Catching Up With 2009: Steambot Chronicles: Battle Tournament

Here we are in week four of Catching Up With 2009. It has been nearly a month since I started this column, and trust me, I’ve still got a ways to go before I’ve fully caught up with everything. I even ventured over to a new Gamestop in my area and picked up about six games, several of which will likely end up in future editions. If I’m not careful, I’ll be running this column straight into 2011!

Now last time, I teased that this game would be an Atlus title and that I may not end up liking it. That isn’t to say that I have a general disliking for all Atlus games, but rather that I usually don’t enjoy them as much as I would another game from another publisher. The big exception here is the Trauma Center series, which I absolutely love on the DS. (Although, to be honest, I really suck at them.) I’m guessing this feeling has more to do with the fact that most of the Atlus games I see lying around are JRPGs, which I very rarely get into. I checked the other day, and I’ve beaten very few of the JRPGs I’ve played, even if I liked them. I played something like twenty hours into Final Fantasy VIII and then just stopped. I enjoyed the story, the world was just opening up, and Triple Triad was one of my favorite things ever. I just couldn’t finish the game!

The same kind of thing has happened so many times that I’ve lost count. The best example of this is that I have almost every numbered game in the Final Fantasy series. I’m missing IV and XI. To date, the only ones I have finished are VII and the Final Fantasy remake on the PSP.

Worst of all, I have Chrono Trigger for the DS sitting on my shelf, and I haven’t so much as popped the game in for a go. Even for someone like me, that is practically unforgivable.

Anyways, I still end up buying a surprising number of JRPGs. I think there is a part of my brain that really wants to get into the genre, but doesn’t know quite how to do it. Maybe through a column like this, I can get there someday.

Oh. I probably should have mentioned that the game for this week, Steambot Chronicles, is not a JRPG. I kind of went off on a tangent there. Whoops.

Ahem.

Let’s Catch Up!

What’s the Game?

Steambot Chronicles: Battle Tournament for the Sony PSP. This is the second game in the Steambot Chronicles series to make it to the U.S.

Who Made It?

Series developers Irem return to for the PSP iteration. They are most famous for the R-Type series. Atlus is the publisher. If you don’t know who they are, you’ve probably never played a non-Final Fantasy RPG,

When Did It Come Out?

Battle Tournament was released in the U.S. on June 30th of 2009.

Where’s the review?

Our own D.J. Tatsujin covered this game for us back in August!

Why didn’t you play it in 2009?

To be honest, I had never intended to purchase this game, let alone play it. I had heard a little about the first game on the PS2, but I wasn’t really all that interested. I guess I’m one of those few people who don’t get excited for mech combat.

Now you may be wondering why I would buy a game I had no real interest in. As I explained in my first column, I have a bad habit of buying games simply because they are cheap or something on the cover catches my eye. In this case, Gamestop was carrying the game brand new for only ten dollars. How am I supposed to pass that up?

It also helped that this was subtitled “Battle Tournament.” That just sounds cool to me. Anyways, this is one of those games that sat on my shelf for months. Occasionally, I’d get the urge to try it out, but I was always busy with another game that I had to review, or there was a new episode of Survivor Samoa to watch.

Games like this are exactly the reason I started this column in the first place. I have plenty of games to play. I don’t need to buy more. Normally, this wouldn’t stop me, but seeing as I’ve taken a great interest into this column, it’s helping me overcome my natural tendency to stop playing a game when I get bored. I’m actually finishing these things. If nothing else, it is helping me broaden my gaming horizons, which can only make me a better reviewer.

So What Did I Think?

The first couple hours of this game reminded me a lot of Mega Man Legends. You come to a new town to make your fortune as a trotmobile fighter. Basically, you drive a mech around and use it to complete jobs and win battles in the arena. You have a companion who serves as a friend and mechanic. (Not to mention a love interest, at least if you play as a male character.) The jobs you take part in are basic errands that local business owners need a trotmobile for. You deliver newspapers, chop down wood, and even help fight off a gang of trotmobile drivers. The money and fame you earn here are used to improve your trot as well as enter tournaments. The ultimate goal is to defeat the champion and take the crown for yourself.

