After my less-than-stellar experience with Steins;Gate — The Original, I was hell-bent on avoiding the series at all costs. That's why I gave Steins;Gate 0 a resounding pass, despite the fact that it was branded as excellent and had the potential to solve narrative issues I had with its predecessor. Things would have remained that way, if not for a recent perfect storm that saw me ravenous for VNs just as the PSN was offering outrageous discounts on the whole genre; before I knew it, SG0 was in my digital collection, and there was no turning back. Like, literally.
That impulse purchase could have been a most ill-inspired one; but to my utter surprise, I found myself genuinely enjoying SG0. I certainly wouldn't deem it the VN of the century, but I definitely liked it much more than the original game. One might quip that it wasn't so hard, given how much I despised said original game; and while I'm keen to admit that my total lack of expectations may have played a role in my ultimately positive opinion of SG0, I also think that this game is genuinely better than its predecessor and fixes a good number of issues that ran rampant in said predecessor. (SPOILERS ahead!)
Better plot: One of SG's biggest flaws was its unwelcome focus on romance, which weakened the overall story on top of introducing uncalled-for diversions. It was just aggravating to be force-fed all that fluff and fan-service, when the fate of the world itself hung in the balance and characters should have been focusing on something — anything — else than romance. In SG0, romance is all but forgotten, and the grim future awaiting the world in the Beta world line takes center stage: Okabe gets to feast his horrified eyes on the famed Third World War, which definitely knocks some (much-needed) sense into him. Needless to say, I lapped up that newfound, unwavering focus on the dangers looming ahead; and while I absolutely despised SG's dumb, immature, horny-when-he-shouldn't-be Okabe, I found SG0's subdued, thoughtful, spanked-hard-by-life Okabe much more likeable — and relatable. And since I'm mentioning Okabe, it's worth noting that he's not the main focus of the story anymore: while he was part of pretty much every scene in SG, SG0 treats us to plenty of scenes starring other members of the crew — sans Okabe. Last but not least, the ad hoc epidemy that plagued SG is blissfully absent from SG0 — as shown by that single telling example: while Faris is granted Reading Steiner out of the blue to solve a narrative bind in SG, several characters gain it gradually as part of an overarching plot development in SG0.
Better routes and endings: One of my main beefs with SG was the arcane quality of most endings, especially the True one. Route triggers were frustratingly unclear, and the game had the sheer audacity of requiring not one, but several flags for the True Ending. I can safely claim that I would never have witnessed said True Ending if not for FAQs, and I'm confident I'm not the only one. Fortunately, progression flows much more smoothly in SG0: triggers are delightfully obvious, and there is but a single flag required for the True Ending — a flag that you just cannot miss, given that it's part of another ending required to gain access to the true one. Not only are endings much easier to attain this time around, but they are also much more cohesive and constructive. While SG delivered mostly filler, 'cul-de-sac' endings that left characters stranded and didn't connect to the bigger picture, every single of SG0's endings contributes to the building of the plot. This time around, our experience as players mirrors the characters' experience in the game: just like them, we travel through world lines, experiment with triggers and accumulate the necessary knowledge to ultimately reach Steins;Gate. Okabe's Reading Steiner is akin to us remembering former routes, and his time travel is akin to us replaying the game and avoiding pitfalls.
Better characters: Everybody gets a new lease on life, with established characters gaining a welcome depth and new ones being thoroughly developed. Rintaro acts like an adult this time around and not like a horny teenager, and Daru's pervy quips come across as welcome attempts to lighten the mood. Maho is awesome and probably the most interesting and nuanced new addition, and her amazingly deep and complex relationship with Kurisu goes way beyond usual VN standards in the matter. Daru and Suzuha's ever-growing father-daughter bond is totally believable and incredibly touching, and one of the sweetest developement in SG0 — I swear I was nearly brought to tears by some of their interactions. Suzuha herself cements her status as one of the most haunting characters in the series and gets some truly iconic and striking moments, and crazy b*tch Moeka gets her character ever-so-slightly redeemed. Even Kurisu, who is absent for most of the game, manages to shine and leave an deep imprint — in fact, I daresay that she's even more memorable than in SG. The only important character that gets put on the back burner somewhat is, ironically enough, Mayuri; however, that kinda makes sense in the context of the story. Not only is she not privy to Okabe's angsty world line endeavours in SG0, but it also makes sense that after choosing the Beta world line to save Mayuri, Okabe would then focus more on what he lost in the process — namely Kurisu.
Of course, I would lie if I deemed SG0 perfect. We're still dealing with a flawed game: the story is a mite unclear and confusing at times, it's still too packed with eye-rolling fan-service, and it still dabbles too much in narrative conveniences and emotional porn. (Pray tell, why does Kagari look so much like Kurisu? I expected some juicy filiation to come up at some point, but it seems that her unlikely looks are really just there to tug at Okabe's heartstrings and make his predicament even harder.) The True Ending should have been more fleshed-out, and not just a mere chapter at the end of an already played route. The game should have solely used new character art, instead of clumsily blending old and new character models.
But when all is said and done, I liked that game despite its flaws. It really should have been the template for the original game; and as it is, it fixes said original game and the series' lore as a whole an awful lot. Sure, there are casualties involved, as SG's True Ending is made the one and only valid outcome and all other endings are deemed null and void in the process — but hey, they sucked anyway, so no big deal. I actually like to think that SG's True Ending, complete with the SG0 intermission, is the ultimate canon in the SG universe; and I would even be inclined to replay both games successively to enjoy the full experience, if not for the fact that I pawned my copy of SG long ago. And with that, dear fellow gamers, I'm done with my praise of SG0, a.k.a. The Game That Reconciled Me With The Series. Thanks for reading as usual, and drop by anytime!