A History on RPG Maker Earthbound-likes (and fan games) – Part One

Say fuzzy pickles

Baseball, newspapers, cars, asphalt. Just simply making your RPG set in contemporary times is immediately going to invite comparisons to HAL’s well known Mother series (alternatively named Earthbound). A light hearted touch is also required or else you just might veer into being a horror game like Parasite Eve. Of course Mother games don’t shy away from dark and trippy themes. Things like war and crime do exist in our current times, but it’s hard to really contextualize turn-based conflict in a neighborhood without a weird spin. Being Nintendo family friendly was also an incentive. A zombie apocalypse or an alien invasion, a cult, or SOMETHING needs to happen (Earthbound has all of this) That I think is why it’s so easy to steer into Shigesato Itoi’s wheelhouse when making something modern. Fantasy and Sci-fi are inherently absurd, typical ideal American dream suburbia is not (depending on who you ask). Though really just merely making your game quirky is enough to obtain the Earthbound label.

Things haven’t changed. There’s a certain indie game discourse around being tired of “Earthbound clones.” I uh, won’t go into it. Let’s just say the outlook and attitude surrounding it back then was about the same as comparing every platformer to Cave Story. It is hard to condense what exactly elicits everything that makes Earthbound, Earthbound. However with the early goings of the RPG Maker community there really weren’t that many EB-likes. A ton of fan-games sure, but it’s interesting to think about how the modular-ness of certain Squaresoft sprite rips had more effect on the setting (and by proxy the story) of many RPG Maker titles more so than the actual art-style. There is actually a dedicated website dedicated to providing Earthbound rips formatted for RM2K along with eventing tutorials. There were more templates and resources than there were actual fangames (and a lot of battle systems help threads on how to make rolling numbers). 

Early Earthbound Fangames (2000-2005)

So Starmen.net is probably going to be brought up a lot as it dates back to as far as 2000 and hosted many fanworks. The fan games and apps page has anything you could possibly imagine (there is an Earthbound Doom WAD for chrissakes). The site’s fangame forum has become something of a RPG Maker community of its own and some usernames caught my eye when researching for this article. The early game that sticks out is EarthBound Max (RM95) (2000). This is probably the earliest and most tangible RM incarnation resembling EB. It looks to be RPG Maker 95 based on the remaining screenshot. The Angelfire site for it is miraculously still up. Sadly the download isn’t recoverable due to the defunct third party hosting. All that remains is a story write up.

EarthBound Force (RM2K) (2001) – Was an Earthbound / Resident Evil crossover. This won’t be the only cross over we’ll get into. The screenshots that remain shows Future RTP being used. No download seems to be available.

EarthBound Revolution (RM2K) (2002) was another game that was sadly lost to the silicon of time. But there was quite a complimentary writeup by someone at Starmen.net praising its effort.

Earthbound: Ness’s Legacy (RM2K) (2002) Demo is fortunately still available as a download. It is a direct sequel to Earthbound although it is a game with Ness trapped inside of an RTP game nightmare more than anything. Using the FF9 battle theme for combat is certainly a choice. Curiously this is dedicated to the unreleased Earthbound 64, Mother 3 was often the alternate name for the game that was announced to be cancelled UNTIL…

Download (Google Drive)

Mother 3 and One Third (RM2K) (2004) Demo

This is a step up from the usual RTP game with Ness swapped for Alex. It uses the actual rips for chipsets and characters. Although I spoke too soon when Pokey asks if you want to fight and follows up with “Too bad bitch” if you say no. The author has apologized for swearing in a mainline Mother game, hopefully whoever actually makes Mother 4 does not repeat the same mistake.

Download (Google Drive)

What’s even more intriguing is that Starmen.net had various community focused games  Rescue Reidman (2002), Rescue Reidman 2 (2002), and 2015: A Starmen.Net Story (2003) are in-joke games that feature community members likely brainstormed in an IRC chat long ago. This was really common in the RPG Maker community at large but it’s nice to see the tradition carried out here. There was even a game called Earthbound Petition (2002) which was based on a petition Starmen.net created that had over 200,000 signatures to bring Mother 3 (Earthbound 64) to fruition after it had been cancelled. Mother 3’s development history was… complicated and even more-so the fan outcry for anything Earthbound related. The passionate desires of the fandom are so embedded in its history that not even fan games made in RPG Maker can avoid it.

