Release Date: May 23, 2006
In many games, there are barriers that prevent the experience from being more open-ended. You see a door, and although it may be just for decoration, you want a way in. There's an attractive character in the game and, as strange as it sounds, maybe you would like to date her. This and more can be yours in Atlus' Steambot Chronicles.
Right from the start menu, Steambot Chronicles describes itself as a "relaxing non-linear adventure." Of course, what this means is that while there is a main storyline to follow, there are many side-quests you can do to make the game more personal.
When the game begins, your character, Vanilla, is dazed and confused on the beach. You can't remember how you got there, and you begin to feel lost. Once you are discovered by a girl named Connie, you begin your quest on recovering your memory. On the way, you and Connie find a trotmobile stranded in the water, and you decide to take it as your own. Because Atlus included a tutorial mode independent of the game, you magically know how to control this foreign machine.
In the tutorial, you go through a series of tasks to learn the mechanics of the trotmobiles. It controls much like Katamari Damacy, as it uses both of the thumbsticks for movement. However, the dual-stick controls are a lot more rigid than anything seen in Katamari. You'll feel yourself fighting with the game just to make your trotmobile go where you need it to. Aside from movement, you use L1 and R1 for fighting, L2 for a boost, R2 to jump, and square to lock on. You can also press L3 and R3 simultaneously to pick up an object and either use it as a weapon or throw it.
Probably the best part of Steambot Chronicles is the fully customizable trotmobile. You can change arms, legs, grills, frames, and much more. The arms are usually either close-range weapons, like drills and fists, or long-range weapons, like cannons. A lot of the parts raise attack or defense or have some kind of functionality, but others are strictly for aesthetic purposes. In fact, at one point, I had a cuckoo clock as my grill. You can also change the color scheme and deck out the license plate with your own drawing, and this is only the beginning of the customization in Steambot Chronicles.
Throughout the game you will find and buy a plethora of clothing. Be it farmer or cowboy, you can personalize your adventure and dress up as whoever you want to be. Unfortunately, unlike most RPGs, this change of attire does not really affect your game at all. One would think that in-game clothes would be both aesthetic and functional, but in Steambot, it's all just for looks.
Later on, you will also have the opportunity to rent out an apartment and adorn it with furniture, posters, and more. This is much like the room you may have had Pokémon Stadium: it was fun to collect the items, but it ultimately served no real purpose.
To add even more uselessness to the mix, you have to constantly keep your character fed. This fact is very hard to avoid, because the hungrier he gets, the slower he runs. Having to buy food really is a drain on your money, but once again, doesn't add anything to the game but delay the inevitable slowness.
During your travels, you will find an abundance of musical instruments ranging from harmonicas to guitars. Each instrument is played in a different and unique way, and as you progress through the game, you earn new songs to play. You can earn money with these instruments by playing them in street performances and in gigs with your band.
Steambot Chronicles also offers many other ways of making money. You can use your trotmobile to excavate fossils and sell them to the museum, or you can play billiards against different people to win money. These options are just some of the many ways this game lends itself to being non-linear. Nevertheless, as open-ended as this title may be, it suffers from agonizingly slow gameplay.
After a while, the sluggishness of Steambot Chronicles becomes to be a real problem. When traveling by trotmobile normally, you can go at a nice steady speed by constantly using the boost. However, once you are in a town, trotmobiles are treated the same as cars and buses and have the sit in traffic just like the best of us. If I wanted to sit through rush hour traffic, I would go out and get in my own car. I don't play games so I can sit and wait. Traveling in towns is seriously worse than the sailing in Wind Waker.
However, once you park your trotmobile, traveling on foot is not much better. Vanilla doesn't run too fast (especially if he's hungry), and there are long load times between each area. You can use the public transportation, but that doesn't get you around the problem of traffic. The sluggishness does not even end there.
When playing Steambot Chronicles, you will fear any instance where there might be a cut scene. The characters' conversations are so dreadfully slow, it literally feels like the voice actors were just reading their lines for the first time. The dialogue was simply unbearable.
While the sound was nothing of any praise, the graphics were not much better. The black outline of each character looked cheaply done, and the backgrounds of each area were so bland that it was difficult to tell the scenery apart. When traversing the town, I wasn't sure whether I had passed a certain corner or not, and I had a constant feeling of déjà vu. If there were more differentiation between the areas, it could have been a lot more immersive.
Steambot Chronicles was a great idea that just wasn't realized to its full potential. You have everything customizable, from clothes to trotmobiles to jobs, but it is ultimately brought down by slow gameplay. If I weren't pulling out my hair while playing this game, it would've been a bit more enjoyable.
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