Review: RPG Maker 3 (PS2)

RPG Maker 3
Publisher: Agetec
Developer: Enterbrain
Genre: RPG Dev Kit
Release Date: 9/29/05

It’s nice to see the RPG Maker make a return after the very lackluster RPG Maker 2. I had fun with the complex but creative RPG Maker 1 for the PSX, making short but adorable 8 bit adventures. RPG Maker 2 looked as bad as the games it made. They looked bad, they sounded bad, and the interface was pretty bad as well. Sure it gave you a ton of options, but when 75% of the people who bought the game gave up after a few days, what fun is that? And that’s what games are supposed to be: FUN! But with patience bordering on OCD, you could make some pretty creative (but hideous) games. The only good thing about RPG Maker 2 that I can think of was the ability to use a USB based keyboard to type in all the verbiage you couldn’t in RPG Maker 1.

I’ve been waiting for this game for a long time. I’d heard that not only are the graphics sharper, but the music is enjoyable and the maps and towns/dungeons were easy to make. Most of all, it was my chance to put up or shut up. We all know I’ve got a reputation for being the biggest hard ass in the Video Game Reviewing Industry, and I’ve well earned my reputation as an arrogant (but witty and loveable and oh so sexy to the ladies) reviewer who scours every last detail of a game until my reviews are double digits in page lengths. And my beloved Hate Club is always quick to send me (poorly written, spelled and punctuated) emails filled with profanity and telling me to give 10’s to every game they love and defying me to do better than the latest spikey-haired emo boi filled claptrap that’s destined to spawn hordes of fanfic written by even worse authors than the original localization team of whatever game we’re talking about, at least half of it slash.

So here we go ladies and gentlemen. The Icon, the Showstoppa, the Main Eventah is using Agetec’s PS2 version of RPG Maker to give you guys the chance to verbally sodomize me and my creations. Each game (and there will be several) that I make will be uploaded to Inside Pulse via a Dexdrive for you my readers, to download and play and then give me criticism on. In other words, you get to review me. Ooh! It’s like an O’Henry meets Saki tea party of electronic goodness. And hey why not, let’s start something really potentially cool here. To any of those other gaming sites out there: You get someone to review my game? Someone at IP will review yours. Let’s see what happens. Of course, my guess is that no one will take me up on this due the pusillanimous and “OMG! Such and such company made this game and they gave me a free review copy! 10/10!!!1!!!!One!!1!”streak running through most of them.

And yes, that was me just pushing buttons. Buck buck buck, CHICKEN!

My first game should be done before Thanksgiving (What? I review several games a month, I have an active non-Internet based social life and I actually have sex with women. I can’t devote my life to sitting in front of a TV wondering what shade some female NPC’s boobies should be.), and we’ll make a big deal of it when it’s done so you can’t forget.

Now…let me stop my role as the Wade Wilson of Inside Pulse and review this game.

Let’s Review

1. Dear Brave Heart

Usually we start off reviews here at IP by reviewing the story aspect of a game, or season mode if it’s a sport game, or run through a quick list of games if it’s a compilation. Things like that. But there’s nothing really comparable in RPG Maker 3 as YOU are the storyteller. So instead, I’ve decided to do a mini review of the little RPG included on RPG Maker to get you accustomed to how your game can play out.

The plot of “Dear Brave Heart.” is standard RPG fare. One thousand years ago, Solomon the Great sealed away 72 demons. And for some reason or another, the seal on these demons is growing weaker and the Fiends are being released back into the world. However, the descendents of Solomon, known as the “Soul Masters” for their possession of the Soul Crest Cards have made it their life’s mission to track down and reseal the devils. In this game you play as Ethelion and attempt to track down and seal away 4 of the devils.

