A History of RPG Maker Earthbound-likes (Part Two)

We tend to be dismissive about fanworks or just about anything that “rips off” from existing properties. Yet I think the trick isn’t so much whether or not you’re heavily influenced, but where you get your influences from. Itoi is literally (and actually for emphasis) a boomer, he was 41 when development started on Earthbound and he was able to experience the transformation of a post-WW2 world along with being able to construct a JRPG with arguably the most known video game company in the world. The sensibilities that come from jiving through the 60s and 70s as a young adult is apparent in the Mother games. Yet I get the feeling that most fans might not care for The Beach Boys or John Lennon (Their parents maybe). It’s also important to make a distinction between influence and similarity. You could technically compare Earthbound to Dragon Quest in both gameplay and format. More abstractly the music that Itoi worships tends to inform the themes or whatever creative choices he makes (that leads to riding a yellow submarine for example). As media leap frogs influence to influence, the original meanings and ideas get obfuscated. I think about that a lot especially while playing these Earthbound fangames as each them tend to grab and discard different aspects of the Mother series.  

Cognitive Dissonance 2008 (Complete)

Main Site Download

Cognitive Dissonance is unlike any of the Earthbound fan games I’ve played so far. This isn’t just a compliment but also that it is a fangame of Mother 1 more so than 2 delving into the origins of Giygas. It was originally released in 2008 but got a massive overhaul and was completed by 2014. The intro of the game has you playing the villain from the first Mother game undergoing the final battle of Mother 1. You then assume the role of one of a Mook living on planet Saturn who then embarks on the usual universe saving stuff. You can get Mr. Saturn AND Starmen in your party. Not only that but it is a full game, rpgmaker wikia lists the game’s length as over 19 hours long. You also get to explore not just one planet but the entire solar system. The game also has a sizable following, it was featured in a Nitro Rad video garnering over 300k views. Which when you think about it, is impressive for an RPG Maker game that’s actually an RPG. Sure RM games aren’t a stranger to generating large cult followings, but other than LISA they tend to be in the horror/Yume-Nikki camp.

It’s safe to say that I will not be able to cover the entirety of this game in this article (check Nitro Rad’s review). What held me back was well – the usual suspects in an RM2K3 game: slow walk speed and agility problems(tm). You can easily hack in a walk speed changer but some battles have questionable balance. There are enemies that have the ability to increase their own speed, which means the ATB will exponentially go up slower depending on how many enemies are doing it. If you’re ignorant on how ATB speeds in RM2K3 work, messing with speed stats can result in poor battle flow. Thankfully you do have a free skill that slows them down, but it can only help so much (and isn’t very engaging to fight against the flaws of the engine instead of the actual enemies). Besides all of those issues the game does get more exciting once you get past the first chapter. This is all likely due to the game getting better as development went on (common for hobbyist development).

On a final note I will say this game has one of the better abstract/moving backgrounds of any RPG Maker game I’ve played. It really pushes it to another level of creativity. Most of the time it uses a mostly black foreground with cutouts to simulate the backdrop to be particles. It’s simple but you almost feel like the background is rotating or moving in ways that feel like an optical illusion. This is all just with X and Y scrolling and 2 images. The original Earthbound had palette cycling, much more flexible scrolling, oscillation, and transparency to work with. Yet even with such a limited engine there’s always ways to impress.

Battle with Starman (2008) (Video)

This is not a playable game at all but rather a battle animation demonstration made in the RM2K3 default battle system by Ranmaster. Earthbound’s influence isn’t just felt in games and fan-games but also what creators choose to use as a placeholder example. What made me add to this the article was this weirdly has a standard RPG character in the trippy background format, which well, why not? Does every EB inspired game need to be first person (other than not having to do as much animation). It is quite hard to get anything out of the RM2K3 DBS but this demo demonstrates enemy animations, limit breaks and generally smooth animations. Ranmaster lately has been doing animation work for Blindmind’s Beloved Rapture which is still in development.

