by Jason Parrker (Ragachak)
Games are not always as wonderful as we remember them. Recently, I’ve been on a quest to find that RPG that was “fun”, but also “not as good as I remember it”. Sometimes, our Rose-Colored Glasses are tinted a bit too hard, and things that were fun as younger people are not quite as great as we recall. One of these games, unfortunately, is “Robotrek” for the Super Nintendo. Robotrek is often considered to be in the same universe as the “Act Raiser” games. The Act Raiser franchise is Act Raiser, Act Raiser 2, Illusion of Gaia, Soul Blazer, and Terra Nigma. Some people put Robotrek in the same line but that’s not a real point of contention. The “Raiser” franchise is built very heavily around the notion of being an avatar of a God, which is not the case in Robotrek. Instead of building civilizations and saving humanity, you build robots. Robotrek takes place on the planet “Quintenix” (Really? Developer Quintet, Publisher Enix?) You summon robots from balls, built from spare parts, equipped with whatever weapons you’d care to utilize, and do battle with other robotic foes.
For the Super Nintendo, Robotrek had one of the most revolutionary systems for creating your robots, customizing them, and a fantastic turn-based combat system. You create your robots, and it’s just a pleasant experience all-around. You pick their colors, you equip them with weapons, and you create “Programs”. It’s a combo for those robots to use, such as “Shot Sword Shot – Dashes to the enemy, slashes them once in the face, then once in the back.” Each of these “Run Commands” does their own thing, and it’s up to the player to experiment and find the ones that work for them. Or you know, in this day and age, hit up Gamefaqs. Personally, I like to work with having two different kinds of weapons, and getting Lasers in there if at all possible. That’s one of the definite positives of Robotrek, feeling like you have some serious command over what your Robots do. The limits are your imagination, and the weapons you have/skills you’ve unlocked by exploring the world. You can choose not to use these Run Commands in combat though, and simply hit X, L, or R and depending on what you have equipped, certain actions will come out. It’s better, in my opinion, to learn what Run Commands do what. However, each of these moves uses some of your “Fuel”, which serves as a kind of meter for what you can/can’t do. Having all commands that empty the meter is not advised. Oh, and you can only have one robot out at a time. Sure, some skills can just wipe two or so enemies at once, but that’s when you have the knowledge/skills.
The main character is just a kid, so he’s not going to go into battle. Like Pokemon, he summons his robots to do all of the dirty work for him. You can use up to three robots, and customize them to your liking, but I feel like this game’s innovative systems are just wasted on a game like Robotrek. Which is unfortunate, because I don’t really think it’s the game’s fault. The localization is incredibly poor, but that was common in the early 90s. A lot of games had incredibly bad translations/localizations, and I can only hope the story from the Japanese version of the game is much better. Perhaps I’ll look up a fan-translation and see if the original makeup for that. You’re going to spend a lot of time sitting in front of the machine that makes/updates your robots. As you explore, you find new “Inventor Magazines” that teach new abilities/skills, and leveling up lets you give your robots stat points, which make them stronger. It was a very cool system that I fear, still was wasted here. This is the story of the game, taken from Wikipedia. It is probably the most “90s” thing written.
On the planet of Quintenix, where the situation has long been peaceful, a group calling themselves “The Hackers”, headed by Blackmore, suddenly starts an uprising against the population by disrupting the peace of the town of Rococo (and elsewhere). The main character (who appears to be nameless) is the son of a famous inventor, Dr. Akihabara, who decides to move to Rococo. The main character soon sets off to find out that The Hackers want Dr. Akihabara for a sinister purpose, as Akihabara refuses an offer to join them. The story unfolds to the point where The Hackers’ ultimate goal is the Tetron, a mysterious stone that allows viewers to observe events past and future and travel through time.
The Tetron is later found out to be an invention of the main character’s ancestor Rask and one of his friends, Gateau, finds the Tetron’s potential as the key to controlling the universe by controlling time. Rask disregards that potential and hides the Tetron in shards throughout Quintenix. Gateau, who — presumedly — formed The Hackers later on, obtains the Tetron and attempts to proceed with his plan for universal domination, starting with Rask’s home planet of Choco. It is up to the main character to stop Gateau in his space fortress.
The end-game is that this little boy wants to walk in his dad’s footsteps, and also save him from peril. The story is … Well, there’s definitely a “story” here. It’s pretty basic, at least in the American iteration. Save your dad from evil. Yup. I feel like the demographic, based on the bad, childish jokes and dreadful dialogue, was little kids. But most kids I knew weren’t into RPGs, so it wound up going to waste. There’s some clever time-travel stuff hidden in the game, but you have to dredge through some pretty weird schlock. The game was supposed to be clever, funny. But that’s not what the localizers over at Enix gave us, and that’s unfortunate. The greatest failing of this game is definitely a sign of the times: The 90s were a time of intense censorship and rewriting of RPGs. So many games lost things as simple as crosses, or temples/churches. Pubs/Bars were changed or removed in many RPGs because people were worried that kids wouldn’t be able to handle that kind of content.The characters were hollow and I genuinely didn’t care about any of them; that’s a poor thing to have in an RPG. Some character names weren’t even changed from Japanese nomenclature to English. There’s a lot of disconnects and there is not very much in the way of coherence.
The difficulty curve is pretty weird in Robotrek. If you know what you’re doing and have an idea of what strengths/weaknesses you’re going in with on your robots, build them accordingly, the game is pretty easy. For people who are/were new to it? Prepare to be frustrated every single time a boss comes up. Most fights are pretty easy, and items are worth using. There’s a very cool item mixing system where you can make new power-ups and weapons to equip, but as a whole, you really have to understand where each robot should be placed in battle, and what you need to do to be successful. Again, the stuff that is done well is done remarkably well, and everything else? It’s just disappointing. I’m not really knocking the childish look to the game, because that bright color palette was popular, and it serves the game well enough. The music was mediocre at best, and while I loved making robots and sending them into battle for me, I would be lying if I thought this game was still a classic. As a teen playing this, I enjoyed it for what it was. I wasn’t thinking critically about how poor the writing was, how frustrating the battles could be (unless I was in one), and how simplistic much of appeared.
Fun, But Far From A Masterpiece: 3/5
I personally know a lot of people who played Robotrek, because I was fortunate to meet people at that age who loved RPGs as much as me. Many of them, looking back recall it fondly, until they actually sit down and play it. Then we recall that it’s not really … all that great. I think it’s unfortunate that Robotrek had such a remarkable system of customization and robot creation, but was it was given a very poor shake, mostly down to how poor the localization of the title was. This is not a game that you’ll want to play for the first time with no strategy guide/FAQ. For a new player it can be horribly frustrating, and while you may at first feel like you have endless options for combat on your robots, it will boil down to finding one or two really powerful combos and you’ll just use those, because why use something that “might” work when you can use something that “will” work? It was fun in its time, and can be fun to poke fun at on a livestream or something, but it’s not a game that’s going to wow fans and keep them coming back like Chrono Trigger, EarthBound, or Final Fantasy games might.