Steambot Chronicles Hands-On
We check out a Japanese-language version of Irem's action-packed role-playing game.
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Released in Japan last year as Bumpy Trot, Steambot Chronicles is a somewhat unusual role-playing game that incorporates, among other things, real-time combat in bipedal vehicles (known as trotmobiles) and a number of rhythm-based minigames. Atlus is currently localizing the game for a North American release later this year, and we recently received a Japanese-language version of the game to check out.
Before starting gameplay, we were required to answer a handful of illustrated questions that, as far as we could tell, were designed to establish personality traits for the game's 17-year-old amnesiac hero. The first question, for example, appeared to be asking us what we would do if we found money in the street, though we're basing that assumption largely on the illustration that accompanied the text. We were then presented with four possible answers. After answering all of the questions, we were given an opportunity to rename our hero, which we were quick to take advantage of since his default name is Vanilla Beans.
Steambot Chronicles' story gets under way on a beach, where Vanilla is found unconscious on a makeshift raft by a girl named Coriander, who likes to go by the nickname of Connie. There doesn't appear to be any way off the beach for the pair, but things begin to look up when they spot an abandoned trotmobile and are able to get it moving. The trotmobile--which stands approximately 4 meters tall and has interchangeable body parts--isn't pretty to look at, but it works just fine and is able to easily lift the huge rock that's blocking the only exit from the beach.
Steambot Chronicles plays exactly as you'd expect it to when your character is walking around--the left analog stick is used for movement, while the right stick controls the camera. Once you climb into a trotmobile, though, the controls switch to a Katamari Damacy-style configuration, where both sticks are used to control movement. In effect, each analog stick is used to control the movement of one leg. In addition to using the analog sticks to control movement, you'll use the L1 and R1 buttons to swing your trotmobile's left and right arms, respectively, and the L3 and R3 buttons to have those same mechanical arms pick up objects. The L2 and R2 buttons are used to perform dash and jump maneuvers. Even those of you who aren't familiar with Namco's aforementioned surreal stuff-rolling game shouldn't have a problem getting to grips with the setup.
As we explored the area inland, it became clear that trotmobiles are as much a part of everyday life in the world of Steambot Chronicles as any other mode of transport, which includes horses and old-looking cars. Versatility is what makes the trotmobiles so popular--they can be used not only for transportation, but also as tools for agriculture, civil engineering, and other industries. Trotmobiles can also be customized for use as weapons, as we found out when we were attacked by one shortly after leaving the beach.
The enemy trotmobile was armed with a large cannon, and its entire torso was hidden behind a shield. The enemy wasn't very maneuverable, though, so defeating it required us to do little more than get in close and land punches. When the enemy trotmobile had been destroyed, it dropped some money and a quantity of fuel, which automatically replenished our own trotmobile's supply when we collected it. Farther inland, we happened across a small settlement and had our first opportunity to walk around and meet other characters. Since the conversations in our version of Steambot Chronicles are all in Japanese, we were pleased to find that none appeared to be overly lengthy. When we weren't busy chatting with the locals, our time at the settlement was mostly spent searching for chests that contained money, food, and new clothing items for Vanilla to wear. Locating areas or objects of interest was made simple by the yellow alert that appeared above Vanilla's head anytime he was close to something (or someone) that he could interact with.
Before leaving the settlement, we had an opportunity to take our trotmobile into a garage. Although all of the menus were in Japanese, it was still clear that our options included refueling, repairs, and the purchase and customization of new body parts. A couple of Connie's friends from the settlement decided to accompany us on our journey in a walker of their own, though they weren't very helpful at all against any of the enemies that we encountered. One of the enemies was a gigantic, four-legged walker that was big enough for our trotmobile to jump aboard and melee attack once we had run out of objects to throw at it. The encounter wasn't particularly challenging, but it was a lot of fun, and it definitely bodes well for any large boss battles that might appear later in the game.
Later in our Steambot Chronicles session, we visited a large city, which we were free to explore both on foot and in our trotmobile. Inside the city walls, we found busy streets filled with various wheeled and walking vehicles being controlled by traffic signals and policemen--none of which you'll need to concern yourself with, because when you move around the city in your walker, you'll simply select your destination and then watch the journey. Once you've arrived at the area of the city that you wish to explore, you'll be able to climb out of your trotmobile and walk wherever you like. There are loads of people to interact with in the city, and although the most obvious way to do this is to simply strike up a conversation, one interesting alternative is to pull a harmonica from your pocket and start playing a tune. You'll be able to play plenty of other instruments as you progress through Steambot Chronicles as well, and each will be played via a different rhythm-based minigame. If you perform a song in front of a lot of people, and do a good job of it, there's a chance that you'll receive a reward of some kind.
Other activities that we found in the city included competitive one-on-one trotmobile battles in an underground arena, shopping for new trotmobile parts, and watching Connie and her Garland Globetrotters band put on an open-air concert. Our peaceful exploration of the city couldn't last forever, though, so when a group of combat-ready walkers showed up, we were compelled to return to our trotmobile and give them a taste of their own medicine. We couldn't fully understand what was being said in any of the conversations after the battle, but this appeared to be the point at which Steambot Chronicles becomes a far less linear experience, giving us the option to make a living as a musician, a farmer, or a member of the Killer Elephant arena-fighting gang.
Pursuing these career paths will be a lot easier once we get our hands on an English-language version of Steambot Chronicles, at which point we'll be sure to tell you all about them. In the meantime, we have to be content with attempting to fill Vanilla's in-game photo album with automatically collected shots of key characters and events. We'll bring you more information on Steambot Chronicles as soon as it becomes available.