Ghosts of Aliens (2008) (Complete)

Archive Download

Long before Space Funeral and OFF commanded attention, this game very much broke the mold as far as venturing into the surreal aesthetics of RPG Maker. Like Homeland this also originated from Gaming World. Replaying this game I am reminded again of GamingW’s music scene. The tracks have an unpredictable aura as you don’t quite know what to expect with a mixture of twerpy dream pop vocal tracks and straight up 8bit. Yet there are some familiar songs, like an Onett remix for one of the towns. Some of the music was done by CBoryardee who made Barkley, Shut up and Jam: Gaiden. According to the creator Swordofkings128, the project started out as sort of a joke, but for whatever reason he kept at it and managed to complete it.

The game is closer to the original Mother more than anything as the main character’s sprite suspiciously looks like an edit along with the interiors. There is a lot of custom art that resembles sketchy pixel work where lines aren’t super defined. The colors sort of have an off kilter highly saturated MS-Paint aesthetic that is done quite well. The art-style feels ahead of its time, sure there might be quite a few indie games that look like this now but back in 2008 it was very uncommon for someone to go for the neo-retro NES look.

The story is that you’ve crash landed your spaceship and died. Like the title you float around as a ghost to retrieve your body, unlike the title though you are actually in living form for most of the game. Then again you aren’t the only alien. The plot is rather paper thin with a Final Fantasy wizard appearing everywhere telling you where to go. The NPCs are quite terse with some light humor, but some of them might be part of the background like a talking tree that ends up being the entrance to the dungeon. The game’s balance is all over the place, you have a skill that one shots most enemies at first but the boss can pretty much one shot you, but you can also poison the boss. There are hazards that send you to the game over screen, but you can save anywhere and save scum your way through it. I suspect the creator didn’t have time to balance it so they left behind enough solutions to make the game bearable. It’s one of those games where you just want to see the next area, the next character, or next music track. The gameplay itself, maybe not so much. Which is in line with what I’d say about the Mother games.

One interesting feature is being able to drive a car that crashes if you hit a wall, you then have to walk the rest of the way after that though. Party members will appear next to npcs talking to them when entering a house. So there’s a lot of unexpected events throughout the journey that makes the game worthwhile. Just be prepared for a gauntlet of bullshit to bypass. .The game is quite long, boasting a whopping 10 dungeons and various in-betweens, so there’s quite a lot to explore and get through. 

The Space Funeral creator cites this game as an inspiration and it shocks me to this day that this game didn’t get more attention. The game was completed by 2012 (Space Funeral was made in 2010, OFF’s english translation was in 2014) so it wasn’t like it missed the boat, but maybe it just didn’t go through the proper channels. The writing does have a little less content than Space Funeral / OFF though. As in there aren’t any crazy meanings to derive from it. Regardless, I think it deserves a retrospective.

Chromatose (2009) (Unreleased)

Webarchive Game Page

This game does not exist in any public playable form. It was a game project in collaboration with several members of the RMN community with the user Tardis (now goes by Finbeard) at the helm. It started out as an entry for the Release Something 10 event where you’re encouraged to release whatever you happen to be working on like a demo or screenshots. The Chromotose devs decided to go with the latter and release a game afterwards. Nothing came of the game aside from a gamepage and the usual screenshot hype, but I think it’s important to reflect the community’s then culture with what could have been.

The group that made the project were known as Team Cascade, or as I remember the “the lol detectives” A user geodude would make an alt account called the black cape and try to foil the misao awards and cause havoc in the forums of RMN. Members of team cascade would change their avatars to old timey characters.  I guess you’d call this forum LARPing.  It was… a different time back then.

I got in touch with Kevin Liu (formerly known as AznChipmunk) who miraculously has a very good memory about past events, and was the programmer of the battles/menu. Some would assume the super elaborate menu was a mockup, which was often a contention in the community. Basically users would post mockups and pass it off as screenshots, which in the RM community can turn into a usual school yard fight of “Your screenshots are fake” “No they’re not” “Oh yeah prove it” but surprisingly the menu was actually implemented in the game. The battle menu was able to power up and go through a turn order but short of having actual enemies. 

The story starred a character named Chess and his friend Lyle. Chess works for the post office until these mysterious alien invaders show up called Staticians. The humor behind it was that math and statistics were boring, therefore evil, replacing the color of the world with static mono-chromatic bleakness. Which is where the title of the game comes in. The main gimmick of the game is that you’d be collecting hats that would give various abilities in battle or for solving puzzles on the field. It wasn’t just Earthbound being an influence but also Mario & Luigi Superstar Saga.

