*This review originally appeared at Miketendo64.com*
The RPG Maker series has had an interesting history. Though it began in the mid-1990s as something of a game-creation game, the series later became a more overt tool for game creation. Though RPG Maker isn’t the most complex program for game-creation, it has lead to a few critically-acclaimed commercial releases, such as To the Moon. Though RPG Maker Fes’ status as a 3DS title brings the franchise back to its more humble roots and limitations, it still brings a decently robust set of tools for hopeful game designers to practice their skills.
As stated, being a Nintendo 3DS title, RPG Maker Fes is a lot simpler than its PC/Mac supported contemporaries, but that also means it’s relatively more accessible.
RPG Maker Fes, as the franchise-name implies, allows you to create your own RPG titles. The game is grounded in a 16-bit aesthetic, but that’s fine by me, seeing as that generation was the genre’s heyday. Visuals aside, you might even be surprised by how much you’re able to do and make on a tiny 3DS cartridge.
You can create characters, character classes, items, weapons, spells and enemy monsters. You can set their graphics, sprites, statistics. You can build the world map and dungeons via the touchscreen, and create story events and write dialogue. You have pretty much the essentials at your disposal. Perhaps not enough to make the RPG of your dreams, but certainly enough to make a fun, short RPG that can give you a better understanding of how to get started on the RPG of your dreams. As someone who hopes to one day make video games, RPG Maker Fes serves as a nice introductory tool.
Of course, there is a notable caveat in that there are no tutorials or instructions to really tell you how to get started. Now, most game making programs don’t have such things, but seeing as this is a pick-up-and-play, 3DS entry, you kind of wish there could be a few adjustments made to ease players in.
The biggest downside to RPG Maker Fes, however, are the unfortunate limitations that come with the hardware. As mentioned, RPG Maker has always been more simple than programs like GameMaker or Unity – with set visual and audio aesthetics for starters – but if you were clever enough with it, you could make something that was more your own than the program initially suggests. People have often made their own sprites, imported their own music, and even tampered with the RPG gameplay.
Don’t expect that same level of freedom here. Your stuck with whatever graphics, sprites and music the game displays for you, and though you may find some clever ways to change up the designated gameplay, I don’t think Fes is capable of the same kind of liberation of other RPG Maker programs.
This is all the more of a downside when you realize just how limited things like the graphics, music and sprites are. The game is limited to a rather generic anime art style, and the packaged game only comes with the typical fantasy settings and materials to work with. Other themes are planned for DLC releases, but it feels kind of cheap to not have more variety from the get-go (strangely, some graphics for guns and don’t-call-them-lightsabers exist, despite the fantasy-themed limitation. That could add some creative fuel to the fire, but it would also be nice to place swords and sorcery in a futuristic sci-fi setting and the like).
Further problems will arise with the limited number of graphics you have to work with for characters, monsters, weapons and items. Each category only has a handful of sprites and objects to work with, which you might find yourself exhausting pretty quickly when creating your game’s assets. Each sprite and graphic features four different colors, but such simple palette-swapping is a pretty iffy means to add variety.
With all of these complaints and limitations said, RPG Maker Fes is still surprisingly deep with what it allows you to do with its tools. After all, a good story and fun dialogue can make even the most basic sprite liven up, and good world design and gameplay can make up for a predictable setting. If the player is inventive enough, and has the patience for it, they can make an engaging (albeit short) RPG, and hopefully develop a wider understanding of game design.
Better still, you can share your creations with others, and download the creations of others in return. Meaning that – good or bad – you can experience what other players have dedicated their time to making, and they can experience the same from you.
It certainly has enough limitations to hold it back, but if you hope to one day make video games, RPG Maker Fes is a decent place to start. I’m still a long way off from releasing my first dream game, but after playing RPG Maker Fes, I do feel a step closer. If you give it a whirl, you could be too.