Friday, December 02, 2016


One good idea is not to think about politics more than one can help. And one good way to do that is by taking refuge in old videogames of which one has nostalgic memories. And Robotrek is such a game. Is it actually any GOOD?’s wildly rare for me to actually finish RPGs that I restart out of nostalgia, but I finished this one, so take that for what you will.

It is difficult to overstate how much I loved this damn game back in the day. I found a little document from ‘round-about 2000, on which I gave RPGs that I’d beaten letter grades. Robotrek’s grade? An A+ For reference, Chrono Trigger only received an A. Not that anyone’s perspective is ever ought but subjective, but it really is notable how I was rating games based purely on emotion, without even a token nod at objectivity. Still, even with that context, it’s difficult to imagine how I ever could’ve thought Robotrek was better than Chrono Trigger, fercrissake. This is controversial in the same way that the hollow-earth theory is controversial.

RIGHT. So we’ve established that Robotrek ain’t CT-level. But still: how is it? Well, it is bright and bouncy, you must give it that much, and in these dark times, there’s a hell of an appeal to “bright and bouncy.” The graphics are colorful, and the music is fun to bop along to. As you know (...doesn’t everyone?), Robotrek is a zany comedy RPG where you play an inventor’s son and budding inventor in your own right. It’s notable because it was kinda science-fictiony before that was a common thing (at least in the US). Using “intention machines,” you build robots to fight monsters and robots and, uh, people. The overall story involves a villainous crime group called “Hackers,” which is looking for...well, something. For some reason. Figure out this mystery!
The “invention” aspect of the game is cool but severely underdeveloped. In fact, calling it “invention” may be pushing things. You really just say “okay, little dwarfy creatures living in this machine, build a robot or an item for me.” You can sometimes make new items by combining ones you already have, but there’s really not much to it. Robot customization is very limited (you can change their color and choose what stats they increase when, but it really all amounts to the same thing), and in spite of the fact that you have three robots (of which you can only use one at a time in battle), there isn’t much strategy to switching between them—not much need to create three distinct “builds” to deal with different situations.

And speaking of, the battle system is pretty unbalanced. At first, enemies—and bosses especially—can feel infeasibly hard, but at a certain point, you’ll level up and get overpowered equipment to the point that it becomes mostly fairly trivial. Enemies beome pointless time-waters and bosses just devolve into having a robot use an attack you’ve found that works and healing. I mean, I sorta-kinda enjoyed it, but it’s obvious that most people—let alone people with no nostalgic attachment to the game—wouldn’t.

One thing I liked back in the day that really does kinda hold up is dungeon designs. Back in the day—and probably unto today, though I don’t really play contemporary RPGs—dungeons tended to be pretty bland: they might look good (or not), but it was just a matter of whacking some monsters, grabbing treasures, and avoiding dead-ends until, bam, boss. To its credit, Robotrek is more interesting than most in that regard. Granted, I rather dramatically exaggerated this in my memory, but there is a bit more to the Robotrek dungeons than usual: various character interactions and so on. You also get a few gadgets that you have to use in various semi-creative ways to make things work. A few recurring friendly characters wander about helping and hindering you. The designs really are pretty good.

Unfortunately, the English script is...not. It really is amazing how I didn’t even notice things like this back in the day, but it’s absolutely horrendous--barely comprehensible in places. The game was developed by Quintet, which also gave us the Soulblazer trilogy, which--Illusion of Gaia in particular—is similarly grim, translation-wise. To be slightly fair, Robotrek’s generally off-kilter tone means that the script sometimes seems sorta-kinda appropriate, but there are also times when it’s very difficult to understand, and any nuance—ha! Forget about it! My dream, if I had any damn hacking ability, would be to retranslate all of Quintet’s RPGs. It would improve them immeasurably.

So should you play Robotrek? Probably not! I doubt you’ll like it! But somehow, against all odds, I still found it kinda fun.

Oh, and while you're here, can I make a confession? I want to unburden myself. I like to think of myself as all cool and suave--or at least possessed of the bare minimum of social grace to go among polite society--but here's what happened when I was eighteen or nineteen: there was some website devoted to goofy videogame quotes (probably more than one, actually, but this was one of them). And, naturally, there were some Robotrek quotes. And the curator of these quotes characterized the game as bad in some way. The exact words are long gone in the mists of time. So I TOOK ACTION! I sent him an email which said--exact words, I think--"1. Robotrek is awesome. 2. Fuck you." He blew me off exactly as any reasonable person would, but looking back on it, GOOD LORD I WAS THAT KID. But...I'm not anymore. So perhaps we can try to be charitable to him (it's always gonna be a "him"), realizing that there's every chance he'll grow out of it.



Anonymous Anonymous pontificated to the effect that...

I don't think Illusion of Gaia is really comparable in terms of translation gaffes. It has some (also some lines were censored as part of Nintendo's policy), but overall I like the prose style. Perhaps it helped that the original Japanese script was written by a professional science fiction writer, a one-time occurrence in the Enix library. I don't know if it was intentional to make Will refer to himself in the third person sometimes, but it made it sound like someone is reading a storybook, which I thought fit the game's atmosphere.

Overall the translation could have used more polish, but that was a problem with most classic JRPGs. Even Suikoden 2, one of the best games ever, has a bunch of translation errors in the second half (I guess fewer testers played through the whole thing). On the other hand, I think the scripts could often have a simple directness that was eloquent in its own way. A modern translator would be much more professional, but might try to over-convolute the dialogue with exotic dialects and pointless embellishment.

Anyway, I think Robotrek is much rougher than Illusion - as you say, it is impossible to parse what people are saying sometimes. I remember the game as being really challenging, though. I think it takes more effort to find those effective weapon combinations than it might seem now that you know how it works. I remember that I could never get past Meta Crab until finally Macc told me how to make an axe. Even then, it wasn't a breeze. I'm not sure I can spare the time to play it again, but I do remember it as having a fun, adventurous spirit, which is a valuable thing to have in a game.


9:32 PM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. pontificated to the effect that...

Things get REALLY unbalanced when you find a sword 4 in the volcano base. It's a deadly attack that hits all enemies at once and remains valuable through to the end of the game. Still, I probably am understating the difficulty; I may not have had a lot of trouble this time, but I vividly remember being profoundly stuck on Blackrose in the past back in the day.

As for relative translation qualities, I must remain agnostic until further notice. I remember liking IoG's script when I was young, but on an abortive playthrough a few years ago, I thought it was really, really awful. I'll have to play it again before I can come to any firm conclusions.

10:19 AM  

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