PS2 REVIEW: STEAMBOT CHRONICLES

Atlus serves up a slice of life proving that indeed, Trotmobiles are the wave of the future. Or is that the past? by Vaughn Smith

May 23, 2006 - You've got to be in the right headspace for Atlus and Irem's Steambot Chronicles. If you're a twitch gamer or one that can't stand any down time between explosions or headshots, clearly Steambot wasn't created with you in mind. As the Menu screen will tell you, the game is " A relaxing non-linear adventure". You'll also hear the menu screen advertise the game: "This is one groovy tale....STEAMBOT CHRONICLES!" "Be a bad guy if you want....STEAMBOT CHRONICLES!!" I could listen to those voices all day.... Especially the guy who screams "STEAMBOT CHRONICLES!!" Personally I prefer the Japanese loosely translated name which is Junk Action Romance Bumpy Trot, as the title Steambot Chronicles does absolutely nothing for me.


Your story begins when you awaken on the beach, having been found lying unconscious by a girl named Coriander or Connie for short. You're suffering from amnesia, although your name is revealed to be Vanilla. From this point, it's up to you entirely how you want to react and what you want to do with your life. You can be a good guy or a bad guy, although that's ever so slightly misleading. You can be a "bad guy" as far as that has been defined in the world of Steambot Chronicles, where even the bad guys aren't really so bad. Irem does give you free reign in regards to even the most innocuous conversation choices, but don't imagine yourself becoming the ultimate darklord, ripping the innocent from their beds and tearing their spines out. Ultimately the townsfolk you irk with your bad attitude will just think you're a jerk.

Getting around in this strange land requires the use of Trotmobiles, which apparently have replaced the old-fashioned cars you'll see scattered around the world. Trotmobiles are bi-pedal mechs which can be used for transportation, farming, construction and yes, even evil! You'll come across one of your very own early on in the game and as you progress you'll be able to customize its parts, colors and plates which are completely dependant on which ones you'll either purchase, find or earn.

Trotmobiles figure quite heavily into the overall scheme of things so you won't be able to avoid using them. You'll be required to drive them from town to town and you'll often be forced to battle enemies with them. Coming to terms with the controls can be daunting at first, but a helpful tutorial on Trotmobiles is available from the menu screen. Using a two analog stick control configuration for movement with both arms (used for combat or picking up objects) are controlled with R1 and L1 shoulder buttons. Jumping and Boost are mapped to the R2 and L2 butons as well. Anyone who has played Katamari Damacy will probably have a much easier time overall controlling the Trotmobile, although during intense battles it's quite easy to get overwhelmed and confused by the controls. Luckily there's a battle arena where you can hone your skills so you'll be more prepared for the challenges that lie ahead. Since this aspect of the game is of utmost importance, you're ability to control the Trots will be in direct proportion to how much enjoy your time with Steambot. While controlling your bot during a one on one battle isn't necessarily too bad, when you're faced with larger battles you'll quickly realize your lock-on target ability is more for keeping your target in your sights than it is for actually targetting your opponent with long range missiles and other projectiles. This means you'll most likely have to get up close and personal with larger "bosses" which is problematic to say the least at times. This can definitely lead to some frustrating battles - which can't be ignored - not only due to having to replay them over and over but the travel time from your last save point can also be quite tedious.

The game does live up to its promise of non-linear adventure as you can spend your time farming, battling other trots, going on quests for people, playing in a band or stirring up trouble. There are some frustrating limitations in the towns, since you'll either only be able to go around on foot or have the Trot set to auto-pilot - which means killer rampages are out of the question. I'm not sure why Irem felt it necessary to auto-pilot the Trot around town, since you'll be forced to sit and wait while your mech waltzes you over to your destination, waiting for stoplights along the way. It's the video game equivalent to watching grass grow and should have been implemented differently. If you desire to become a musician and travel with Connie and the Garland Globetrotters, you'll have to spend some time practicing your instrument(s). You'll start off with a harmonica and upgrade from there. Practicing takes the form of a music/rhythm game where you'll need to press the corresponding face button on the PS2 and either hold it or press it when it enters the zone. Unfortunately the music you'll play borders on the lamest possible MIDI music ever, which won't motivate you to practice.

