At the time of writing this article, the 2014 Indie Game Maker contest is still underway. There is a $10K grand prize for the best game of any genre. Then prizes are broken down into 1st, 2nd and 3rd between two categories: RPG and Non-RPG. Before the contest I never thought of games broken down like that, but when you’re in a RPG Maker community most of the games you get are going to be RPGs. When I first started following RM that was all there was. But over the years, there’s been a rise in the amount of Non-RPG RPG Maker games coming out.
Horror, adventure, interactive fiction, even shooters! With the addition of the RGSS, almost any genre is possible. Amazingly enough, a lot of the top Non-RPG games were developed before the RM code was even editable! It really demonstrates the versatility of the engine. Many of these games are not very technically advanced. They utilize the map editor and some of the event functions but little else. What usually sets them apart is their excellent narrative and aesthetics. But still…
Why are these developers using RPG Maker?
This probably warrants a deeper analysis than I can give. But if I had to guess, it would be that RPG Maker is a very popular and accessible engine compared to say Unity or even Game Maker. It requires little to no programming experience and most games can be coded entirely through event functions without ever having to break up the script editor. This allows designers, artists, writers and musicians the chance to make a compelling game experience without a huge barrier of entry. The RGSS allows savvy programmers even more freedom to make the game they want.
It didn’t take long for developers to realize that RPG Maker could be used to make more than just RPGs. While the database is setup for RPG style gameplay, it is not necessary to create RM games. You can focus most of development in the map editor. Maps can be crafted using custom tilesets or even parallaxes and pictures created in image editing software like Photoshop or Gimp. Dialogue and cutscenes can be coded via events which give you most of the functionality you need to create a compelling narrative experience.
I’ll discuss why RPG Maker is such a great tool for crafting these types of games in a future post. For now, let’s move on to some actual examples of Non-RPG RPG Maker games!
HORROR RPG MAKER GAMES
Horror is the most popular Non-RPG RPG Maker genre. It’s also the most common search related to RPG Maker games. It might be surprising to an observer who hasn’t played these games. One would think it would difficult to create an effective horror game experience in a 2D game engine. But some of these titles illicit more horror than even their high-budget counterparts.
We start with…
Yume Nikki is a surreal psychological horror adventure game developed by Kikiyama in RM2K3. It was released in 2004 and is one of the most downloaded if not THE most downloaded RPG Maker game of all time.
Players explore the dreams of the character Madotsuki and encounter surreal and disturbing scenes. It’s a real weird and imaginative experience and one of the most influential in the community. It even has its own manga series!
Ib is a horror game created by Kouri with RM2K. This game follows the nine-year old Ib on a visit with her parents to a local art museum. Things soon takes a twisted turn as the lights go out and the pieces of art come to life. The game focuses on exploration and puzzle-solving and has multiple endings.
There is a massive fanbase around this game; especially revolving around one of the protagonists named Garry. Just google image search Ib and see for yourself!
A more recent horror game is Dreaming Mary. It was developed by accha in RPG Maker VX Ace Lite which has very limited features. The developer says the game was inspired by Ib and Yume Nikki but is not exactly a horror game. It also has multiple paths that the player can take and it’s possible to circumvent almost all of the horror elements. There is some unsettling subtext for those who are more sensitive.
THE POPULARITY OF RM HORROR GAMES
Horror RM games are very popular not just within the community but on YouTube as well. Unlike their RPG counterparts, they’re shorter and more entertaining to watch. The entertainment value might have something to do though with the player often being a total wuss. Pewdiepie and Markiplier are two of the biggest YouTubers and much of their success is due to their very vocal reactions during horror playthroughs; including RM horror games. Last I checked, Pewds was playing Corpse Party which is a horror series originally created in RPG Maker.
WHAT MAKES AN EFFECTIVE RM HORROR GAME?
Most of the RM horror games I listed above are very subtle in their creep factor. They play up the dark atmosphere and ambience. Much of the horror comes from the unknown or the uncanny.
In some of these titles there is also a sense of hopelessness or inevitably. Once the mystery is known, the games tend to be less effective. But some titles are so surreal and abstract you are never quite sure of what you’re seeing. And that can be very unsettling.
I’d suggest playing the games listed above and making your own conclusions about why these horror games are so popular.
CRITIQUE OF HORROR RM GAMES
While I do love RM horror games, there are a few tropes that keep popping up in them that I wish developers would rely less upon.
Monster Chases are a popular mechanic in many of these titles. I used to make these back when I first started using RM2K. All the developer has to do is set an event on follow path and player touch, and then when the event touches the player, trigger a game over. Since these are very easy to design they tend to be overused and can be very frustrating. Ao Oni, The Crooked Man and even the commercial version of Corpse Party rely heavily upon these.
Overuse of spotlight filters is another common problem. I do like these when used well like in SnowOwl’s Rust and Blood and It Moves. Lower visibility means you’re not seeing everything on-screen which taps into that primal fear of something dangerous lurking in the shadows. When used poorly though it becomes fatiguing to figure out where you are going.
Jump scares. Cheap but effective; at least when used in moderation. Typically how these work is the developer takes a disturbing image and then adds it as a picture to overlay the map. I have seen them used in clever ways like in It Moves with one disturbing image that continually gets less transparent and obscures your vision slightly. But really these should be used sparingly.
As I mentioned, there are A LOT of RM horror games out there. If you need more ideas for horror games you can check out the following video
In the next article I’ll cover more genres of Non-RPG RPG Maker games.
In the meantime, I’d love to hear from you guys. What do you think of horror RPG Maker games? What are some of your favorites? (If they’re not listed here make sure to leave a download link for other readers to check out!).