Robotrek - Staff Retroview  

Robotrekkin' Across the Universe
by Mike Moehnke

Click here for game information
20-40 Hours
+ Enormous customization options
+ Like nothing else before or since
- Difficulty is very unbalanced
- Inefficient inventory
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   Outside of the Dragon Quest series, Enix's RPG offerings were a fascinatingly eclectic bunch. Soul Blazer and Illusion of Gaia were rather unique action RPGs, ActRaiser put a platformer together with a simulation game, and E.V.O.: Search For Eden is like nothing else. Robotrek manages to stand out even in such offbeat company, for despite being an unmistakable RPG, it defies convention at every step. Not all of its innovations are successes, but the game is most assuredly a unique experience.

   Robotrek's combat is a unique mix of action-RPG, semi-tactical combat, and traditional, turn-based mechanics. The action aspect comes from a timer that counts down upon encountering enemies. If the player can defeat all of the enemies before the timer is finished, extra experience will be awarded. Capsules that are sometimes present on the battleground are also governed by the timer, as all of them will vanish once it hits zero. These capsules contain a variety of helpful and harmful things, and while opening them is something of a gamble, they are more of an aid than a hindrance.

   The tactical aspects to combat are many. The player's robots must move around the battlefield in order to engage the enemy, and their weapons have different ranges. The robots do not have unlimited movement abilities and sometimes will be unable to close in enough to use a melee weapon until their next action. Striking an enemy from behind does more damage than a frontal assault, which also applies to the player's androids. The weapons used by the player's team each require recharging, and until a robot is fully charged it cannot take another action. These elements could have been balanced a bit better, but the existing mix is fascinating to partake of.

   The rest of Robotrek's combat aspects are more traditional, though in 1994 still unusual. Enemies are visible onscreen and can be avoided. They rarely cough up money when the player is victorious, though they will drop useful items often. One very unusual ingredient to Robotrek is that, even after the player's robot team has more than one member, the cyborgs will only fight one at a time. If one is defeated, or the player manually makes a switch, another will take up the combat slot.

   Levels are gained as the robots kill things, but their statistics do not automatically increase. Instead, the player gains ten additional points to use on a robot at each level. These points can go into the Energy (what would be hit points in most other games) or any of the other individual categories: power, defense, recharge time, and speed. The flexibility offered here is fascinating, letting a robot be turned into anything the player wants.

That is what we call an annoying enemy that just won That is what we call an annoying enemy that just won't die why won't it die arrrgh!

   Upon creation, each robot will have four pieces of equipment at the most basic level. To upgrade that equipment, the player must go through an item creation process that combines two items into one. The items necessary to create good equipment are often sorely limited in quantity, and there is no way to break a fused item back into its constituent pieces. These gripes are not enormous, but will annoy anyway. A bigger gripe is the game's mandatory item creation animation. Whether it is the first time that an item is being created or the fiftieth, the player will have to watch the animation of its components being flung into a cybernetic blender, and this makes restocking inventory very time-consuming.

   Similarly annoying is the fact that weapons have nine levels of power. Constant use does nothing to level up a weapon. Instead, it can either be combined with another weapon of the same type (requiring that there be more in inventory), or the player must get lucky with the contents of capsules on the battlefield and unveil a few that increase equipment level. The difference between weapon levels is significant, and having strong weapons the key to survival in many instances, so this aspect is a bother.

   Robotrek's difficulty is highly dependent upon how much grinding one has done, along with the current equipment and its level. This is because, particularly in its later stretches, Robotrek's enemies are quite capable of getting a couple of critical hits and destroying a robot in seconds. Getting enough items to revive wrecked robots is not difficult, but it is quite time-consuming. Robotrek's bosses are not frequent, but they can be very dangerous unless the player has leveled enough to make their attacks miss sometimes. The solution to most problems is grinding, though the enemies are often strong enough to make that a problematic fix.

Crab abuse by children isn Crab abuse by children isn't a common theme in any RPG -- except this one.

   Robotrek's story is genial and unobtrusive, which is good since Enix's localization shows how much standards have changed in video games. While the gist of events is not difficult to understand, confusing grammar, odd word choices, and frequent too-literal translations from the Japanese make following along closely a chore. Divorced of the poor localization, the plot is unremarkable, with a mute young protagonist called upon to stymie the efforts of the not-very-sinister Hackers to take over planet Quintenix. The story does take some unexpected tangents later in the game, though their integration into the game as a whole could have been better implemented.

   Robotrek's sprite work may not stand out in quality over the majority of Super Nintendo releases, but it has a unique look that serves well. The game does not have a visual luster that causes it to stand above other SNES RPGs, but is nevertheless unmistakable. The music is also unique, with a whimsical style that sets it apart. The length of compositions is frequently insufficient to hold interest for constant repetition, and will grate on some. Yuzo Koshiro's name appears in the credits solely as a red herring, for he did not compose any of Robotrek's music.

   Robotrek is a game most suitable to replay with different equipment setups on the machines, assuming its many flaws are acceptable. The game had an enormous amount of potential and is still unlike anything else, but as with many innovative titles, quite a few wrinkles needed ironing out. It is quite enjoyable at times and maddening at others.

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