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Steambot Chronicles PlayStation 2

Published by 505 GameStreet
Developed by IREM
Release Date: Out Now
Price: £29.99

Steambot Chronicles, an introduction.

If I were to tell you that looking through the game manual you’ll find Vanilla, Coriander, Marjoram, Basil and Fennel you’d be forgiven for thinking I was reading the manual for Cooking Mama on the Nintendo DS (due out this December in the UK incidentally). In actual fact all of those are characters in Steambot Chronicles. As you might have already gathered Steambot Chronicles is an RPG and quite an unusual one at that. Not only do the main characters have the name of cooking ingredients but it also boasts that it’s a non-linear action adventure.

What’s the game about?

In Steambot Chronicles you’ll play as Vanilla Bean who at the start of the game finds himself washed ashore, surrounded by all kinds of wreckage. Whilst laying flat out on the sand a young girl called Coriander (who everyone refers to as Connie) comes across to see if he’s alright. Vanilla is badly shaken and appears to be suffering from amnesia. If it wasn’t for having his name etched into his harmonica, Connie wouldn’t know what to call him. It all seems pretty normal to begin with but soon enough you’ll realise the world in which Connie and Vanilla exist is very different. For one the main form of transport is the Trotmobile, a kind of small scale, modular, two legged vehicle (not dissimilar to a mech). Trotmobiles are not only used for transportation. They perform various functions and battles are fought with them. There are day and night cycles and Vanilla will get hungry and need to sleep. You are free to do as you please most of the time too, and you can earn money in a variety of ways.

What’s good about the game?

Steambot Chronicles has none of the complexity or heavy plot that you would normally associate with an RPG. That’s not to say it doesn’t have an enjoyable story as it certainly does, but it’s a story that leaves plenty of room for you to do as you please and the game can still be played and enjoyed once the main story has been completed. In fact the freedom you’re offered in Steambot Chronicles is a large part of the game’s appeal. You almost always have dialogue options and your answers will help shape Vanilla and his relationships with the key characters. On starting a new game you’re given a series of questions and Vanilla’s initial personality will be dependent on your answers. In fact it’s possible to end up with a Vanilla that heads down the evil path altogether, which means you can play through a second time to see how the story ends up if you’ve chosen to make Vanilla a bad guy.

So what’s there to do in this non-linear game then? Well you can purchase property in several towns (only one at a time though). Naturally you’ll need to furnish your accommodation and there are plenty of furniture types to collect. You can purchase various clothing types and even change your hairstyle at the barbers. You can choose to court either of the main female characters (or all of them). Naturally you’ll need to earn money and you can play in the Garland GlobeTrotters band (playing a variety of instruments). You can ferry passengers about for the local bus service. You can take part in Trotmobile battles for money. You can mine precious rocks to sell and you can also trade goods from one town to another amongst other things. Of course you could always play your instrument on the streets for tips. The story moves forward when you visit certain locations or when you’ve completed certain objectives so essentially you can take an eternity to play through the game if you wish, but even when you’re done you can still carry on.

Most of the tasks in the game are essentially mini-games. Playing musical instruments is actually a whole lot of fun. What you’re required to do depends on what instrument you play. The harmonica requires you to move the left analogue stick left and right and press (or press and hold) the square and triangle buttons at the correct times. The harmonica is actually quite easy to play but some instruments are not so easy. The accordion requires you to follow two guidelines with the analogue sticks as well as pressing (or pressing and holding) the L1 and R1 buttons. I found this tricky but also appreciated that some instruments do pose a challenge. You can also play billiards and it’s a fairly passable attempt at recreating the game.

Combat in the game is Trotmobile based, that is to say you’ll always be driving a Trotmobile when confrontations occur. The combat is fairly straightforward. You can lock onto your enemies making targeting a no fuss affair. You can boost and jump to avoid missiles. Once locked on you can attack with the L1 and R1 buttons. The L1 controls your Trotmobiles left arm whilst the R1 button controls the right arm. There are many different arm types you can fit onto your Trotmobile and your combat performance will partly depend upon the nature of the arms you have fitted and the manoeuvrability of your Trotmobile. After you’ve defeated enemies (in fights outside of arenas) you’ll be able to collect money and fuel. It’s worth pointing out that you’ll need to maintain the condition of your Trotmobile and always ensure you have enough fuel to complete your journey. Driving your Trotmobile around the various towns and cities is an automatic process. You simply select which location you want to travel to and then sit back and watch whilst your Trotmobile makes its own way giving you a chance to admire the scenery. 

What’s bad about the game?

If we’re being honest about this we could say that graphically the game could have been better. Given the modest visuals it’s disappointing that the game suffers from a fair amount of slowdown. Travelling around can bring you into all kinds of problems if you’re not prepared and it’s possible to get into battles where you’ll occasionally lose. If you lose a random encounter battle that’s not part of the game’s story you’ll end up with a game over screen, meaning you’ll lose all of your progress since your last save and this can be irritating. Controlling your Trotmobile can take some getting used to as you’ll have to use both analogue sticks. It’s a control scheme that’s similar to the one used in Katamari Damacy and there’s no doubt that it initially seems strange. However, with practice it’s not much of a problem.

How does it look?

As we’ve just mentioned the quality of the graphics is disappointing. The graphical style and presentation of the game is very reminiscent of Dark Chronicle (Dark Cloud 2 in the US), although it lacks the polish and graphical quality of that game. The various locations you’ll visit in the game could have been more detailed and the characters animate in a rather wooden fashion. You’ll notice quite a few dips in the frame rate, which is again disappointing. On a more positive note the load times are actually quite good and a bit shorter than you may expect, especially when entering buildings.

How deaf gamer friendly is the game?

Steambot Chronicles is fine for deaf gamers. Virtually all of the dialogue in the game is subtitled. All of the cutscenes in the game are subtitled and you’ll be able to follow the story without any problems at all. The dialogue choices and all other conversations are also subtitled and you’ll need to press the X button in order to move the dialogue forward so you can read the text at your own pace. There is some speech that isn’t subtitled. When you walk into a store or home the character will say ‘hello’ or ‘welcome’ but these comments are not subtitled. When you’re playing your instruments on the streets (either to practice or to earn money) the song lyrics (yes the singing still happens even when you’re on your own) are not shown in text. This doesn’t cause any problems though and playing instruments is still a fun mini-game to earn money. The game comes with a 40+ page manual that does a good job of covering the various tasks in the game. Vanilla keeps a notebook and you can access this at any time to recap on what has happened and what needs to be done.

Final thoughts.

Steambot Chronicles has to be one of the surprises of 2006. It’s the kind of game that could potentially appeal to far more than fans of the RPG genre. The non-linear nature of the game is simply a breath of fresh air and the game has a relaxing feel to it that makes it easy to sit down and while away a couple of hours as if they were minutes. Some will moan about the Trotmobile controls and I daresay some will criticise the visuals but in truth these are minor issues. Without a doubt it’s one of the best games we’ve seen on the PlayStation 2 this year and I would recommend it to anyone who is looking for something different and satisfying.

Overall Game Rating: 9.0/10

Deaf Gamers Classification:

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Steambot Chronicles is a refreshing experience. Rather than being a typical console RPG linear experience you are given the choice of doing as you want with the option to follow the plot when you please. It's not perfect by any means but it's a very enjoyable game that is well worth considering.