Now as RPG’s go, Dear Brave Heart is not going to win any awards. It’s got a lot of cliches and on it’s own, it would probably be written off with “Would have been a great Genesis RPG.” But that’s not the point if the game. The point is to show off all the things you can make in your OWN RPG. it gives you a wide range of classes and attacks. It shows you 2 dozen monster types. It gives you great examples of terrains and dungeons. In a nutshell it’s a hands on how to do things and also reminds you of things to help your players along like “Press X to talk to a person when an exclamation mark appears on the screen.” It also demonstrates what NOT to do, like reminding you to set the text speed as fast as you can being anything else is mind numbingly SLOW. But I think that was unintentional…

Like RPG Maker 1, this tutorial/sample RPG doesn’t take itself seriously, and has lots of amusing characters you can have on your team, or even fight. The game tries hard to make itself entertaining while also teaching you how to make an enjoyable RPG, and that’s what makes playing through Dear Brave Heart worthwhile. Because too many RPG’s (save Nippon Ichi ones) lack a sense of humor and come off pretentious (Xenosaga any one?).

Although not an award winner on it’s own, Dear Brave Heart showcases a lot of interesting things you can do with RPG Maker 3, from mini collecting games, to showcasing the various designs you can have for environments. I know a lot of people will just start making their game without paying attention to this, but that’s also going to be where games go wrong. Playing through DBH lets you see how stats effect battle values and thus you can balance your characters better.

All in all, play through it before you make your own game. DBH will save you a lot of time in regards to balancing and redoing your own snafus.

Dear Brave Heart Rating: 6/10

2. Graphics

Wow. Not only are the graphics in RPG Maker 3 leaps and bounds over the crap we had in RPG Maker 2, but it’s damn good even for most PS2 games. I can’t believe a “Dev Kit for non-developers” was able to pack this level of quality into the game. The scenery and backgrounds are terrific, and the character models are better than early PS2 games, and decent for this tail end of the generation.

There are no cut scenes that you can make, but there are character portraits for having old school story telling scenes like one would find in Shining Force or Revelations: Persona. The character models aren’t the best, and often times they don’t match up colour scheme wise with the 3D models they would normally be attached to (and you can see this with the dwarf in Dear Brave Heart), but with better graphics and an attempt to make it easy to design your own RPG’s, they gave up some degree of customization and palette swaping. And I’m fine with that in the end. But I sure wish I could make a Pikachu. But anyone that knows me is very thankful I can’t, as my eventual game would be “Planet of nothing but Pikachus being cute and having tea parties where the only battles involve scone bake offs.”

Creating the graphics for RPG Maker 3 is amazingly easy. You choose from a set of premade character and monster models and then can pick from 1-4 palette selections. Then you pick a 2D character portrait if you need one, and you’re ready to go. At least graphically.

Designing dungeons, towns, and the world map is just as easy. Go to the correct part of the game such as “Field/Dungeon/Town Editor.” On the left of the screen will show you the entire map you’ve designed so far. The middle of the screen is the editing area and this is where you draw your map with various tools. Here you can create a 2D pixilated map that the game will automatically turn into a full fledged gorgeous landscape that fits your exact 2D rending. But now it’s pretty! You can select various terrains and altitudes. You can make a tiny island surrounded by Lava if you want, or you can draw out Norway. In this part of the game, your imagination is your only limit. Well, unless you have Parkinson’s, then your world’s going to look pretty funny as you’ll need steady hands for minute detailing.

Towns and Dungeons are similar with a few more options through the layout editor, which places buildings and treasure chests.

Creating your layouts, no matter how bad your level designs are, will always look impressive to those playing your game thanks to the wonderful graphics Enterbrain has programmed into RPG Maker. If you’ve a good designer and have an excellent story, your game will no doubt garner cult status amongst your friends and the elitist Internet websites. If you’re neither creative nor a good dialogue writer, well you’ll have made a game with nice graphics but horrible gameplay, and thus people will accuse you of ripping off Final fantasy 8.

