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Posted on Jul 27th 2018 at 08:00:00 AM by (Disposed Hero)
Posted under Review, SNES, RPG, Quintet, Enix


We've all been there.  We scour forum posts and YouTube videos for 'hidden gems' to add to our collections like old men searching for rare coins with a metal detector.  Whether we actually play them or not is secondary; just owning them is satisfaction enough.  One game that invariably appears on every Super Nintendo RPG Hidden Gems list is Robotrek, an obscure game from the creators of such classics as ActRaiser and Illusion of Gaia, but is it deserving of being called a gem, or should it remain hidden?



Developed by Quintet and Ancient and published by Enix, Robotrek was released in Japan on July 8, 1994 and in North America on October 1, 1994.  Released under the title Slapstick in Japan, it was intended to be a light-hearted and humorous game designed for a younger audience.  Robotrek sold poorly at the time of its release and was met with mediocre critical reception.

Set on the peaceful and subtly named planet of Quintenix, a group known as The Hackers begins causing trouble in the town of Rococo.  The main protagonist (who is named by the player) learns that The Hackers are looking for his father, Dr. Akihabara, for their own sinister purposes.  It is later discovered that the ultimate goal of The Hackers is to find the Tetron, a mysterious stone that grants its wielder the ability to control time.

The story is meant to be a light-hearted romp, and the game does not take itself seriously at all, for better or worse.  However, Robotrek is one of the most poorly written and/or translated games I have ever played (and that's saying a lot if you've played any of Quintet's other games!), so any impact the story attempts to have is often undermined by its script.  I feel like the building blocks for an intriguing story are here, but the execution is so flawed that I remained apathetic towards the plot for the entire experience.  This ultimately just feels like a game whose story serves only as a vehicle for the gameplay and to get the player from one point to the next.


I'm not sure if this is the most egregious example of bad translation in the game (or any game, for that matter), but it has to be close!

As is common with RPGs, exploration is a large part of Robotrek's gameplay.  There are only a few towns in the entire game, but they all include townsfolk to talk to, some of which are required to trigger events to progress.  There are also shops, but most of what they sell can be crafted by the player or dropped from enemies.  The world map is extremely linear and works similarly to the world maps in games like Super Mario Bros. 3/World, Shovel Knight, etc.  There are quite a few dungeons in the game, and many of them are quite large.  The dungeons themselves are typically well-designed, however the game often forces you to backtrack through them.  Goals are not always well-defined either, meaning you might be left wandering aimlessly until you perform a specific obscure action that triggers an event that will allow you to progress.  Fortunately there are no random encounters and enemies are visible on the map, so you can attempt to avoid them if you choose.  It is also possible to save almost anywhere outside of battle, although certain rooms within dungeons will prevent saving.

Unlike most of Quintet's other offerings, Robotrek features a turn-based battle system that is reminiscent of Pokemon, albeit a bit more simplified.  The main protagonist summons one robot to the battlefield to fight on his behalf against up to three enemies.  The battlefield for each encounter is grid-based, meaning your robot will need to be moved next to an enemy in order to execute a melee attack, although there are also ranged attacks that can be used from a distance.  The primary methods of attacking include using melee weapons, guns, and bombs.  Guard and Escape commands exist as well, although I found Guard to have little to no effect on damage received.  The protagonist can also spend a turn using an item or calling the current robot back and sending in another.  There is also a fuel gauge that works similarly to the ATB bar in certain Final Fantasy games.  Attacks will expend a certain amount of fuel, and you must wait for your robot's fuel gauge to fill before acting again, creating a sort of 'risk vs. reward' system.

One interesting aspect of the battle system is the ability to combine any of the three previously mentioned attacks into 'Programs' which a robot can execute during their turn.  These three attacks can be mixed into any combination, and while the results of some combinations are obvious (using a melee attack three times will cause the robot to swing their weapon three times), I wasn't able to see the logic behind some of them.  It is definitely a cool system overall that makes the combat much more interesting than it would have been otherwise, I just found it to be a bit unintuitive.  For anyone looking to play this game for themselves, I would highly recommend checking a walkthrough for some sample Programs that can target multiple enemies in one turn, otherwise battles tend to become quite long and tedious.  In fact, completing battles quickly is encouraged due to a timer that counts down from the start of the battle, and finishing the battle before the timer ends grants a small experience bonus (referred to as Megs in the game).


