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)

Final Fantasy VII 2D Remake

the way you speak about rm2k3, like “modules, arrays, pointers” sounds like
you’re some badass c++ programmer stuck in the past and only has rm2k3 to
work with

Gutts

Final Fantasy VII is probably the most responsible for the enthusiasm many had in the RPG Maker community as a whole. Even RM2K’s default menu resembles a menu eerily familiar to anyone who’s ever played a Final Fantasy game. While the gameplay template was more akin to Dragon Quest, it was very clear users wanted to make their own Final Fantasies. Fan games, fan sequels, fan remakes, you know it. But even if you weren’t interested, no matter how original a game in RPG Maker was, FF7’s influence and DNA could be felt in all of them.

The top popular games on RMN as of writing

The idea of remaking a Final Fantasy game was always brought up in idea feedback forum threads. Of course, anything past FF6 would be more considered a “demake” because RPG Maker is 2D. Questions would arise at the dilemma of remaking something so close to or above the capabilities of the engine you’re doing it in. Remaking the NES Final Fantasy games made sense, but that had already been done before by Square themselves, multiple times. Doing the SNES games was about on par what RM2K3 was designed for, but even that still has its issues. As we get further out into demake territory the purpose of remaking starts to evaporate. What’s the point? What is the logic in doing this?

Let’s assume for a moment that the question has been answered. Then there’s the problem of the RPG Maker community often being very amateur. There are a lot of choices to be made on what exactly your goal is. Is it to pretend that Squaresoft had actually made a 7th game on the SNES? Or is it to render everything FF6 styled as a substitute instead? Would you use the character sprites that look like RTP? Would the goal then be to do whatever is humanly possible in RPG Maker? There are a lot of directions and intentions to go in, and very few would realize a consistent process. But one such game got very close to being consistent, and that is Vanit’s Final Fantasy VII 2D Remake.

The goal is pretty straight forward: What if FF7 was 2D and created in some kind of alternate reality? The author’s intentions are documented pretty well in the game-page description. Reading through this, it’s easy to realize how subjective this can all get. Vanit is very clear about preserving even the flaws of FF7, however those flaws may be interpreted. For instance, do you fix the typos of the game? Or would the typos still exist in the proposed alternate reality? Vanit recreated all of the UI as best he could, while the over world graphics had to be completely different. Animations, however, were timed out in-sync with the original game as much as possible. Simple details like Cloud popping back into position after attacking were implemented.

Of course PS1 Cloud decides to crit when syncing this up

Liberties still had to be made though. The angle of the pre-rendered backgrounds means that everything had to be locked at a top-down angle that worked well with the grid-like movement RPG Maker came with, a default characteristic. Speaking of RPG Maker defaults, what is most notable about this project is the solution to forgo the default battle system and remake it from scratch with event programming. This means using the point and click tools RPG Maker gives you with no proper coding. It’s one of the more bizarre instances as CBSes were often rare, let alone used for a fan project. Most people who were capable of making CBSes were computer science students who made you wonder why they weren’t just making their own engine with C++ or curing cancer.

Probably more impressive than the CBS is the custom menu. The menu has been fully recreated and is the closest thing to the real game. Visually, the menu does bring out some very specific nuances in how PS1 displays video to the TV screen. As most know, RPG Maker is rendered at 320×240. FF7 actually has 3 different resolution modes, 320×240 for the battles, 320×224 for the maps, and 364×240 for the menus. This makes it difficult to recreate everything pixel per pixel as there has to be choices in how to best to constrain the widths as faithfully as possible. Not only that but the way you would copy the colors based on the original console is up for interpretation.

As I compare the two screens, small things start to crop up. Why is Cloud’s MP at 54/56 at the very start of the game? What about the 240 gil? He’s also about to level up, likely intended for the first incoming battle. Many of these choices are probably arbitrary, but maybe not, it’s hard to say. You’ll notice that Cloud is named instead of being the mysterious Ex-Soldier. It’s mainly due to Vanit running into limitations and deciding to just name Cloud by default, which he details in the best way to own someone online over CMSes. The auto-scrolling is another detail that’s been studied. The CMS was even known for some breakthroughs. If FF7 was only its menu, the 2D Remake would technically be feature complete. The only thing left to do is to actually build the scenes, the story and the battle sequences to support it. Which is the hardest part.

