person you love, how can you save the whole of humanity? This is a question that really underpins Steins;Gate 0 and will resonate with Steins;Gate fans who saw mad scientist Okabe go back in time to save the girl he loves. The first time he tries, he fails. The second time, he succeeds. But what if there never was a second time? What if someone had stopped him from trying again?
Steins;Gate Zero follows the story of a world line where Okabe fails to save Kurisu, and is forced to live with the consequences of his choice to sacrifice her. Six months later, he’s a broken wreck, taking medication, rarely meeting his friends. His only goal in life: to continue Kurisu’s work.
But fate isn’t done with Okabe, when he discovers, early on, that Kurisu may not be as lost to him as he first thought…
Steins;Gate 0 is a much darker, more somber story than Steins;Gate. The original asked you to repeatedly make a choice about how much you were willing to sacrifice to save Mayuri. Zero is a story about living with the consequences of those choices, even if they’re not necessarily what you want.
There’s also a much bigger cast this time. I was a big fan of the original cast (I’ve had a small figure of Kurisu on my desk for the past 6 years!) so in my mind the new cast had a big hurdle to clear. I think that after finishing the translation, I like the new characters more than the old ones. My personal favourite is Maho. She is one of the most well-developed characters I’ve seen in years. Similar to Okabe in many ways, with a strong exterior personality that hides a heart that isn’t nearly as tough as she’d like it to be.
Like Okabe, her life was forever changed by her interactions with the genius named Kurisu Makise, and I loved the way she grows and changes throughout the story.
Over the last year I feel like I’ve really gotten to know the cast, like they’re a part of me. Localizing Steins;Gate 0 was a really big job — a 5 month project from the time we got the script to the turn-in date. We worked at it several hours a day, five days a week. The project came to us in the form of several massive spreadsheets, and we started at the beginning and worked our way to the end.
From there, we gave it a second pass through to check for consistency issues and improve the general flow of the story. I’m not sure how many hours, all told, that it took, but it was a tremendous project, certainly comparable to the original in size.
It was also a challenge to work on. First, it’s a science-fiction game with very accurate science, which means there’s a lot to look up to make sure that we’re phrasing it right. I know I spent a lot of time on Wikipedia looking at articles on artificial intelligence, brain science, and different time travel theories!
Then of course, there’s the fact that it’s a very Japanese game, that’s written primarily for a specific Japanese audience who understand things that a western one might not. This was less of a problem than it might first seem for players of the original game, because Steins;Gate 0 is a lot more serious and has less of a focus on internet and otaku culture, and also because the game has a built-in dictionary to explain some of the more obscure concepts.
The biggest challenge, at least, one of the challenges that I spent the most time thinking about, was actually one that fans might not expect: localizing Mayuri’s dialogue. Mayuri is a very unusual character, and she speaks in a very unusual way. She acts a little spacey, but she’s not stupid or ditzy, and there’s a nuance in her speech that betrays a caring and an awareness that you might not see just by looking at a direct translation of the words themselves. Because she’s such a critical character, getting her personality right was a high priority for me.
Inevitably you come across things in the text that are tough to localize. It’s tempting to try to replace it with something similar that is culturally more filling — though we tried our best to avoid this wherever possible.
The game’s setting and culture are extremely important aspects of the story, and we would be doing a disservice to the fans if we tried to overly westernize it. Fans of the first game’s translation should find that the level of westernization is one they’re very comfortable with, and that most of the more culturally obscure ideas are handled the exact same way they remember.
For example, there’s one point in the game a specific Japanese word (Senpai, used to refer to an older girl at a school in this case) becomes important to the plot. Rather than trying to find a way to abstract this out and come up with an American equivalent, we left it in and added some very brief dialogue about what it meant, and what its usage meant to the characters.
That said, I wrote the Steins;Gate 0 translation with a general console/portable gaming audience in mind. I wanted it to be very accessible and readable, no matter how much the player might know about the setting of the game, and I’m confident that we succeeded.
One thing I’m often asked is how accessible it is to those who never played the original. I think missing out on this because you’ve not seen the anime or played the original is a mistake — the story really works on its own. The first Steins;Gate is now a seven year old game, and when the writers created Zero they were well aware that many players wouldn’t have beaten it. Steins;Gate 0 takes place in a world line where many of the events in the first game never happened, and it very quickly becomes its own story. While it’s a direct sequel, it assumes the player has no knowledge of most of what happened in the original, beyond the basic outlines of the plot.
I would say that if you’ve seen the anime, read the manga, or have even been immersed in the fandom long enough that you think you’d be interested in the title, you have everything you need to know to get the most out of Steins;Gate 0.
Steins;Gate 0 is a wonderful game, and I’ve seen many, many people say that they enjoy it more than the original. While it only requires a little bit of knowledge about the first game, it wraps up certain plot threads, and also answers what’s probably the biggest, most long-running mystery in the series.
If you’re at all interested in this series, you owe it to yourself to check it out.