It might sound pretty interesting, but what I’ve just described is the entire game in a nutshell. It is a seemingly endless grind for cash. When you’ve delivered a dozen newspapers and chopped down half of the forest for a lumberjack, you’ll get tired of it. There are plenty of enemies in the surrounding areas, but they don’t provide any challenge.

The real thrill of the game comes when you battle against other trots in the arena. There are somewhere around twenty battles over four ranks. What settles for level progression in the game is earning enough fame to unlock the next rank. There’s also a mandatory job you must take for each chapter.

When you’re battling, you have a few options at your disposal. You get two weapons to use, one for each hand. There are a host of weapons to buy and upgrade. They mostly fall into melee or long range weapons. You can lock onto enemies, boost for greater speed, and jump. Depending on what parts you have equipped, your HP, carrying capacity, fuel, and jumping power will change. Again, these can be upgraded in the shop. Battles largely revolve on moving to get a better position as well as finding ways to land your attacks without getting hit in return. As you might imagine, all kinds of combinations are possible and useful in different situations. I generally stuck to a long ranged weapon on my right arm and a melee on my left. Overall the combat is fun, though the action isn’t as deep as proper action games, nor the customization as deep as other mech games on the market.

The problem is that you don’t battle nearly enough. Most of your time is spent traveling in the areas around the city as you try and complete jobs. Moving around in the mech is slow and tiresome. The jobs are monotonous and uninteresting. Worse off, the entire game lasts only a mere six hours. If it can’t hold your attention for that long, it just doesn’t speak well for it.

In terms of the presentation, the game is intriguing. The town and the trotmobiles are rendered with a cell shaded look that is pulled off decently. The characters, however, are two dimensional drawings with simple features and bright colors. The combination is far from ideal. More importantly, the character portraits just don’t look all that good. They seem like something you’d draw for art class in middle school. The audio fares better, but isn’t remarkable. There’s a ton of voice over work that is better than the average game, but can still be annoying at times. The music is mostly unremarkable, but at least there are some nifty tunes when you switch from day to night.

Overall, the game isn’t that bad at all, but it fails to live up to what it could have been. The game is too short, the missions are uninteresting, and the presentation leaves you scratching your head at times. However, battling in your trot is fun. It just tells me that somewhere along the way, the developers lost focus on what made the game good. When you have to slog through hours of boring bits in order to get to the fun parts, something went wrong during conception.

What Score Would I Have Given It?

I’m a bit undecided here. On one had, the game wasn’t very good, but it wasn’t really all that bad either. The final score would probably be either Below Average, Mediocre, or Decent. Mediocre being right smack in the middle of those two I suppose I’ll go with that.

Would It Have Made My Top Ten List?

Definitely not. I’d even go as far as to keep it out of my top thirty, and I’m fairly certain that as we continue on with this column, it will keep getting pushed down. This kind of game just doesn’t click with me I guess.

How Much Does It Go For?

Here’s the good news. If you find yourself wanting to play the game, you can find it brand new for only ten dollars! If you find it used, it will probably only cost you eight! For some, this is a pretty darn good deal, especially if you get really into the game. If it were more expensive, I would have written it off, but for a measly ten bucks, I do feel as if I got my money’s worth.

Final Thoughts?

Steambot Chronicles: Battle Tournament for the PSP is a game I bought without knowing anything about it. Ultimately, my experience with the game proves why that kind of mindset is always a bad idea. Still, I’m glad I played it and I’m glad I didn’t rush to play it in 2009. If you like action RPGs, you might want to try it out. There is always a chance you’ll have a better time than I did. At worst, it will only cost you ten bucks!

Next Time: I go back to the DS to play a game where the evil warlord is actually the hero, and his lackeys are the stars.

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