When I took on the assignment of reviewing Agetec’s RPG Maker, I knew I was in for trouble. After all, it’s not your average RPG. You can’t review the story (you make your own), you can’t review the character interaction or dialogue (you make that too), the graphics are sketchy because you could use pre-made or make your own! So how the heck does one go about reviewing this quirky little title? I’ll show you.
RPG Maker was originally created as a PC program that allowed you to make your own RPGs using your computer. Though only released in Japan under the name RPG Maker ’95, the game was translated by the underground community and enjoyed a limited following here. RPG Maker is, as its name reflects, a “game” with which you create your own RPG from scratch. You create the characters, the graphics, the story, the magic, the items, etc. and hence, you have your own RPG. It’s a great concept, after all, you don’t need any programming knowledge, you don’t have to work with complex hardware, you don’t even have to hire on a staff of techies! It’s all you, and the manual of course.
RPG Maker comes with two “programs” I suppose they’d be called: RPG Maker and Anime Maker. With RPG Maker you create the game’s “system” (meaning the stats for the characters, spells, items, etc.) Anime Maker on the other hand, allows you to manually create graphics for your RPG, including backgrounds, characters, and enemies. Both are great concepts and both fit on one CD!
The arduous task of creating an RPG goes something like this: create a title screen, define the parameters of the stats, create your characters, create spells, items, and equipment, create the monsters, create the world map, and create the dungeons. Oh, my mistake, that’s just how you create the game’s “system”, meaning what the game will play like. It’s pretty much everything except for the story and events, called the “scenario” of the game.
Setting up the game’s system is, how should I put this… tedious. It’s all about setting values, setting values, and setting more values. Characters and monsters need to have stat values such as HP, MP, Def, etc. Items have to have set prices, attack values, defense values, etc. Spells have to have effect values (how much it will harm or heal), MP values, etc. I think you get the idea. Then you’ll need to set up the world map (called a field), which involves selecting tiles from a huge list of map tiles and putting them together like a huge jigsaw puzzle. The world map system works a lot like in Grandia where you set up locations on a big map and you travel from one location to another without any encounters. Kind of a limitation, I know, but on the other hand, you can have multiple fields in one game.
And finally there are the dungeons, or I should say areas, since it includes towns as well. You create areas by either using pre-made area maps or by piecing together an area map, tile by tile, selecting from pre-made tiles or tiles you make yourself using Anime Maker (more on that later). Along with the area map itself, you place treasure boxes, set enemy encounter rates, and even place “event triggers” which are places that events begin when your characters step on them. Events are anything from a little pop up message to having your characters move around the screen dancing the cha-cha (well, you get the idea). Triggers are also a big part of the scenario system, which I will describe shortly.
Now, you’d think all of this value setting would be the epitome of boredom, and, to an extent it is. But it’s also kind of addictive. Once you start making spells, you just have to keep making them. I blame the ability to name everything as the key factor that creates and sustains the addiction. I mean, I can name a spell Mr. Happy Pants! How cool is that? Seriously, though, setting up the system isn’t as bad as it seems, especially when you get the hang of it. However, let me warn you ahead of time that RPG Maker will keep you VERY busy even when creating a short RPG. You could spend 2 days creating an RPG that would take 30 minutes to play through. The good news? You can import your old systems into new scenarios, effectively making a new game without having to go through the process all over again.
But what exactly IS the scenario? In short, the scenario is all the dialogue, all the events, all the background music and sound effects, how the characters interact with NPCs such as shopkeepers and townspeople. It is in the scenario creation mode that you really get to show off your creativity and imagination. Here you get to set up what characters say and when. You get to create what characters do under which circumstances. You get to set up which music plays at what times. And you get to do it all according to your own preferences. Say you want to have a cute kitty run around your character upon entering a town: all you do is set up the event trigger, define the path that the kitty runs around, and bam, there you go. Is it really that simple? Not in the LEAST, but then again, nothing in RPG Maker is!
Seriously, though, the most difficult part about creating the scenario is getting it all worked out in your head beforehand. As hard as it may be to believe, creating the particulars for an RPG’s plot, events, etc. is very difficult. This is why scenario writers and event planners get their names up in the credits of an RPG, it’s very hard work. It is nowhere NEAR as simple as many people may think, trust me on this one. If you don’t have at least a rough outline of the ENTIRE RPG before you start, you’re going to find yourself with a pretty sorry finished product.
