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Psychotic Reviews: Steambot Chronicles

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Steambot Chronicles; or Ponkotsu Roman Daikatsugeki: Bumpy Trot as it was originally named in Japan is a Playstation 2 game developed by Irem and published by themselves 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. An odd tie in a puzzle game on PS2 and PSP named Blokus Portable: Steambot Championship, and being one of only four games published by Majesco on the PSP in the USA. A quick look at the back of the case 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. Its similar to the opening dungeon in the Elder Scrolls, only dragged 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 anyway, by the time its completely opened up. Once an area is open then it may be visited at any time afterwards, and 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 any city (this is how time passes in this world). You can dig up all the big fossils on this very day if you desire to make a massive amount of money. I did, then I lost it all on the stock market. No, I lied there. But, there is a stock market in this game. Your very actions in sidequests can even 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 the most sinister crime of insider trading thanks to these options.

Let’s rewind back to the beginning. You wake up as an amnesiac survivor of a shipwreck, 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 occupies many other necessary spices for any aspiring chef’s spice rack. Vanilla takes 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, and you can join! There are many options of musical instruments in the game, and each one is its own rhythm game, with some being offshoots of others.

These instruments range in difficulty, and I found mastering the harmonica you start with to be one of the more difficult ones myself. 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, so other than the story concerts you can play outside for an hour of real time and save up some stock options, or more instruments, or clothes, 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! Or, more likely, you’ll at least lose the ability to run before you remember to feed Vanilla!

Back to the music 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, when it turns out they were all done in a studio! There is a wealth of music for this game, but its spread out just like its world is. There are areas that are dead silent in the game, and the cities all have repetitive and looped music. It does change depending on what time of day of it, but that left the countryside feeling empty. But, the lack of music made those lone treks across the desert feel that much more lonely. Why didn’t the trotmobiles have a built in radio? There’s a suggestion for Steambot 2!

This game has a lot of options for what basically amounted 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 were 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 any 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 this is a fulfilling game that had a lush and vibrant world for 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 almost nothing like a 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, they’re 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, and a Steambot 2 has been teased as well.

They made a real trotmobile!

They made a real Trotmobile!

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Spooky Plays: Fatal Frame

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Before I get started I just want to say that Fatal Frame is absolutely NOT based on a true story. The producer of the series has gone on record to say that the story is based on two Japanese urban legends and ghost stories, so it is certainly not true at all. This was a marketing slogan that was slapped on the cover for Western Markets. In Japan it was released as Zero, with Project Zero being the European title. The game was developed and published by Tecmo in Japan and the USA, with Europe being quite a mess with system exclusive publishers.

You start the game controlling Mafuyu Hinasaki, who is investigating the disappearance of his mentor, author Junsei Takamine. Junsei went to the Himuro Mansion to do research for his latest project with a couple of assistants. Not all is as it seems in the Himuro Mansion, and it soon becomes clear that the dark rituals performed here are more than mere rumors. Its not long before Mafuyu ends up getting entangled in the strange happenings around this ancient mansion that seems to pay heed to much darker Shinto rituals than most would want the outside world to know.

Mafuyu’s sister Miku then enters the game as the main character. She’s out to find her brother, but soon discovers the story and fate of the author’s team, and even a family that moved in after the Himuro clan suddenly died out. Mafuyu discovers that an antique camera, called the Camera Obscura, given to him by his mother has the power to exorcise ghosts, and Miku soon takes it up to use as her only weapon against the ghosts inhabiting Himuro Mansion.

This opens up a unique style of combat that is thrilling and pretty much shoves the chilling and in some cases nightmarish ghost design. Some of these images will stick with you for quite some time, don’t be surprised if they pop up in your dreams after a long night at work. Miku looks through the camera, and the game shifts from the normal fixed and panning camera angles straight into first person mode. Miku must then focus the camera on the ghost and take pictures to damage it. There is a bar that charges up with energy the longer you look at the ghost, attacking when this is fully charged deals more damage. Attacking while the ghost is charging you and with full energy deals even more damage and gives a huge bonus!

The Camera Obscura can be upgraded from the Spirit Points you gain by fighting ghosts. The ghosts get harder and harder to fight as you move through the game, so these upgrades and extra skills you can unlock can become wonderfully helpful. You can upgrade the damage radius, speed of energy charging, and damage output. The Camera also runs on film that is its ammunition. There are four levels of film, with each stronger one having a more limited supply, and there’s no shop in this game. Determining when to use what type of film is a good idea, blowing through all your powerful film early can kill you when you need it the most.

