RPG Maker FES: review

PC gamers have had a wide selection of make-your-own-game programs (of varying quality) for many, many years; not to mention all those modding tools. The LittleBigPlanet series was a revelation for console fans in that respect, and Microsoft’s ultimately doomed Project Spark made a valiant effort to offer players a powerful game creation tool. Nintendo meanwhile gave us Super Mario Maker which, while awesome and unbelievably user-friendly, allows for creation of levels rather than games. Landing on the unlikely format of the 3DS, RPG Maker FES promises the ability to make your very own full-blown RPG. Can it possibly deliver?

It might sound like a bit of a silly thing to point out, but this really is only worth buying if you’re interested in making an RPG rather than playing one. There’s no premade, ready-to-play content on the cartridge at all. You can download and play the creations of others, but you don’t need the game for that (more on which later).

No screenshot feature, sadly. Otherwise, you’d be looking at something even sillier.

This lack of instantly playable content is a little surprising, and only serves to make the whole thing more daunting than it otherwise might have been. It’s a package that really needs a series of tutorials… which simply aren’t there. Playable sections, showing you what’s possible and how to achieve it, would have helped immensely. As it is, you’re left to fumble your way through menus, prodding and poking things to see what happens.

In fairness, over half of it is pretty self explanatory. It can be overwhelming at first, but a little experimentation reveals that creating terrain and interiors is fairly simple. It’s trickier to sort out things such as events and fights being triggered, teleporting characters (for example, to the inside of a house when touching the model), and moving characters around for what are essentially cutscenes. Keep chipping away at those menus, though, and all will be revealed.

This is a ‘proper’ game maker, in that you get a pleasing amount of control over what’s in your project and how it behaves. This includes making your own characters, monsters, weapons, armour, and character classes. Hence we made Villainous Dave the skeleton, the Very Crossbow (“The world’s angriest projectile weapon”), and the character class Brexiteer (“Low intelligence, but great power”). The customisation goes much deeper than that. You can decide the starting stats of each character; how much each stat increases as they level up; how much damage a weapon does, if it can be bought and sold, and for how much; elemental strengths and weaknesses; enemy behaviours, potential loot, and drop rates; and much more.

Naturally, you get to write dialogue. Please do better than this.

Needless to say, the more ambitious your project, the more time you’ll need to sink in. We spent a good couple of hours just making a handful of goodies and baddies, and various accessories and special moves to go with them. One of the most impressive games currently available took about 60 hours to make.

Perhaps we’re simply too demanding, but there’s several areas where we’d like more variety and control. Our biggest sticking point is the double whammy of (a) no way to create your own assets or record your own sounds, and (b) the limited number of said assets at your disposal. There’s a small number of extra assets that you can download – and you can mix and match characters, buildings, etc. from different genres (such as ‘fantasy’, ‘horror’, and ‘modern’) – but we very quickly found that we were yearning for more to choose from. It’s also a shame that your only option for combat is turn-based, though the depths you can plumb to tinker with the mechanics therein is commendable.

It’s undeniably something of a niche title, meaning that one of the biggest dangers is that hardly anybody will end up playing your game, making it feel like it’s not worth throwing all the necessary hours in. Fortunately, the genius decision was taken to provide the eShop with a free-to-download app that allows anybody to play an uploaded game without having to buy the whole package. There’s only a very small number of projects available at the moment, but this is hopefully just because people are still busy hammering away at their work. A few of the available games are very impressive, and an excellent indication of what can be done if you have the time, talent, and commitment.

If you’ve ever been inspired to make your own RPG – and especially if you have a half-finished script lying around, or some scribbled design documents sitting at the bottom of a drawer – this will keep you busy for many, many hours. No programming knowledge needed and, although there are some disappointing limitations (including the fact that, incredibly, there’s no 3D!), for many it’s the best chance they’ll ever have of creating a SNES classic that never was.

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Written by Luke K

He plays lots of videogames, now and again stopping to write about them. He's the editor in chief at Critical Gamer, which fools him into thinking his life has some kind of value. He doesn't have a short temper. If you suggest otherwise, he will punch you in the face.

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