As mentioned customization of your character and the Trotmobile can while away the hours the further you get into the game. You'll locate items in trunks hidden around the world - in barns, outside, in houses - and even though you're a "good guy" you won't think twice about taking them and most of the people won't even notice that you did. You can pause the game at anytime with the triangle button and view items or change clothes from the inventory screen. Saving your game generally requires you to look for a place to park your Trot and they are fairly numerous so that you won't ever be too far from your initial destination if you have to restart. My advice is to always stop and save whenever you're given the chance. Sort of like that old adage " Never pass up an opportunity to use the bathroom."

Character-wise Steambot Chronicles is a little too "non-threatening" and the people you'll interact with come off as quite bland, including Vanilla. There are attempts at drama but you won't find anything here on par with the pathos or angst of Final Fantasy. That being said, there's nothing particularly wrong with that especially if younger players are going to give Steambot a whirl. Just take note that the game is rated T for Teen due to some situations and cartoony violence. The non-threatening nature of the game carries over to the visual representation of the characters as even the thugs are a little weak in the knees.

Since the game is a borderline RPG, you can expect a lot of voice-acting which runs the gamut in terms of quality, the same of which can be said for the background music. Far too much reliance on MIDI quality instruments which cheapens the overall appeal of Steamboat. If Irem's reasoning was to create an auro of "old school" RPG background ambience, they succeeded only too well as Steambot just seems dated because of it.

Visually the game doesn't nearly capture the graphical charm of Kingdom Hearts II (which is the same price at $49.99) as the game is rife with bland, repeating textures, towns with no personality, hazy horizons to reduce draw distance....all things that you'd expect from a first generation PS2 game which Steambot Chronicles resembles in many ways. Of course, you don't play a game like this for the glitz and visual pizazz, but for $50 it sure doesn't hurt to have some. Had Atlus put Steambot on store shelves for $29.99 it would make the game far more appealing and easier to recommend to any other group other than the niche market it's aimed at anyway.

Steamboat Chronicles is far from the perfect adventure, but it does manage to deliver on its promise of entertainment value although I'm quite sure $50 is far too steep for the priviledge of living Vanilla's life for awhile. Many aspects of the game become tedious after awhile, but once you get past the 6 hour or more mark, there is a lot more to do in terms of story and adventure. As I mentioned at the outset, you either have to be in the right headspace for this one or really be craving a "relaxing non-linear adventure". Much of the game felt like Harvest Moon to me and I found the pace sometimes a little too laid back for my taste. Unlike other "sandbox" titles which focus on the violence you can create, Irem really just wants you to explore the world they created and have some fun. In that sense Steamboat Chronicles might just be what the gaming doctor ordered.

By Vaughn Smith
CCC Site Director

Rating out of 5
Steambot Chronicles (PS2)
3.0
Graphics
Definitely not a looker, but good enough for this style of game.
3.5
Control
Once you finally nail the Trotmobile combat controls, everything will fall into place.
2.5
Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The music quality really brings this one down. It's not the music is bad, it's just that it sounds bad due to the MIDI-like instrumentation. Voice-acting is passable.
4.0
Play Value
It really is a non-linear adventure for the most part. You won't be able to get downright evil, but the many gaming choices invites you to experiment with your actions.
3.9
Overall Rating - Good
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.
 
System: PS2
Dev: Irem
Pub: Atlus
Release: May 2006
Players: 1
Review by Vaughn

Review Rating Legend
1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid
2.0 - 2.4 = Poor
2.5 - 2.9 = Average
3.0 - 3.4 = Fair
3.5 - 3.9 = Good
4.0 - 4.4 = Great
4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy
5.0 = The Best