Graphics Rating: 7/10

3. Sound

For obvious reasons there is not a lick of voice acting in this game. The background music is quite good and there’s a lot to choose from. There’s a few I’d never use in my own game, but again we have a huge step up from the terrible quality of RPG Maker 2’s tuneage. You’ll easily find something for any locale whether the mood is dark and sinister, or light hearted and cheery.

Special effect noises are average. There’s little to choose from and there’s only so often you can hear the “Beam” sound effect without flinching from annoyance. You also can’t choose sound effects, which is a pity, as I’d have loved to have a cackling laugh for the Skull magic effect and the like.

It’s hard to really go in depth here considering you have little control of what to use aurally in this game. The sound effects are average and pretty blase, but I’m pretty happy the music as most of it blends very well with battles or the scenery. The music doesn’t distract or overwhelm, but it’s also not like the Zelda theme or the Velvet Room Operetta where you’ll be humming it for days after playing until your friends hit you with a 2×4.

Liveable and passable. And better than anything you or I could write musically.

Sound Rating: 6/10

4. Control & Gameplay

Let’s focus on Control first. And by Control, I mean the ease in which on can make a game.

I won’t lie. This is going to be massively time consuming, and you could beat a 40 hour long RPG in the time it takes you to make a well thought out 10-20 hour RPG. It’ll take you months to make a full length epic. And use up as much room as the game can take up on your memory card.

Thanks to the ability to use a USB keyboard for typing in dialogue and background information, you can save yourself a lot of time with design length. It takes a VERY long time using just the PS2 controller to write out dialogue, especially if like me, you type at 80-100 WPM. That 10 WPM you’re going to have with the PS2 controller will feel like eons. If you only own say, a laptop, I advise you to spend the 10-20 bucks and just buy a damn keyboard if you’re planning to make a long game, or several games.

There are some annoyances I have with the builder. The first is with character building. You have to pick your weapon type first, and then from there, you are given a list of character model designs that go with that weapon. It really should be the other way around, as I know I care more about the character skin and how that looks than what weapon is being used.

The second is in regards to designing special attacks. You can only assign a single negative status to a move, and then it won’t always hit. It’s only a percentage. So I can’t have a crazy curse attack that poisons, slows, and possibly freezes the opponent. Nope. 1 and only one. It would have been nice to have a 100% guaranteed poison attack or the like as well.

But other than these minor quibbles, I find the design interface to be rock solid. Yes, there’s a lot less customization than in RPG Maker 1 & 2, but it’s a lot easier to make. I can’t tell you how many times over the past 5-6 years where I’ve heard people claim they were going to make some kick ass game. And they built a town and made a single character, then stopped because it was too much work. I remember the summer of 2000, I was talking to Eggo from the late lamented GameFAN mag who had enjoyed my RPG Maker 1 game, and we bitched about how too many people talked big but maybe 10% of the people with the game actually finished an RPG project. And of course now watch I die in a plane crash before I finish my first game for RPGM3 and everyone on the Internet remembers me as that guy who was going to make a game, but then disappeared.

Overall this is the easiest of the Maker games to actually follow through with your ideas on. And this helps a lot because you can’t help but get a giddy feeling in your nether regions when you finally see your map come to life, or when you have a Dwarf throw a perfect Shoryuken and then after he kicks some ass say, “You must defeat Shen Long to stand a chance” in an homage to old school Street Fighter 2 goodness. And then you find yourself sucked in. It’s the little successes adding up that keep you hooked making a game, something very few people experienced with the first 2 RPG Maker’s.

Gameplay wise, any game you make will look and play like a standard 3D turn based RPG. In battle mode, your characters are on one side and the enemies are on another. Attack order is based on speed. You know the routine.

In world mode, if you’ve played one RPG, you know what to find here. You talk to villagers, and you explore towns and buy items. Again, usual standard fare. One thing I did notice worth bringing up is that it’s a bit harder to steer your main character when running. You don’t have the degree of accuracy in turning that you do with walking. So you either move like living molasses or you’re basically trying to drive a school bus around a British roundabout.

