So, you think you got what it takes, eh? You think you can make better RPGs than anyone else, huh? Now's your time to shine. There have been five RPG Makers in Japan, but only one console version has been released in North America so far. It was enough to gain a loving following, even though it had its share of problems. Those have been addressed in RPG Maker 2, but will this new title do enough to satisfy the creative urges in the hearts of the fans?
RPG Maker's interface, though not exactly user friendly, was simple enough to use once the user got the gist of it. RPG Maker 2 is split into three distinct editors: terrain, building and other effects, and characters, which is somewhat similar to the previous installment. The terrain editor is probably the thing that has been improved the most. The new 3D capabilities of the titles allow for polygons to be stacked on top of one another. Although this is done through a grid, triangular polygons are available in addition to the cubed ones, so the resulting landscape need not look blocky. Those who enjoy free-hand drawing will find themselves handy with the ellipse drawing tool. Multiple ellipses can form convincing hills and rivers. It is through the second editor that snazzy secondary details can be added, such as fences, skeletons and the like. RPGM2 also boasts customizable lighting and weather effects, and perhaps it is here in the second editor that they can be applied.
The third editor has to do with characters. RPGM2's characters are built by connecting pre-made body parts. There is further variety to be had by adjusting color, size, shading, and even transparency. The faces have four built-in facial expressions. These expressions switch according to set triggers.
The triggers and events are what give the RPG life. Basically, they perform all the functions that are more complex than walking, opening the menu, and getting into random battles. Transport points going from map to map are controlled by events, and the NPC's walking around and speaking dialogue are events. Events are placed on the map grid, and can be triggered by several different actions - pushing a button on top of them or walking over them are typical choices. Upon choosing where to place an event, the designer will be prompted with a choice of different events to put in effect. Creative application of events can produce surprising results, and putting them to good use is the designer's true test of skill. With the new 3D grid, it will be interesting to see what new things can be done with events.
RPG Maker 2 also has a library of music, battle backgrounds, and all the raw materials needed to make a good quest. For those designers on the go, among those raw materials are 100 pre-made characters and 120 monsters. In fact, for those who are really on the go, there are two modes to begin designing from, beginner and advanced. Beginner uses lots of pre-made elements, whereas advanced gives the user control over every nitty-gritty detail.
Some elements, unfortunately, are not alterable. The interface and battle systems are firmly based on Dragon Quest. That is, the menu takes the form of a box appearing in the corner of the screen, and the battles are turned based. The enemies face the player, but the party members are unseen. This has been the case in other installments of RPG Maker, as well, but this particular title should hold a special place for DQ fans. That is because the development team famous for working on that legendary series has made their own stand-alone RPG, using only RPGM2's tools and resources. This game is included with every RPGM2 disc, and should serve as a good demonstration for new designers.
The single, most welcome improvement over RPG Maker 1 is that the new game is compatible with any USB keyboard. This means that players can input text (there is a lot of text in an RPG, don't forget) without having to use the controller to highlight one letter, then another, and so on. In other words, the text was input by the same method as names are in most console RPGs. But no more! Now just buy a USB keyboard and plug it into one of those slots in the bottom left corner of the PS2 (the ones that the previewer never noticed until they were rudely pointed out to him) and type away!
It is a shame that this title has no online capability. Not only is it impossible to share RPG creations without lending out memory cards, but it would have been a very nice feature to have downloadable content. Even if they were player-made, it would be beneficial to pick up a few new characters or backgrounds every now and then. Of course, a hard drive would also be necessary for all of that. It's really to bad to miss out on these features that have been enjoyed so much by RPG Maker PC users, but perhaps Agetec's next project will deliver.
Making RPGs is often just as fun as playing them, even if the user's limited skills and the program's limited capabilities make it impossible to create a Xenosaga. Nonetheless, RPG Maker 2 might just be the best thing ever to scratch that creative itch we all feel. RPG Maker 2 will be available for fifty dollars when it ships on the thirtieth of March.