Before I can get into a serious critique of the particulars of the game, I still have to mention Anime Maker. This is the part of the game that lets you design your own characters, tiles, animations, etc. Now, let me preface this by saying that my graphic artistic ability ranks somewhere between stick figure and poorly sketched circles. This is NOT my forte at all, so I went into Anime Maker with really dismal prospects of creating anything even resembling a character. When I came out, it still wasn’t anything special, but it was better than I thought I’d do. You really just draw pixel by pixel, zooming in and out, changing colors, in a (surprise) very tedious process. However, if you’re an artsy type person and are comfortable with working like that it’s a very easy system to learn and gives you a lot of control over detail. You can even animate your characters using the animate function in the game.
Apart from creating your own characters, you can also create background tiles, and cute little movies, called demos, staring the characters you make. I was surprised with the degree of customization you could create using this part of the program and I must say that I was impressed.
Okay, now into the juicy particulars of the review. First I’ll tell you what I liked. Aside from the whole concept of creating an RPG myself, I like how you can store your whole RPG on a PSX memory card. Y’see Timmy, saving the RPG isn’t like saving another game where a group of blocks is set aside for a single save. The larger your RPG, the more memory it eats up. I wasn’t aware that the PSX memory card could function that way, but apparently it can. I seriously suggest using an empty memory card, however, because you can get carried away and find yourself using up a lot more memory card space with your RPG that you would think (hmmm, should I make one more spell or delete that Suikoden save? Ahhh!) Furthermore, using a Dex Drive or similar peripheral, you can put your RPG up on the net and trade them with your friends. Gotta play ’em all!
Another aspect I liked about RPG Maker was the ability to make little spell animations for all your spells. It just struck me as cool that you could have flying fireballs or crosses going here and there and flipping around when you cast a spell.
Of course I LOVE the whole ability to name things. From spells to weapons and armor to characters, I really caught the naming bug while playing around with RPG Maker. And you can include vehicles in the game! Vehicles, man! It’s a law of RPGs that if the game has a vehicle in it, it is exponentially cooler. And if a game has a submarine in it, it is guaranteed to be great (Lufia, FF5, FF7, etc.)
I also liked the ready-made music in the game. It wasn’t anything really special, but there were some catchy tunes, including Shop 3. Overall a good set of tracks.
The ready-made graphics were also not too shabby. They definitely reminded me of the 16-bit era, but had a much more 32-bit feel to them. All I can say is imagine Lufia’s graphics pumped up a little bit and you’ve got the character models and tile designs. And hey, this is probably the last bastion of 2D RPGs, so already the game has merit.
Now, to some of the things I did NOT like. Number one has GOT to be the sound effects they give you in the game. Word association time: sound effects in RPG Maker? Awful, limiting, irritating, bleah! I’m sorry, the guy who created the ready-made foley needs to be shot. Not only is the same group of 75 annoying sound effects available for anything that has a sound effect, but they’re all really tacky and hurt my ears.
Next thing I didn’t like was the fact that you couldn’t make your own music. Aside from the fact that it would have been impractical with no easily accessible synthesizer devices available for the PSX (to my knowledge), a big chunk of RPG Maker for PC was the ability to make your own music. I guess I miss that part of the equation, but at least the BGM provided was okay.
As far as control goes, the game handles pretty well, if such a thing could be said about a game, which mostly involves pressing up and down to set numerical values. At least the D-pad doesn’t go nuts when you press it, and there is mouse support if you actually bought the PSX mouse. Since I didn’t, I can’t say how it measured up, but it probably helped capture the design feel of the game. A big help would have been a keyboard for creating the dialogue, and that’s really the only sticking point I found with the controls.
Oh, and a little peeve that I had with the manual was that, though it tried really hard to be concise, RPG Maker needs a huge friggin’ colorized, 150 page manual to accurately explain how everything works and what everything is. Though it does come with a sample RPG that gives you little hints about RPG creation, it’s really not that helpful. If there’s an RPG Maker for Dummies book out there, I’d seriously suggest picking it up if you want to understand exactly what you’re doing and why you’re doing it.
So how does RPG Maker fare in the long run? Well if you can get past the rather tedious value setting and mildly sharp learning curve (and really terrible sound effects) RPG Maker has got to be one of the most innovative and worthwhile buys out there for all you creative geniuses. Though I’d rather play the RPGs than create them, I heartily recommend this game to anyone who has ever thought about making his or her own RPGs. I also recommend it to those who want to work for a game company because it separates the wheat from the chaff, big time.