It’s easy to forget that Mother 3’s release in Japan was in 2006 (2 years after the Nintendo DS released), the anticipation for this game and its translation is likely what spurred the second wave of EB-likes among RPG Maker users. Some argue that Mother 3 is very different in tone and themes than Mother 1 and 2. It was wild timing for a 2D sprite based RPG by Nintendo/HAL to be released during the early Xbox 360 days, but the perfect era to be getting into pixel art on an RPG hobbyist forum.

Homeland (RM2K3) (2006) Demo

Download Link (Mega)

Anyone hailing from the now defunct Gaming World would probably mention Homeland by Marcus, a game that stood out due to its very influence. This is as far as I can tell the first non-fan game that’s clearly derivative of EB. At first the EB formula is followed very closely. You name every relevant character to the bop of some music and get very ominous with the year declared “XX58” along with a narration that alludes to strange happenings. However what strays away from the formula is the writing. The jokes have a sort of cartoon sitcom edge to it. The Office is referenced. Your computer has a BSOD and is next to a “Playtinspehere 6” (I mean we’re almost there number-wise). My most vivid memory of playing this game back in 2006, is the rodent licking his nuts.

Thankfully it’s SFW

Looking back at Earthbound’s influences. A japanese developer set out to depict an endearing parody of America from their perspective with a vague time period smorgasbord of American culture. It’s set in the 90s yet some locales look straight out of a vintage Archie comic. The game is drenched in rockabilly / psychedelic aesthetics that emerged from the 60s-70s transition. The Runaway Five is similar to the Blues Brothers who play a song eerily similar to Changeling by The Doors. The Casey Bat has a 25% chance to hit in reference to the 1888 poem “Casey at the Bat.” An NPC calls you Rambo. The Starmen resembles Gort from 1951’s The Day The Earth Stood Still along with the title-screen evoking War of the Worlds. Even though The Beatles are British, there are a LOT of The Beatles references (and by proxy, Mother is named after a John Lennon song). In fact the entire soundtrack is a discography copyright mine field. Mr. T is in it.

You take all of those culture bombs and stuff them into an SNES cartridge and give it to a 90s kid and say: “Here, be influenced by this” That kid becomes a teenager in the mid 2000s setting out to depict an homage to a video game made by a Japanese developer doing an homage to American/western culture. Whatever gets retained and filtered depends on that teenager’s sensibilities. I’m fascinated by that chemistry. Even if it results in a rodent “licking his nuts”.

The chipset graphics by Shardicefire were pre-existing and what Marcus attributes to deciding to create the game. There are some Earthbound rips for the on map monsters. The charsets and some furniture seem custom. The battle backgrounds are where things get wild. As you know the default battle system is extremely limited when it comes to visuals. At first glance the background only has one static layer. If you look in the Terrain tab however, it lets you separate the battle background associated with it into 2 layers that can go into horizontal and vertical speeds. It gives just enough wiggle room to create your own designs to experiment but just enough limitation that you can’t do wild procedural generation. Just how we like our RPG Makers.

What stuck out to me was the composer for this game: Ragnar. GamingW was known for having a sizable music community. Ragnar in particular was a very experimental artist and had a keen interest in eccentric internet culture. The music really leans in the psychedelic aspects but it’ll even have unexpected vocal samples. There’s a lot of speed up and slow down or record skips mixing that feels like DJ club music. The most emblematic sound of EB to me is that crunchy sound chip white noise which the composer emulates quite well. Something about it really gives off Gaming World’s soul as the site started to gravitate towards weirder games (one of which we’ll get to later).

The game is quite difficult at first. As long as you know to get the second party member ASAP it becomes a little more tolerable. Class is cancelled and you’re stopped by a bully who… challenges you to a scavenger hunt of all things which means hunting down specific on-map monsters. I blazed through the end and it seemed to end on a cliffhanger with a mysterious government agent up to a nefarious plot.

Demo pretty much ends there. It’s a crude EB with a slight edge to it A purist would say it doesn’t even come close to matching the exact tone of the writing aside from a few miscellaneous NPCs. Yet I feel drawn to what exactly gets portrayed or even observed in the comedic musings of the writing. It’s something you don’t get by default in a fantasy setting. The parents seem straight out of Daria yapping about work and coffee. The mother is at least a step up from the usual RTP mom. There’s nothing super clairvoyant in the exact outlook on the education system or bullies, but the direction seems to just be: exaggerate society a little and it makes for a good RPG backdrop. Which I think it sufficiently does.

But what if I told you this wasn’t even the first Earthbound clone to come out in the year 2006? 6 months before there was in fact (shocker) an Earthbound Fangame.