“I think one of the problems with the project was that everyone worked at a different pace and then motivation for some people died out” Kevin Liu said. “When I started college all of the RPG Maker projects I was working on died off.”  Liu still had his own project Muse on his mind but shortly bowed out of the community in general as college got more busy. This is the usual for ambitious projects started by highschool kids. The team split and most people moved on to other things. However the leader of the project, Finbeard decided to keep doing the project under a different name and engine.

That later project too eventually came to a halt as pursuing comics and illustrations became a more primary creative outlet for Finbeard.

Mockups from the also cancelled POST*BUSTERS

Mother 2k3 (2009) (Cancelled)

Game Page and Download

Another cancelled project that came out with a demo in the same year as Chromotose’s announcement. This project would eventually be cancelled but it demonstrates full CBS/CMS functionality built to mimic many of Mother 3’s interactive quirks. The most notable is the rhythm mechanic where tapping to the beat while the attack is happening will score more hits. It even contains the rolling numbers (just with less polished animation). The released demo doesn’t contain much story so much as a tech showcase (and of course slow walk speed paired with large maps) but it certainly broke new ground on what to expect from a Mother RM fan-game.

Touhou Mother (2009) (Complete)

vgperson’s Translation Download

So this is one of the more unlikely crossovers. Touhou is a danmaku game by indie japanese developer ZUN that is then slapped together with Mother in this game. Yet when you think about it, both games have arguably been popularized by the internet culture at large. Translated into English by vgperson this is another chance to view the Japanese side of RPG Maker. I have not played a Touhou game since probably the time this came out but I do remember touhou dominating some IRC conversations. This game does require some knowledge of Touhou and Mother to grasp some of the story, (or rather the countless references and callbacks this game throws out there). Though this is not limited to just the two titular properties, an enemy for instance will throw a tarot card that is presented as a Yu-Gi-Oh card. Some sound effects were clearly ripped from Dragon Quest. Characters will break the fourth wall occasionally, so it very much feels like a shitposty pop culture reference heavy game yet with a lot of effort into it. This is emblematic of one particular Japanese RM community, where there’s a competitive spirit to see who can make the best “kusoge”. At the very least it certainly has the sensibilities of that subculture.

The gameplay itself is pretty straight forward. The battle system is custom made yet uses the interesting choice of using default event messages to describe what’s happening in the battle. It also has scrolling numbers (but no rhythm system). Yet it still uses the default menu for out of combat things, so it’s very much a default/custom hybrid where it makes sense. The combat itself is fairly basic and you can’t use items (maybe a missing feature due to the number of items acquired being impossible to track via conditional branches unless you use variables manually thus abandoning the DMS).

Compared to all the other games I covered I feel this has the best ratio of completeness/polish, it doesn’t excel at both components as much, but it feels well rounded. Considering the battles are custom however the backgrounds do feel a bit disappointing, it’s just a trippy pattern that just moves in one direction. The developers likely used parallaxes for them but could have easily used pictures which are unlimited with patches and can be rotated, transparent, tinted and sine waved. However maybe parallax backgrounds were just good enough to keep development rolling.

A lot of the dialogue is mostly the Touhou shrine maiden personalities bickering back and forth while they fight an alien invasion, so if you’re down for that then this will probably be the main draw. Again, this game appeals to a very specific set of people which makes it all the more intriguing as to why someone would go this far to make it. It’s really something that can only exist in the hobbyist RM community. Also this game has a sequel, so if this is your thing then there’s a lot of it.

Wooby RPG (2010) (Cancelled)

rpgmakerarchive page download

Started in 2006 this was a game made by Dookie, a username I kept seeing in Earthbound rips and credits of earlier fangames. You play as a very early gameboy version of Kirby, or maybe the mask of a certain minecraft youtuber. Though if anything it feels mostly like a Pac-Man RPG. Your name is Wooby, your sister is named Looby (and has a red bow on her head), the macguffin stolen from you is called a woob block, the town is called Woobton. It’s very much a universe where things are just the way they are because they are.

