home > review > Planes, Trains and...Trotmobiles? Steambot Chronicles Review
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ups: Customizations, gameplay, interaction
downs: movement issues, music, a few unclear objectives

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Planes, Trains and...Trotmobiles? Steambot Chronicles Review
game: Steambot Chronicles
four star
posted by: Amanda Bateman
publisher: Atlus
developer: irem
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ESRB rating: T (Teen)
date posted: 10:42 AM Mon May 29th, 2006
last revision: 10:44 AM Mon May 29th, 2006

Click to read.There are no blood and guts, the angst is minimal, but there are plenty of explosions.

Steambot Chronicles is not your usual roleplaying game. You don\'t have a party, you don\'t level up, and you don\'t have to equip armor or weapons...unless its on your vehicle. The title of this article is just what the game boasts; it is a laid back nonlinear adventure game.

I had a heck of a time trying to write a good review in terms of organizing it into a readable document. So it might seem like a collection of random thoughts as you read through this. Just keep in mind that Steambot Chronicles, like my review, has a LOT going on.

The player takes the role of Vanilla, a young man who was found in the remains of a crashed ship on a beach by the ocean. He is rescued by a pop singer of all people, and has only the clothes on his back, a harmonica, a strange red pendant, and a shoddy old Trotmobile. Vanilla sets out to cure his amnesia to find out who he is, and why he ended up where he did.

However, with so much to do, you just might lose track of the goal. But that is the point: Steambot Chronicles allows for tons of wandering around and taking your good old time advancing through the plot.

The player is able to develop many aspects of Vanilla\'s character, including personality, wardrobe, hair, alliance, romantic interests, and diet (so long as you have the UR to do so). As you talk and interact with people, you\'ll be given several choices as to how to respond to your friends and people you meet. You might mold Vanilla to be a sweet and polite gentleman, or you can make him a greedy and cruel villainous bastard. Clothing can also be purchased and hairstyle can be altered, changing the appearance of your sprite. You might want to dress Vanilla in a white suit with a sombrero, or swim trunks, pointy shoes, and a chef\'s hat. The hairstyles, while fewer, are just as interesting. You can get anything from a part to the side to a giant blonde Afro.

What you wear even effects how people react to you sometimes. Don\'t think the police will answer your questions if you come waltzing in wearing nothing but your swim trunks. Vanilla will get hungry as he runs around town, so you\'ll have to keep food stocked up for him to munch on, or else he\'ll move slowly and look ill.

I found these options quite enjoyable, especially the clothing and hairstyle choices. Rarely in a traditional Japanese RPG do you get to customize your character further than their battle stats. Shadow Hearts From the New World and other games have shown weapons changes, but I\'ve always wondered what all those equipped armor and accessory items looked like on my character, since it\'s hard to believe they can wear the same skimpy outfits all the time and barely feel pain. MMORPGs an American RPGs display your character customization more, but with better consoles coming out, I hope to see the trend catch on with import RPGs.

Vanilla\'s Trotmobile is also extremely customizable, which is more important to the game than Vanilla\'s appearance. (But keep in mind that maintenance of both operator and vehicle is essential.) Trotmobiles are the main source of transportation in the game. These walking robot vehicles consist of body, leg, arm, back, grill, and windshield frames which all can be changed and altered, provided you have the cash to do so. Some frames are more for decoration while others are for kicking enemy tail. Your Trotmobile can also be given a unique name, and you\'ll be able to choose its colors as well. Steambot Chronicles has a handy RGB color scale so that you can paint your Trotmobile any color you want. Those who are good with pixel art can take a stab at designing their own license plate, which allows the player to make up to four unique creations for use on their vehicle. However, if you\'re not the artsy type, there are plenty of pre-designed plates you can find throughout the game to use.