Loading up the game, it’s surreal to hear the bombing mission midi (ripped straight from the PC version) play as Cloud hops out of the train like old times. The chibi-fied nature of the RTP charasets blends pretty well with how you’d remember the pop-eye 3D models. Though, it is hilarious to see some of the stiff 3D animations faithfully recreated in sprite form. Even the way the AVALANCHE NPCs moves on ahead of you demonstrates the nuances behind FF7’s direction. There’s also the text boxes being displayed in a custom fashion that lets them appear anywhere on the screen, and where and when they pop up is faithfully recreated. There are some slight differences if you’re paying attention, like the steam coming out of the train right before Biggs jumps out. Barret voices his distrust for you, and that’s about as far as the demo gets. You can wander around a bit and fight some battles and mess around with the menu, but sadly you aren’t able to blow up the reactor. Vanit eventually gave up on completing the bombing mission and the project as a whole.

I think it does answer the question of why to “demake” a game, though. It strips away the technological/professional differences between RPG Maker games and the games they’re inspired by. It highlights the vision FF7 had and what it meant to so many people. It’s also a craft, in that there have been many many many many attempts at demaking or remaking FF7, but I would say Vanit’s attention to detail highlights that there is an eye for noticing even the most arbitrary of things. However incidental or slapped together a lot of choices in FF7 may have been, there is plenty that can go wrong even in recreating many of these things. That by itself, I think, is interesting. It makes you question the fabric of any creative choice. When things get more subjective on how best to interpret and handle things, a back and forth conversation tends to happen. You see, FF7 was made by humans, for humans, and you can’t really “port” that.

However, being on the frontier of remaking a beloved franchise without any money or credit for originality might not be too liberating for most people. It’s a very arduous task with very little pay-off. There might even be a DMCA in it for you when you do complete it all, and your hard work has to be hosted on torrent sites. Assuming, that is, you don’t get a C&D letter before the project even finishes. There’s also the fact that maybe only the people in the RPG Maker community would appreciate it, and even then as a novelty. It’s a weird curiosity niche that satisfies the what-ifs but not really an entertainment product. As detailed in his blog posts, Vanit moved onto other things and decided to release the source code for all to see. People are welcome to expand on the project or use his findings to further their game development endeavors but it’s pretty much a closed chapter.

It’s easy to look down on fan efforts and wonder why anyone would take it seriously, but that applies to most things that aren’t necessary to your survival. It’s only because an endeavor is accepted by communities that they seem more valid. Even the commercial FF7 Remake could be considered a fan effort, just an officially endorsed one. At the end of day, just go after what you think is cool, after all that’s how Final Fantasy VII was made right?

Final Fantasy VII 2D Remake Gamepage + Download

Final Fantasy VII 2D Remake Topic on Gaming W

REAL cms autoscroll in Rm2k3 Tutorial

FF7 2D Intro Youtube Video

FF7 2D Remake Youtube Channel

Finding Forever Eden

Author: Nerow_Alexangelos / Rowen
Released: January-November 2006
Engine: RPG Maker 2003

The title of this game probably says more about its development than getting an idea of what the story could be about (zing, still got it kids). It barely got past the status of being a notable proof of concept demo and always seemed to be re-iterated on over and over. The last incarnation of this game doesn’t even have the same title (on RMN it’s known as Ghosts of the Arcanum), at some point the author was compelled enough to share the history of the game’s development through screenshots. Through the several UI changes, the swapping of ideas and scenarios, it’s hard to remember which of these screenshots represent what I remember of this game.

My mind conjures up a haze of a saturated maps with a semi advanced DBS showing off potential features. There’s a deliberate noir-like tone enhanced by the charsets dressed in garbs that would fit in The Matrix. That’s probably apparent in all 4 of the demos, but it does beg the question of how one compartmentalizes game releases. The creator of Arafell likely wishes to bury the 2005 demo in favor of the newer refined commercial 2016 release. That’s 11 years of conjuring what Arafell was eventually going to be before the full release finally concluded it. There’s a similar discourse on how a certain popular TV show based on a set of fantasy novels should have ended. But what if the media in question never ends, and what if it’s split in multiple re-attempts?

The first demo named Finding Forever Eden – Intro contains a whopping 2 maps that feature a cut-scene introducing the game with a voice over followed by a slow text crawl (that’s still faster than l i t t l e m o n e y) explaining the lore of the game with terms that would make for good metal band names like “Celestial” which refer to angelic beings tied to the titular “Forever Eden”. I won’t go to much into the story as it kind of is what you’d expect from an RPG lore dump, but there is something about it that focuses a lot on biblical interest and spiritual connections.

