When I had heard that Steambot Chronicles was coming to the PSP, I figured that it would be a traditional RPG similar to the PS2 offering. Then I noticed the words Battle Tournament in the title. Instead of bringing an RPG to the portable system, Atlus thought that an action game with some RPG elements would be a better fit. It did make some sense, since the world of Steambot Chronicles focuses around giant robots called Trotmobiles. Action games are very hit or miss on the PSP though, especially with the lack of a second analog stick.
In Battle Tournament you play as a young Trotmobile driver in Orion City without any money. Lucky for you, there is an employment agency with plenty of jobs. Some of them don’t require a Trotmobile, but most of them do. The missions do vary a little bit, as they require you to do jobs from picking up and delivering wine to interviewing the latest starlet or Trotmobile champion for the paper. Unfortunately, these missions are rather boring. They also follow the same general outline. You accept a job, talk to a person to get details about the job, move to the area where you actually need to go to complete the quest, then talk to the person to let them know you have completed the job, and then talk to the job office.
You complete these quests to get money and fame points. You need money for two reasons. The first is to upgrade your Trotmobile. You can customize it with different arms, legs, frame, grill, back, and windshields. Your arms will carry your weapons, while your legs determine your speed and how much you can carry. The windshield offers protection to the driver of the Trotmobile. The grill can reduce damage or even be used as an offensive weapon. The parts on the back let you carry heavy objects or liquids, depending which is equipped. Having the correct equipment is important to complete the jobs and to fight against enemies. While more options to customize your Trotmobile come along the more you play the game, there aren’t very many options for each of these sections. If you are looking to customize your Trotmobile the way you could in MechWarrior, you’ll be disappointed.
The other reason that you want to get jobs completed is to earn fame. You need fame to enter into the Battle Tournament in a specific Rank. You start at Rank D, then move to Rank C, and so on. About the only thing that this mechanic does is prevent you from entering the Battle Tournament at a higher class too early. As you progress through the game you naturally have to upgrade your Trotmobile to defeat some of the enemies you come across as you complete jobs. Once you have enough fame to compete in the newest Rank, you should be able to win against the other members in your Rank without any issues.
Completing the missions wouldn’t be so bad if there was a little more variety. The jobs are boring and the game is repetitive. The game is so repetitive that the enemies that you fight against when you leave Orion City are always in the same place. This ruins the surprise and makes exploration seem pointless.
It doesn’t help that the controls aren’t the greatest during combat. Movement is done with the analog stick, but you change the view with the shoulder buttons. When you are getting attacked, trying to move around can be difficult. It doesn’t help that the camera can be fighting against you so that you can’t see yourself or the enemy you are trying to fight. Moving around in the city isn’t bad because you aren’t under pressure, but the movement here can be frustrating.
It also doesn’t help that movement is slow. When you are in the city, you can move faster by hitting the X button. When you are on foot, moving to a store takes a long time. You also can’t just hit X to move faster outside of the city in your Trotmobile. Hitting X does give you a bit of a boost, but it also uses fuel. The amount of boost is so low that it really isn’t effective.
Graphically, Battle Tournament looks like a decent PS2 game. It is acceptable for the PSP, but there are some areas that could use a little more texturing. Sometimes it’s unclear whether they were trying to go with something that looked realistic or something a little cell shaded. The character portraits resemble something from a ’60’s or ’70’s Hanna Barbera though, making them look like they were hurried into the game.
Most of the dialogue is voice acted, and several of the voice actors are old hat if you have played games RPGs or watched any anime. I do admit that I am surprised that they cast the role of the hottest Trotmobile driver in Orion City to Johnny Yong Bosch. It’s not that he isn’t good, but usually he plays one of the good guys. It is odd to hear him play an arrogant jerk, and his voice really doesn’t fit that role very well.
What is surprising is how fast the load times are on the PSP. Most of the load times only take a few seconds to complete, which is much better than some of the initial PSP titles available for the system. However, whenever you enter or exit a building or map area the One thing that is impressive about Battle Tournament is the fact that multiplayer is available. Four player ad hoc multiplayer is available. It lets you battle against each others’ Trotmobiles to see who has the best weapons. If you have three friends around with a PSP but don’t have this game, they can download the client and play against you in standard Trotmobiles. This is a lot more than what most developers do these days.