Really though, gameplay is tight and seamless. Again, there’s not much for options and a lot of attacks will end up overlapping in appearance, but as I’m pointed out constantly, we’re giving up options for better graphics, sounds, and ease of design.

I have to say that RPG Maker 3 is solid in both making a game and the battle engine, even if the latter is not the most inspired in the world. I’d make another Final Fantasy joke here, but one’s already been done this review, and I can’t be pegged as a one trick pony. So how about, “But then Dragon Quest VII has the same basic interface as Dragon Quest I, and those are some damn fine games.” No, it wasn’t funny, but see, I LIKE those games.

The only way your RPG is going to suck more than a porn starlet in need of her coke fix is if you rush it or get sloppy.

Control & Gameplay Rating: 8/10

5. Replayability

Considering you’ll be spending a long time making a single RPG and then having your friends play through it, you might at first think there’s not much here. But to the dedicated (re: obsessed shut-in) designer with never-ending ideas that Atlus or Camelot refuse to listen too, you can pretty much just own this game and never have to play another. You’ll be making games, then making more. And with the ability to install the entire game to your PS2 hard drive (if you own one), you can keep making games, while a friend has borrowed your disc to play the games you’ve made. Wonderful idea that’s going to get RPGM3 points later on down the review.

Unlimited potential. Where most games score high by having multiple endings, diverging plots or a lot of playable characters in this column, RPG Maker 3 is literally a game where the sky is the limit and you can go back to it years from now and make something entirely new.

Replayability Rating: 10/10

6. Balance

And here’s the tricky thing. The games you make are only as balanced as you make them. If you don’t playtest or you decide to make one character uber-powerful and have all the best attacks and so on, then your game will be too easy. If you decide that every boss should make Borgan from Lunar: Eternal Blue on the Sega CD seem like a cakewalk, then your game will be too hard. It’s creating that nice balance for people of challenging, but not impossible to create a satisfactory gaming experience. The best way to do this is to look through the “Dear Brave Heart” data and seeing what stats do what.

Dev kit wise, Enterbrain has really made your own personal experience of creating a game easy. Everything is laid out in plain English with simple commands and instructions. And if you need help, the 51 page instruction manual that comes with the game walks you through all the steps thoroughly. Sure there will be times where you get confused, and those will almost always be when writing diverging paths, but those moments are in the minority.

For all intents and purposes, Enterbrain has gone out of its way to give you a very balanced creation tool and left you a reasonable amount of hints and tips to make your own games balanced as well.

Balance Rating: 8/10

7. Originality

Again, since we’re basically reviewing a dev kit, it’s hard to put some of this into context. This is the THIRD RPG Maker, but this is the first one to hit a balanced and acceptable combination of customization/options and accessibility to the average gamer.

However, the game you will end up making will live and die based on your story. The battle engine is generic and in fact most of what you will make will end up having been done by games before. Mini-games, secret dungeons, hidden character? Been done before. So again, if you want your RPG to stand out, you’re going to have to create unique characters, situations, and stories. Otherwise it’ll be just another turned based battle engine game.

So the plain fact of the matter is that your game will still end up being somewhat generic for all your plans and ideas. And the more you make, the more apparent it will be to your players as well as yourself. So remember: GOOD STORY! Well developed characters! Your plot > everything else if you want this to stand out.

Originality Rating: 5/10

8. Addictiveness

The big problem with first two RPG Makers is that the game was a lot of work for little reward. You’d design and design and design and as there was no real recognition for your effort as in other games, many would just get sick of it and put in a game they didn’t make themselves. In RPG Maker 3 though, there’s lots of great little things to keep you going.

