Find out which version of Steins;Gate is the best place to start!
Steins;Gate is a fantastic story that has more than earned its reputation as a modern classic. Whether you're looking for a comedy, a sci-fi thriller, or an emotionally gripping character drama, Steins;Gate is the anime for you! Of course, anyone getting into it for the first time will have to make a difficult choice: which version do you start with? Steins;Gate began as a visual novel and was later adapted into an anime, so there are two versions of the story to work with. Having seen the anime multiple times and played through the game, I firmly believe the best way to experience the story of Steins;Gate is to watch the anime first, and then play the game!
For those who aren't familiar with it, Steins;Gate is the story of Okabe Rintaro, a self-proclaimed "mad scientist" living in Akihabara. While tinkering with a phone and a microwave, Okabe accidentally invents a time machine and gets drawn into a world of conspiracies, desperately trying to undo the mistakes caused by his experiments and hopefully fix the timeline in the process.
Both versions of the story are excellent in their own right, but take different approaches that complement each other perfectly. Both have a somewhat slow start; the meat of the story doesn't come until around the halfway point. The anime covers this in about twelve episodes, but the visual novel spends more time fleshing out smaller details and takes longer to reach that point. This isn't necessarily a problem since the early parts are important for building investment in the characters and world, but it does mean that the anime gets to the meat of the story faster and takes less time to really hook its audience. That said, the game's more deliberate approach to the setup portion is perfectly suited to its medium.
The first half of Steins;Gate is mostly Okabe and his friends in the "Future Gadget Lab" working to figure out how their accidental time machine actually works and how they can expand it. The series goes into a lot of detail on the exact science behind it (which is heavily inspired by real scientific theories), but not all of this makes it into the anime. The anime gives more than enough information for viewers to understand what's going on, just not as much as the visual novel does. This approach lets it explain the important details without getting bogged down in exposition, allowing the anime to get to the more exciting parts faster than the visual novel. Since visual novels have more time to tell a story, the game is able to give you all the details the anime skims through and flesh out exactly what makes the time machine work. Playing the visual novel after you watch the anime lets you revisit the story, but in a version with even more detail, while watching the anime after playing the visual novel would be less enjoyable since it's the same basic story with less detail. This doesn't just apply to the science, either; the anime also streamlines the story itself to improve the pacing.
There are spoilers in the following paragraph, so please keep that in mind as you proceed reading it!
Doing a 100% faithful adaptation of the visual novel would require at least twice as many episodes as Steins;Gate actually has, and the result would end up being too slow-paced to work. To fix this, the anime trims down parts of the story that aren't completely necessary so it can focus on the most important parts. This isn't particularly noticeable since the anime does a good job of knowing what to cut and what to keep, but it would stick out and likely be distracting to someone who has played through the game first. Side characters like Feyris and Ruka both get their due in the anime, but their role is far larger in the visual novel since it has so much more time to flesh them out. For comparison, each of them got one episode out of twenty four in the anime, while they each got one chapter out of ten in the visual novel. (This is where the spoilers are! Beware!) This treatment isn't unique to them, either. The anime covers details like Kurisu's relationship with her father or Mr. Braun's reasons for helping Moeka in enough detail to understand the important aspects, but the visual novel covers these points in far more depth. You get to learn why Kurisu had such an aversion to time travel theory at first, why Mr. Braun worked with SERN in spite of seeming like a kind person, which makes the story even more compelling than it already is. The anime already does an excellent job of getting viewers invested in the characters, so that makes the visual novel's reveals all the more impactful for it. Starting with the anime lets you get invested in the characters through a more accessible version and then learn far more about them as you play through the visual novel, while the same can't be said for playing the game first and then watching the anime.
In addition to getting more attention, the visual novel has separate endings for most of the supporting cast. Depending on your choices at certain key moments, you can get endings for Suzuha, Feyris, Ruka, Mayuri, and Kurisu. Additionally, there's a true ending hidden behind six blink-and-you-miss-it choices that you have to get right to unlock it. The anime covers the true ending, but doesn't take anything from the other endings, which branch off from various points in the second half of the story. While the true ending is undoubtedly the best of the six, each of the others is compelling in its own right and well worth experiencing for anyone looking for more Steins;Gate. Playing the visual novel first gives you all of the story, so the anime doesn't have anything to add. Conversely, watching the anime first gives you the core story that you can then learn even more about by playing through the visual novel afterwards.
While both versions are great stories, Steins;Gate works best if you watch the anime first and then play through the visual novel. The anime is more accessible thanks to its faster pacing, while the visual novel goes far more in-depth about the supporting cast and the science behind Okabe's time machine, and that's not even counting the multiple endings that aren't covered in the anime. Watching the anime first lets you get into the story faster, and then learn even more about it when you play the visual novel later. Watching the anime before you play the visual novel gives you more Steins;Gate to enjoy, and who wouldn't want that?
Skyler has been an anime fan since he first saw Naruto on Toonami in 2005. He loves action shows and strong character writing, and finds writing about himself in the third person awkward. Read more of his work at his blog apieceofanime.com and follow him on Twitter at Videogamep3.