The fun I had last week: RPG Maker Fes!!

OK, to be honest, the past week was … too hot, exhausting, and all I did was work and sleep. Friday, of course, saw the release of Ever Oasis and RPG Maker Fes. I have not played Ever Oasis yet, but RPG Maker is a lot of fun!

RPG Maker Fes has its limitations, compared to the PC versions, which allow for a lot of customization. But that’s understandable, isn’t it? After all, you can share your games online, so there probably needs to be a limit to file sizes and a way to make sure no one contributes inappropriate or copyrighted images, sound files etc. Limitations are also good for creativity, because they make you try to figure out what you can do with the things you have at your disposal. And let’s not underestimate the following factor: Since there’s no option of custom graphics or sound, there is no pressure to use them. You fall into this trap where you think you have to create unique graphics before you can actually start making the game, and don’t end up stuck in the planning phase. Well, at least that’s what I imagine it’s like for many people, especially those that do not have an actual talent for pixel art …

I’ve been surprisingly productive with RPG Maker Fes over the weekend, although I started without a plan. Not that I don’t have game ideas, but I let myself be inspired by the available character designs and chipsets and came up with a completely different idea. And … I don’t really have a proper plan for the game. Right now, I am stuffing a small town full of details and interaction possibilities. I made a first little “sidequest” which took hours and was really complicated because it required several switches and I am easily confused!

There seem to be a lot of RPG Maker veterans who are disappointed by the limits of this version of the program, but it’s probably a really good RPG Maker for beginners, exactly because of these limitations. Obviously, you have to look for tutorials elsewhere, since the program itself contains no detailed explainations, but you can build a nice little game without getting bogged down with the pressure to avoid standard chipsets and use custom scripts and all sorts of fancy things.

I hope this first game turns out well, because I’d really like it to be good enough to share online. After all, I am curious to know what other people think. But first things first. I must figure out the structure of this game. It shouldn’t be too long, but it needs to be able to tell some kind of story. Tricky, tricky. I have not really done anything with battle yet. It’s all town exploration so far. And one pretty elaborate cut scene, which I am very proud of.

 

 

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Regarding the Bravely Second sidequest changes

Another sort-of-addendum to the old post about ethical choices in videogames, where I talked about the Bravely Second sidequests. You probably remember that Bravely Second‘s release in the west was met with some backlash due to several localisation changes. One job outfit was changed to avoid racist stereotyping, a few other outfits were slightly modified to show less skin, but most importantly: the way that the sidequests worked was amended.

Spoilers!

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Will RPG Maker Fes take over my life this summer?

The 3DS has been a revelation for me as a JRPG fan. New installments of old francises like Zelda and Dragon Quest, remakes of games I hadn’t previously had the chance to play, and completely new stuff like the Bravely series or Fantasy Life … The thing about being a thirty-something gamer is that you are always, to some extent, tying to recapture the excitement you felt as a child, when everything was new to you – but I’m glad that my 3DS RPG experience so far hasn’t been just about replaying and rehashing familiar games and concepts. The genre is living and developing, including on the 3DS.

So, I’m thrilled by the announcement of RPG Maker Fes, set to be released this summer in North America and Europe. I’ve always dreamt up all sorts of RPG ideas in my head, but I’ve also never had the discipline and long-term commitment to turn any of them into an actual game. Compared to the previous PC versions of the software, RPG Maker Fes might end up a bit limited in its abilities. Being able to use one’s own art and music is something experienced users wouldn’t want to miss. But having to work with limited, pre-made resources actually sounds a bit … freeing to me. It sounds like a good idea for beginners like me, who’ve never made a game before, to just focus on the game itself without also having to worry about creating all the art (and make it look nice!).

OK, to be honest …. looking at RPG Maker communities, I think that using one’s own art over the standard chipsets and sprites is a little overrated. First of all, it often leads to people combining mismatched art styles, with an end result that was probably a lot of work, but looks incoherent. The other issue is that it’s not just about having great, unique resources, but also about how you use them. Good mapping is an art, and a constant challenge. It can go wrong in various ways: sometimes maps look empty and boring, sometimes they are stuffed full with distracting, pointless details. Maps are usually too big (which is probably why they end up either empty or purposelessly crowded with random nonsense). The challenge is to create towns and dungeons that are no bigger than they have to be, interesting to look at and never confusing.

