Occasionally, the industry treats games as disposable commodities to be purchased, played, remastered, and then purchased anew. Fortunately, that’s not always the case, with some efforts favoring an autonomous experience that serves as an outlet for creativity. In 1983, Bill Budge fashioned a set of development tools, with Pinball Construction Set allowing gamers to craft an endless variety of simulated tables. In the ensuing years, a number of designers followed Budge’s lead, developing toolsets that allowed for the creation of music, slot car racing tracks- and in the case of Stuart Smith’s Adventure Construction Set, elaborate turn-based expeditions.
If you ever picked up any of Electronic Arts’ construction sets or even some of the titles that Sony flaunted as part of their ‘Play, Create, Share’ campaign that you’ll know that in the right hands, these applications can sustain interest for an exceeding long time. There’s also an unrivaled sense of reward that comes from mastering the tools, creating content, and witnessing the appreciation others might have for your efforts. For players willing to immersive themselves in role-playing game design, the RPG Maker franchise has long been the de facto choice, allowing budding auteurs to produce efforts like Corpse Party and To The Moon.
Originally developed in 1994, RPG Maker (called RPG Tsukūru in Japan) has gradually spawned over thirty iterations across computer and console. With the release of RPG Maker Fes for the Nintendo 3DS, now portable-owning players are privy to a moderately robust create suit they can carry in their pocket. While the app can’t match the functionality of its PC counterpart and requires budding developers to learn things for themselves, the title is one of the most reasonably priced methods to learn some of the tenets of game development.
Boot up RPG Maker Fes and you’ll likely notice the lack of any guided tutorial. In execution, that’s a bit of shame. While many of micro-level components of the applications are instinctive, learning how they can fit together can be off-putting, leading to hours of experimentation, at least until someone writes a decent guide.
From the main menu, players can venture into three main components. Map Settings allow players to produce cities or dungeons, using two different type of chips. While most pieces are small building blocks of flora, walls, or bridges, there are also environmental tiles that automatically connect to similar pieces nearby, permitting the creation of flowing rivers or patches of ice. While some might be disheartened to discover that Fes lacks any kind of sprite editor to create original content, there’s a decent amount of fantasy-themed chips and the likelihood that NIS America will bring over the DLC packs which supplemented the Japanese release of the title. Although creating different overworlds or cities is a fairly easy process, learning what type of tiles are traversable requires a bit of trial and error. After creating an elaborate labyrinth of tall hedges, I discovered that a player could walk right over the shrubbery, negating my labors.
Events are the elements which link parts of your creation to specific actions. Essentially, they create the rules of the world, determining where players are initially positioned, displaying a message, or even starting a timer. Fortunately, RPG Maker Fes offers a quantity of premade events, allowing creators to easy link say a dungeon portal to another map, a treasure chest, or even a save point. For those who need more control, Fes allows creators to create pages that permit greater control, allowing for a particular item to trigger an action. While the application gives a description of each variable, the text is habitually succinct, forcing experimentation.
Finally, there’s the database, where role-playing architects forge characters, create items, and monsters. Pleasingly, there’s a bit of nuance to each component, with players able to create an initial loadout for party members, and define specials skills and processions. For creatures, there’s a sample set of traditional fantasy-themed beasts ready for players, although category types weren’t localized in the latest build. Arguably, the most indulging part of the database is creating your own title screen and post-game credits scroll.
Pleasingly, RPG Maker Fes allows you to test play your creation at any time, and even save your place during the process, so you don’t have to debug the whole adventure from scratch every time. But here’s also where you’ll discover some creation quandaries. If say, your work is more advanced than say Dragon Quest III, you might just run into problems realizing your role-playing ambitions. Then, there’s fine tuning. Until you actually create a role-playing game, you probably won’t appreciate the delicate balancing of party and monster strength, synergy of classes, and the difficulty of making a gratifying progression of useful weapons and armor. Even when you get a myriad of moving parts to actually work, making the whole experience fun is a different matter altogether.
Available in Japan since last November, there’s already a wealth of content that flaunt the capabilities of the app, with efforts that rival professional 16-bit RPGs. Even a day after release, stateside gamers exhibit promise with a demo of a work entitled Guardians being exceedingly polished. Perhaps the best part of RPG Maker Fes’ release is the appearance of a free app that let’s any 3DS owner download user generated content free of charge. Curated by player rating and recency, the decision seems poised to help the application cultivate a community, and its will be rousing to see designers push the limits of the app.
Any 3DS owner with even a passing interest in retro role-playing games should download the RPG Maker Player, which allows you to enjoy the creations of others. And if you’re an individual who gets more satisfaction from producing adventures rather than playing them, you might want to give RPG Maker Fes a shot. Although constrained in scope, there’s likely to be a constituency of appreciative fans who’ll enjoy seeing a polished adventure.
RPG Maker Fes was played on the 3DS with review code provided by the publisher.
Developer: Kadokawa, Jupiter
Publisher: NIS America
Release Date: June 27th, 2017
Price: $39.99, available via retail or eShop, RPG Maker Player available for free.