Confession time: I originally hated Rintarou Okabe. I found the protagonist of Steins;Gate obnoxious and unrealistic at the outset of the adventure. It kept me from getting hooked on the adventure from the outset. Gradually, I grew to love him, but I didn’t connect to him in the way I did Mayuri, Kurisu, and Daru. It was only when he dropped the act and his character was more fully developed that Okarin become more approachable. With Steins;Gate 0, that exploration into his psyche and evolution as he deals with and resolves issues spawning from the bad ending of the original game makes Okarin even more interesting and compelling.
Kyouma Hououin is completely absent at the outset of Steins;Gate 0. The Okarin we’re reintroduced to isn’t melodramatic, won’t make up fantastical stories, and us setting realistic goals for himself. He wants to live for Kurisu and carrying out her work at Victor Chondria University. He’s getting involved with university events, being helpful and dedicated. He hasn’t visited the Lab in quite some time, though there are other motives for avoiding the place where his schemes and machinations once took place. On the contrary, he’s actually rather humble. This is a Rintarou Okabe that is well aware of his limitations. He recognizes and acknowledges the existence of people who are better than him, suggesting Kurisu was his superior. He’s putting forth effort to become a better person.
This is also seen in Okarin’s willingness to accept help. Steins;Gate 0 doesn’t shy away from the after effects he’d experience after his time traveling excursions and reading Steiner. He’s a broken man who is in therapy for post-traumatic stress disorder. But, who knows how well the therapy is or isn’t going, given that he can’t truly open up to his doctor. He even ponders this conundrum as he meets with Mayuri to visit the Lab and see some people, like Luka and Faris, who he hasn’t encountered in months.
Speaking of the Lab, it’s home to one of Okarin’s triggers. Given everything he’s had to deal with in Steins;Gate, it’s easy for him to be overwhelmed when reminded of the horrors he’s lived through. Suzuha is one. She wants him to try and save Kurisu to set things right. She’s willing to go to great lengths to try and coerce him into helping accomplish her mission. The sight of her incapacitates Okabe. Interactions with Amadeus Kurisu have a similar effect, especially when references to the original Kurisu come up. Steins;Gate 0 isn’t afraid to show us someone who is vulnerable. It doesn’t shy away from forcing us to deal with his own anxiety, depression, fear, and anxiety. We go through these things with him, which helps us understand why he is the man he is now, and not the posturing, over-the-top, Chuunibyou we saw in Steins;Gate.
It also means we get to see Okarin come back from the edge. As satisfying as it was to see Okarin grow into someone we could better identify with in Steins;Gate, somehow it’s even sweeter to see him recover in Steins;Gate 0. We see him come to terms with what happened to Kurisu, realize what his life is like, and grow even further as an individual. In almost every ending, Okabe is coming to terms with the tragedies he’s faced. We’re basically watching a man suffering from survivor’s guilt and PTSD who still isn’t completely clear of the nightmare he faced. As he connects with Amadeus Kurisu and begins finding reasons to live again, he finds reasons to move forward. One of the best satisfying moments comes in the true ending when we see a Rintarou Okabe who has come full circle and is coming back into his glory.
With Steins;Gate 0, we’re seeing Rintarou Okabe coming back from the edge. The game begins with him in a place where we’ve never seen him before. He’s seen and experienced terrible things, and now has to live with knowing he couldn’t save one of the people who mattered most to him. This forced him to mature in Steins;Gate and has made him consider his own mortality and reality in Steins;Gate 0. With our decisions, we help him interact with Amadeus Kurisu and deal with the aftermath in ways that may or may help him grow even further. Perhaps he’ll even recover completely, if the right moves are made. It’s an interesting journey where we get to see him rally in a believable way.
Steins;Gate 0 is available for the PlayStation 4 and PlayStation Vita.