I don’t like steampunk. I’ll give you a moment to recover from your shock before I continue. Yeah, the style just never clicked for me. But that doesn’t mean I hate it; it just means I don’t go out of my way to play steampunk games. That includes the SteamWorld series, of course, even if it isn’t strictly steampunk. But what I do like is fantasy adventures, and Switch games, so I was willing to try SteamWorld Quest: Hand of Gilgamech. A fantasy RPG with robot characters is a strange premise to be sure, but as long as it recognizes that and provides something new, I see no reason it shouldn’t work.
I don’t have much to say about the visuals, because they retain the signature style of the SteamWorld series. That means (fortunately) that while this game used 2D visuals, it does not use pixel art. It uses a hand drawn motif that I’m always happy to see in an endless wave of pixelated indie games. All of the robots do look out of place in an otherwise typical medieval landscape, but that may have been the intent. It isn’t distracting, in any case, and just makes the experience more unique. The playable characters have appropriate and recognizable designs, ensuring they’ll stay with you and remain relatable.
The plot follows three main heroes, with others unlocked along the way: a knight named Armilly, an alchemists named Copernica, and a mechanic named Galleo. These characters fit familiar tropes, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be entertaining. Armilly is my personal favorite; she’s a wannabe adventurer with too much energy and a list of fantasy adventure tropes she wants to cross off. Her enthusiasm drives the plot, for better or worse. The other main characters are, unfortunately, less interesting. Copernica is your typical overly-serious mage. She’s a great (albeit unoriginal) foil for Armilly, but it often feels like that’s her only purpose. Galleo is a cowardly mechanic who serves as the party’s healer. He’s a gentle giant sort of character, but he joins the party at the beginning of the game for little reason. There are other heroes who later join your party, but these three are going to be with you throughout your time with SteamWorld Quest.
One party member represents the group in the overworld, each creen of which acts as a square on a grid. While combat is turn-based, enemies are visible in the overworld, much like in the Paper Mario and Persona games. But the battle system itself is something less common: it uses cards. It may not be a completely unique idea, but Steamworld Quest unquestionably benefits from implementing it. While the characters and world are entertaining, they’re a tad short on depth. The card system adds the extra bit of depth the game needs, without going completely crazy. Each character has a relatively small deck, and there’s a relatively small number of cards accessible each turn, but picking a set of cards from all of your party members allows you to customize each turn. If you need an all-out attack, you can use three of Armilly’s cards and get a small bonus for matching. If you need to hit an enemy’s elemental weakness and heal, you can use a mix of Copernica and Galleo’s cards.
There’s something to be said for light RPGs. Most of the genre is defined by games with mountains of impenetrable lore, so it’s nice to jump into an RPG that doesn’t require understanding of a fictional world’s entire history to get into. For me personally, though, SteamWorld Quest didn’t have the storytelling to keep me excited to play. There may not be a happy medium to find there, but in the meantime, I still think SteamWorld Quest is a fun little game. It’s easy to jump into and its mechanics work really well.