The ghosts never seem to be too overwhelming. Many of them are fought at specific points in the game, and are impossible or extremely difficult to escape normally. Random ghosts pop up in some locations if you spend too long wandering aimlessly trying to find your next goal. Unlike some other horror games like Clock Tower and Haunting Ground, these random ghosts are useful to hoard some points for upgrading, and most of them are rather harmless once you figure out their patterns.

The game is separated into four different chapters. Each chapter is one night. These nights all have their own self contained stories, but these work to build up the overarching story about the rituals and people involved in the old ways. Each night also introduces new enemies and unlocks more of the mansion to explore. Some old areas will have new items and events in them as well, so there is some backtracking, but you are rewarded for it so it never feels like wasted time.

In my experience its rare for a horror game to really grab you by its story. Most seem to run on atmosphere, tension, quick scares, puzzles, or just good mechanics, but the story is usually lackluster. Fatal Frame has everything that a great horror title needs. There is a reason for the main characters Mafuyu and Miku to be in Himuro Mansion, they have a purpose! They’re not just dropped into this environment against their will and forced to deal with it. The story unfolds slowly but keeps you eager to move forward, and each night has a defined ending, with the next night starting Miku in a new or old room with more to discover and explore, and new ghosts to exorcise!

Psychotic Reviews: Gungrave

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Gungrave is a high octane third person shooter that is heavy on style. It was developed by Red Entertainment and published by themselves in Japan, Sega in North America, and Activision in Europe. The game is heavy on style, looking completely awesome and giving setpieces that feel right at home in what is a nearly mindless action game.

The Gungrave series was created by Yasuhiro Nightow. He might not sound too familiar to the video game crowd, but the anime fans will instantly recognize his style from his popular creation Trigun. I love Trigun, and its one of the reasons I’ve been tracking this game down for years despite mediocre reviews.

Graphically, the game resembles anime. The characters are cel-shaded and the animation is quite fluid. This is a result of Nightow’s experience as an animator. The cutscenes are fluid and in most cases, action packed. All of these scenes tell a story of a drug dealing Syndicate, which the main character is on the warpath against because of a thirst for vengeance.

The gameplay is a bit flawed, and some parts of the game feel almost broken. Technical issues really hurt the overall experience and could have turned this game into a stylish classic in the vein of Killer7 or XIII. There is an unforgivably high amount of slowdown in the game. When there are a lot of enemies on screen with projectiles then the game can grind to a standstill. There’s not this much slowdown in freaking Gradius III!

Despite all the slowdown the game is still quite short. I managed to beat it in less than 2.5 hours. That’s not a typo. The game has unlockables which you can earn through multiple playthroughs, and the story might make a little bit more sense, but that it is the extent of the game and its story. The extras are actually cool to look through. The enemies in the game are collected and shown off like action figures, still in their original packaging and everything! On higher difficulties you can unlock concept art and just more stuff to mess around with in the game.

This game could have been much more, with some polish it could have been more fun to play. The animations were quite enjoyable, highly detailed and quite fluid. For the most part they were quite short, leaving a bit more to be desired. The ending was rather underwhelming as well. It was a cliche save the girl and ride a motorcycle into the sunset ending. I’m not even trying to crack a joke here.

All in all this game is still rather interesting, with a nice premise behind the story. The gameplay was underwhelming, but the style was certainly there and was presented in a satisfactory way. The story is a bit cryptic at first, but there is a sequel, and anime, that came out after Gungrave. While the game is short at least it is mostly sweet, and doesn’t drag on and on like Dirge of Cerberus.

Why Did I Play This? Going Biblical

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A nice way to end the year would be sitting down, watch Die Hard once or twice, play some good games, visit friends and family, and enjoy the time off from work. So I decide to do none of that for now and instead do everything in my power to cause myself pain.

Today we look at The Bible Game, a late life Xbox and PS2 budget title that is a game about the Holy Bible. I am joined by a close friend, but only sharp eyes will be able to notice his appearance!

If, like me, you crave for a longer experience then have no fear! Episode 10 will hopefully be out a month from now, and will be a full review of an ancient RPG. Until then keep your eyes posted on my blog, Twitter, and Facebook, and don’t forget to like and subscribe!

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