The story takes place in a dark future on the island Edoald, which is ruled by the noble and magnanimous King Wizar (who is imprisoned by the evil prime minister Vlad at the time which the game begins). In this alternate history, steam power is very sophisticated and the people hold it dear: vehicles, gadgetry or weapons are driven by vapor in place of electricity. This links Wachenröder, based on its contents and its overall design, to the steampunk genre.
Since the building of several wastewater treatment plants for the rich upper class, the citizens of Edoalds suffer more and more from diseases caused by hazardous waste and contaminated drinking water.
The gamer assumes the role of Lucian Taylor, who is in search of Imperator Duran, to avenge the illness-caused death of his younger sister, which he holds him responsible for.
Most of the game is presented in an isometric perspective, similar to the genrelike games Shining Force, Vandal Hearts, Front Mission or Final Fantasy Tactics, and consists of several turn-based fights separated by cutscenes. Some cutscenes are preceded by the playable character Bellebete narrating the story. As a result of its linearity and the existence of fan translations for both the script and manual, it's also playable by non-Japanese speaking people. Most main functions are also either written in English or represented as small pictograms.
The events of the game mainly centre around the following characters:
- Lucian Taylor
An often depressive young man in his early 20s, who seeks to avenge the death of his younger sister, who died 4 years ago. He is equipped with a S.R.G. ("Steam Refine Gear"), that provides his "Sledge", a steam driven weapon, with energy. He is named after the main character from Arthur Machen's book The Hill of Dreams.
- Carrol Mew
A princess who seeks to put a stop to the evils perpetuated by Vlad. She is armed with two firearms attached to her hands.
- Titus Groan
A mercenary who claims to be only interested in saving his own skin, but readily jumps to the aid of anyone in need. Named after the fictional character Titus Groan by Mervyn Peake. He is armed with a steam-driven hammer.
A singing diva who travels as part of the performance troupe the Chemical Brothers. After two chance encounters with Lucian's party, she finds herself quite taken with Lucian and convinces the rest of the troupe to help him out. Though supposedly blind, Bellebete uses bow and arrow as her weapon and routinely makes comments such as "You look well."
- Duran Matthews
Rightful ruler of Foggy City. He leads the party in their war against Vlad for most of the game. His weapon is a sword-like S.R.G.
A political pawn of Vlad. Believing that Vlad's research can be used to avert tragedies like the one which killed his mother, he supported Vlad's rise to power and took on the rulership of Foggy City after Duran was forcibly deposed.
The evil prime minister of Edoald Island. A scientist and theologian, he had the king of Edoald imprisoned and all leaders of Edoald's church murdered in his quest to master the ancient technology of the Moribitos and clear the fog surrounding Edoald Island.
Wachenröder and the German language
On several occasions, Wachenröder is bilingual. The little artbook that comes packed with the game, for example, begins with a longer German text that tells the background story in lyric poetry. The names of the chapters and some items are also written in German. Some of the characters bear German names ("Walter", "Georg"), a smeltery bears the name "Falkenhof" (mean: hawk courtyard), and so on.
The game's name is made up from the words Wache (mean: guard) and Röder, whereas the latter descends from the German word roden (mean: "to stub"), which in its original sense means "clearing trees". Thus a "Wachenröder" is a person, who basically "eliminates guards".