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RPG Maker 3 (PlayStation 2) artwork

RPG Maker 3 (PlayStation 2) review

"Sure, it won’t be easy. Just like with RPG Maker 2, you’ll have to spend hours typing on the keyboard. Being a fan of fantasy helps, since making any other genre is impossible. Crafting an RPG still requires the patience to master complex variables and design an intricate world, along with the direction to pull it all together. And if you can’t come to terms with the fact that a rotten game may be the fruit of your labor, you shouldn’t even bother. "

You might actually make an RPG with RPG Maker III.

Sure, it won’t be easy. Just like with RPG Maker 2, you’ll have to spend hours typing on the keyboard. Being a fan of fantasy helps, since making any other genre is impossible. Crafting an RPG still requires the patience to master complex variables and design an intricate world, along with the direction to pull it all together. And if you can’t come to terms with the fact that a rotten game may be the fruit of your labor, you shouldn’t even bother.

But, still, you might be able to create an RPG with RPG Maker III. The requirements are still there, but the streamlined interface means you need much less of them, and the vastly improved graphics make the effort more worthwhile.

Let’s say you want to create a world.

You start out with a pure blue slate. Just water. You make an outline of an island, dragging a little pencil across the screen. You fill the outline with some sort of land; turn it into a scorching desert, a fertile grassland or a menacing mass of volcanic ash. You fill in trees, make forests. Winding rivers cut through the land. Valleys and mountains. Peninsulas and plateaus. Every landmark imaginable.

This would take weeks in RPG Maker 2…assuming you actually know what you’re doing.

In RPG Maker III, you could be finished in the time it takes to read this review.

RPG Maker III’s field editor is sensational not because it lets you do so much, but because it makes the process straightforward; if you’ve ever used Microsoft Paint, you’re overqualified. Things get a little complex when it comes to altering the altitude, but even then it’s a simple matter of hit-and-miss. It shows you what you’re doing; you can jump into the world at any time and see the effects first-hand…easy.

The only thing easier than creating the world is populating it; before, you had to have everything created before you started putting it all together, now you can do it on the fly. Think that spot in the forest you just created would be a good place for a dungeon? Just scroll over the forest and start building the dungeon right then and there; monsters, bosses and all. Want a fortress in the middle of that boiling lake of lava? Just put one in, and maybe include a bridge for reaching it. Set up the towns wherever you want, set up the buildings however you want, put the NPCs wherever you want, have them say whatever you want, etc, etc, etc. Create whatever you want when you feel like creating it.

It’s as nonlinear as a game like this could be.

But it’s when we start getting down to the towns and the micromanagement that things falter. RPG Maker III is simpler than its predecessor, no doubt, but that’s not an entirely good thing.

Cutscenes aren’t impossible, per se, but they’re greatly downgraded. Before, you could actually make a real-time cutscene. It would’ve been hard as hell, it would’ve taken months and it would’ve been silly since the characters resembled fat LEGO dolls, but you could’ve done it. Now, though, you’re limited to text cutscenes where hand-drawn versions of your cast converse over word bubbles. It’s fine if all you want to do is talk, but, otherwise…

Duchess of Bluberry: Lord Gary, look out! The twenty-foot tall, red scaled, winged dragon Zigfried has teleported behind you in a burst of blue light! He’s drooling and breathing fire, and is about to swipe!

[Insert ‘swipe’ sound effect]

Lord Gary: Oh no! He has swiped me in the chest! He has pierced my light-blue armor and there is now blood gushing from the wound! I think…yes, he has broken a rib, too! There is blood dripping all the way to my leg! I am mortally wounded! I am about to fall!

[Insert some sound that’s reminiscent of an armored man falling]

Lord Gary:I have fallen!

Zigfried: Bwahaha! Ah, if only I possessed a middle finger to flip you fools off with, I would do it most often! Instead, I shall have to be sated with spreading out my wing, opening my mouth and incinerating you with my fiery breath. Take this!

Yeah, I’ll stop now; I’m enjoying this way too much. The point is that, while this sort of thing may be easy to do and is pretty fun to screw around with, it limits the ways you can progress the story. And when you have a game that’s supposed to encourage imagination, limits hurts.

That’s the biggest infraction, but not the only one. Before, you could make houses, dungeons, inns, churches and just about anything you wanted from scratch. Hard? Very. Worth the trouble? Not always. But it was your creation and it looked like you wanted it to. Now, you’re limited to a set of pre-made buildings, and while they may look good, they further stifle RPG Maker III’s creative side.

Want that castle to look a little taller? Too bad. Want to give those houses a war-torn look? Not happening. Think the church could use an extra set of pews? Tough. Pre-made libraries, pre-made castles, pre-made everything. Any town you make will be nothing more than hodgepodge of set pieces, inside and out. The only thing you actually get to make from scratch are the dungeons’ interiors, and those are pathetic; the best you could hope is a few floors filled with repetitive hallways and the occasional trap door, with precious few style choices.

Darkened cave or darkened castle? Difficult choice, I know.

Things get more and more basic. The characters are more detailed than before, but that detail comes at the cost of variety; each model only has four color variations to chose from and a few, scant animations to accompany attacks. A handful of NPCs are available; even with color swaps, there’s bound to be some clones running around. There always seems to be something hampering you, holding you back, keeping you from making what you want to make.

But then you start tinkering. You realize that you can change the time of day and have people act and talk differently with the onset of night. You realize you can have the seasons alternate and control the weather; making the leaves fall in autumn and the rain pour in spring. You realize that you can do a lot of things with RPG Maker III that you simply could not do before, and while it make take a few steps back, it takes many steps forward.

It’s not perfect by any definition. It’s a little too restricting for the hardcore RPGer and a little too demanding for the lazy one. But, for the casual gamer, RPG Maker III presents a challenge without presenting a chore. It shortens the space between start and finish, lets you constantly interact with your work, makes a world that’s actually worth the trouble, and, because of that, it becomes something that RPG Maker 2 never was: Enjoyable.

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Staff review by Zack Little (August 28, 2006)

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