Review by Vylian Li
Flawed but Decent.
Steambot Chronicles is one of those low-profile games that Atlus usually brings us, Westerners, because no one else is going to license it and otherwise it'd remain in Japan until the end of time. It's a decent game, and while flawed it does provide a relaxing, semi-linear adventure.
That's right, it's a semi-linear adventure. It isn't really a sandbox game like it claims to be on the back cover. You're constantly being herded to go into a particular direction, be it a particular destination or to meet a particular person. It isn't even open-ended in the GTA sense, where you can do almost ANYTHING you want to in the beginning, except visit the other cities; instead it forces the player using story-based events to form a path that goes forward but never backward.
First, we'll start with the graphics. They aren't pretty, this is no Final Fantasy 12 we're looking at. The characters are a bit too blocky, looking like an average game from the middle ages of the PS2. The lip-syncing is usually off and NPCs are continuously cloned from the same vat so that you'll run into a guy that wears the same brown jacket, the same brown hat and the same brown shoes over and over again.
But there is a shining star however, the trotmobiles (automobiles that walk) are all cell-shaded and look quite good when compared to everything else. In fact since this'll be your only transportation (aside from walking and biking) you'll be seeing quite a lot of it.
The game revolves around you, a boy named "Vanilla Beans" (crazy isn't it?) who wakes up on a beach with amnesia, when a girl named Coriander (or Connie) finds him. A strange trotmobile fires a missile which knocks a boulder down from a cliff blocking the only exit. With no where to go, Vanilla notices a nearby trotmobile...
And the game sends you off. As a boy with amnesia you can't recall who you are, or where you come from (duh...that's the definition!) so then, how would you normally respond to a question? How would you greet someone you've never met before?
You choose how to, you're usually given a few choices as to how to handle things. Want to be a total jerk? Go ahead, there's a choice for that. Want to be the nicest guy on the planet? Go ahead, there's a choice for that too. In fact, the game will remember what your choice was, it'll record it down into a little notebook for review later, and of course the choices you choose will affect certain events later in the game. While there are some choices where it doesn't matter what you choose, some are so pivotal that everything may change.
The gameplay is probably the most hectic thing to write about, since there's just so many things to do. For a good half of the game you'll find yourself travelling with Connie's band the "Garland Globetrotters" and playing along in their performances. There's a pretty wide selection of instruments to play with, ranging from the initial harmonica to a trumpet to an accordion.
Each instrument plays a bit differently, whereas the trumpet only requires the use of the left analog stick the piano uses both the directional pad and the triangle, square and X buttons. The instruments range from being ridiculously easy to play to being just plain frustrating, of course you can always go back and practice.
The controls are where most people get extremely frustrated, walking is easily done with the left analog stick for Vanilla and the right analog stick for the camera. However when it comes to the trotmobile, both analog sticks are used, essentially one for each foot. To move forward push both sticks up, move backward hold both sticks back and to turn juxtapose them. It is a bit tricky to get used to but that's what the tutorial is there for.
Locking on is done with the square button (but really, it isn't all that useful), the L1 and R1 buttons control the left and right arms respectively, depending on the weapon equipped. L2 and R2 are used for boosting and jumping, which unfortunately drain the gas tank.
Oh the gas tank, walking in the trotmobile drains the gas tank, while boosting and jumping REALLY drain it. Gas is usually not a problem, since it's cheap to refill and enemy trotmobiles usually drop some when defeated, however if it does reach zero the trotmobile's speed is reduced by half...and it wasn't really fast to begin with!
The nice part about the trotmobile is the fact that they're so customizable, you can change the arms to the body, the legs, grill, windshields, the back frame (for flatbeds or carriages) to the colors of the trotmobile and even the small license plate of sorts.
Money is generated by either helping with the museum (where they pay for fossils or artifacts YOU find), playing with the band, wagering in trotmobile arena battles, duking it out with trotmobiles outside the city limits. Provide a small bus service for a fee, or try your luck with the stock market. Heck, you can even go and play on the street and hope to generate some tip!
But that's not all, you can do some trading, buying or stocking up with goods in one area and going to another area and selling it for a higher price (thus generating profit).
There are a total of three endings in the game, depending on the path you choose. Be a hero or join a gang and try to rule the world. Both paths are fun and enjoyable.
Steambot Chronicles usually takes around 20 - 30 hours to finish, however with all the things to do this'll most likely get pushed to 50 hours or more. This review has just hit the tip of the iceberg when it comes to things to do, and while the game does sound like a blast it does fall short on some aspects.
Whenever in town, there are usually a lot of shops to visit for supplies and the like, but they're in different parts of town. Normally it should be pretty easy to get from one to the other (which it is) but travel in the trotmobile is purely computer controlled, you only get to select a designated destination. Not only that but as a vehicle on the road you have to obey the traffic signals, red means stop and green means go.
But that isn't the worst of it, for some crazy reason every city (there are three) is split into different areas, and when crossing the border between one part and the next you have to get past load times, which aren't too long but still annoying nonetheless.
The time changes too, whenever you enter a city or go into a certain map the time may change from either Morning to Noon to Evening to Night to, wait that's where it ends. Night doesn't change to Morning without resting, so if you don't rest, it'll be an endless night time, forever!
An interesting little tidbit to add is the title system, where based on certain actions people will start referring to Vanilla as "something." For instance, Vanilla can be the "Stuffed Arachnid" if he eats too much and uses the Spider Legs as the leg part for the trotmobile.
It isn't particularly exciting, it doesn't look amazing, the controls are clunky, travel in the city is annoying, and there are many more problems I've more than likely overlooked. Still, if you're looking for a game that's a fun, relaxing enjoyable ride, then look out for Steambot Chronicles, otherwise known as "Bumpy Trot" in Japan. Give it a rent, you won't regret it. Just give some time to get used to the controls.
Rating: 4.0 - Great
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