The Reconstruction is an RPG made in RPG Maker XP. When it was released in 2009, I absolutely adored it. It is still probably among my favorite games of all time, and is definitely one of the best RPG Maker games I have ever seen. It has since spawned both a prequel and a sequel, both similarly excellent in my opinion.
It’s not without its flaws, though, and I think it would be a pertinent exercise to look back and see how well the nostalgia holds up. This won’t be a single-post review, but a long series spanning the entire game, much like Farla’s reviews of the Pokemon games. Unfortunately, since I’ve already played it, I can’t do a running commentary. I can’t exactly do a retrospective nostalgia trip either, since I doubt most of the readers are familiar with the material, in which case I think spoiler-free is the best policy. As such, my own comments will probably be limited, but we’ll see how things go.
(Post-Completion Addendum: I was really bad at following through with this, and this will probably make no sense if you haven’t played the game yourself. I would advise reading my review of the prequel first if you’re skimming, as that one is more self-contained.)
Also: It is freeware, and can be downloaded here if you’d like to follow along.
The prologue takes place 50 years before present day. The entire prologue plot is actually pretty far removed from the main story, which strikes me as a bit of an odd design choice.
Captain S: “Well, thinkin’ about the sea calms my nerves. But, talkin’ about it works even better, so…”
Vasra: “We’ve been ready for this for months. You should be feeling relieved by now, Captain.”
Captain S: “Well, it’s not me I’m worryin’ about, mate.”
Vasra: “What, you mean the Private? He’ll be okay. I know that you’ll take goooood care of him.”
Captain S: “‘Treat every voyage like it was your last.’ Now who said that, again? I’ve forgotten.”
Vasra: “I believe you did, Captain Smarta… I mean, Captain Sikohlon.
Captain S: “Oh, right, right. Then we best make this li’l outing our best one yet, ya know?”
Vasra: “No, Sir! No disappointment of any sort on our schedule today. Where is he, anyway?”
Captain S: “Private? Private Clap! Where are you, mate? Answer me!”
Captain S: “Ah, I hear a voice! But, it’s kinda muffled. Try again! A lil’ louder this time, mate!”
Pvt Clap: I-I’m down here, in the hold, Sir, Captain, Sir. It’s very dark, Sir. I think I’ve found the stairs.”
Captain S: “Come on out, we wanna look at your new armor. Gotta see if it’ll hold up, ya know?”
There’s a pause.
Captain S: “Private? You alive?”
Pvt Clap: “They’re gonna laugh, Captain, Sir.”
Captain S: “Who?”
Pvt Clap: “Everyone, Sir.”
Captain S: “The seagulls? They laugh at everything, mate.”
Pvt Clap: “Sir…”
Vasra: “Oh, come on out, Private. You’re only delaying the inevitable… and maybe the entertaining.”
Pvt Clap: “I’m not sure why you want me to wear it anway. It’s too… fancy looking. I hate this kinda stuff.”
Captain S: “I thought ‘fancy’ was your thing? Well, if it’s so dark down there, mate, how can you tell?”
Pvt Clap: “Uhm…uhhh…”
Captain S: “I knew it! Gettin’ all worked up over nothin’. Come out of the hold, now, Private. Lessee it.”
Pvt Clap: “I think I would be less embarrassed to come out naked, actually. Permission to do so?”
Vasra: “No ya don’t. Only the Captain gets that privilege.”
Captain S: “Hmmm. How about this, then?”
We cut back to the deck.
Captain S: “Listen up, crew! If anyone laughs at the Private’s attire, YOU’LL be wearin’ it yourself. Only it’ll be wrapped around your neck, and anchored down to the ocean floor. Got that?”
Navigator: “Aye aye! A fish buffet for ol’ Cheney there, comin’ right up! Kyeheheh.”
Captain S: “Crew, you all ain’t helpin’ here. Well, I tried. Now, come out of there, Private Clap.”
He walks up the stairs and stands in front of the captain guy.
Navigator: “Whoa, lookin’ sharp, lad!”
Captain S: “There! That’s not so bad, mate. It’s all clean, and polished… How does it feel on ya?”
Pvt Clap: “Th-thank you, Sir, Captain, Sir. It feels fine Sir. Lighter than it looks, Sir. Pretty tough too.”
Vasra: “Excellent. That’ll do you just fine, then.”
Captain S: “Enough of this ‘Sir’ nonsense, Private. You can just call me ‘Captain.’ Which is my nickname, y’see. We’re all just mates here. Only difference between us is, I get to boss everyone else around, ya know?”
Navigator: “Can’n S! I’ve confirmed the colors flyin’ on th’ vessel ahead! Ya might wanna have a listen.”
Everyone turns to face him.
Captain S: “Yes, Navigator Barkley? Enlighten us.”
Navigator: “T’is one on our List, just as ye suspected. Sharp eyes fer a Shra, ya got!”
Captain S turns away and starts muttering to himself.
Captain S: “Yeah, yeah. It’s always one on our List.”
Navigator: “Aye, ’tis the Nalian Ship ‘Salvation,’ wit’ sails o’ white ‘n’ gold, and cargo to match!”