The second demo released in around March 2006 simply titled “Finding Forever Eden”, features a battle training area complete with a scrolling abstract white grid background. A mysterious character tells you about how battles work and you’re thrown into a fight with 6 beings known as “Glitched Shado” there’s not a whole lot to the fight really as they have really large HP pools that can be dispatched with a strong AOE. But then the fight just resets again. The load file does have a NPC reference to the game Eldritch, a game made by Legion which is cemented in ancient forum history.

Onto Finding Forever Eden 4.0 (May 1st 2006), though not quite the 4th game in the series it was common for many RM creators to never have a consistent way of numbering versions. We can at least assume it came before 9.0 though. The title screen no longer features a hand drawn anime character and leads into a rather abstract menu backed up by the signature white grid. There are many menu options and seperate story cutscenes. Much of the dialogue is rather hard to understand. As evident by the music, it feels like being thrusted in the middle of a Kingdom Hearts cutscene with no context for what’s going on. There’s a dream sequence that resembles the beggining of KH too, but there’s a more mature slant to the world that gives this game its own voice. It steers clear of any common RPG terms like “Potion” or “Magic” and instead has a lot of abstract replacements for what you’d typically see in most other fantasy affairs (for example the poison status is called “Impurity”).

The battles are slightly improved this time around, featuring a context command that allows you to perform moves in specific situations. For instance in a battle surrounded by two enemies you can jump up in the air to let the enemy hit the other. It’s not complex to use at all, but it does add a cinematic flair to the combat filled with black robed figures. It concludes with more monologues from a mysterious robed figure, and our amnesic hero is left with a lot of questions before a Coming Soon message appears. In my own way, I too want answers. None of the demos really resemble what I remember of this game, and yet the game’s themes is very bent on memories and illuminating the truth in darkness. I certainly don’t remember this much story, so it’s still a treat. Perhaps 9.0 will shed some light.

This is the first shot I see and it basically confirms what I remember. A foresty cabin area with a combat demonstration. By now the aesthetics of the text boxes have become a muted black with a thick white border. What’s also apparent are the custom symbols that became widespread when hacking into the RPG_RT became common knowledge at this point. To be able to witness the subtle UI color differences between builds is an exercise of realizing how re-iteration is sometimes a slow gradual process.

The funny thing about the schizophrenic nature of the story in the 4.0 demo is that it’s analogous to how much the story-line and presentation keeps changing ever so slightly in development. The main character Rowen is subjected to dream-like sequences with the drive to find out why he is in the situations he is in. There’s a large focus on memories and anthology style of story telling where details are obfuscated in favor of ramblings about light and darkness. It’s not to say that the development having setbacks is some kind of avant garde way of making this more than it is, it’s just that the tendency to wander in ideas seems to correlate with the game’s unwillingness to sum up anything concrete.

The screenshots section on RMN tells a story that the game’s development started as early as RM95. The game also went through some unreleased progress on the author’s youtube channel. Some time in 2016 the author asked about engine recommendations. One day it might return in some form, but at this point it’s not really about remarking on the shoulda couldas or hoping that this game would be released, but to at least derive some admiration for what made the tiny snippets of this project so memorable. It’s not that the demo has any compelling gameplay or moments, but that the shell of what it wants to be can lead to a pretty cool set of ideas. The Matrix meets Kingdom Hearts is a rough way to sum it up, but I can’t think of any other media that tries to attempt that either. Only in a strange niche part of the RPG Maker community could a thing like this appear in the void.

For more thoughts on the game I’m doing an experimental commentary video over the demo gameplay footage. Let me know what you think of the format:

One correction, the intro demo actually came before the first battle demo

Download (All 4 Demos)
Ghosts of Arcanum Game Page
Youtube Development Footage
Youtube Playthrough (Commentary)
Youtube Playthrough (Gameplay Only)

ALEX : A Two Days Collaborative Game

Organized by: RPG
Released: February 2007
Engine: RM2003

In the early days of RPG Maker it was actually quite common for “teams” to form up to make RM games. As time went on however, many games that would go on to be released were usually just done by one author with friends maybe contributing assets. There was just something about the way RPG Maker was built and the lack of any sort of proper source control that lead to authors simply solo creating stuff on their own. You didn’t need to know how to program and all of your visual/audio assets were borrowed anyway… Which made for some awkward credit sequences when all you put is “Yourself” a bunch of times and of course, “Nobuo Uematsu”.

