If you are like me, you would have played an almost countless number of RPG’s ranging from the visually pleasing to the mentally challenging, most bringing something new and creative to the genre to set itself apart from the others. Perhaps you have had the thought that given time and software, you had an idea that could easily surpass even the greatest of the great RPG’s on the market today? This is where the RPG Maker series comes in – which since late-1992 (Yes, almost two decades ago) has given aspiring RPG game developers the software and the tools to put their creativity into a game – spawning several successful retail series including the Corpse Party franchise which was recently released in English on the PSP. You might not be able to build a visual spectacle that more professional developers use (and in turn dedicate years to work with) to develop your title – but everything else is limited mostly to your imagination.
I have been following the RPG Maker franchise for a fair while, having a half-completed game on their RPG Maker XP software which I put on hiatus when I decided to dedicate more time to this site. When RPG Maker VX was first released, I picked up a trial version of the Japanese release and was disappointed about how they removed a hefty number of tools (Even with the addition of some other rather demanded functions), completely changed the visual style for chibified character sprites and put restrictions on the games tilesets. Recently released in English comes RPG Maker VX Ace, the improved release of the software which attempts to bring back some of RPG Maker XP’s glory with the VX system…. and considering everything does a pretty damn good job of it.
Software Interface / World Building Tools
You will be happy to know that for the most part, the software interface has not changed, providing you ample access to the world you are building, tilesets and other nifty tools that to me has proven to work since RPG Maker XP. As I will detail a little bit further in the review, the most noticeable improvement is the tilesets. Originally in VX you were left with just four stock standard tilesets to use throughout your entire game, but with VX Ace they have not completely returned XP’s single tileset system, but instead improved upon it by allowing you to make up sets of them, allowing multiple ones to be used in a single area of your world. It provides you with a sufficient variety to suit most game styles, provided you are willing to put a bit of time into the design and adding proper passage routes, you can include your own with no issues.
Other interesting inclusions include a new shadow pen tool, which allows you to either allow the game to automatically add shadows (Which I used and is pretty much perfect) or draw your own. A further addition is the region system, invisible tiles numbered from 0 – 63 which can then be edited to provide random encounters to specific monsters depending on what region the character is standing it. Unfortunately this tool does not live up to the hype unless you are making something like a “Monster Catching” game as the regions are not global and must be edited for every map you develop.
The last inclusion in environment design of interest is finally the inclusion of sample maps. Let’s be honest, not everyone (Including myself) has the capacity to develop an entire game filled with unique scenery and environments or perhaps needs some inspiration to develop their worlds with. VX Ace comes packed with well over 100 different pre-made environment designs from world maps, to villages and interiors to dungeons, each of which have been well designed and encompass a variety of locales from a forest village to a vampires castle. While it might not be something for the hardcore game builders, definitely something to consider to populate your world with.
Perhaps more important than the world building to a game is the actual content behind it, thus comes in the games Database editor which retains the same system it has for many a release with a few added bonuses and a much more streamlined means of doing things. For example, while in previous RPG Maker’s, parameter/experience curves and battle styles have been on a per-character basis – these have now been moved to be dependent on character classes leaving more room to develop characters through the addition of character-unique features, brief character descriptions that appear in-game and the ability to add notes for your own reminders (It helps… seriously).
Determining Skills, Items and Weapons for the most part remain the same, however the menu layouts are a lot more user friendly and provide in my opinion greater freedom to what you can do with them (For example, you can now limit skills to certain weapons). The most interesting improvement is the monsters and battle system. In previous RPG Maker titles you have been limited to standard backgrounds during battles, this time around you can choose to use your own standard backdrop OR choose individual ground and backdrop designs, suiting almost every normal environment your game should have. Other than that, the system like the rest of the “Database” is more user friendly and gives you greater control over your game.
There are a few other inclusions, new music to add to your game and suits all game styles, the ability to transpose your games title into the title screen directly (and as with battle backs, design your title-screen ingame) and a number of other features across the board.
As with VX, the software allows you to attach both a Sprite and Face to each individual character which is used throughout the game in the battle system and menu. However they have never actually provided tools to generate them yourself without having either artistic skill or willpower to scower around the internet looking for generating tools or sprites/facesets that suit your intended character. For the first time, they have chosen to include a character generator (Pictured above) which allows you to generate both a characters sprite and face from a number of different options – along with a random character for those who want to go with something a bit out there. I would have liked more of a diversity, but there is enough available to generate diverse characters provided you don’t want to use it for every individual NPC.
Cutscenes are another vital component to an RPG and throughout the releases of RPG Maker, the system to produce these has been the same with a few additions with each release. New additions include the ability to include scrolling text to a scene (Perfect for credits or backstory introductions), the ability to change a characters nickname (So if your characters name is Lukas but you want some people to call him say…. Hairy Monster, you can and alternate the two in your dialogue and the stats screen), gather and change formation of your followers (A caterpillar script is automatically included) and various other goodies that was previously only implementable as scripts.
I have never been a scripter myself and have relied on the creative talents on other people to provide new battle and menu systems through forums and websites to alter my game…. and unfortunately despite being similar to VX – VX Scripts and game files will for the most part not function with VX Ace, relying on the community to once again start from scratch with game and script development. Fortunately, the community has already jumped into action and within less than a month since the softwares official release, there are some great scripts coming along with everything from battle systems to a rather nifty visual novel system I included in my game.
The Actual Game Product
In the end, you can develop your game all you want – but it is the final product that is what really matters right? The main difference between VX and VX Ace is the battle system which while being the first thing I changed with scripts, is a much more visually appealing system with the inclusion of battlebacks over the original distorted backgrounds. The added TP gauge also makes for an interesting addition when using Special Skills over using MP which is usually not replenishable.
Besides this, all the other little additions I have mentioned in this review should help give you a better world building experience much and provide you with a much more polished product out of the box (or out of the install file).
Unfortunately one of the limiting factors to this software is the price, coming in at $89.99 USD which perhaps for the hobbyist is a little bit pricey. However disregarding it, while I still personally have a liking for and would continue using their release of RPG Maker XP which my current “in hiatus” game is on, RPG Maker VX Ace is a great improvement on the original release and provides all the tools you should need to building a solid RPG with few if any limitations on when you want to distribute the product of your creativity and time. From the official website you can also download a free 30 day trial to help you decide if it is a worthy purchase.
Overall Score: A
A copy of this game was provided by the publishers.