Earthbound Memories (RM2K3) (2006)

Download Link (Mega)

This is a nice treat since the download was thought to be lost until recovered in 2021. So just in time for this article. This game is surprisingly hefty, with a whopping 96 maps and yet it is still a demo. The author was once a maintainer for the RMXP EarthBound Starter Kit and a moderator on Starmen.net. 

The intro is surprisingly good. Maybe my brain has been battered by all the first draft Earthbound-but-RTP games but I feel like this is the turning point of the RM scene where the majority started paying attention to things like tone and direction. The game opens up with an In-Media-Res with you the hero invading the starman base. It has a credit sequence that you can walk through as the names pop up. There’s a very visionary aspect to how everything is paced, the sound effects are lifted directly from the game, but even something as simple as a pause or prompt has that Nintendo feel. The battle scenes have a sort of Phantasy Star over the shoulder view rather than first person. The 2 Layered scrolling backgrounds are used to decent effect and the PSI effects are pretty faithful.

You descend deep into an elevator with human NPCs saying vague and non-decrepit things. You make your way through a strange sewer of madness that evokes the last dungeon of Earthbound. You then fight a Starwoman? I guess? At the end it turns out it was all a dream by a grown up Paula. 

At first I thought she’d be the main character but it turns out the game basically follows the exact  plot beats as the original. The title of the game in the application window is “Earthbound 2” after all. Aside from the events clearly having transpired since the first game, Onett is pretty much recreated. I ask myself how imperative is this? If I had to say anything about fanworks, I often question why they need to feel like remakes. Sure Mother 2 often feels like a remake to Mother 1 but they still deviate quite a bit in terms of production values and story. There’s at least some kind of evolution. Maybe it’s enough for some authors to simply recreate what they love and edit from there.

Disclaimer: The game asks you what your favourite game is

After reaching the meteor and descending down to a basement the demo ends quite shortly. The demo does let you wander around in the remaining maps that lack story content but contain wide empty spaces and NPCs to talk to. There’s a neat little debug room with a CBS demo (within a demo with a DBS). People were really dedicated to recreating the battle system despite RM’s DBS being quite fine for the job. The urge to have those rolling slot machine numbers for the character status is hard to resist I suppose. One detail I really like is that there’s a photo album in your room of all the photos taken in the previous game.

Overall it’s a neat demo, and the intro is the most impressive part. I wish the game maintained that endgame tone. I don’t mean that it needs to be so edgy that Pokey calls you a bitch, but I think the biggest potential fangames have is to go all out on one or two aspects of something existing. The world building is done for you for the most part, the trick is what to do with all of that and harness it into something different. The game in the next article of this series might just do that.

This became a much bigger article than I intended, but it’s fun to see how the Mother series has affected the RPG Maker culture at large, as even non-EB clones tend to reflect those sensibilities. I’ll also be getting into the games that didn’t even make it past a demo and the wild battle system templates. So stay tuned for part two.

Starmen.net

Starmen.net Fangames (Archive)

PSI-RPG2K (Earthbound Resources and Tutorials)

Seekers of the Sun

Author: Remains of Scythe / Remainaery
Released: June 2004
Engine: RPG Maker 2000

In the early 2000s, CBSes (or Custom Battle Systems) were all the rage among RPG maker users. At the time RM2K was only able to do Dragon Quest (first person perspective) battles that were quite plain. There was an unspeakable notion in the scene at the time: that almost everyone wanted something akin to Final Fantasy 6. Give us chibi sprites standing on the side of the screen delivering blows that pop out numbers and all of our problems would be solved (except for motivation, limitations of time, and responsibilities). However Seekers of the Sun is notable in that it didn’t just rest at making a side view, but decided to tackle a Chrono Trigger styled battle system. Where the battles would happen on the actual map you were just walking around on. There have been “tech” demos that attempted this, but this is the only actual playable RM game with a CT styled CBS that I can recall.

The game is set in a cold dystopian underground complex. You play as the edgelord of edgelords, an artificial being known as Abyss. Much like the start of Elfen Lied (or the more kid friendly Pokemon: Mewtwo Strikes Back) you’re going on a rampage on those responsible for creating you. Abyss spouts lines of dialogue about how powerful he is and pathetic the things he’s going up against. Although this is all quite self-indulgent and angsty I kind of welcome it these days. Anecdotally I come across a lot of modern RPGs and games that are a bit too afraid to go down this route, or are too self-aware to fall too hard into this trap. The strength of this game’s grim dark tone is that things just feel IMPORTANT in ways that are hard to explain. Probably due to the various biblical references and showy philosophical musings. Ultimately this feels like an in-media res intro ala Breath of Fire 4 where you play as a powerful being at first to get a taste of the battle system while things are still easy. It’s likely you’re meant to play a more optimistic protagonist later on.