Throughout RM history, community based games became the main way creators would actually collaborate without strings attached or clashing visions. It was a chance to insert something funny or endearing and ride the chaos that is creation. A popular method was to simply start a project and then hand it to the next person until every participant in the collab had their turn. Another method was to actually utilize the flexibility of map files (IMUs) in a typical RPG Maker project folder. As long as you weren’t referencing something from the database like stats or battles you could actually make the maps independent of each other until they needed to be sewn together through teleport events. The most notable of collab games was ALEX. A collab game series featuring the default hero in which many jokes about the RTP canon and forum culture in general were welcomed. The consistency of the main character also gives an origin point for every contributor to pivot from.

The story goes that the RTP crew is sick of Alex hording all of the glory, so they tie him up and drop him to the ocean. What follows is a sort of limbo dream sequence where community members are free to insert their ideas of what that “dream” would be like, each map eventually fades out and ends as if to pass the torch. The premise reminds me of An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge though the conclusion is a bit reversed.

So it’s really hard to review this game without simply reviewing each map individually. There’s a huge blend of different tones and directions this game goes through. The ‘gameplay’ ranges from mini games to simple NPC fetch quests, to just flat out joke maps or cutscenes. The thing that really gets me, are the really good looking maps that would fit well in a screenshot topic, but the creator decided to just go all out visually instead of making something interactive. The result of this is actually pretty fun. You’d think the game’s quality would be pretty low when knowing the context of its creation. But the variety is the games biggest strength. There are a lot of RPGs out there that can feel really mundane even if its game mechanics are rather polished and professional. RPG Maker games are kind of at their best when they flow in such a way that doesn’t feel entirely cohesive, sometimes you just want a random mini game or a fetch quest thrown in to shake things up, or a cutscene to mellow things out. Ultimately you don’t want these parts to take too long though, and that’s where the event limitations really shine. You only had two days to put it together, and everyone had the same engine and framework to do it in. While some maps are a little difficult, the organizer thankfully added some cheats or shortcuts to make the entire game beatable.

It’s also just a great snapshot of the Gaming World community for the time. As many of the entries actually did try their best to make an impression and weren’t entirely shitposts. When you think about game communities in general, there isn’t actually a whole lot of interaction that goes on as far as game development goes. Usually it was best to pass the time by discussing other topics or getting to know the members in other ways. This was a chance to witness many different development skills people possessed and put them together. Outside of this event, some members would never release a game of their own due to their motivation, but the event was a chance to just put something out there. There was also a guarantee that everyone would be playing each others maps, leading into something to talk and reflect about.

Many GW members that didn’t participate were impressed by the success of this project and wanted in on the next one. Alex 2 never ended up happening, but a much much bigger sequel ended up happening known as ALEX III. Which I’ll likely also cover at some point.

Estimated length: 1-2 hours

Download Here (Archive)
Original Release Thread (Archive)
Full Youtube Playthrough

Solar Tear

Created by: Mr. Nemo
Released: June 2009
Engine: RM2003

Solar Tear was a game I had my eye on for a long time. It was sandwiched between the GamingW to RMN era, when the communities were shifting (though it did first appear in GamingW around 2004). A demo for Solar Tear was debuted for the Release Something! VII event which was a traditional community driven effort to get people out of the Screenshot Topics, chin up, introduce your game to everyone, and actually expose it to the world to get some feedback. Though the events slowly turned into a deadline date for everyone’s demos (hell, even an excuse to game jam a full game), it was originally intended to have games release “as is” or even just random snippets. They didn’t have to have a carefully molded cliffhanger, some tie in to the next chapter or even some bombastic intro. Aside from making sure the “Start Event” was in the right spot and things lined up, the work in progress clunky-ness was the whole point.

Now I played Solar Tear back in its 2008 release (apparently there was also a 2004 demo). I recall not liking it very much despite enjoying the setting and vibe. Playing it now I can see why this game was the ultimate monkey’s paw. Your rpgmaker cyberpunk dream game is released, but it has every recipe for being a bad experience. Slow walk speed, slow ATB bar, a status effect christmas, needing to know monster weaknesses ahead of time, really bad economy balance, skills that don’t seem that useful, and somewhat obtuse puzzles. The author doesn’t need to hear this, he acknowledged the faults of this project long ago. Still, if you open up the editor and cheat some of the problems out, it’s still a neat slum romp experience.

