The writing in this game is so good! I’m a huge fan of all of the characters. They are all my husbands and wives and children.
Rintaro Okabe, the POV character, is so wonderfully emotionally intelligent despite being so deliberately crazypants. He happily suffers from what the game calls “chuunibyou,” an internet slang term from 2channel subculture message boards around the time the game originally came out. Chuunibyou, or “eighth grade sickness,” refers to the sort of delusions of grandeur that can result from watching and reading too much heroic fantasy and science fiction.
(I definitely had chuunibyou all the way through high school, but I’m going to keep my power fantasies to myself. You’re welcome.)
Okabe’s particular chuunibyou delusion is that he’s a mad scientist named Houin Kyouma who is being hunted by an Illuminati-style worldwide conspiracy that he calls “the Organization.” He’s actually eighteen and a freshman in college, and he’s renting a small suite above an electronics store in Akihabara. He calls this “the Future Gadget Lab,” and so far he’s managed to come up with a bunch of junk that does nothing. He shares the space with his two “lab members,” both of whom are actually talented.
Itaru Hashida, or “Daru” (a nickname that references the word darui, meaning “slow, dull, stupid”), is a “super hacker” who genuinely is a super hacker. He’s also an adorable sweetheart who plays ecchi games, and the running gag associated with him is that, whenever one of the female characters says something that could be taken the wrong way, he asks her to repeat it. For example, when Mayuri says, “your banana is soft and squishy” in the first chapter, he gets really excited. Thankfully, he is otherwise respectful of the female characters, so this doesn’t come off as creepy. In terms of actual demonstrated achievements, he’s probably the most intelligent character in the game, and he also delivers a fair amount of exposition both on technology and on 2channel (called @channel in the game) culture.
Mayuri Shiina is the other lab member present from the beginning of the game. She’s a 17-year-old cosplay designer and seamstress whom Okabe has apparently known since the two of them were children. She’s also a kind-hearted person who currently seems to be functioning as the moral center of the game. Since she’s a major airhead, she acts as an entry-point character who forces Okabe and Daru to clarify their objectives and speak in plain language. Off-camera, she’s apparently a bit of a fujoshi, and she lives in Ikebukuro, which is every fangirl’s dream. I think that creating a timeline in which she doesn’t die becomes the player’s main objective, and I also think that her ending is the game’s default ending if the player makes all the obvious choices.
Kurisu Makise, the red-haired girl taking front and center on the game’s box art, is my absolute favorite, as I think she is intended to be. While Daru does a lot of the technical grunt work, Kurise gets to explain all of the cool science fiction concepts relating to time travel. Her voice actress nails this exposition, which is very cleanly written (and translated). In addition to being a 17-year-old genius who has already completed an undergraduate degree at an American university, Kurisu is apparently also a secret lurker on 2channel. She and Okabe initially rub each other the wrong way, but this is probably just so that their attraction to each other has a starting point from which to grow and develop. Although neither of them will admit it, they can’t leave each other alone, and Kurisu becomes the fourth lab member in Chapter Two. She’s not solely defined by her interactions with Okabe but also forms strong friendships with Daru and Mayuri.
“Kurisu” is a weird given name in Japanese, and Okabe calls her “Christina.” Like the English name, “Kurisu” immediately conjures allusions to “Christ” (“Kurisuto” in Japanese). I sincerely hope she’s not going to sacrifice herself and die horribly, but I wouldn’t make any bets against it.
Three other female characters get a nice bit of screentime in this chapter, but that’s all a bit spoilery, and so I won’t discuss it until later.
I know Steins;Gate intentionally contains moé game elements intended to appeal to the male gaze (which I’ll also discuss later), but for the nice thing about moé games is that they pass the Bechdel Test – especially in the original utility of the test, which was meant for lesbians (and other queer ladies) who want to ship female characters with each other. Steins;Gate is filled with female characters who talk to each other about all manner of things. They also shower together, dress and undress each other, and invite each other out on cute little dates. As one does.
Like I said at the beginning of this post, all of the characters in this game are my wives and husbands and children. Playing this game feels like spending time with real friends, and I anticipate being very upset when bad things start happening, as they inevitably will.
( Header image from the Steins;Gate wiki character list page )