Steambot Chronicles: Battle Tournament - Staff Review  

Some Chronicles Are Best Left Unread
by Phillip Willis

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Sony PSP
Less than 20 Hours
- Bland graphics and locations
- Boring enemies
- FedEx quests
- Poor controls
- The game is short.
+ It's over with quickly.
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   Steambot Chronicles is one of those games which reach across genre lines to appeal to a wider number of gamers. Steambot features plenty of RPG qualities such as character development, story, NPCs, etc. Money is used to upgrade the steambot much like one may spend XP or “attribute points” to upgrade character statistics in many other RPGs. However, combat is a decidedly of the third person action variety. These elements together certainly give the game an action RPG type feel.

   Steambot has three main components. First, the player will spend quite a bit of time in town, talking to various NPCs, collecting quests and information. The Steambot may also be repaired and upgraded in town. Next, players will run around town and the surrounding wilderness to complete tasks. Most of these tasks, especially those outside of town, will require use of the steambot. Furthermore, enemy bots tend to hang out outside of town waiting to pounce, requiring some fighting, or quick running, on the part of the player. Finally, there is a coliseum in the middle of town where the player faces off against a series of enemy bots in order to reach higher ranks. This may seem voluntary at first, but in order to progress the story and finish the game, earning the highest rank is necessary.

   Reinforcing the idea that this game is more of an RPG than anything else, one of the quests allows the player to explore a large, dungeon-like ruin. The challenge there comes not from the difficulty of the enemies, but rather the set up of the game itself. Since it is not a pure RPG, there is no inventory outside of spare steambot parts, which can only be switched in the town garage. In the dungeon, therefore, the player cannot buy or carry restorative items. After five floors or so, most players will find themselves extremely low on health, with no way to remedy the situation. Additionally, the extremely bland textures and layouts of this dungeon will quickly bore most RPGamers before completion of the first run through.

This is one secret they can keep! This is one secret they can keep!

   In order to collect money (necessary to upgrade the steambot) and fame points (a necessary criteria for advancing ranks in the coliseum), one must complete quests. A vast majority of the quests are of the simple, FedEx variety. About half of the time spent in game will be running from point A to point B doing various tasks for the citizens. To make matters even worse, many of the quests are copies of one another. It is not uncommon to run out to a certain point and pull grapes off of some trees for someone, and later receive a quest to do the same thing (albeit with slightly different wording). There seem to be a number of jobs to choose from, but the reality is that there are very few locations to go visit. Usually, on the way to any quest outside of town, enemy bots will attack. Defeating these bots can be satisfying, but quickly gets boring after the tenth trip through the same zone. There is too small a variety of enemies and areas to visit, even for a game that really does not last much longer than ten hours. Furthermore, few people play a game with giant robots expecting to spend a majority of their time cutting trees. The quests are simply uninspiring.

   The story comes off as a bit dated. The main character arrives in town on a steambot, and saves a lady under attack by some thugs. The lady is a steambot mechanic and quickly becomes a friend, and personal mechanic, to the main character. Throughout the game, a bit more is revealed about her, and a few other key townspeople. While working through the story, the main character is attempting to earn his or her ranks in the coliseum. Not only is the story completely forgettable by the player, but it seems forgotten by the developers as well. During the middle of the game, there is very little said about the main plot at all. Suddenly, towards the end of the game, everything is spelled out and wrapped up through a prolonged series of cutscenes.

Orion City - FedEx Orion City - FedEx's new hub city.

   The gameplay mechanics themselves also leave much to be desired. The steambot is expectedly a bit sluggish. However, some maneuvers are so slow as to make them completely useless. Other moves are overpowered and hard to block, making them easy to spam over and over for easy wins. The combination of controls to pull off some of these moves feels like a fighting game at times, which will frustrate some RPGamers. Given how many buttons are available on the PSP, it just felt unnecessary to map some of these moves to certain difficult button combinations. After winning in the coliseum or by doing quests, money is awarded which may be used to upgrade the steambot. While not required for most of the game (due to the inherent gameplay weaknesses mentioned above), upgrades do help for some of the more difficult fights where different tactics are required. It is satisfying to buy new parts for the steambot, completely changing not only the way it fights, but also the way it looks. Despite this, the gameplay itself is simply not compelling.

   Graphics are a mixed bag. The main town hub is wonderfully done, and looks as good as some of the better PS2 games out there. There’s also little doubt that the main steambot looks great, especially after swapping out some parts and customizing the colors. However, the dungeon, most outdoor areas, enemies and coliseum environments come across as bland and overused. If more time and attention were put into these areas, it would certainly make a huge difference. The sparse music and sound effects were done well enough. The voice acting is generally pretty good. Most gamers will skip past it because of the weak story behind the dialogue, however.

   Overall, this offering from Irem is quite disappointing. The occasionally good graphics, and the promise of fighting with fifteen foot tall, steam powered bots will pull in a number of people. Just about every other element of the game, especially the mundane array of quests offered, just feels uninspired and frustrating. After eight hours with this game, most gamers will feel they just completed a shift at their job. However, they had to pay for the right to run through all of these boring quests (in buying the game) rather than getting paid. Bad RPGamers can expect to receive this game in their stocking if Santa runs out of coal this Christmas.

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