Why did I play this?Why did I play this?

Posted on Apr 26th 2015 at 11:57:35 AM by (SirPsycho)
Posted under sandbox, irem, atlus, ps2, open world, rpg, action, customize

Steambot Chronicles, or Ponkotsu Roman Daikatsugeki: Bumpy Trot as it was originally named in Japan, is a Playstation 2 game developed and published by Irem in Japan, Atlus in North America, and 505 Gamestreet in a few countries in Europe. There is also a spin off on PSP named Steambot Chronicles: Battle Tournament, and an odd tie-in puzzle game on PS2 and PSP named Blokus Portable: Steambot Championship (one of only four games published by Majesco on the PSP in the USA).

A quick look at the back of the case of Steambot Chronicles shows the game being marketed as an open world RPG, and that is correct in a way. The game starts off as linear as any other RPG that's been made and then opens up. It's similar to the opening dungeon in Elder Scrolls, but drags on much longer. In this long opening sequence, you'll visit all three of the main towns, many of the back areas, and explore most of the world by the time it's completely opened up. Once an area is open, it may be visited at any time afterwards, and as a result, money can be hoarded this way.

There are times where the story in the game essentially halts and time will not pass no matter how many times you run in and out of a city (this is how time passes in this world). You can dig up all the big fossils on this very day if you desire, and make a massive amount of money. I did this, but then I lost it all on the stock market.....just kidding. However, there is a stock market in this game and your actions in sidequests can open more companies on the stock exchange! Other pieces of optional content can help and boost the price of other companies, so you can commit insider trading thanks to these options.

In the beginning, you wake up as an amnesiac survivor of a shipwreck, and a girl named Coriander runs over to basically save your life. The main character can only barely remember his name when he wakes up, and shows signs of obvious brain trauma. Coriander goes by the nickname of Connie for the game, and Vanilla's full name is Vanilla R. Beans. The rest of the main cast are also named for the many other ingredients you'd find on any aspiring chef's spice rack. Each character also has special talents and mechanisms they implement in the game. Vanilla uses a tossed out, junky Trotmobile, basically an early mech shaped like a classic car. Connie is the lead singer of the biggest band in all the land, the Garland Globetrotters, which you can actually join! There are many musical instruments in the game, and each one has its own rhythm game (some being offshoots of others).

These instruments range in difficulty, and I found mastering the harmonica, the instrument you start with, to be one of the more difficult. You can run around and play some pianos that are around the cities, and perform solo or with somebody on the street to make some pocket change. Being in the city does not advance time, but you can play the story concerts outside for an hour of real time to do so. By doing so, you can save up for stock options, more instruments, clothes, or maybe some furniture to jazz up your fancy, urban suite. Maybe that crazy painter Pablo has some nice paintings to decorate your walls? Don't forget to add food to your shopping list either, or else you'll starve to death! But, more likely, you'll lose the ability to run before you remember to feed Vanilla!

In terms of the music in Steambot Chronicles, I can't help but feel that the audio was woefully underfunded for a task this grand. I went through the game thinking and feeling that the instruments were all synthed, but it turns out that they were all done in a studio! There is a wealth of music for this game, but its spread out much like its world is. There are areas that are dead silent in the game, and the cities all have repetitive and looped music. The music changes depending on what time of day of it, but this leaves the countryside feeling empty. However, the lack of music made for those lone treks across the desert, made them feel that much more lonely. Why didn't the Trotmobiles have a built in radio? There's a suggestion for Steambot 2!

Steambot Chronicles has a lot of options for what basically amounts to a lower budget RPG from a company that was a far cry from its glory days in the arcade. Steambot suffers from intense slowdown in various parts of the world, which are technical issues that likely needed more time to be ironed out. Despite the world being open, most of the paths between the cities are funnels, so slowdown on these screens is experienced every time you run through these areas. It can be annoying, especially when you're locked in combat with a more dangerous Trotmobile.

Technical issues aside, Steambot Chronicles is a fulfilling game that has a lush and vibrant world compared to other titles of its time. The setting is one that feels like a politically fractured area in the early 20th century. Steambot's enemy design around human-piloted Trotmobiles makes this game feel unlike any traditional RPG, and more like a fun experiment courtesy of Irem's creative team. Irem themselves bowed out of video game development after the Fukushima disaster, since their only major title at that point was Disaster Report. Today they focus on their amusement machine market and are a big name in the powerful Japanese gambling market. There was early teasing of a sequel to this game in the year following its release, but Steambot 2 was officially cancelled in 2011.

Some of the developers from Irem formed a company called Granzella in the aftermath of the closure of Irem's video game team. Granzella bought most of the rights, and is known to be continuing work on the Disaster Report series; Steambot 2 has been teased as well!

They made a real Trotmobile!

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I think the charm and originality for this one almost make up for its shortfalls.  Definitely a niche, nifty title deserving more attention.  I do like just how different (and not just 'Japanese' different) the whole game feels. 

Thanks for the write-up!
I see copies of this game every once in a while and I've always wondered what it was like. The steampunk atmosphere is intriguing, but I'm still unsure as to whether or not the gameplay will get me hooked. Definitely a niche game that I will have to look into a little more. Thanks for the review!
I am about 8 hours into this game right now and have been enjoying it quite a bit.  By no mean's is this a high budget epic but is a rather interesting in it's own way.  I really would recommend it to anyone that enjoys digging for hidden gems rather than sticking to the well established big titles.

Steambot Chronicles and Skygunner two games quite different game that are forever linked in my mind.  Great and interesting hidden gems that are criminally underrated but slightly under polished.
@DK1105:You hit the nail on the head for my impressions as well, including Sky Gunner. Another neat, if a bit undercooked, hidden gem.

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