I loved Steambot Chronicles because you got to be a chap in a waistcoat who piloted a steam-powered mech seemingly made up of leftover 1940’s car parts. You explored a world in search of fame and fortune and increasingly large robot arms to jam on the side of your mech, one of which was a STAGE that you could STAND ON and play an ACTUAL TRUMPET for MONEY.
(I preferred the one that shot massive fuck-off cannon balls, really, but the stage was a good idea if a little badly implemented. Mainly because listening to the songs you play is one of the worst things you can do with your ears)
But I loved it. I got into it hard, because it’s a JRPG and they give you plenty of time to get to know them. I was about three weeks in when it happened; I’d hit the game’s first big city after taking a arduous trek across a desert and fighting bandits off a wagon train, and I was ready to get my sidequest on.
And I got some good ones! I picked up requests to go help my friend try out an experimental new mech part, which I’d doubtlessly be able to nick when I was done. To venture back out into the desert and investigate some mysterious disappearances. To go and sign up as a journalist at the local paper and uncover the corruption rotting the town away from the inside. To help the guitarist in my band get over a musical slump and find him an electric guitar. All good.
Also, I was told to investigate the Bloody Mantis paramilitary force that hid in the sewers under the city. Obviously that was my first port of call. Bloody Mantis, right? That’s a draw right there. Love me some intrigue, even when it’s seen from the starboard side of a whacking great steam mech.
I went into the sewers. I found a guard. He welcomed me in, which was odd, but okay. I found a commander. He asked me if I wanted to join up with the Bloody Mantis. Confusing! I figured, hell, why not? What could possibly go wrong? This is just like Oblivion, obviously. You just join up to everything and muddle through until you’re the chief Mage Assassin Warrior and everyone walks around calling you sir.
So I say, “Yeah, I’ll join your band of clearly evil mercenaries. That sounds right up my street. Oh, what’s that, I get a snazzy uniform? Boss. The girls are gonna love this.” My commander asks me to go and duff up a wagon train in the middle of nowhere and steal the stuff off it, and I figure I’ll get right on that after I complete all the sidequests. I pop round to my friend’s house to check out that mech part and…
… and he won’t talk to me. I press X over and over but he doesn’t budge from his one-line response, that he’s against the actions of the Bloody Mantis and he wants nothing more to do with me. Maybe if I changed out of the uniform, I’ll – oh, you’ve destroyed all my other clothes? Even my white suit and matching hat that I put on to play the trumpet?
I go to talk to my band, none of whom want to speak to me either. My guitarist is going to find his own path, now. The girl who I’ve been sexual tensioning with for the past two and a half weeks won’t turn round in her seat to speak to me. Steambot Chronicles has broken up with me.
I didn’t KNOW, Steambot Chronicles. You have to TELL ME. COMMUNICATION, yeah? I saved the game after I got the uniform. I can’t go back. I made some mistakes. We all make mistakes, whether that’s kissing the wrong girl, getting the wrong job, or joining an increasingly-sinister-sounding murder cult in the sewers. Can’t we be friends? No?
No. Nothing. All sidequests wiped. My band disbanded. I lost out on everything I’d been building up until then, nearly a month’s worth of character-building dashed against the rocks of my ambition. My mech was bright blue, for God’s sakes. That’s not a sewer-dwelling paramilitary colour.
I went off on the mission that the Crimson Mantis had set me, in the end. I was stealing sheep. I think you had to pick them up and shove them in a box, or something.
I stopped playing the session after that, and I couldn’t quite believe it had happened. I’d get in the door after Uni and think, ooh, I know, I can play Steambot Chronicles tonight! – and then remember that yeah, I could, but none of my friends would speak to me and I was stealing livestock for a man with a daft uniform and an unconvincing moustache who lived in an area normally sectioned off for poo.
I still have it; the disc, I mean, and the memory card with the save on it. I’ve got the box on my desk next to me now as I type, and it’s reminding me that the steam-powered mechs were called “Trotmobiles” which is a really, really stupid name for a thing to have. I’m not going to get rid of it for at least another five years.
I can’t go back and play it again, enduring the burning stares of the people that used to respect me. And I can’t start from the top, because a) that would take ages and b) I’ve already DONE that, I’ve already told that part of the story. Maybe this is the story that Steambot Chronicles told me. The story of someone falling out of contact with all their friends and dropping off the map, never to return. It’s certainly stuck with me, that’s for sure.