Robotrek was a 1994 Enix game. It was a translated version of a game called Slapstick from the same year. Unfortunately, the game seems to suffer a lot due to the translation. Now, at this time, Enix translations tended to be low budget and hurridly done, so the quality of the translation can easily be explained by the timeframe and budget. One of the translators mentioned having only a weekend to translate something like Terranigma. Another problem with the game is the fact that the original was a comedy. Comedy is always a pain to translate, but it’s worse when you are limited by text space and time.
A good example would be the game covers. The US cover is a moody space station and a tag line about being an rpg. The Japanese cover of the game looks a lot more “goofy comedy.” There’s silly sound effects, and a rather – rambunctious soundtrack. For example, the title screen sounds rather like circus music, and opening a chest sounds like you are kicking a door in and then a cuckoo clock tweets. If the text could be more “comedic,” the sound effects wouldn’t stand out so much. If the translation explained the robot building system more clearly, it wouldn’t feel so “unfriendly” to play.
So, if you ignore the presentation, what is the game like? It has bright colors, and multiple animations for several things in the game. For example, searching a bookcase has an animation for reading a book, and an unsuccessful search has a “kid looking through a magnifying glass” animation. The combination system is pretty logical for certain things. For example, a clean plus a rusty drill will make a useable drill, and two level one swords make a level two sword.
The combat system is a poorly explained partially real time system. A timer counts down while you move your robot, and then there is a charging time to refill your bar while the enemy moves. The timer gives you bonus XP if you finish the battle before the time runs out. Unfortunately, the game doesn’t explain the stats for your robot, or that when you level up you can change the stats. You have a certain amount of energy (your HP). You can use this energy to fill in your other stats. To heal the robot, you need to gain a level (to access the workshop) or to travel back to the nearest workshop. You can also use curing items in battle, but an ambush would be very dangerous. The game also doesn’t explain the various weapons and their ranges in battle. While this isn’t required to play the game, it’s another example of poor user friendliness.
On a more positive note, the battle system requires attention, and looks pretty nice. The hero yells the occasional encouragement to the robot, and there’s nice little animations for beginning a battle and the like. Controlling the robot, once you’re familiar with the systems, isn’t bad at all.
All in all, Robotrek is a brightly colored competent game. The problem, for me, is that the translation doesn’t fit the sound effects and music in the game, and that the game is slightly clunky. It feels like it regularly takes twice as long as it should to access normal things in the game. For example, to get to the first two workshops, you have to enter a building (with a short loading time) and then enter another story of that building (with another loading time,) and then use the console to access the menu. To advance the plot, the hero is often told to “check in with someone” and while the plot is interesting, usually the “checking in” part is rather anticlimactic. If the hero is almost taken hostage, I’d expect a bit more worry from the father or his mother, for example. Would I enjoy the game if it had a more flowing comedic script? Perhaps, but that wouldn’t change the other issues with the game. A remake, on the other hand, might be able to clean up the awkward bits in the gameplay, and would probably have a more fluid experience.