Captain S: “The Salvation, huh. Just as I thought. She must’ve planned on reaching Nal today.”
He goes and sits on the railing of the ship, like he did at the beginning.
Captain S: “Keep a steady course in her wake. We’ll strike when the waves feel juuuuust right.”
Navigator: “Aye aye, Cap’n S.”
Vasra walks over to Private Clap.
Vasra: Private? May I ask what sort of combat training you’ve received? Anything specific?”
Pvt Clap: “Combat? What, like weapons?”
Vasra: “No, ballroom dancing. Of course I mean weapons. Staves? Rapiers? Large rocks?”
Captain S closes his eyes and looks melancholy.
Captain S: “Nobody dies today. None of us, none of them. Do we have an understanding, mates?”
Vasra: “Of course, Captain. But, in case we have to subdue or capture any of them. Y’know.”
Pvt Clap: “Uhh, did you say ‘subdue’? I know I just joined you today, but… What… is my duty as your ship hand, exactly?”
Vasra: “We need all the extra hands we can get, Private. What sort of weapons can you wield?”
Pvt Clap: “Well, we didn’t do a lot of physical stuff at the academy where my parents sent me… But, I’ll see what I can come up with, I guess. Do you… know the crew of that other ship?”
She turns away from him.
Vasra: “Take a look around, and when you find some weapons, bring ’em here for the captain to see.”
Pvt Clap: “O-okay. I won’t take too long, I hope.”
With the intro cutscene over, we begin our first bit of gameplay.
This section is an introduction to a prevalent mechanic in the game, and that is quest mode. It’s your method of exploring and investigating “safe” areas like towns and such, instead of actually physically walking around with your player character, as in most RPGs. It’s kind of odd, and I’m not entirely sure why the developer chose it, though I believe he said something about “streamlining” somewhere. Later games in the series drop it for a more standard walkaround approach, so it’s something of a unique quirk of The Reconstruction.
One nice thing about it, though, is that it allows you to examine things from an omniscient narrator standpoint, which is very helpful for dispensing worldbuilding details without awkward character-based exposition. This ship has a number of interesting things to examine, some of which we will need to look at in order to progress with the plot.
As you can probably tell, the narrator has a snarky streak. I rather like this – it injects a lot of life into what would otherwise be dull and uneventful objects. The developer has a good grasp of humor, and I often found myself examining random things just to see what quip the narrator would make about them.
This definitely drew my attention on my first playthrough. “If only something as simple as magic could explain such oddities”, indeed. Through this one tidbit, we learn that magic is fairly commonplace and well-understood if it’s being described as “simple”. It also implies that some facsimile of magic-based technology is in play, if a ship powered by magic is a possibility.
Anyway, let’s examine some actual people now.
And thus begins yet another instance of a fantasy series using species and race interchangeably, and all the lovely capitalization confusion that comes with it. Interestingly, later games in the series actually do follow correct capitalization rules, assuming these are species. Here, though, we’re going to see lots of errant capitals.
You’ll sometimes get actual dialogue out of people by examining them in quest mode. It’s usually just them musing to themselves, though.
I find it strange that his real name isn’t revealed here. Seems like a good place to mention it. You actually have to go somewhat out of your way to find his real name at this point despite the fact that he’s referred to by his real name in later scenes anyway, so I don’t see the point of keeping up the mystery. If anything, it probably just confuses players who don’t catch his name here.
…I don’t believe we ever actually learn what it means. Some kind of in-joke, possibly? Hey, developer, if you’re reading, could you tell us what’s up with this?
And I kinda wonder why she puts up with being called a nickname she doesn’t know the meaning of. That tends to annoy or weird out virtually anyone in my experience. I guess this is supposed to show she’s just really laid-back, or on really good terms with the captain?
Let’s get some weapons for Private Clap now, since that’s what we need to do to advance the plot.
There’s a prompt to take it. This gets me a “bag of chemicals”.
I take it.
There doesn’t seem to be anything else interesting buried here. The captain is in a hurry, anyway.
Captain S now has an exclamation point over his head. This is TR‘s “this NPC gives a quest” symbol.
Here’s what you’ll see every time you’re offered a quest. Every quest has a “time limit” that doesn’t actually matter (it just gives you bonus points if you don’t exceed it), and some “special objectives” (think side-quests) that are similarly minor concerns (because they also just give bonus points). They’re not terribly important right now – I’ll give my thoughts on the mechanics a bit later.
The screen fades to black, and we start a new cutscene.
Pvt Clap: “Well, there’s this bag of…uh, ‘chemicals’ that I found. They look pretty dangerous.”
Captain S: “Nothin’ illicit about them, I assure you. Interesting story behind that bag, actually. It was a gift from a kindly ol’ Fortian who sought shelter on board once, months ago. Sad to say we don’t know about what’s inside any of those lil’ bags, mate. The tags are written in some kinda language that none of us knows how to read. All I do know is, don’t breathe in th’ green stuff. You’ll be sick for weeks!”
Vasra: “Listen to the Captain, he knows about that first-hand. You just don’t wanna know how.”