Since Steambot doesn\'t have a level up system, you\'ll have to make your Trotmobile stronger in other ways. Trotmobile arm frames are equipped with shields, swords, flamethrowers, cannons, buzzsaws--just about anything imaginable. Just remember this: if a part is expensive and has a high star rating, it\'s probably good. Some weapons can be found while exploring, others you can buy, and a few are prizes you can earn by completing arena fights. Creating a good warrior also depends on knowing which parts work together. Lighter Trotmobiles move faster and are harder to hit, but bigger Trotmobiles can handle heavier frames and weapons.

The only bad thing about all this purchasing is realizing that most of the time you don\'t have enough money to splurge on that sniper arm frame or to buy that thousand-dollar dress for a friend. Like in real life, gas and vehicle maintenance seem to suck your wallet dry of all extra money. There\'s even a point in the game where gas prices skyrocket due to oil resources being taken over by the bad guys, which puts a serious crunch on your gas budget.

There are ways to earn extra cash, though. One way is to perform on the street. Vanilla starts out with a harmonica, and you can practice just about anywhere your Trotmobile is parked. If you play well, the spectators will throw you tips. You\'ll be able to obtain more instruments as time progresses as well as sheet music. The songs aren\'t chart-topping hits, but it\'s a nice change of pace and lines your pockets with a little more money than you had before. If you play well enough, you\'ll even get to join your friends\' band at a later point in the game. You can also earn money doing jobs for people. You can use your Trotmobile to mine fossils and sell them to the museum, or you can turn your vehicle into a public transportation service and carry travelers from one destination to another.

This is just a tip of the iceberg. I could go on and on about the game\'s features, but you really just need to see it for yourself. You may find something I missed completely, that\'s just how \'non-linear\' this title is.

Over all else, YOU decide what happens.

Gameplay gets an A-. Before you begin, you can complete a helpful tutorial which shows you how to operate and fight with the Trotmobile. This way, once you get started with the story, you can just continue on without worrying about walking into a rock wall first time through. The handling of the Trotmobile easily becomes second nature once you\'ve mastered it, so don\'t be intimidated by the many different input commands. There are some instances where, despite low or no damages, I wasn\'t able to rotate or move at all during enemy fights, making evasion almost impossible. A lot of games don\'t handle camera features well, but Steambot manages to maintain good angles all throughout the game, and still allows the player to zoom and change views. Advancing through the plot can also be a little confusing at times, especially when you\'re not sure who to talk to or what action to take next. The game is open-ended, yes, but when that gets boring for the time being, it\'s nice to know where to go so you can move on with the story. I was pleased that the game keeps a diary of Vanilla\'s travels, so you can look back and remember what happened and which side quests you still need to complete.

The graphics are decent. They\'re cute, clean, and smooth, and fit well with the mood of the game. There were some instances where there just wasn\'t enough lighting or contrast in some environments to tell where I was going. It\'s very easy to get lost in Steambot Chronicles, even if you use the map. Getting lost is part of the fun, but it can be frustrating finding a garage or pit stop when you have a sixth of your gas tank full and a shred of HP in the middle of a forest of evil Trotmobiles. If they make a sequel, I would suggest creating an option to carry gas tanks with you so you can refuel and repair, should you find trouble. Enemies drop gas when defeated, but sometimes your Trot isn\'t prepared to stand up to a stronger enemy, and has to run away. The music is cute and light-hearted, but I really disliked the lyrics. If I have to perform their songs, at least make one of them worth listening to. I have no complaints with sound other than they should have kicked down the title screen introduction a few notches. It\'s rather startling. The Cuckoo Forest can also invoke a headache if you stay there too long. But these are just nitpicky things.

It doesn\'t have dark demons from the underworld or psychopaths or anything really dark and twisted, but Steambot Chronicles is a worthy contender in the RPG arena. As I mentioned to my friends, it\'s kind of like watching a dozen gory and violent rated-R flicks, then popping in an episode of Sesame Street...and enjoying it. But hey, we all could use a change of pace every now and then, even with video games.

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