Review by Sky Render
Get ready for... Steambot Chronicles!
Steambot Chronicles (or Ponkotsu Roman Daikatsugeki Bumpy Trot, for Japanese version purists) is a curious little offering from IREM, a company mostly known in the US for the R-Type series (and in Japan for pinball games). Unlike most of their games, Steambot Chronicles is an action RPG at its core (some would even argue an action/adventure game, since you don't gain levels, strictly speaking). But as is becoming the trend for video games over the last few years, to limit the genre description of Steambot Chronicles solely to its primary focus is misleading. This game has far more in it than just that: instrument playing, fossil hunting, trading, escorting, all sorts of odd jobs, and (of course) a main storyline. What makes the game so appealing is not just that there's so much to do, but that it's also actually fun to do most of it.
The visuals in Steambot Chronicles aren't exactly high-detail, but they do get the job done well. The Trotmobiles especially look good with their cel-shaded graphics, but character models are a bit rough in comparison. Environment visuals are very impressive, too, particularly the water effects.
Sound and Music: 8/10
The sound effects I have no beef with, as they're all quite appropriate, and none of them are especially annoying. The music is perhaps lacking in complexity, but it's used well (if sparingly). The vocal tracks (and there are a number of them) are fairly decent, though the lyrics sometimes sound a bit forced in trying to match the beat.
This is the area where games should shine most, and Steambot Chronicles has gameplay in spades. The basic combat system involves battling with usually humanoid machines called Trotmobiles; you get your own almost from the get-go, and can customize it to your liking. Controlling it will take a little getting used to for some, as it requires both analog sticks, but players of Katamari Damacy and We Love Katamari will feel right at home in no time (though a warning to those who have played these two titles: you have less forward-angled movement control in this game than in Katamari games!). How easy or hard combat is is derived largely from your tactics (and your enemies' tactics). For most of the game, you can pretty well count on using mid- and long-range weapons to dominate slower foes, and dodge-and-toss tactics to deal with the faster ones. Of course, that doesn't mean that short-range fighting isn't an option, but it's far more effective to fight at a distance or with stealthy tactics than by going head-on into battle.
Outside of the main combat engine, there is also a rhythm-and-dance-style instrument playing system, where you time button presses (and button holds) to play music. Fortunately, the game doesn't just toss you into this system without giving you a chance to practice; you can always practice a song before you're expected to perform it, by selecting the instrument from the Item menu. It's a pretty well-designed and forgiving system, for the most part, and only a few of the instruments are particularly tricky to learn to play well. You can technically get by only ever playing the harmonica, actually.
Besides these two primary systems, there's a few sub-systems too, like trading goods such as iron between cities, playing billiards at bars, transporting goods for merchants between cities, and digging up fossils to sell to the Nefroburg Museum. These systems are mostly optional, and generally provide a nice diversion from the main game.
It's only fair to point out the flaws in the system, of course. Controlling your Trotmobile can be a task and a half (even if you are used to it), and losing target lock during a fight is usually fatal (unless you're really fast in reallocating your lock, that is). Some opponents are especially difficult to dominate, mostly because they either use the hit-and-run or dodge-and-toss tactics mentioned above against you, or because they've got a very inconvenient weak point. All things considered, these flaws are pretty minor, and can be dealt with.
The story's fairly original, though it does employ some cliches to drive the plot along. You take up the role of the amnesiatic Vanilla, who is found by Coriander (aka. Connie) on Seagull Beach. The story moves on from there in a fairly unpredictable manner, with the occasional "saw that one coming a mile away" moment. The most interesting part of all of this is that you can actually influence how the others in the story perceive your character, in the form of what responses you make. Wanna be the world's finest gentlemen? No problem. Prefer being greedy? Can do. Wanna be a jerk instead? That's an option. Though these choices, by and large, don't change the story, they do add a nice little touch that adds a bit more replay value to the game.
The story does have a branching point, it should be noted, but this point lets you go either way, no matter how nice (or mean, or greedy) you were before then. It's a nice touch, but also a bit disappointing that you can't have more influence on what happens. Also a bit disappointing is how short the story actually is; it's possible to get to the ending within 10 hours, if you rush. Fortunately, the massive number of gameplay options ensures that you're not stuck with following the plot this way.
Replay Value: 9/10
There's a lot of replay value in Steambot Chronicles. Not only with the two differing story branches, but also with the absolutely huge number of potential dialogue choices, leading to all sorts of unexpected and quirky conversations. Add on top of that the bonuses unlocked from winning, and you have a game that's bound to get a few runs through the PS2.
Suggested Audience: Action RPG fans, action game fans, "sandbox game" fans
This game should have a little something for fans of any of the three mentioned genres above (especially the last one). Definitely not recommended for people who prefer tamer, more strategic and pensive games, as this game expects you to think and act on the fly.
If you liked any of the following games, you might enjoy this one:
- Dark Cloud/Dark Cloud 2
- Katamari Damacy/We Love Katamari
- Prince of Persia: Sands of Time/Warrior Within/Two Thrones
- Grand Theft Auto 3/Vice City/San Andreas
NOTE - This game is much tamer than GTA games, but has the same idea of wide open gameplay as they do.
Buy or Rent? Buy
There's enough to do in this game that just renting it probably won't give you enough time to appreciate everything it has to offer. Plus, as mentioned in the replay value section, this is the kind of game you'll find yourself yearning to stick back into your PS2 at a later date. Might as well save yourself the repeat rental fees and buy it right off the bat.
Overall: 9/10 (rounded up from 8.65/10)
(Overall score weighting: 60% gameplay, 15% graphics, 10% music/sound, 10% story, 5% replay value)
Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
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