The graphics are mostly CT edits that are cohesively put together. There’s this dominant blue hue added to a lot of the assets and makes the world rather cold and unwelcoming. Some places look really great, and even if they’re a slog to navigate sometimes, they sure work well as a backdrop for when the battle starts. Speaking of the battles, there’s sadly not much to say. You can spam attack, defend, or use an item. The author’s note says he was persuaded to just release what he had even if the battle system was still basic. Still it’s really cool to see what the result looks like when put into an actual game with story. The execution is simply making the attack animation be a picture that moves to whatever xy coordinate the monster is, and play effects over the target. The challenge compared to other CBSes is mainly figuring out how to organize events on the maps themselves without things getting too messy. Taking a peak into the editor it seems like a lot of copy pasting is done in an organized fashion on the maps to pull this off. Every possible target and charset setting/animation is placed on the map even if you’re only fighting way less than the maximum. There are interesting design challenges to consider as far as how they’re initiated and where the space ought to be. There aren’t a ton of a battles to experience as a result of this.

The CBS programming was done by Kokibi, and in true collaborative fashion, Remains of Sycthe helped with the art on Kokibi’s own project: A Gate into Eternity. Seekers of The Sun garnered way more attention despite both projects featuring elaborate battle systems. Notably this was a German made game (seems only to be in English as far as I know) that was featured on Gaming Ground Zero alongside the likes of Velsarbor. It’s interesting to look into the author’s history and his origins being that of a webcomic circle. A lot of the faceset/portaits are his and seems very much in tune with the angsty dark anime aesthetic that plagued many deviant art pages and webrings. It gives the impression that RPGMaker wasn’t just for making “your own Final Fantasy” but also to bring imagined adventures to life that you had in drawings and in your mind. There’s a blend of rips and custom art that really adds character to the game and even though this only got as far as a proof of concept, I’m glad it exists.

Estimated Length: Less than an hour

Download Here (English)
RPG Maker Quartier Download (Mirror)
RMArchiv Page (Download Mirror)
Author’s Deviant Art
GGZ Archive and History + Download
Youtube Playthrough
Interview with Kokibi and Scythe (Google Translated from German)
German Site Page (RPG Atelier)
Trailer (Youtube)

Crossbone

Created by: Daniel Olsén
Released: August 2003
Engine: RM2000

It’s got pirates, robots, explosions and an old man who talks to birds! What more could you want? Back in the Gaming Ground Zero days I would occasionally browse the main site. There was no way to know of an upcoming game release or anything, no notifications or popups. You’d just go through your daily sites and hope to see an update. Games weren’t user submitted on GGZ you see, they were often approved and placed by the webmaster. One early morning, I happened across a game called Crossbone with only a couple of sentences and a title screen to go by. That was the thing about GGZ, you never really knew what you were going to get. Yet the games from that site were always a step above most RM games due to the curated nature of the members and the community.

Replaying this for the first time in 15 years, I realize this game still has a lot of heart. While the battles are a bit rough (enemies are sometimes higher HP than they need to be), the sequences are just so imaginatively crafted. A lot of the scenes often take a page out of a Final Fantasy’s idea of comedic relief. Where nameless henchmen have just as much personality as the main characters. A lot of the events play out like a Saturday-morning cartoon with a pint of seriousness. You play as Breeze, an anchor wielding (swords aren’t cool enough for him) freelancer who always has trouble following him wherever he goes. After getting entangled with some pirates he gets knocked out by a wave caused by an unknown being. This spirals into further crazy adventures.

“I was planning to pack so much into that game that it would have been unwieldy. I did learn a lot about being creative within limitations thinking back on it, even if it creeps up on me from time to time. Now my problem is usually the opposite, I tend to over-plan so I end up exhausted before I even begin haha.”