The most exciting thing about the 3DS RPG Maker is that you don’t have to own the software to play games created with it. There will be a free, downloadable app for this. I wonder how this will play out in real life. Will there be a lot of games worth trying? Will there be some kind of rules concerning the content of games hosted online? Will people have access to games created worldwide or just in their region? Questions, questions.

Controversial opinion: I don’t like Dragon Quest’s music.

OK, I do enjoy listening to the music from the Dragon Quest games. It is not bad music. But I don’t think I’ll ever form an emotional attachment to any of the tracks, and that’s because of the way that the music is actually being used in the games.

I’m playing Dragon Quest VII for the 3DS right now. There are many moments that are emotionally touching and dramatic, but it’s like – the music doesn’t care. A cut scene occurs, featuring a sad moment between some characters, but the background music never changes from the same, cheery town theme that you hear all the time anyway. The visuals tell the game’s story. The music is disconnected from it almost entirely. So instead of supporting the mood of a scene, it just plays on as if someone forgot to put it off, which can be pretty jarring.

This is made worse by the fact that the same musical tracks are repeated a lot throughout the game. And by the fact that there are very few sound effects, not even walking sounds for the party.

Music is so important to build atmosphere, it’s really weird to play a game that so squanders an easy opportunity to engage the player emotionally. I am used to games where the music changes for every cut scene, where characters have their own character themes and each town has its own town theme, where there’s music for every occasion, sad, cheerful, creepy or exciting – and even tracks that you only ever hear once during the entire game, and that are nevertheless unforgettable.

Does anybody feel the same? Or am I overly sensitive to that sort of thing?

Dragon Quest VII … Gah, I love it.

Alright, I caved and just started playing Dragon Quest 7 two days ago. In my defence, it was a drearily rainy weekend and I was sick with a cold. There’s nothing better than huddling up in bed with a handheld gaming console and a brightly coloured, light-hearted JRPG! This was exactly what I needed.

I am about nine hours into the game, and now I know what they meant by the game having a slow beginning. But I don’t think that’s a bad thing. First reason: I wasn’t bored. I like exploring cities and talking to NPCs, smashing all the barrels and all the jars. I rotate the camera to admire the gorgeous graphics. Even running around the overworld (which isn’t a world map) excites me because it makes me feel like I’m controlling a cute anime with the Toriyama character designs of my childhood. There’s something dynamic and lively about this game, even when there’s not much action. Everything screams attention to detail, too, so it feels worth talking to everyone, exploring every corner … Second reason: It is very appropriate to run around this small island, devoid of dangers or excitement, for an hour or so. After all, the protagonists are three bored kids who dream of escaping their tedious island life, discover new places and go on adventures! You’re put in their shoes.

One thing I enjoy a lot about the game so far is that it’s all about the adventure, the discovery, the experience. And it is not about fighting all the time. I spent an hour or so yesterday advancing the plot without a single battle. And it was engaging.

Still, I am so happy that the battle screen is more visual than the classic Dragon Quest first-person-view battle screen. You see your character when they attack, which may not be a big deal for everyone, but it’s weirdly crucial for my immersion.

OK, enough blogging. Back to DRagon Quest VII.

Gaming progress

Excellent, they only had 25€  eShop cards, so even after buying the Ace Attorney: Spirit of Justice extra case, I have money left on my account. I could impulse-buy a game! Except that would be a terrible idea. I have enough things lined up as is.

I am Setsuna, for one thing. Yes, I am really … taking my sweet time here. It’s a combination of different factors, one being that it’s been sort of difficult to adjust to home console JRPGs after years and years of playing exclusively handheld titles. I’ve become really used to playing JRPGs just whenever, whereever, without the need to stay stationary for a longer while. And it’s been summer! Now that the days wil be shorter and colder, I guess I’ll spend more afternoons or evenings huddled up inside in front of the TV, for more than an hour at a time. Honestly, it’s a bit weird to play a game where there is snow everywhere, while the birds are chirping outside, the sun is still up at 8 pm and the temperatures are above 30 degrees …

Dragon Quest VII, too. I am awful at finishing Dragon Quest titles, but I am going to stick with it this time. :P I promise. I won’t touch another DQ title before I’ve finished this one, at the least. OK? Deal? Please hold me accountable.