The game has a lot of Earthbound edits but it might not be noticeable if you haven’t played a lot of Earthbound (and becomes less apparent as the game goes on). Some of the gameplay takes on the form of the usual Mario RPG fare, you can jump and collect coins and even get coins by bumping your head into blocks. The battles have the trippy background but are still sideview and Wooby will occasionally unleash a limit break, so there’s a smattering of different visuals being used here.  Like Cognitive Dissonance this game has some great uses of the DBS backgrounds (maybe that should be a misao category). Every battle has two black bars that go over one of the layers, so the limitation that the author has to work with is that the foreground has to be static, but that doesn’t stop the creativity from displaying. I could have sworn some of the backgrounds were using the sine wave effect, but they really weren’t, it was just an effective use of cut-out and some magic.

Overall the game’s story is fairly simple and straightforward, you’re chasing a crocodile in a trench coat that stole your family’s precious Woob Block. But what I like is that the game feels like a huge adventure despite such a simple premise, there’s a lot of effort put into things you wouldn’t expect. Like when you enter a mansion there’s an overlay of a spider dangling from a web as you walk through the halls. The experience is simple but it’s not generic, which is how I’d describe Paper Mario or similar games. 

While the demo has quite a bit of content, the game was cancelled, likely because Dookie had grown as a developer over the years and moved onto other projects. Most relevant to the article is Eagleland, a game set in the Earthbound universe. It was posted on Starmen.net showing quite a few screenshots and video content, but no demo was ever released. What’s interesting to me is just how developed one of the city areas is. I cannot think of many RPG Maker games that attempt cities as large and detailed as this, it’s a sort of ambitious holy grail people don’t usually talk about. Given the constraints of RPG Maker, it is still entirely possible to make an open ended walkable environment with the size of a world map, yet it’s probably a nightmare to organize and maintain a level of quality. Of all the RM direct fan-games this is probably the most visually impressive and consistent. 

Once again the game was cancelled but it contributed to Dookie’s growth to pursue the now in development Kingdoms of the Dump. A game that’s made in Godot, a very different and more advanced engine than rm2k3, but I can see some of the Wooby DNA in there but also it has its own identity. The character designs and world building is a lot more developed, and personally I’m looking forward to this game. 

All the other RM Earthbound-likes

As much as I’d like to, I can’t cover them all. While it is definitely its own thing and even contributed to a minimalist genre, Yume-nikki is thought to have been influenced by the Mother series due to the similarities of the FC world and some graphics. By proxy that game has flooded into a whole mess of tributes and fangames. Undertale creator Tobyfox made a halloween themed Earthbound romhack and has stated that he dabbled with RM2000 before eventually settling on GameMaker, so there’s some loose connection there. There’s also LISA which also contains a large dedicated following. Omori is another similar popular instance, but I haven’t even begun to look into that. There’s just a lot to go through but I thought I’d cover the overlooked or the ones that never quite made it yet showed potential. 

If there’s any takeaway I can get from going through all of these games it’s that you can gain a lot just by making your game quirky or less serious, there’s a huge advantage to the looseness if you decide to suddenly contrast it with darker or surreal elements as these games tend to be. Though nowadays it is definitely a trend in the larger indie games, but I don’t really blame them. It also just plays well to the internet and the urban legend nature of having lore that can be interpreted and devoured by wiki archiving savvy people. The more traditional RPGs require the audience to buy into the world building on their own volition and I think for older people like me there’s an acquired taste that comes from growing up in a specific era. Though I would also argue in the amateur spirit of RPG Maker there’s no shortage of off beat writing and style, it’s just hard to market if there isn’t a baseball bat or trippy imagery to go off of. There’s probably like 10 articles I could write about what Earthbound means to people and how it has affected the RM scene and the audiences that keep it going. That does speak to the multiple angles to go at this type of content.

This article became way longer than I expected and I probably won’t do another giant game compilation any time soon. However it was nice to shotgun through some small things that might have not gotten an article of their own, so I might revisit this format later on. 

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 Fangames (Archive)

PSI-RPG2K (Earthbound Resources and Tutorials)

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.