Daniel Olsén

The art is comprised mostly of original art overlayed on an RTP chipset framework. For example you might see the standard RTP ship tilset, but covered in metallic tiles made by the author himself. A lot of the scenes are accompanied by drawings that act as comic book panels of sorts. They give a really good cinematic emphasis in the flashbacks and important segments. I could talk about the individual aspects of this game, but it really comes down to it feeling like an adventure. I think RPGs always have that problem of sometimes starting out with hometown + chores or like fighting rats in a sewer dungeon. Crossbone just says screw that, you’re fighting a robot with an anchor in the first 6 minutes. There’s a sequence where this old man summons a giant owl god thing with a sword to fight this giant bug thing. There’s another section where a ship you’re on gets raided by dragon people using a slime infested coral reef that stops the ship from moving, but like, it can also turn into a mech? AND A UNICORN LOOKING BOAT ALSO TURNS INTO A MECH TO STOP IT.

“The ship battle sequence for Crossbone is made by the creator of Mog’s Adventure, in return I created the maps and such for the final dungeon of that game. A lot of the non-sprite art in the game is embarrassing looking back since I tended to draw the heads before the body so the proportions came out all janky. But it is what it is and every experience is valuable for the future. After Crossbone I went to college, I experience various things and worked as a freelance illustrators for a few years.”

Daniel Olsén
The dungeon in Mog’s Adventure that Daniel worked on

The author Daniel Olsén still works on game projects from time to time. His passion for fiction and art has never faded and mostly does art and comics. It’s easy to see the connection between how bombastic and theatrical Crossbone was and his current artwork. Although that can take a lot of effort and time, sometimes leaving an impression is worth it in the end. It certainly added to the surprise of browsing through RPG Maker games all those years ago.

Check out Daniel Olsén’s portfolio!

Estimated Length : 2 hours or so

Download Here (Archive)
GGZ Archive and History
Youtube Playthrough (Chapter 1)

Legion Saga Zenith

Created by: BusterManZero
Released: June 2003
Engine: RM2000

So what if I told you people not only made fan games in rpgmaker, but people made fan games of rpgmaker games in rpgmaker? Really makes you think doesn’t it? The catalyst for such a project came from the Legion Saga series by a user called Kamau. These were 3 full games made in RPG Maker loosely inspired by Suikoden and other RPGs. What made Legion Saga special was that it was proof that you really could make a “numbered” series with RPG Maker provided you had the motivation and drive to pull it off. The original Legion Saga was going to have a remake made in RPG Maker 2003 (though there’s even another still being made), and there was even a spinoff game featuring a side character that had an ABS. It was everything you’d expect from a “franchise” even having its own lore wiki before wikis were even a thing. Enter in people wanting to make fan games to further expand on this potential universe, 9 of them in fact. Many of them were never finished, but the most prominent was Legion Saga Zenith (Not to be confused with Legion Saga Zero) as it was one of the first.

This is a strange combo of things. At first, the system sets, the Roco facesets, the Luca Blight Battle midis and the political dialogue involving kings and assassins are all there to feel like Legion Saga. Now most common wisdom would say if it looks and quacks like a duck then… but wait – the wide open mapping with no concern for proportions, the constant spelling mistakes, dialogue prose that of a robot… this is a noob RTP game! It may be far from RTP in terms of resources, but the application of everything makes it feel very rudimentary. It’s not to say the actual Legion Saga series doesn’t always have its shortcomings, but there’s just something about the cutscenes in Zenith that feel “off” as if there isn’t any coherence to the narrative.

Important events will just happen and then resolve moments after. Typically a known Legion Saga character will come in to save the day only to leave faster than that. As if these characters were actors with limited billing to do a cameo in a straight to VHS sequel. The writing overall really does sit in the realm of Shattered Samurai. Instead of awkwardly appropriating Asian tropes though, it’s weirdly appropriating itself while collapsing in on the source material. When both the source game and fan game are made in the same engine and only mere years apart, it becomes interesting to separate the standards and differences between the two, a microcosm of fandom vs creator interaction.

“Okay that’s great and all” you interrupt, “but is this game deemed CANON?”

Looking at the handy rules and regulations, you wouldn’t even be considered a fan game if you set the events after Legion Saga 3. But what does it matter at this point? Star Wars is by all accounts being made by fans these days. Just about any long lasting franchise will be recycled into eternity thanks to copyright extensions (Several NES games would be entered in the public domain by now to give you an idea of an alternate history). RPG Maker 2k/3 pre-2013 was a wild west though, the Legion Saga games were made on an illegal program used along with illegally used graphics. There is no real jurisdiction to refer to, nothing was enforced except from the culture of the RM community itself. That’s what I like about the situation of Legion Saga fan-games, they just did not give a shit about the outside world, yet stood by these invisible rules by Kamau’s word anyway. One thing that’s for sure though… is that Space Funeral 2 and 3 are definitely canon.

