alright so there's been some talk recently about people wanting shorter games that look worse and there was some post by kastelpls on twitter saying that people who talk about how they want the games that are shorter and look worse always seem to turn up their nose to RPG Maker stuff and interactive fiction and games on itch. That seemed like a pretty fair criticism to me, so I asked them if I could get some recommendations for blogs covering RPG maker stuff and they said that a lot of the old RPG Maker blogs were dying but pointed me to RPG Maker Historia as one they used to follow, and looking at that one pointed me to RPG Maker Archive, which has some links to some other resources, but almost all of it seems focused on RPG Maker 2003 and not any of the more recent developments with the whole RPG Maker VX Ace scene or the games made in MV/MZ, and those have been where most of the work's been done in the last decade.
anyway the point of this page is to write at least a little bit about some of those sorts of otherwise unremarkable-seeming RPG maker games that I might find on the recent releases page of Itch or freem or dlsite or glorious trainwrecks, or anywhere else I can find people releasing new RPG Maker games (side note: let me know if you know if there's some specialty site for rpg maker games in another region that i've never heard of. i'd love to see the chinese/french/spanish/wherever rpg maker scene) (update, a german friend has linked me to makerpendium.de for information on the german RPG maker scene). I want to try to find the good in these things so I'm going to try and set aside the usual tendency to go "this is good, this is bad" since I don't know how helpful that is when I'm writing about the art of a niche topic for a very small audience, and my interest is less in the buyer's guide aspect and more on just getting some of the scaffolding up for even trying to start talking about rpg maker games and I think a good/bad dichotomy is less helpful than just trying to understand what something's doing. that's the plan anyway. we'll play it by ear and see how it actually plays out.
Journey to Luonto
This is developer Daniel Wiitanen's first and seemingly only video game. I can't find much about the guy, though one piece of circumstantial evidence I did find suggests that this would've been made when the developer was in high school. It uses the default assets from RPG Maker VX Ace, and the party is your typical hero/fighter/mage/cleric setup. The text seems to be trying to cram itself into as few text boxes as usual, and that gives every conversation this sort of breathless effect. It feels like everyone's speaking really quickly to get you funneled into the next part of the main quest. Every random encounter has precisely two enemies, and it's pretty much always best, in the two hours of it I've played, to just mash the lightning spell that hits all enemies twice. All the zones feel like big boxes except for the caves, for which I'm pretty sure I remember an "autogenerate dungeon" button from my time working with the editor, that would pop out results pretty similar to what I see in the game's dungeons. Trying to judge this the way I'd judge a professional work seems mean-spirited, since this is obviously an amateur's first halfway serious attempt, and the dev has his self-insert say as much on the first screen. This is the video game equivalent of watching a kid at the guitar store realize that they can use the instruments to make noises and express themselves for the first time, even if they don't really totally understand how or why or what the effects of doing so are. Typos abound and the maps are too big and the fights all take a bit too long and the encounter rate is too high and the plot is thin but none of that really matters here. The fun here, as much as there is to be had, is just watching someone sincerely try to express something with the tool they have for the first time. It can grate a bit, but this is pretty much the ur-game that RPG Maker was built to facilitate. Someone's first, generic fantasy. And I think that's neat.
Noel the Mortal Fate: Season 1
I just finished playing Noel the Mortal Fate: Season 1. It was about 2 hours long. It seems like this is a kind of monster of the week shounen series, and this episode was setting up the stakes for the rest of the games. Noel wanted to be the best pianist but got cheated out of a win at the last minute. The mayor told Noel that he knew of a way to get her the title if she'd just come to the warehouse after dark. At the warehouse, Noel got tricked into summoning a devil by the mayor's secretary and she lost all her limbs in the process. The great devil that was summoned was annoyed at the way the mayor abused the devil's contract and formed a second contract with Noel to help her. Noel then learned the truth about the mayor and fought the bomb demon working for him and resolved to take revenge against him, and take down the entire city if she had to. The game ends with her making another deal with the devil to trade her right eye to get her left arm back. It's a pretty tidy setup and it seems like it'll probably be pretty fun to go through. The gameplay is various forms of block-pushing puzzles and some light bump combat between story setpieces. The sprites are a bit nonstandard, but it gives the game a unique charm, and the visual design is pretty strong in the menus and character designs and CGs. As far as I can tell from poking around the www/sound/bgm folder it looks like the music is mostly stock or free with a few original compositions thrown in the mix. This is a perfectly reasonable way to approach the music end of the game from the production end, and the music works fine. It also looks like the series just finished a couple weeks ago, so I should be able to just binge through the rest of it over the next while.
Noel the Mortal Fate: Season 2
Noel and her crow devil Caron are talking about ways to take revenge on the mayor, and decide to break into the corporate office of a shipping company affiliated with him to try and dig up dirt. In there they run into the mayor's secretary, who it turns out made a contract with a devil to become a demon herself so that she could be the best assistant ever. Noel's convinced herself that the only way this is ending is with her death so she's resolved to kill the secretary herself (see the above CG) for her revenge since the secretary's the one who made her lose her limbs, but the devil chides her since it's unnecessary and he hasn't decided on the price for their contract yet, telling her she shouldn't kill anyone else for her revenge after she's pumped like four bullets into the secretary.