A typical enemy encounter.

It is also worth noting that the difficulty can feel quite unbalanced at times.  As long as you are properly leveled and using effective Programs, combat will be a breeze for most of the game.  However, particularly later in the game, you will encounter certain types of enemies that hit like a truck and take little damage from attacks and/or have a high evasion rate.  You will also encounter enemies that are resistant to certain types of attacks and more susceptible to others, which is fair enough, however sometimes these affinities feel completely unintuitive.  For example, I never understood why some enemies were weak against a single attack from a melee weapon but resistant to a Program that executes three strikes of the same melee attack, or vice versa.  Late game bosses also hit hard and have a ton of HP, which is true of most games, but these battles would devolve into a rote pattern of Attack-Revive-Attack-Revive every time, rendering them fairly unexciting.  By the end of the game, all of my stats were maxed (except HP which has a much higher cap than other stats) and I had the best equipment in the game, so I don't see how this pattern would be avoidable.  Just be sure to bring along plenty of healing items!

Customization is also an important aspect of Robotrek.  You can create up to three robots during the game, and their stats can be manipulated however you choose.  Each time you level up, the game awards you with ten points for each robot to spread among the stats of Energy (HP), Power (Strength), Guard (Defense), Speed (Accuracy/Evasion), and Charge (Fuel charging).  This is a neat system that allows you to customize each robot for specific roles, such as a powerhouse or tank.  However, I was a bit disappointed that it was not possible to create entirely different kinds of robots with varying designs, but perhaps my expectations were set too high for a game from this era.  Instead, all three robots look exactly the same except for color, and their only distinguishing characteristics are stats and equipment (and not even stats once you max out all of their attributes).  There is also a crafting system that allows you to create equipment, consumable items, and important items that are required to progress.

Elements of Robotrek's visual presentation will be familiar to those who have played some of Quintet's other games.  The familiar text font that Quintet always uses is here, and certain character sprites look like they were ripped straight from Illusion of Gaia.  Enemy sprites usually vary between ridiculous and uninspired.  The color palette is nice, and Robotrek is a nice looking game overall, it just seems a little bland.  The music is mediocre at best, and the battle theme will quickly grate on your nerves.


Although it is a bit bland, it still looks nice.

While I wouldn't call Robotrek a bad game, I do think it warrants the mediocre review scores it received upon its initial release, and it feels more like a missed opportunity than anything else.  It ultimately just feels rushed, but it is certainly an interesting game with many unique gameplay elements that I wish would have been built upon and refined in a better produced sequel.  I was surprised to discover that this game was one of Quintet's last games released during the 16-bit era (only Terranigma came after); it feels more primitive than its predecessors in many aspects.  I was able to look past the game's faults and really enjoyed it for about half of my playthough, but I don't feel like the game is interesting enough (or good enough, for that matter) to sustain itself for its entire length, which usually takes about 25 hours for most players (rough guess since there is no in-game clock).

Robotrek is a game that I find hard to recommend.  While I honestly believe that your time would be better spent on better games, it does have a small cult following that you may agree with, and I can't deny that it does some unique and interesting things that make it worth checking out, at least for a few hours.  For anyone who starts the game and finds that they are growing tired of it, I would recommend just stopping because it doesn't introduce many interesting ideas after the first few hours, and it is unlikely to renew your interest.  Original Super Nintendo cartridges of Robotrek tend to sell for about $50 on the used market.


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Comments
 
Nice review good sir!  I have had this game in my collection for a few years and it's one that I've always wanted to play.  I think that the sort of sci-fi theme is what appeals to me most as I really enjoy similar games like Secret of Evermore. Hate to hear that it might not be as good as advertised by many over the YouTubes, but one I'm still willing to check out down the road.
 
Very in-depth review! Were I a SNES owner, versus a Genesis owner, during this time, and also, were I more of an RPG person growing up, the sci-fi theme would have appealed to me as well, and I might have been drawn to this one.
 
Thanks for reading, guys!

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