I have no clue what I’m going to write when I get to like, the 10th Final Fantasy RM fan game…

Download Here (Archive) NOTE: May require RTP 1.8
Download (Queen’s Court Mirror)
RPG Town topic on the state of LS fan games (2003)
Legion Saga Downloads
Youtube Sample Playthrough

NigSek: A Monster’s Tail

Created by: SovanJedi
Released: November 2001 (First full release)
Engine: RM2000

Naturally, RPG Maker became quite the conduit for making fan-games of existing JRPG franchises, sometimes even non-RPGs would be made into fan-games. These games would top the download charts just for having “DBZ” or “Final Fantasy” in the title. Nigsek – A Monsters Tail doesn’t even bother wearing the IP on its name. It’s a sequel to another fan-game called The Legend of Zelda: Angels Four (made in RM95). Not only that but it’s the only RM game that I remember that used FMVs. Heck, you don’t even play as Link and there’s Pokemon in it for some reason.

The premise is that having saved Hyrule along with your friends, you were granted a peaceful limbo to dwell in. Before the existential thoughts can manifest, the balance of Hyrule gets disrupted. Link has disappeared from Hyrulian history, and your goal is to travel back and time and figure out why it happened. To complicate this further, you’re split into two halves. It’s full of weird mind bending aspects you would never expect a Zelda fan-game to broach. The writing is introspective and explores the fate and relationships between characters, but it also has a child-like wonder to it.

Nigsek pretty much breaks every fan-game convention on the list. Despite having more reason to use rips from existing Zelda games it has mostly originally made graphics. These graphics render large sprawling maps that aim to recreate a lot of the locales that you’d find in Ocarina of Time. But what about those dang FMVs? The seldom used “Play Movie” event command displays the author’s custom made CGI videos that look straight out of a PS1 game studio experimenting with 3D for the first time. These renders also match with the facesets, some chipset segments and battle scenes. More than simply just the author flexing his production values, the cinematics give a certain feel to the world and important situations.

This homage really interacts with the lore and ethos of Zelda, given that it came out before Wind Waker, there’s an interesting context from what material was available back in 2001. Having said all of that, there are some weird issues with the game though. Following in the footsteps of Majora’s Mask there’s a huge day/night cycle that governs the flow of the game. Meaning you’ll be returning to a lot of places based on a running clock, multiple events happen in the same location which rely on the author’s management of events to run smoothly. It’s not hard to see why this would lead to a lot of errors. It also says something about the ambition of the game since it’s also complete. With all that in mind, this game is such a crazy anomaly on so many levels, so it’s worth checking out, just be wary of the bugs.

The creator continues to make games and art in the game industry to this very day. Check out his portfolio here.

Update: The creator saw the article! And made a recreation of the above screenshot.

2001 Misao Awards
Best Graphics:
Nigsek

Best Character:
Nigsek (Nigsek)

Most Innovative Feature:
FMVs in Nigsek

Greatest Risk that Succeeded:
Nigsek’s use of FMVs

Download Here (RMN Page)

(Youtube Sample Playthrough)

Tetris

Created by: JKB Productions
Released: June 2001
Engine: RM2000

Okay so we’ve all been enamored with the battle royale Tetris that came out of nowhere on the Switch recently. But hold up, alright, stay with me here, what about, Tetris, but made in RPG Maker? You might be asking: “Why would someone make that…” and I would counter with “Why the hell would someone not?” If you ventured into any game engine or a site with games on it, there would invariably be some kind of Pong or Tetris clone posted somewhere. It’s a neat way to get accustomed to programming or working with whatever new tool you come across. Obviously RPG Maker 2000 has its strengths and weaknesses, with quite a few limitations going for it. It’s not that strange to put a newly found engine to the test.

Thing is though, I didn’t expect the presentation to be so extreme. The title screen opens up to a sped up sparkman stage.midi with a mish-mash of backgrounds from different sources, one in particular being a CGI South Park background. When you hit New Game, the Konami logo jingle plays while displaying the JKB Porductions logo instead. This made me burst into laughter. The sincerity of an RM author rolling out the red carpet for their little mini game project really gets to me. Each background you choose in the game offers its own music, my favorite in particular is the cgi purple mountain-scape background that plays a Black Sabbath midi.

