RPG MAKER GAMES THAT PUSH THE LIMITS
RPG Maker has always been a useful tool meant to help pros and beginners alike to test their capabilities in creating video games. It’s even the tool of choice for students in our online video game development course. Even though it doesn’t provide you with enough of resources to make advanced triple-A-like titles with astounding graphics and large scope of the game world, you are given with means, just enough to create your own project (see our RPG Maker asset store), simple and experimental, yet at the same time magically appealing, and bring it to life.
The majority of JRPGs (Japanese Role-Playing Games) created through RPG Maker look rather the same. With their rudimentary graphics, anime portraits, dialogue boxes appearing on the screen, and turn-based combat style, they bring back the reminiscence of the first Final Fantasy and Kartia games.
Undoubtedly, well-developed RPGs require plenty of assets, including areas to explore, enemies to defeat and items to collect. Many beginners who decide to create their games through RPG Maker, due to the limited artistic skills and resources, rely on the assets already provided by the engine. This is why such games may and will at some point share many similarities with one another. More creative indie game devs will use art packs, such as this fantasy art pack or this space art pack, to help customize the look of their games.
In spite of the engine-enforced limits, some games created through RPG Maker managed to break the sameness and are considered as the very best in their genre. Let’s take a look at several RPG Maker games that push the limits of this engine!
Can you imagine a game that allows you to have only one attempt to go through it and each time you close the game window you instantly kill your character? That’s OneShot. Developed in December 2016 by Little Cat Feet studios. It’s a very well marketed puzzle adventure game, where you become a cat-person named Niko who wakes up in a foreign world and realises that he’s a “Messiah”. He’s tasked with bringing back the light to the land by delivering a light bulb to the ancient tower, and we as his god, help him on fulfilling his quest.
OneShot employs a top-down view perspective and just like the majority of RPG Maker games focuses on solving puzzles, completing small quests, chat with NPCs and collect items that can be used in a variety of ways. What makes the game stand out amongst other is that the puzzles ask you to seek for answers not only in the game itself but also outside of the game, such as your system. In OneShot you will be also tasked with moving your game screen to imitate movements of the film, this is why it is best to play it in windowed mode.
The game features a beautiful artwork and soundtrack, but what also makes it so special is an immersive and gripping character writing. Everything you do in the game may have an impact on your future actions, and even if you decide to play it from the beginning, the system will remember your choices from the previous gameplay.
OneShot initially was a free-to-play game, with a 1-hour long content and rudimentary options. Only after it was released on Steam platform, it experienced a major overhaul to visuals and sounds. Whereas in the old version NPCs were put just to allow you to progress from one puzzle to another, now they got bestowed with a soul, personal goals and character. The new version of the game provided the players with a far more appealing UI panel and intuitive controls.
What is more, after a hail of criticism over the 1-life feature of the game, you are no longer bound to have one life through the whole story, but you can resume the game from the moment you ended it. Along with enhancing the content and the general appearance of the game, the developers had to make some cuts to the old-fashioned aspects of OneShot, but they still managed to keep what the old game did just right.
If you never had a chance to try this game, now it’s a great time to do so, since its standard version is available for $10 on Steam. Unlike other RPG Maker games OneShot allows you to delve deep into the numerous aspects of the meta content reaching beyond the game itself. Along with a mixture of well-written dialogues, captivating story and the general artistic framework of the game, it is one of the purest examples of the best RPG Maker titles on the market.
Even though many budding game developers that use RPG Maker rely solely on the assets provided by the engine, some decide to aim higher and create many features on their own. One of these developers is Joshua Missile studios which in July 2015 crafted an art in its pure form – a JRPG named Amber Throne. And although this game didn’t get much in the way of press, it’s a great example of what you can do with RPG Maker.
The game tells you a story of a mysterious girl Arra, who wakes up from her slumber in a coffin and hears the words of her long deceased father saying “Destroy the Amber Throne”. Having little insight of what’s it all about, Arra departs on a perilous journey to find and put an end to the said Amber Throne before it will fall into the hands of her enemies. The title shares a number of fundamental features common to JRPGs, including turn-based gameplay, area exploration, battling enemies and completing quests. But there’s much more to that.