So hypothetically: what if the author never released this demo and just kept going towards the full game? He would likely not have found these problems sooner, or knew that these were problems. There would have been so much more to lose if the author had held back on the release. I’m glad that wasn’t the case. But it’s interesting to think about in the grand scheme of things, what we tried to encourage and discourage in the community. The perfectionist mentalities were rampant, but so were the expectations and the standards. It’s sometimes hard to release with so much pressure on the line. In any case I was glad I got to experience this cyberpunk landscape once more. Luckily the game is still being made after all these years. It’s under a different name and likely a revised scenario, but the same appeal of the game is there for me. Like every sucker who hinges their hype on someone’s spare-time-motivation, I’m still waiting.

Estimated length: 2 Hours

Download Here (Release Something VIII Demo)
Arbiter: Prototype (Current Game Page)
Original release thread (Archive)

Youtube Sample Playthrough

Huey the Kid

Created by: Taylor`y`Josh
Released: July 2003
Engine: RM2003

Back in the early to mid 2000s the site Gaming World became my go-to place for everything RPG Maker. It would just keep appearing on google whenever I was looking for resources or games. At some point the site stopped, everything was frozen. Coaster Craft Gold was permanently on the front page for all to see. But my teenage self didn’t care, the site was still functional and I could still browse the many pages looking through content even if nothing new was going to be posted. Since a lot of RM games were funneled/re-posted through GW, it was a time for me to catch up on the RM games I had missed. One of these games I randomly remembered from this time was Huey the Kid.

It’s one of those RM games where it’s hard to tell if it’s a comedy or serious game. You play as an RTP kid sprite edit and the story dispenses the ‘save the world’ hooplah in favor of a small incidental adventure. A kid dares you to test the raft, but after a frantic mini-game you realize you’re off course and away from home. This leads to adventures involving slaying monsters and being ignored by adults. There’s a rugrats-like wonder to the perspective that doesn’t quite get committed to, a lot of NPCs have weird funky things to say occasionally. Yet there’s an odd goal of finding out “where you came from” involving angels. Your cat is also named “Teddy Boy.”

It’s the first rm2k3 instance I can remember that used Battle Animations instead of Battle Charasets. Battle Charasets were sets of 3 frame animations meant to make swapping weapon graphics easier, but there was lesser known option to use Battle Animations instead (which were used for things like spells but had way more control and frames of animation). Huey also uses a hammer, which wasn’t the weapon of choice by most RM heroes. There was also a great deal of editing in the animations such as head tilts and manually holding puzzle items. It also has a very strong grasp on cliff based mapping, where elevation is carefully considered. These kind of details perplex the “People who use RTP are lazy” stigma this game would normally be placed in.

Huey the Kid didn’t get the best of reviews. It’s somewhat average by a lot of standards. The puzzles are longer than they should be, the battles don’t really demand much, and there were better RM games starring kids. So why did I remember this game? Why did I pick this game to review? I dunno. There doesn’t have to be a crazy meaning to everything, media doesn’t always have to go through holding up against the test of time. What matters to me the most about this game was the simple context of when and where I was playing it. I’d like to think that when GW’s main site froze, the flow of time really did stop.

Estimated length: 1 Hour

Download Here (Archive)
GW Game Page (Archive)

Youtube Sample Playthrough

The Rose Chronicles

Created By: Legacy001
Release Date: March 2006 (Original Release)
Engine: RM2003

RM authors were known for their naughty game rips. Typically if you wanted graphics from an existing game, there would be resources fitted to RM’s specifications. If not, there’d at least be a sprite sheet online somewhere to edit from. Except the game Rose Chronicles took from didn’t have that luxury. The author ripped the sprites directly from a game called Hoshigami, then formated it to rm2k3 himself. Not only that but the characters were isometric. Since rm2k/3 can only do diagonal movement in special cases, Legacy001 opted for some comprimises. The payoff? The game ends up exhibiting a distinct look compared to other rm2k/3 games.

Yes. You have no idea how much pain I had to go through playing that game to get the sprites. It’s also as bad as trying to stick nonconforming sprites into a 24X32 charaset. (which doesn’t work by the way).

Legacy001, GW post circa November 25, 2005

Rose Chronicles follows Roselle as she goes 7 years into the past to prevent a tragedy from occurring. The game plays similar to a 2005 GBA game: Riviera. In which you are not able to move a character around the map, but rather drag a cursor around clicking on nodes to advance the story. In-between all of that are some battles done in RM2K3’s DBS which I might add contain a lot of neat details. The background interchanges between edited chipsets meant for top-down RPGs and backgrounds from Legend of Mana. It somehow comes together cohesively.

