WARNING: ONLY CONSIDER READING "THE DISTANT VALHALLA" AFTER WATCHING THE ANIME OR READING THE ORIGINAL VISUAL NOVEL.
One of the more interesting facets of the Steins;Gate universe is its dystopian future, the events leading up to it, and the particulars of the conflict between SERN and the citizens who wish to reclaim their freedom. There is enough potential in the narrative to craft a visual novel or anime just as long as the originals ー a standalone story that adds depth to existing characters, brings in new ones, fleshes out the universe further, and brings more weight to the original story. I dare say it even has the potential to succeed the original work. That said, it's a rarity that any piece of media in the vast Steins;Gate universe even touches on this dystopian future, let alone delves into any real depth. Perhaps the creators intended to engender suspense and intrigue by setting this future up as loosely and vaguely as possible, one day hoping to cash in on all of that build up by creating a full-blown sequel (or prequel) to the original work. Whatever the reason, "The Distant Valhalla" is one of the rare few that bring the dystopian future into focus, which immediately grabbed my attention.
Coming in at just about 40 pages, "The Distant Valhalla" is a short glimpse into the consequences that Okabe and co. find themselves face-to-face with, a year after they failed to prevent the rounder raid in the Alpha Attractor Field. This 'novel' does more than any other S;G work to explore the uniiverse's dystopian future, but it remains unfortunate that the bigger picture is still largely vague. While it does answer a number of crucial questions and fills in a few gaps in the original narrative, many events and pertinent details aren't touched on, with a lot of things still up in the air after the read. But let me get one thing straight here: "The Distant Valhalla" is predominately a suspense and character piece; it takes place directly before *everything* happens and sends the world on a downward spiral, heading towards a dystopia, but it also pays much-needed respect to the heart of Steins;Gate: it's characters. You're meant to be on the edge of your seat when you are re-introduced to these characters now painted in a much darker shade, as you gradually learn more about the predicament they've found themselves in and how the major events in this novel provoke significant change in these characters, making them who they are by the end of 2025. In those respects, "The Distant Valhalla" excels greatly.
By the end of "The Distant Valhalla", not a lot has taken place, but much has been accomplished. Questions have been answered, context has been given, emotions have been toyed with, characters have changed forever, and Steins;Gate's dystopian world seems to edge ever closer to the reader's heart, shadowing it in suspense and anticipation. Sometimes suspense bleeds into certain scenes being drawn out, but it serves the novel well for the most part. The Steins;Gate universe is vast, with many manga adaptations, Drama CDs, novels, two Visual Novel spin-offs and even an anime adaptation. Fortunately, it's not at all difficult to figure out how to navigate your way through all of its media ー as long as you've seen the anime or read the original visual novel, you can easily pick up any other piece without getting lost. However, I recommend that, before anything else, you read this novel. It's quick and easy to pick up and read through, and it will likely answer some of the questions that bugged you about the dystopian future in the anime. If you're looking for context, "The Distant Valhalla" is your best bet; a novel you can finish in a half hour. It's short, doesn't get overly ambitious and does exactly what it sets out to do, developing a number of interesting threads and weaving a few new ones.