So how does the actual Tetris hold up? Unsurprisingly the game uses individual events to display the tetris blocks and moves them downwards. Event movement is VERY finicky to put it mildly. Since it’s tile based, events are technically on the tile they’re moving to. This can create problems in terms of detecting when a piece needs to stop and feels very delayed and bleh to snap together. Not only that, but you have to wait for the entire piece to reveal itself before you can move it. Suffice to say you won’t be T-spinning your way into high-score chain land. All in all though, it is still playable and very much Tetris. There’s a glitch that sometimes happens where the individual event blocks slide off, which gets me thinking on how this was evented and put together.

The real question though, is it THE Tetris? Very likely not. The aesthetics are somewhat charming though, and it feels in the vein of CD-i Tetris and how it’s more interesting to look into the background/music choices than the actual programming. This is the only Tetris that I know of that has the South Park “Uncle Fucka” song.

Estimated length: ???

Download Here
Author’s Website (Archive) (Portuguese)

Youtube Playthrough

Redmoon Saga

Created By: Axis / Fallon
Release Date: August 2000
Engine: RM2000

After the RPG Maker 2000 english translation was released, a few of the first submitted games were probably really bad. Although mainstream JRPGs and the RM95 catalogue existed to take notes from, RPG Making software on the internet was only starting to gain momentum. A Blurred Line is one of the earlier games considered a classic even to this day, but what notables came before? Aside from the Don’s Adventures sample game, what games stood out from the rest in such an early time period? Redmoon Saga is considered one of them. Created 2 months after the RPGMaker 2000 translation had been released, clocking in at around 1 hour squeezed into 15 maps, this demo managed to impress people at the time.

From the moment I opened this game in RM2k,just looking through the maps, I could already tell that the author really had given some time and effort to his game. I didn’t get disappointed when I first started to play either, a cool title screen and an amazing intro was what I first got to notice. I think this author was the first to use the fog effect for the RM2k, and the first time a saw it was just blown away. That kind of eye-candy is what shows the real power of RM2k

Punk84’s Review, circa 2001

Although the majority of it is RTP, there was effort to make it feel less default. Even the chipset colors was altered to give the towns a vivid look. Aside from a few novelty firsts (such as the fog effect mentioned by Punk84) you won’t really get too much out of this game ultimately. MY GOD are the random battles relentless, they’re even in places that have puzzles or story events. Your characters don’t seem to learn any skills so the combat and progression is really lacking. Despite that, the game accomplishes a lot with the small stuff. The name/dialogue is properly formatted, spelling errors are kept to a minimum, the maps are quite elaborate, and the story’s flow is pretty straight forward. It avoids a lot of common beginner faults and shows what the engine was meant for.

The story is a little generic, starting with an in-media-res where you fight the villain and lose. Surprise! It was all a dream and you wake up out of bed. Even if the cliches are in full force, there is some demonstration of scene direction. For instance there is flash-back scene that happens in the same room that you trigger it in. Transparent past characters appear in the room to show a lapse in time. Flashback writing was common place in just about any RPG, but this game does take a step further into presenting that. The oddest part in the game is when our hero extorts a key from an NPC in order to gain access to the dungeon. He’s a total asshole about it and even his friend tries to reign him in. There’s no prior context to prelude this and it’s kind of just moved on from.

At the end of the day, sometimes it’s not about making the best game ever. It’s just enough to cross over whatever the current standards are in order to show others how it’s done. Creative works often evolve from each other, and it’s pretty easy to observe that in early RM.

Estimated length: 1 Hour or so

Download (Queen’s Court)
Download Mirror (Monkey Productions)
Punk84’s Review (Archive)
GamingW Article mentioning Redmoon Saga (Archive)

Youtube 1 Hour Play-through

Fatal Limits

Created by: JPC
Date Released: February 2002
Engine: RM2000

They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Most RPG Maker games tend to have very traceable influences and they vary based on the choices an author would make. To say Fatal Limits is a recreation of Final Fantasy 7 isn’t quite accurate. It starts off at roughly the story beat in FF7 where Cloud and crew decides to rescue Aeris from Shinra as opposed to a bombing mission equivalent. Only, you aren’t terrorists, you simply want to escape the city and travel the world. There are tiny little details that are divergent from FF7, and it’s interesting to see how even the style of the cutscenes and phrasing mimic the source material and then don’t. I think it proves that unless you are actually lifting exact moment to moment aspects of the source material directly, there are still ways in which a game can define itself.