Through beautifully handcrafted landscapes and characters, it is clear that developers of the game put a high emphasis on the artistic framework of the story. The music fits well the magical atmosphere of the unknown world and perfectly blends with everything you see on the screen. The plot of Amber Throne at the first glance may look to you rather simple and hazy, but that’s actually the essence of the game. The sooner you will get used to the minimalistic scope of the story, the better will be your in-game experience.
In Amber Throne, Arra won’t be on her trials alone, since you will be able to accompany her with up to 5 distinct characters, each having a different role to fulfill in the group. What is more, your enemies will feature different stances that will be activated accordingly to your actions. In order to move from battle to battle without major casualties, you will have to learn your characters’ roles as well as your enemies’ behaviour and appropriately react on the changing circumstances on the battle map. Also, in comparison to the majority of JRPGs on the market, you won’t get attacked randomly on the world map, but you will actually be able to spot your enemies which is a great (and super handy) improvement.
But not everything in Amber Throne looks so shiny and brilliant, since the game has certain drawbacks. The battles at some point become predictable and not competitive, and there are bugs and glitches now and then. But if you look beyond these flaws and engross yourself into the captivating story, amazing artwork and inspiring music, you will be given with a pure example of how a good RPG Maker game should be done.
TO THE MOON
To The Moon is a game by Freebird Games, initially released in November 2011 only for PC, but in January 2014 it found its way to Mac and Linux, and its HD remake hit iPhone and Android in May 2017. Nobody expected its tremendous popularity, not even its creator, head designer, artist writer and composer in one named Kan Gao. To the Moon had an organic game advertising campaign behind it, as players would share videos on YouTube of them crying while they play the game. From there word of mouth spread quickly. The concept for the game sprouted in Kan’s mind in 2010 after the death of his grandfather. The game is more than beautiful visuals, music and well-written characters. Its central core is the story.
In To The Moon you play as a pair of doctors named Eva Rosalene and Neil Watts, who work for a company named Sigmund Corp. The purpose of that company is granting dying people their wishes by rewriting their memories so that they can pass away in peace. In the game our task is to fulfil a wish of a dying old man named Johnny whose life dream has always been going to the moon. We must get into his deepest memories and change them appropriately so that his dreams are fulfilled. During the gripping story of To The Moon, we will uncover many mysteries from Johnny’s past, including a story of his love to a girl named River.
Many players and experienced critics claim that the gameplay of To The Moon is its biggest flaw. The game plays more like an interactive story than a regular, highly interactive JRPG with levels, skills and enemies around every corner. This is why it is not a title for everyone, but mostly for those who value a well-written deep narrative. In the game we have a chance to explore different areas from Johnny’s past and learn of his story by putting it all together.
Despite that the game was made with the use of RPG Maker XP engine, it plays really well without glitches and bugs, and the visuals are art through and through. Kan Gao combined both premade assets with his original ones which added both to the uniqueness of the story and the game easily maintains its RPG Maker feel. And there is also music which is one of the most memorable elements of the game. Ranging from a number of simple chord tracks to emotional and heart-breaking masterpieces, it greatly enhances the immersion of some of the most crucial scenes.
However, the biggest challenge that Kan Gao had to face when moulding the game together was knowing how to make an intense story that goes chronologically backwards. But despite having limited resources, he did so with a masterly accuracy. The game begins with us knowing the end of Johnny’s story but we do not know its beginnings, and that’s what the game is about – learning why Johnny wants so desperately go to the moon.
The general reception of To The Moon appeared to be utterly positive, even despite the game’s simplistic mechanics. It was through writing that the game gained its recognition amongst the fans of the genre. The game won the award in the contest for the best story in Gamespot Game Award 2011 and gained nominations for the best music, story writing, ending, most memorable moment and the song of the year.
This beautiful story of love, life and death is a great gem, but what about its message or the moral? It teaches us that even the smallest moments spent with someone significant to us mean a lot for each of us for the rest our lives, and that it’s never too late to make your dreams come true. If you didn’t have a chance to play this game with someone important for you, we highly encourage you to do so!
IT’S TIME TO EXPERIMENT
RPG Maker is a useful tool that regardless of its restrictions can help you produce a great game that will stand the test of time. If you’re a budding indie game developer willing to experiment a bit with premade assets and if you value art over astounding mechanics and multidimensional gameplay, feel free to get yourself one of the available RPG Maker packs on Steam. If you’re a total newbie and you want to learn how to use the game engine, you can enroll in our comprehensive indie game developer course here. You won’t regret it!