GameSpite Journal 10 | RoboTrek

Robotrek | Dev.: Quintet | Pub: Enix | Genre: RPG | Release: Oct. 1994

For a game with so much heart and innovation, Robotrek has taken a lot of flack from role-playing aficionados over the years. You have to admire Enix for publishing it, though, as it was the type of product you’d never expect to see coming from the company since its merger with Square. That’s certainly not to say the current-gen studio plays it safe when it comes to game design – or even their willingness to test out new intellectual properties—but the Square Enix of today observes a very different design philosophy than the Super NES-era Enix did.

The gaming industry of the early ’90s was a frontier rich with creativity and originality, with developers taking greater risks in order to surprise gamers with the unexpected, to stand out among their contemporaries. Today, the JRPG is a hotly contested genre, long-since declared obsolete, possibly dead. These kinds of titles just don’t sell like they used to because gamers can find less predictable and more engaging experiences elsewhere.

Fortunately for Robotrek, it dared to be different, and in some ways, still is. But back in the fall of 1994, you were probably too busy drooling over Final Fantasy VI to even notice Robotrek innocuously sitting beneath it on the shelf, and why not? Even its box art, depicting an impostor Death Star, did little to pique the curiosity of both budding and veteran role-playing adventurers. Yes, it may have boldly proclaimed “Another great RPG from ENIX!” but outside of Japan, such a statement had little cachet unless you were one of the few who had played I or any of the first four Dragon Warrior games back in ye olde 8-bit days.

Without a subscription to Nintendo Power, the game would never have gained audience with me. It was featured with a mini-guide through the first quarter of the story, exposing readers to the game’s world and its unique mechanics. Bearing more than a slight resemblance to A Link to the Past?’s bright, cutesy visuals, Robotrek’s planet Quintenix, though not nearly as massive as Hyrule, offered an intimate setting with ample customizable characters and items for players to tinker with. How could a nine-year-old me turn that down?

The game’s central town, Rococo, is an eternally autumnal village built alongside a bucolic canal. Each house comes installed with a functional doorbell and perpetually puffing chimney for our inquisitive, young hero to screw around with as his repertoire of gadgets expands. You see, as a newcomer to Rococo, it is his dream to become the world’s greatest inventor, just like his frequently absent father, Dr. Akihabara. But Dear Ol’ Dad’s preoccupations elsewhere can’t crush our silent protagonist’s hopes of being the best roboticist Quintenix has ever seen. Why, he’s even got his very own R&D lab in the basement, where he can indulge his creative side. Good thing, because it’s all the poor lad is cut out for, being that he’s defenseless against even the lowliest slimes.

Not to worry; Robotrek offers a noteworthy degree of flexibility when it comes to assembling a party. This is done gradually by revisiting the aforementioned lab, where your roster can be maxed out with a scant three robots. As blank slates, these automatons have no personalities to speak of, and their only cosmetic differences depend upon your chromatic tastes. One of the game’s more novel features is the freedom to tweak your robots’ stats, which can be adjusted however you please. As your robots progress in levels, they receive additional points to distribute across stats. While it may seem convenient to swap these points in and out as you please, realistically, you’ll need to dump the majority of them into upgrading your robots’ offensive and defensive ratings in order to increase their odds for survivability. Fortunately, your hero takes care of all the healing and buffing duties from the sidelines. Good thing, because Robotrek can be downright difficult since only one robot may be active on the battlefield at any given time.

The frustration of dealing with such stacked odds in every battle is mitigated somewhat by the ability to run programs of your own design. Using a variant on the Active Time Battle system, every action uses up a percentage of your robot’s turn gauge. These programs allow you to execute advanced techniques that can devastate enemies at the expense of further delaying your next turn as your gauge recharges.

As the creator of these robots, it is your duty to keep them outfitted with an assortment of weapons, such as swords, axes, guns, lasers, and bombs. Unfortunately, trial-and-error is the only way to discern what enemies’ weaknesses are, so it’s important to equip your characters with different types of melee and ranged attacks. This can be done easily with a little cash and a few scrap parts. It isn’t long until you can quickly craft a small arsenal from enemy drops and the occasional treasure.

“So just what’s all this robo-fighting for anyway?” you ask. “Everlasting peace?” In a sense, yes; this is a JRPG after all. In our hero’s attempt to become top inventor of Quintenix, he and his do-gooding contraptions quickly finds himself plagued by an army of incompetent cyborgs called the Hackers. Serves him right for accidentally acquiring a shard of the mystic Tetron, a stone rumored to bend time to its owner’s will. Doesn’t he know that it’s practically law for unassuming heroes in possession of one fabled relic to track down all the rest before the bad guys use them to enslave and/or destroy the universe? Ah, the old struggle to manipulate time and space again, eh? That should give you a pretty good idea where Robotrek’s plot ends up by the final battle. But like so many video games, “It’s not about the destination; it’s about the journey… er, trek.”

If you’re looking for the most original RPG dungeons, Robotrek certainly won’t disappoint as long as aren’t expecting anything more revolutionary than a haunted house, volcano, or space station. Still, they do make for some enjoyable areas that really open up as you invent more gizmos. Stealth plays an important role in many areas, and having tools like infrared goggles or a device that morphs you into a mouse keep you out of unnecessary fights. This may not be such a blessing though, as Robotrek’s bosses are downright cheap. Therefore, grinding is mandatory for those who don’t delve deep enough to craft the game’s most powerful weapons. Hard work to be sure, but ultimately worth it to experience the entertaining, heartfelt tale that is Robotrek.

By Jacob Smiley? | Feb. 12, 2012 | Previous: Illusion of Gaia | Next: Sparkster