What I love about this demo the most is the characters. The way future Roselle collides with herself from the past and how loud mouth Marise disrupts it a little, makes for a fun RPG party to follow. There is a very Ivalice-like atmosphere to the world, and yet this isn’t a tactics game. I think this jumble of genres proves why RPG Maker needed to exist. There were only so many games mainstream JRPG developers could make, and once the trends come and go there was little chance for them to experiment. With the aid of clever ripping, RM allowed waves of games to follow up on that.

This started just as a side project Legacy001 worked on to take a break from doing the Naufragar series. Though it’s understandable why the project took too much effort to continue working on. In the end it ended up being one of the more memorable demos of the mid-GW era.

Estimated length: 4-6 Hours

Misao Award 2006:
Best looking (graphically) game for 2006

Download 3.2 Version (3 Chapters) (Archive)
Download First Chapter Demo 1.1 (Archive)


Why Rose Chronicles is the Perfect RPG Maker Project (GW Archive Post)
Mention in RPG Maker games you should try Part II
Mention on a Polish site as the top 3 RM English games

Youtube Sample Playthrough

Zeara – Tales of the Matrielle

Created by: tomohawkjoe
Released: January 2008
Engine: RM2003

RTP always had a stigma. By 2008 people were weary about seeing the default graphical style in screenshots. Despite this, RTP went through a resurgence on GamingW. Hero’s Realm for instance combined RTP with 16×16 sized characters (you’d typically see in Final Fantasy 4). Meaning the door ways and various assets would have to be resized in order for the world to make sense. The user tomohawkjoe was often known for experimenting with a style similar to that, while still taking advantage of the ease of use.

Zeara’s charsets and monsters are custom while the chipsets are heavily edited RTP to match with the style. There’s a very cute aesthetic to the entire game, and it looks rather unique as a result. The gameplay is really what makes this game feel very 2008 era. There is no exp, stats are dependent on your equips and the combat customization is very trade off-ish. It also has the “Defending heals your MP” mechanic which I remember being a trend around that time. The boss fights are actually pretty heart pounding, they force you to manage both your HP/MP and how much damage you want to deal. Additionally I love the way the animations look, the screen fading a bit before the spell appears is a nice touch.

When it comes to the story, the world is rather interesting. You’re called in to exterminate a horde of monsters, but then find a crystal that ends up sending you to the lands below. As a whole, it isn’t long enough to reveal all the details (in fact there’s a cliff hanger twist near the end I won’t spoil). There are some unfortunate spelling errors here and there though, and some of the background details are hard to follow. In conclusion I think this demo is pretty neat for what it is, it leaves me with a feeling that tomohawkjoe’s efforts were underrated. By the way I’m still searching for another game of his that starred a Zack look-alike character.

Estimated length: 30 minutes

Download (Demo + Original Topic html file)
Youtube Playthrough (Full Demo)

Wings of Origin

Created by: Carius
Date Released: Nov 2005 / Early 2007 (Demo Remake)
Engine: RM2003

The author Carius was usually known around the GamingWorld community as a keen event programmer. Usually making tech demos for contests and tutorials on how to tackle RM2K3’s many limitations. Despite this reputation he did manage to crank out a more conventional JRPG called Wings of Origin. Starting out as a DBS contest entry, it’s essentially a visual novel with no player exploration with a few battles here and there.

Angel-like people known as “Airfolk” rule the skies. However, the protagonist Takeo is banished from flying ever again. An emotive and vengeful story combined with the use of Brave Fencer Musashi tracks made this small demo stick with me. It’s a ride full of twists and turns all in 18 minutes. What I like most about the writing is that we’re never quite sure of Takeo’s exact motivations for wanting to abandon his grounded life for revenge. The plot presumably sets up Takeo’s son as the actual protagonist. There’s a mysterious figure that appears at the beginning and my hunch is that it might be Takeo’s son from the future. This game will never be completed so we’ll never know! But it says a lot about how much this game accomplishes in such a short time.

There’s actually 3 versions of the game. The DBS contest entry, the 2005 story demo, and the 2007 remake of said demo. The 2005 one is the one I remember, even now I still prefer it though. The music choices are just better in my opinion. The art/mapping might be slightly improved in the 2007 one, but it’s still a general mishmash of Star Ocean / Tales of Phantasia / Rudra. There is interesting DBS experimentation in it but I really just like this demo for the story and the abundant night sky atmosphere.

Estimated length: 20 minutes

Download Here (3 Versions)
Youtube Gameplay (Full Playthrough

Ultima Island Page (archive)
RMTutorials (Carius’s page) (archive)

Special thanks to hedge1 for preserving the demos.