Steambot Chronicles Hands-On Preview (PS2)

Steambot Chronicles
Developer: Irem
Publisher: Atlus
Genre: Open Ended Action RPG
Release Date: 5/23/2006

Atlus sent me Steambot Chronicles and Metal Saga late last week. Mark B is covering MS, so I thought I’d chime in with a quick preview of the game.

Steambot Chronicles, known as Poncotsu Roman Daikatsugeki Bumpy Trot in Japan, touts itself as a non-linear RPG in which you can run around doing things other than killing bad guys for experience points. We’ve seen this before with games like Shenmue and Fable, but as you may recall, neither lived up to the hype put out by their respective developers. Both games received a large amount of praise from reviewers, but then they failed to appeal to the gaming public as a whole and were quickly able to be found on the cheapo rack in a matter of weeks. Beyond Good & Evil Syndrome I guess…

So what does Steambot Chronicles offer that sets it apart from Forklifts, 80’s Sega Arcade games or having sex with a wife and then murdering her in your own home?

Well from what I’ve seen so far, not much. Granted I’m only a few hours into the game, but so fare SBC is looking like “Generic RPG #486.”

You are playing as Vanilla Sparks. You wash up on a beach with amnesia, which is one of, if not THE, biggest cliches in video game RPG’s. A young girl named Coriander finds your unconscious and water logged body and revives you. Together you explore the damage strewn around the beach where you are found and it appears you were on a boat of some sort that was destroyed, perhaps by a strange blue missile launching vehicle you see briefly upon awakening. You do get to learn about Vanilla’s past (briefly) by choosing the optional tutorial, but if you found it as annoying as I did (more on that later), you’re better off skipping the tutorial.

Eventually you find a “Trot-bot,” which for all intents and purposes is a steam based mech of some sort. Of course, for some reason you use oil and gas to power your mech, pretty much showing it’s not a “Steambot” ala the name, but we’ll ignore that obvious “WTF” moment.

From there, you and “Corrie” attempt to get back to her home town, encountering evil gang members known as the “Killer Elephants.” You meet up with other characters, eventually learn Corrie is a member of a famous band in this world, and save her hometown from another attack by three Killer Elephant mechs. From there she leaves to the next stop on her tour, and you find yourself with the world at your feet. Do you want to become an excellent musician? You can do that. Do you want to excavate artifacts to help a museum? You can do that. Want to join up with the Killer Elephants? Again, it’s your call. After the first 2-3 hours of the game, there are a lot of paths open to Vanilla to pursue, with no real need to follow any one path as the “main” choice, but ultimately none of them are very fulfilling. Right now, I’m finding the most fun playing the Harmonica and Piano, as the controls for playing instruments is basically DDR on a control pad. I’m getting A’s on both instruments, but tips for street performing are lousy, so I’ll probably join a band soon. one thing is for certain, I’ll happily do loads of activities other than combat in this game, as I am NOT a fan of the Steambot controls.

Now, if you’ve been reading me for a long time, you know I love the Steampunk. My Sakura Taisen collection is pretty scary, even to my Japanese friends. Faseli is a game I keep hounding Sacnoth/Xseed to remake so that people other than the crazy few of us who own a Neo Geo Pocket Colour can enjoy it. But I find myself shuddering every time I have to pilot the Trot-Bot in this game. Call me crazy, but I found the controls for Steel Battalion more intuitive than they “use both analog sticks and constantly push buttons” controls of SBC. That’s not to say that combat is hard. In fact, it’s downright laughable how stupid the AI had proven to be in the game so far. The Computer controlled mech in the optional Tutorial is harder than every opponents I’ve encountered in the game so far. Combined. And that includes the first boss! Who knows, maybe they purposely made the tutorial crazy difficult compared to the rest of the game, but I have to tell you, I was amazingly annoyed by the time I finally finished off that mech. Then I became even MORE annoyed when it turned out a boss twenty-thirty times the size of my Trot-bot was easier and took less time than killing the tutorial opponent. I’ll give you one piece of advice though, when you get a free mech arm at the first garage you encounter, take the missile weapon. Ranged attacks are so powerful in SBC, it’s broken beyond description.

In all I can’t really give this game much of a recommendation at all. The graphics are lackluster, the controls and camera angles are often frustrating, but offset by the complete lack of any challenge in the game. The dialogue is insipid and uninspired, and although there are occasionally choices for your character to make morality and commentary-wise, they’re all pretty generic. The best thing about the game I can say so far is I absolutely love the opening. When you turn on the game and get “Get read for: STEAMBOT CHRONICLES” it just brought a smile to my face. If you let it run, it just keeps giving you different testimonials and/or commentaries on the game. All very cute. The voice acting is hit or miss depending on the character, with me really wishing Vanilla wasn’t so well…vanilla in personality and inflection. Still, I will admit the tutorial left me with a very bad first impression of the game, but the more I play, the more I am finding I am warming up to it, the characters, and the silly names and personalities within the game. It’s not going to win any RPG awards and probably will only get a 5-6 from me in the final review of the game in a few weeks. My best advice is to have you pick up any of the Sakura Wars games if you want an actual enjoyable Steampunk/Mech game in which you can also mack on ladies. If you want an English playable game offering something similar, go grab Vanguard Bandits for the PSX.

Steambot Chronicles is available for purchase in late May of 2006, and I’ll have a full review up here on Inside Pulse on May 23rd. Here’s hoping by the time that comes out and I’ve beaten the game, that I’ll have found things in SBC that erase my first impression and help to give the game a glowing recommendation. At this rate though It’s looking to be a bland game through and through.