Pvt Clap: “I think I’ve seen some of these chemicals before actually, back at the academy.”
This is an interesting tidbit of the technology level of the world here. From the mast’s description, we know they have magic, yet apparently, mundane chemistry has still advanced pretty far if they have bags of specialized, labeled chemicals that may have been directly synthesized. We also know that there is some form of education system that teaches about this stuff. This actually makes the setting much more advanced than the typical medieval European fantasyland – we’re at roughly seventeenth-century technology at the very least, possibly even later. They’ve probably made decent social progress as well if they have institutionalized academies, although they could only be for wealthy aristocrats, as early universities were. Clap said that his parents sent him off to the academy (implying it’s a private or exclusive school), and while we have no idea what their social standing is, the captain’s jab about how he’s supposed to like fancy things could imply they’re upper class.
“I might know what they’re for. I’m glad I paid attention to the instructor that day.”
Captain S: “You’re a bright young lad. Now, what else do you have t’show me?”
Pvt Clap: “I have this, take a look. It’s a weapon of some kind, I think. Have a look, Captain.”
Clap hands it to the captain, who stares at it for a little while.
Captain S: “Hmm, yes, this trident. Sharp. Sturdy. It belonged to my Father, actually.”
Ah, good old random capitalization. That is, unless it’s supposed to mean “father” as a title (which I think it might), in which case this is merely wrong instead of completely random.
He certainly loved to fish with it. Not once did he use it as a weapon, though. He wasn’t big on fightin’, ya know? He just used it for spearin’ fish.”
Pvt Clap: “I’m sorry… I didn’t know…”
Captain S: “Take good care of it, mate. Better care than I did.”
He hands it back to Clap.
Pvt Clap: “Y-yes, Captain, of course.”
The captain moves down a bit and stares off the prow of the ship.
Captain S: “Navigator! What’s the good word on our friend out there?”
Navigator: “Still in view, Cap’n! Holdin’ steady course, south by southeast. Orders?”
Captain S: “Ramming speed, Navigator Barkley.”
Vasra turns around to address the rest of the ship. Dramatic music starts playing.
Vasra: “Attention, crew! Anyone not coming with us or steering the ship, go below and hang on!”
Clap walks over to the captain.
Pvt Clap: “Er… this sounds like serious business. I’m probably just gonna be in the way. Want me to go below too, Captain?”
Captain S: “No, no, don’t go anywhere, Private. Wait with me, you’re comin’ with us.”
Pvt Clap: “Okay. So, what. We’re just gonna plow right in to them?”
Captain S: “Private, when you’ve been at sea for as long as I have…you learn a thing or two about getting your point across. You follow, mate?”
Yay puns. On a surface level I do find many of Captain S’ quips to be pretty funny, but on a narrative level I don’t think it really works. The idea of a character who makes constant wisecracks so perfect it’s as if they read the script in advance is a fundamentally absurd one. In fact, in popular culture it seems to be evocative of flashy action movies like James Bond and that really doesn’t give me a good impression of the character. Terry Pratchett’s Going Postal has a quote that I think sums this up pretty well:
Moist felt a claw slash into his arm as he hurled the thing on to the Sorting Engine, and flung himself to the floor.
Moist lay on the cool flagstones until his heart slowed down to the point where he could make out individual beats. He was aware, as he lay there, that something sticky was dripping down the side of the machine.
He arose slowly, on unsteady legs, and stared at what had become of the creature. If he’d been a hero, he would have taken the opportunity to say, ‘That’s what I call sorted!’ Since he wasn’t a hero, he threw up.
When characters take the time to make quips in a dangerous situation, it makes them look incredibly detached – inhumanly perhaps, depending on the circumstances. Sometimes this can be used effectively to show how powerful or laid-back a character is, but when done badly, especially if it’s in violent situations, it can make them look downright sociopathic.
In The Reconstruction, this problem is by no means localized to Captain S and is honestly pretty endemic. The prologue seems like it’s purposefully trying to evoke action movie tropes, so I suppose it works here, but the rest of the game has a pretty different tone that rather clashes to me. It’s clear that the developer really loves quips and snark, but I think he rather overdoes it in places.
Pvt Clap: “But…but that ship is huge! We’ll be wrecked to pieces! Shards! Smithereens!”
Captain S: “Don’t be ridiculous. The nose o’ this beast was designed for… impact.”
Pvt Clap: “I thought this was just a trade vessel? What is it that you all do, exactly?”
Not that the quips are all that’s ringing sociopathic about Captain S. This is actually some kind of battleship, yet they let some random guy sign on thinking it was a nice, calm trade vessel? On top of that, now they want him to participate in whatever (likely violent) plan they’ve cooked up? That’s more than a little unethical. The game probably expects players to overlook this – more evidence for my theory that this section is running on action movie logic.
There’s a dramatic pause as Captain S stares out to the sea.
Captain S: “We…negotiate.”
Well, that doesn’t sound sinister at all. The camera pans out across the sea…
…and we’ve made it to the title screen! Hooray!
This is getting really long, so I’m afraid I have to cut it here. This cutscene is pretty lengthy.