I really hate having games left unfinished, you know. I don’t mean the times when I decide to abandon a game because I don’t enjoy it, but the times when it just happens, because things keep getting between me and the game, because for some reason I cannot concentrate on it at that moment, because something else comes along, or because I’m stuck and grow frustrated and put off trying again and then it’s been two years and I’ve all forgotten about it … D:

I think I have it in my mind that you’re only ever supposed to play one (story-driven) game at a time, from start to finish, without longer breaks or without starting on a new game randomly. I feel the same way about books, but curiously, not about TV shows. Possibly because TV shows don’t require any immersive effort on the recipient’s part? With books and games, you’re in control, you decide the pace and it kind of takes your willingness and readiness to really immerse yourself in the story? I feel like I cannot do that if my mind is still occupied with another story (in the same medium).

Does anybody know what I am talking about?

 

Dragon Quest’s secret power is nostalgia

There is a Kotaku article titled Maybe This Is Why Dragon Quest Never Took Off In The West. Jason Schreier’s main point boils down to: DQ sticks too much to its old traditions, although some of them feel clunky and outdated now and slow down the gameplay, like the save feature for example.

OK, well. I am a bit wary of the idea that there’s some fundamental difference between Japanese and “western” players, and the article never explains why Japanese players are allegedly not “used to more streamlined design” like the Americans. Oh, yeah, in this article “western” means “American”. Because there isn’t really any mystery to why Dragon Quest never took off in Europe: None of the games came out here, until Dragon Quest VIII in 2006. Compare his to Final Fantasy: Europe got their first entry into the series with Final Fantasy VII in 1997 – absurdly late for sure, but still considerably ahead of Dragon Quest. I cannot talk about the UA, but I would wager that there are all sorts of reasons – from timing, to marketing to who knows what – that influenced the games’ reception in the USA. I mean … I don’t think there has to be something fundamentally wrong with a game for it to fail to “take off” in a secondary market.

Still, the article raises an interesting point: The Dragon Quest games do seem to undertake less experiments in style and format than the Final Fantasy series. The look is always Akira Toriyama, there’s iconic monster designs like the adorable slimes, recognizable weaponry and armour, recurring musical themes and many other things that give DQ  its own, unmistakable aesthetic and a strong identity. On the other hand, Final Fantasy seems much less beholden to its own legacy, and is quite happy to abandon its brand and fans and turn into a completely different but ~modern~ game. Honestly, Final Fantasy XV might as well be called Undo the Finality: Fantasia of the Road (I just made that title up – and now I like it???). It might as well not be a Final Fantasy game.

Anyway, back to Dragon Quest. Yes, some of its traditional mechanics are a bit clunky. Aside from the save feature, I dislike the battle system of the older titles, because if I cannot see my characters during battle, I cannot relate to what the hell is even going on. This is something DQ has since moved away from, though, so it’s not as if they are completely averse to change and modernization. I think that Dragon Quest IX – where you could see your team – had much more dynamic and fun battles. Perhaps that’s why it is the only DQ game to date that I managed to play from beginning to end (and then some).

There is a lot I want to write about the Dragon Quest style of saving your game, but it might be best to save it for its own post, no pun intended.

Dragon Quest’s secret power is nostalgia. It’s a sense of nostalgia so strong even I feel it.  I have only played three games, completed only Dragon Quest 9 and read the Dragon Quest manga Dai no daibouken, but it feels like we’ve been friends forever! I think this is because of DQ’s strong sense of tradition and identity. It is all a feature, not a bug. I see a slime, and it makes me happy! I see a certain design of armor, dress or weapon, and I know its’ Dragon Quest! I’ll always love Dragon Quest – and I’ve no idea why.