When it comes to 5pb, Mages and Chiyomaru Studios’ Science Adventure series, some games get more love than others. We’ve seen Steins;Gate appear fairly often, with updated releases and spin-offs localized, but other entries haven’t appeared globally. Robotics;Notes Elite is Spike Chunsoft’s effort to right that wrong with the release of one of the more interesting and approachable installments.
Akiho Senomiya has a goal. She wants to build the robot her older sister started working on. Except, well, she’s a high schooler in a robotics club whose only other member is Robotics;Notes Elite’s protagonist, Kaito Yashio. (And really, he’s only there because of his dedication to Akiho.) As you might imagine, this puts the club in a precarious position and makes funding an issue. The two have to win Robo-One, a robotics competition, to essentially exist and get the money they need.
Kaito must step up as a pilot, with the robot using controls from the Kill-Ballad fighting game he’s mastered, and help make Akiho’s dream a reality. That means recruiting a ragtag group of fellow students to the club and cause. As you might expect, they exist in a world where other major activities and events are brewing. After Kaito discovers a strange report suggesting the world is in danger, he and his friends might find themselves involved in greater, grander things.
As with all of the Science Adventure visual novels, Robotics;Notes Elite takes a science fiction concept and runs with it in directions you would and wouldn’t expect. A group of high schoolers love robots and mechs. They live in a world where creating such mechanical marvels is feasible. So the school club tries to make it happen and win a competition to ensure its continued existence. You know, it seems like the typical anime trope.
Except it is more than it seems. Which is also par for the course for series where somehow kids can be a deciding factor in global events. All of these games lure you in and present you with unexpected depth and drama. Even the ones that prepare you by introducing more dark, futuristic, and scientific elements early in the story can surprise you. Robotics;Notes Elite is one of the more subtle cases and still manages to be fresh and defy expectations. If you’ve played Steins;Gate, you will notice a lot of the same agencies, characters, and technologies are present. (Daru is a major character in its sequel, after all.) It begins nonchalantly enough, but the reports you’ll find and backgrounds you’ll uncover have such nuance and unexpected twists to them. Bear in mind that it does get very dark at parts, so know going in that while its Teen ESRB rating referenced the sexual content and fanservice elements, other violent and mature content comes up.
But that’s not what I’d warn anyone about with Robotics;Notes Elite. To be honest, someone coming to this visual novel knows what the line of games is like. What I’d caution them about is how often it alludes to one of the games we didn’t get: Chaos;Head. While every entry can theoretically be enjoyed on its own, some are better at standing on their own merits than others. Robotics;Notes Elite is a fantastic visual novel and has the same sort of glossary as other games, but it assumes you’ve done the homework before coming to class. I’ve played Chaos;Child and various Steins;Gate entries, so I was prepared and loved it. But I could see someone who isn’t familiar getting lost in some of the routes and later portions when the game gets technical.
Also, it follows tradition by having an unconventional means of dictating your route. You look at Twipo tweeps, essentially Twitter tweets, on Kaito’s mobile device. When you pull up the PhoneDroid, you can get Geotags, scan people and things and open Twipo to respond to people’s messages. Depending on where you are in the story, you can see different messages and potentially respond. For those who played Steins;Gate, its very similar except you aren’t sending emails or making calls. But, if someone is familiar with more traditional visual novels, you’ll miss a lot if you aren’t letting yourself get immersed in the experience. The result is a game that can feel really natural and similar to real life, if you let yourself get involved and treat Kaito’s phone like you would your own.
But on the plus side, even though it does have required reading involved and requires you to pay more attention than a more traditional visual novel due to its choice system, I also think its one of the more approachable Science Adventure games. These are heavy titles. A lot is happening and the twists really hit you in ways that you don’t expect. Kaito is a more likeable and approachable protagonist than Chaos;Child’s Takuru Miyashiro or Steins;Gate’s Rintaro Okabe. This version of the game has detailed character portraits and art and a fantastic presentation that mimics mechs and video games.
Robotics;Notes Elite is an immersive visual novel that does its best to bring you into a world where it really feels like a group of teenagers can not only build an impressive mech, but make a difference in the world. We have characters who are well written and dealing with all sorts of challenges, while still occasionally getting chances to occasionally be teenagers. It’s continuing the Science Adventure tradition of having subtle means of guiding the story, unexpected takes on the floundering school club genre and twists into territories you wouldn’t expect. The only downsides are it really does require some prior knowledge of the series’ world and formula, but odds are anyone interested more known understands what they’re committing themselves to.
Robotics;Notes Elite is available for the Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4 and PC.