Thanks to being able to see your character’s moves in preview mode, you can get some sense of pride in your creation by tweaking and editing. I was very happy when I managed to get my Street Fighter homage Dwarf to throw a pretty decent (for a turn based RPG) Hadouken. And it really sucked me in for more. But then I worked in the tabletop industry so I actually enjoy making long and complex RPG scenarios. RPG Maker 3 is right up my ally as unlike RPGM1 where I labored for hours trying to make a perfect Pikachu sprite, my reaction here can be “Well, not possible. Oh well. Time for something else!”

It really depends on how much you like creating vs. playing. As well, there’s the fact that maybe 1-2 of your friends AT MOST will have RPG Maker 3 so you’ll have to lend out the game or pray they have a PS2 hard drive if they want to play your creation. So your labour will largely go unrewarded. Unless you have a Dex Drive and can get other people to download your game from the Internet as well.

So even though I’ve been totally engrossed in making a game to the point where I have to force myself to review other games, I know most people won’t have the mental stamina to sit through this thing.

Addictiveness Rating: 4/10

9. Appeal Factor

Bottom of the barrel. This is as niche as games get after all. First it’s only going to appeal to RPG Gamers. And then only a subset of RPG gamers who want to make their own game. And then an even SMALLER subset that will shill out the fifty bucks to buy the game. And then an even TINIER final group of people that won’t get bored and trade the game in after the first week.

And then you have to find people to play it.

Congratulations. Could there be a smaller audience possible for a game? Even the Japanese arcade ass poking simulator has a larger audience than RPGM3 will have in the States. Too bad too, as it’s pretty fun to make the games.

Appeal Factor Rating: 1/10

10. Miscellaneous

The best thing about RPG Maker 3 is something most people are going to overlook. And that’s the HDD Install option. This feature allows you to install the entire RPG Maker 3 application data to your hard drive, making it easier for your friends to play your games and then you can go and keep making new ones. The problem is finding friends with the hard drive. The problem here of course is the hard drive is no longer made (unless you find copies of the PS2 FFXI game), and very few people own it. But it’s a wonderful option that basically gives your friends free games. EXPLOIT THIS OPTION.

It’s also wonderful to have the USB keyboard support. I know I keep bringing it up, but back with RPG Maker 1 on the PSX, I’d have sold my soul (or at least my girlfriend) to not have to use the craptastical PS controllers for paragraph entry.

Realize this game isn’t for everyone, and the final score will reflect that, but I love it. I like making my own games, because I know my friends will actively want to play what spews from my twisted imagination. The “Find and kill furries” mini-game will be enough to get laughter from my friends. And that’s what I’m out to do. Not to make some game that will try and go toe to toe with Digital Devil Saga: Avatar Tuner as the best RPG of 2005, but something I can make for my friends that I know will make them laugh, smile and roll their eyes. RPG Maker 3 allows me to make a labour of love for those I care about. And that’s something truly awesome. And why I’ll be spewing out surreal existential and humorous games with this until RPG Maker 4 comes out.

Although the numbers won’t show it, this is one of my five best games of the year.

Miscellaneous Rating: 10/10

THE SCORES

Dear Brave Heart: 6/10
Graphics: 7/10
Sound: 6/10
Control & Gameplay: 8/10
Replayability: 10/10
Balance: 8/10
Originality: 5/10
Addictiveness: 4/10
Appeal: 1/10
Miscellaneous: 10/10

Overall Score: 65/100
FINAL SCORE: 6.5 (Not for everyone, but wonderful for those it is)

The Inside Pulse

Definitely a game for a very miniscule portion of the gaming community. You’re either going to love it or become amazingly exasperated with it and trade it in for something shinier and that gives you more immediate gratification. But if the idea of making something unique for friends sounds appealing to you, or you have a god complex, then it’s probably worth your time to pick this up. If you have a PS2 hard drive, Gamefly this sucker. RPG Maker 3 is going to survive only by active fan communities on the net, so start finding other people with the game and make contact NOW.