The mapping has a very grunge look to it, often using variants of the Future chipset that came from the RM2K sample games that seems to be mixed with other rips. What’s interesting about the aesthetic is the overuse of anime posters on the walls. There’s a sort of fascination with having a shop simply called GUN as its banner that never gets old. The demo mainly centers on the confrontation with the Aegil Corporation (*cough* not Shinra) while bumping into a princess who has connections with a very anti-technology civilization. You know the drill, but the game sort of goes with the flow in assuming you know this too. The battle screens are made as if they’re side view with the heroes out of frame. Since RM2K is known for first peron battles the characters simply appear in screen to simulate what that would look like. It was before RM2K3 and yet people were still eager to avoid the first person perspective that was associated less with Final Fantasy and more with Dragon Quest.

But really what makes this game stand out in my memory was the city at the very end: District 7. The mp3 Butterfly by SMiLE.dk. complete with lyrics blares through the cityscape as hordes of NPCs block your path. As a 14 year old playing it at the time, this was more than enough to immerse me into this urban world. These maps are bursting with life and personality with neon anime signs constantly cycling in and out. That’s the cool thing about RPG Maker, you didn’t need high caliber assets or talented skills to convey a dense dystopia. There’s just an aesthetic to this that’s hard to resist. I recorded the entirety of the demo just so I could experience the song playing in the background. The whole thing comes out of nowhere, and I think it’s fitting that the end point of the demo lets you wander around a bit before quitting. It makes me wonder, if maybe FF7’s Midgar would have been better with SMiLE.dk playing in the background.

Estimated length: 30 minutes

Demo Download

Youtube Full Playthrough

German RM2K Site Review (Archive)

Shattered Samurai

Created by: ArCsLnGa StUdIoS
Date Released: January 2003
Engine: RM2000

The late 90s obsession with Japanese culture and anime could be felt throughout many geocities/angelfire fan pages. Often you’d find gifs of SNK Fighters and anime chibi characters without a clue of where the webmaster got them from, other than they probably got it from a similar site themselves. Shattered Samurai is an amalgamation of that all in an RPGMaker game. I recall this topping a lot of download lists on various sites probably because of the title or its liberal use of Rurouni Kenshin images. Regardless, it’s a pretty subpar action game with a story that focuses heavily on the death of the main characters parents (and by heavily I mean literally every NPC references it).

The biggest memory that stuck out to me back when playing it in 2003 was the CMS (Custom Menu System). It was very flashy and elaborate and cumbersome. But the strangest thing is that almost every menu option had a sound effect of (presumably) the author reading them out loud. We can only assume the Kenshin background image are supposed to be the two main characters. The lens flare over anime aesthetic also contributed a lot to a perceived “cool factor” at the time. The ABS combat was sluggish. You could hit enemies if they’re 1 or 2 tiles away making for predictable encounters, but some fights did try to mix it up.

What makes this game a notable time capsule is its ambiguous Japanese setting. The home town is filled with cherry blossom trees, NPCs with conical hats, advice giving ninjas, and kanji scrolls on every wall. Yet main characters will have super western names like Jennifer or Charles, and very modern background elements. Probably the most RM culture part of this game is the house full of characters from other games and media. The writing is sometimes conceited though, often injecting samurai tropes whenever possible and proverbs that come off as wise for the sake of it. There’s a lot of staged conflicts without any particular purpose other than that’s what happens in an anime with lots of swords. It’s a huge misunderstanding of eastern ideals, but the game itself is like lens in which you can see into an anime fan’s mind circa 2002.


Shattered Samurai has been the community proclaimed “asian game”. It seems like the community (mostly gamingw) is seeing it as a bad thing. Guess were all the great RPG ever made come from? Japan maybe? Anyways as an Asian person, I personally loved the storyline about two rival clans. It seems to fit the anime type storyline from many great shows. Although the battle system has its ups and down, I think anyone would be crazy to say that it wasn’t unique and enjoyable. With excellent graphics and a high potential storyline, I just can’t wait for version 2 to come out.

Aznluv’s Review

This game was eventually completed at the tail end of 2002, although there is an earlier demo version and a sequel. Also I’m pretty sure I wrote a review on Dark Dominion claiming it ripped off Rurouni Kenshin and someone commented and defended the game. That’s about all I remember.

Estimated length: 3 Hours

Download (Complete Version)
Download (2002 Demo)

Main website (archive)
GamingW Page (archive)
Dark Dominion Page (archive)
Golden Dragon page and Review + Download Mirror

Youtube Intro Playthrough (No Commentary)
Let’s Play Series by ShadowHawk2012