I might as well make something useful out of all the time I spend playing RPGMaker games, so here’s the latest crop of good ones.
Grist of Flies
Post-apocalyptic RPG where you control a large group of survivors fighting through demons and zombies to reach a safe house. I found the key gameplay mechanic to be really interesting: instead of the “party members” you control in battle being individuals, you control three separate groups composed of five people each. Those five people can be assigned to each group like equipment, and which role you place them in provides the whole group with different stats and abilities. I thought it was a really inventive approach to the RPG dynamic that allowed for a larger and more varied cast without any party members falling into disuse, and I loved the way it gradually expanded your toolbox and allowed you to come up with more creative strategies as time went on.
The real draw here is the sheer diversity of characters. Most of the characters are women and about half the characters are black, I believe. No one ever makes a big deal about this, because of course in a post-apocalyptic setting you have bigger things to worry about than stupid prejudices! The distribution of battle roles was also really awesome. Two of the three healers are male, but the woman is the best healer as well as an actual doctor who mentors one of the other healers. Two of the “leader” characters are women, and the male leader has a reasonable justification for it (being a parent) instead of men being leaders just because. The characters are all wonderful and it’s really nice to see a post-apocalyptic story that’s about working together instead of how humans are the real monsters. The only downside is that the game was made in like a week for a contest, so it’s very short and the story and characters are pretty minimalistic – but what we have is exceptionally good and if the developer ever expands the setting into a full game I know I’d snap it up in an instant.
This one is kind of the inverse of Grist of Flies – you play as a single character, a misanthrope who was left behind after an evacuation. An energy being gives her magic powers and tells her she has to fight off eldritch monstrosities to prevent them from causing the apocalypse. There’s a bit more story to it than just that, and while the story had to be pretty simple (this was also a quick contest thing) I think it worked really well with what it had. The main character’s perspective was interesting and I think she showed real growth over the course of the game. The gameplay was also very engaging and innovative – I normally find single-character RPGs excruciatingly dull and repetitive, but I think this one manages to avoid the most common problems with its battle system. One mechanic I really liked is that your health is pretty low and there are no healing skills, but you have a large pool of “reserve” health that is drained to heal you after every battle. I thought that was an excellent way to allow battles to wear you down over time while not trivializing them by turning them into healfests. Bosses required clever strategizing too and this was just a very well-put-together game overall. It also passes the Bechtel Test big time, as the only major characters are both women.
Born Under the Rain
Act has talked previously about the importance of fantasy stories branching out into other cultural spheres than the standard European one. This one is based in Egyptian mythology! You play as a zombie cursed by a pharaoh’s spirit who’s trying to destroy an artifact that will bring rain to a town ailing from drought. This means you get to do a lot of treasure hunting and puzzle-solving, which I always love. I found the battle system quite fun, though the power curve flattened out towards the end and I’m glad the game didn’t overstay it’s welcome. Skills are determined largely by equipment, which is a trend that’s gained a lot of popularity in the RPGMaker community recently – I’m pretty favorable towards it, since it forces you to balance both stat and skill considerations and makes your toolset a lot more modular. This one is longer than the others, but still fairly compact. Also, gender-balanced party.
Two awesome ladies are ordered by the queen of darkness to investigate some strange happenings. Along the way they meet an adorable blob monster. I found the overall tone of this to be incredibly fun – the characters have a great dynamic, and the story is character-focused while not diluting that character focus over too many characters like I’ve seen too often recently. I thought the two main characters displayed a surprising amount of depth below their simplistic facades, but at the same time I loved how straightforward and proactive they were. I particularly liked Elsa. Most Strong Female Characters like her are made vulnerable and relatable through romance, but she instead shows a motherly side toward the blob monster, which I thought was a much more mature and interesting take. The characters feel very firmly like adults who still have some issues to work through rather than emotional impulsive teenagers like so many RPG heroes seem to be. Unfortunately I didn’t like the villains nearly as much – they’re bumbling idiot types, which just makes me feel like, well, if the story doesn’t take them seriously as a threat then why should I?
The gameplay is a mess, though. The main dungeon is pretty dry and repetitive, and the difficulty curve is bizarre – the entire main story requires zero effort and bosses typically died almost as soon as the battle began, but the bonus dungeons feel like hitting a brick wall. The suddenness of getting Ooze’s final forms was also strange after how slow-build the early forms were, especially since the defensive ones are practically useless. The uniqueness of every character’s fighting style was neat but I don’t think there was a lot of thought put into synergy. The progression felt pretty rushed, especially towards the end; in a longer, more carefully constructed game, it might have worked better. Still, it’s fun; better too easy than too hard, I suppose.
The story is set in a world where people can erase bad memories by taking a journey to the center of the mind and beating them up. It follows a patient and his friend, a doctor who’s helping administer the procedure. I thought everything about this game was very well-structured – we’re given very few explicit details on the characters, but I felt I understood them well by the end through their dialogue and the environments in the patient’s memories. I found both the characters relateable and I liked that the story took a more nuanced approach to this topic than I’m used to seeing – there’s no “suddenly I realize that technology is evil and I am very wrong for trying this” resolution. The gameplay is also quite clever – it really encourages you to think differently than in a normal RPG, and I found the summoning mechanic interesting. I also liked the streamlined way progression was handled, with everyone getting a new skill at the end of every area – it gave you time to get used to everything while battles slowly became more complex. My only criticism is that battles tend to drag on for quite a while if you don’t know what you’re doing, and sometimes even if you do – the second boss battle and the second form of the final boss were particularly slow.