IGN Review of Steambot Chronicles
Ever read "Choose Your Own Adventure" books when you were a little kid? The kind of stories that provided a basic storyline and let you decide how you were eventually going to tell the story? Every now and then you were also presented with choices and dialog trees that would influence how the tale would go, and each decision would also have repercussions. The same can be said for Atlus' latest action adventure/RPG hybrid Steambot Chronicles, a free form adventure in a quirky (and somewhat food obsessed) world.
Players take on the role of Vanilla Beans (I'm not making that up), a young man found amidst a shipwreck on a beach by a young woman named Coriander. Unfortunately for Vanilla, he's suffering from amnesia and has no idea where he might be or why he would even be near a ship. Shortly after Coriander (or Connie, as she's known to her friends) revives Vanilla, the pair are fired upon by an unknown assailant, who launches missiles into the cliffs above them. With debris blocking their path, Vanilla and Connie discover a discarded Trotmobile, a machine that's half mech/half vintage car, which easily removes the obstruction and lets them get on their way in search of the mysterious attacker.
At this point, it sounds pretty much like your standard RPG, right? A character attempts to find out who attacked them and why while at the same time looking for the secrets behind his mysterious past. Well, that's true - up to a point. What's somewhat different about Steambot Chronicles is that every person that you interact with will track the dialog choices that you make and evaluate them. In some cases, that will result in nicknames based on your outfit and your attitude. For instance, you could be referred to as the "Shocking Cowboy" because of your clothes and potentially how mean you've been to someone.
Depending on these nicknames, characters will be more willing or hesitant to offer you jobs, give you information, or even provide you with some unexpected turns to the story. As a result, you'll be able to join Connie and her world famous band, the Garland Globetrotters, as they travel from gig to gig, playing their songs and having adventures. You'll also have the option to completely abandon your newfound friend and take over the leadership of a group of bandits known as the Killer Elephants. This gang of pirates simply wants to reach the moon by any means necessary, including taking over towns to further their goals.
Apart from being able to decide your allegiances within the game, players will be able to engage in a ton of tasks as side missions or diversionary goals over the 25+ hour game. For instance, shortly after the game starts, Vanilla gets a harmonica, which is only one of the instruments that he can learn to play. With practice, you can play a number of songs that are presented in the game in bars, on street corners and at specific opportunities and actually get tipped for it based on how well you do. While the concepts are based around some rhythm-game based timing, you may find that some of the later instruments, such as the saxophone or drums, may be particularly tricky thanks to the number of commands that you have to put in and the less than stellar control scheme used to approximate playing each one. In fact, you'll swear that you timed a button press just right and you'll still fall flat on some notes. Vanilla will also have the ability to take on bar customers in pool games and even cook for other characters. You may even get a chance to get stock in a movie theater and make money off films that you find. As you can see, there's a large number of tasks that you can engage in on foot.
You'll also be able to engage in a variety of tasks with your Trotmobile, which you'll be able to customize at various garages scattered across the land for specific jobs. For instance, you'll be able to modify some parts to create a wide flatbed which you can load up carpets, fossils and people to cart from town to town. You can also equip new legs for extra strength and stability in some environments, and offensive or defensive arms for battle, such as cannons, shields and pickaxes. After you've tricked out your Trotmobile, you can enter it into an arena and smash your way through any challengers. Victories in these arenas will result in medals which can be redeemed for additional equipment. You may also find your Trotmobile hired out for shipping runs across wide expanses of desert as protection against bandits, or as an excavation tool against rogue Trotmobiles in ancient tombs.
As you can see, your Trotmobile is the sole way of engaging and defeating opponents, which is unfortunate because the control scheme of these machines is very sloppy for environmental navigation as well as effective combat, particularly amongst multiple opponents. With blatant parallels to the control scheme from Katamari Damacy, maneuvering your machine is done via the analog sticks. Using only one stick rotates you in place, so you'll need to use both sticks to move in any direction. This can be especially tricky when you're trying to maneuver across ledges and over bridges and outcroppings, which can result in accidentally missing your intended path because the controls aren't tight enough to respond to such narrow areas. The repetition of such areas is extremely frustrating because there is no way that you can remap this control scheme. Unfortunately, in battle you may discover that this lack of subtle mobility is an additional weakness. As some of the more agile or ranged opponents fight their battles from a distance, your Trotmobile can't accurately dodge or swivel fast enough to track them, leaving you vulnerable to attacks. Although you are given a guard, it's extremely weak and broken rather easily by enemy units.
You're also hard pressed at times to use the target lock function for battle, which can help you with projectiles and throwing objects, such as rocks, lampposts and even enemies into other opponents. However, even the target lock isn't perfect - it often selects an enemy that isn't an immediate threat, forcing you to divert your attention from maneuvering or blocking incoming attacks to the directional pad so you can switch targets. It can sometimes be so doggedly fixed on an opponent that the camera angle is obstructive to your view of battle or environmental hazards, which will place you in a precarious position. What's more, your Trotmobile's arms will sometimes freeze up in the middle of a combo, leaving you no other recourse other than to retreat and wait for them to recover. It's not a documented feature, and not one that is included in the tutorial as a potential side effect of trying to inflict a lot of melee damage on a target.
Steambot Chronicles does a nice job of presenting some engaging visuals. The trotmobiles appear to be wacky mixes of mechs, antique cars and even animals, and, in the case of some bosses, literally tower over the environment. The cartoonish presentation of character and mech models pop off of the screen in contrast to the environments, which are pretty generic. However, even these character models aren't extremely detailed, so the frequent slowdown that happens, particularly during combat, is unexplainable. It really sucks when you realize that you can blow up one enemy only to end up wading through multiple seconds of slowdown until the game catches up, and it's much more distracting that you'd expect. Fortunately, the voice acting, found throughout just about every single game, is good, and the music that's scattered throughout the title from the Garland Globetrotters isn't bad either. However, you may find that some of the music games don't necessarily do them justice when they're broken out by the various instruments you play.
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