The mayor then shows up and hints that he had a former contract with the crow devil, but he's made a contract with a new devil named Caesar. The episode ends with Noel and the crow devil jumping off the roof to get away.
The Night of Fire Stealing
I also found this one while I was browsing the RPG Maker tag on Steam. It is a deeply, painfully sincere game. Having grown up in the deeply irony-poisoned times of the 2000s and spent too much time hanging around Something Awful, the start of this game is like poison to me. It opens with a quote by Nietzsche and then the protagonist says his novel isn't selling. His situation is just like Prometheus, you see. And if I were an angry video game style reviewer of the 2000s I'd probably stop there and laugh at it. But, this is just going for a modern take on the sort of way that Chinese lit will have characters quote the ancient sages at each other, even if the analogy of Prometheus bringing fire to the world does feel a bit extreme for a freelance writer talking about how his book isn't selling well. But, okay, I'm going to try and take the game on its terms, since it's taking itself seriously and the writer of it seems to be trying to put everything they have into every line, and I respect that more than a game that's being an ironic shitpost because the author's afraid to show any sign of weakness or look uncool, or try to say anything at all. The writing has no subtlety to it, and in a lot of ways that's pretty refreshing.
Anyway, after pushing past the initial overwrought opening bit the game revealed itself to be an urban fantasy with cool liquid metal magic scythes and getting into gunfights with gang members. There's a vampire named Friedrich and a mysterious girl named Karl. With the Nietzche quote at the start I'd think the two would be named after Nietzche and Marx, but I think it might be going for allusions to Marx and Engels. Playing it for about an hour, and looking past the ESL, I think this is one I'm going to want to get back to. It seems like it's going to be fun.
update on this because I was dumb and didn't think to look up the names of other people involved until having it pointed out to me on Discord that Chen Duxiu, who showed up towards the end of the hour I played of it, was the first secretary of the Chinese Communist Party, and apparently the main character is the left-wing Marxist writer Lu Xun, who seems to be extremely influential in the development of modern Chinese lit, which I didn't know until this paragraph.
Eremidia - Archivist's Curse
This is one I saw while I was browsing the RPG Maker tag on Steam and I thought looked neat. It's separated into two parts. In the first part you wander around a game board and get pieces to upgrade your units, and in the other part you use those units to fight the Chessmaster to try escaping the library. I've only played about 30 minutes of it so I haven't seen very much of it yet but it seems like it's going to be a fairly short exploration of that idea of prepare and then fight. I'm curious to see what else the developer, one richter_h has done, since it seems like this is the only one of their games that's made its way onto steam and it seems like it's pretty competently put-together. I might look into their catalog a bit more once I finish with this one.
La ilusión de Amaris
This is another one I saw on the new releases tab on itch and wanted to take a look at. Regrettably, my Spanish is not good enough to try playing this and I couldn't get Textractor to find any hooks to get any text out. Gonna have to put this one on the backburner for a bit until either my spanish gets better or Textractor starts getting development work done on it again.
it's a yume nikki-like. the pixel art in the environment reminds me a bit of Oddity, and the sprites have the yume nikki eyes you'd expect. seems like the goal is to collect three trinkets. the scooter is past the land of cheese. the megaphone requires you to find three ghosts in the school. One's in a classroom, one's inside a maze of lunch tables, and the third one's behind a movable bookshelf in the principle's office. taking them all to the graves in the room next to the lunchroom gets you the megaphone. the third trinket's the monitor head that lets you return to the observatory, and that's in the computer room past the yellow door in the zone at the bottom of the ocean planet. I'm not sure what to do after getting all of those so I stopped playing there. the yume nikki-likes seem to grasp that it is fun to just walk around a weird place with a lot of cool visual design.
eternity: the egg
this one opens with some backstory about how the dragons disappeared and also there's catgirls. then it lets you walk around and choose your character. You awaken somewhere and see a black dragon who kills you in a dream. mechanically it seems like this one doesn't have an autobattle system and saving is limited to specific points, and the movement speed is on the slower side without an option to make running the default state. there's a quest log that shows what you need to do to finish a given quest on the top right of the screen.
playing it for an hour the author seems pretty content to stick with the stock surface-level tropes of the fantasy genre, and all the writing is just kind of functional. it's there, it gets you from point A to point B, but it feels like the author, one SmokyChambers hasn't really found their voice yet. It feels like they know they want to say something, but they're not quite sure what to say or how to say it. In a sense, they're chasing a dragon; trying to find the magic and the wonder that they see when they read other people's fantasy, but they can't find any dragons of their own. So they've decided to hatch one of their own by working on this game and trying various things.