So a roving gang of scruffy-bearded slobs called the Killer Elephants has taken over Nefroburg, the cozy little city that adopted you after a shipwreck deposited you on the shore, leaving you with no memory. Heroically, you've infiltrated the gang by filling out an application—oh, if only the Crips had an HR person—and sneaking incognito into their hideout. After posing as a chef and whipping up a tasty "herbal steak," you finally get some face-time with the Big Boss, who challenges you to do battle on a Trotmobile, a weaponized vehicle with legs that look a bit like the loaders in Aliens. No amount of training will keep him from kicking your ass, but it still isn't quite "game over." In fact, not only do you get to live, but the Big Boss has a change of heart and decides to pull the Killer Elephants out of the city anyway.

The addictive RPG Steambot Chronicles may seem like a perilous adventure involving man-operated battlebots, but at heart, it's really just another in a tradition of charming Japanese games about making friends. You play Vanilla Beans, a stranded amnesiac who's rescued by Connie, the fetching lead singer of the hit rock combo the Garland Globetrotters. Depending on how you want to play it, you can make decisions to help Connie and her friends, or slip off to the dark side. Either way, you need to upkeep and upgrade your Trotmobile in order to beat back the many bandits that rule the terrain between city centers. While there are plot elements to resolve, the considerable joys of Steambot Chronicles are all about mucking around in the sandbox—running errands, playing mini-games, stock-trading, mastering an instrument for Connie's band, and just generally interacting with the agreeably goofy retro-future world around you.

Beyond the game: Save for occasional encounters with those pesky bandits, so much of the game takes place outside the lines that it's less like playing it than living it.


Worth playing for: If you go the friendly route, you can actually fall in love with Connie and express your feelings on a perfect moonlit night by the waterside at a desert oasis. It's oddly enchanting.

Frustration sets in when: After trying Elder Scrolls IV, which lets you jump freely around the map, it can be a grind to lope around on your Trotmobile, especially when you hit all the stoplights.

Final judgment: Is there any better feeling than providing harmonica accompaniment to an awkwardly translated Japanese love ballad? No.