Indie Game Maker Contest 2017 is officially over, now that the results are out. My game didn’t get very far, but there was a lot of cool stuff in that jam so it’s not as if I expected to win. Out of the games I previously looked at, PALETTA managed to place 7th while Dungeon Down took 11th. The Golden Pearl didn’t place – as it turns out, some people had a way worse time with bugs than I did and marked it down heavily (though it was still blessed with four judge reviews because of a judging system that I think is dumb).
So, what did take the top three spots? Let’s take a look, assuming that you haven’t just checked on the IGMC page and seen yourself.
3rd Place: Final Winter by Talonos 2
Final Winter presents us with a village under a horrible curse. Those that get near this mysterious crack gets doomed to die in 10 minutes – at least, it used to be that way. Suddenly, random people in the town are receiving the curse, from seasoned warriors to the average joes, despite not being near the crack. With the threat of the entire village being depopulated, every poor sap that gets stuck with the curse decides to throw themselves into the caves beyond the crack, where they can hopefully find the source of the curse and destroy it – not as if they have anything left to lose.
Your sessions spent in the caves makes up most of the game’s playtime, you taking control of the next soul on the chopping block. Each session is locked at 10 minutes, as per the lore, which may not look too bad until you start getting into fights. Even the easiest fight soaks up a few precious seconds and it stacks up pretty fast. On your first few runs, it may be worth fighting early enemies for crystals, but you’re going to have to start avoiding battles in later runs so that you can spend your time more efficiently in later floors of the cave.
The battle system is really simple. It’s an auto-battle system, but you do have input in that you can time button presses to do more damage and take less damage. When you unlock elements, you can swap between them while you’re fighting, automatically spending MP. That’s pretty much all the depth there is to the battle system. However, it’s for the best. As the game revolves around time usage as its main mechanic and lore focus, it’s fitting to not have to waste time thinking about what moves to do or to screw around in menus.
Your early heroes are, of course, doomed to die. The crystals they gather can add up to give permanent stat boosts for the heroes you use onward and any equipment that your last hero wasn’t equipped with at time of death gets passed on. Your early heroes will probably use their last minutes of life to farm up stat boosts and passing on good equipment so that your later ones can have a better shot.
What makes the game interesting is that you have a finite amount of tries to beat the game, since you’re using a dying village population. It supports the tone of the setting, since the more you fail, the more the village falls into despair with every death. It presents greater stakes to the game and better encourages you to use the remaining time you have efficiently.
In general, I love the gameplay because of how it factors into the story’s themes. The sense of the in-story urgency is constantly reinforced by that counting timer, the player being forced to make quick decisions and running from most fights to focus on important ones to make the most of what little time they have. At the same time, the goal of ending the curse is a community effort, as reflected by heroes passing on their old equipment and gathering crystals to empower those that come after them. When the story and gameplay fit together, it creates a stronger experience that’s to be appreciated.
Now, I have one big issue with this game and this issue is a subjective one that actually ruins the experience for me. However, I’ll mention that in a bit.
2nd Place: The Rock and the Rose by seaphoenix
The Rock and the Rose is a strong contrast to its fellows because it is not an RPG. Rather, it’s an adventure game where you’re managing a hotel. You play as a girl who was given a manor in the will of her aunt, which turns out to be run-down. You and your butler Wodehouse decide to convert the manor into an inn to make money to maintain it. Meanwhile, there’s supposedly a stash your aunt’s hiding somewhere in the manor, because I guess she didn’t care enough to give that to you directly.
You start each day changing the room accommodations before confronting the guests yourself. The guests have different room preferences and different schedules to keep track of so you can prepare rooms for them in the future. There’s the couple that shows up on odd-numbered days and always wants a writing desk to do work and then there’s the family of four that makes a point to show up on days divisible by four… for some reason. There are special guests that appear that you can unlock as amenities to bring up guest rating up and by bringing that rating up, new guests appear to check out how cool your joint is. I remember looking at one of the menu screenshots and feeling intimidated, but it’s actually easier than it looks.
What isn’t easy is the game’s overall goal, which is to meet all the objectives on your to-do list by the tenth day. Now, I kinda feel that your window of time to get everything done is a bit too close. It feels that you pretty much need to have all available rooms occupied every day to get your list done before the end. Unless you’re replaying the game from the start, you’ll be incentivised to reload your save to fix up the room accommodations to get as many guests as possible, which kinda cheaps out the idea of having to learn the guest’s schedules and preferences. And also, quick tip: if you don’t have a certain amenity by the time a special letter gets sent to you, you’re fucked. Like, I feel that the game could be improved with a few extra days to allow players to learn character schedules and preferences and give a little room for error.
There is the quest running alongside the hotel business to find Aunt Agatha’s hidden stash and while some of it is tied to getting certain guests and amenities, advancing it also involves actually examining the environment. It’s a small thing, but having to actually investigate the house adds a sort of purpose to the setting that I appreciate.
Personally, I think the game is just sort of okay. It doesn’t exactly wow me and it’s not a fully fledged business sim, but it does do something different compared to the usual RPGs and adventure games and it did it competently, and sometimes, doing things well is all that’s needed.
1st Place: YOMOTSU by AkumuGames
And so, we finally have our grand winner, YOMOTSU. Yomotsu is a train that straddles the line between Hell and the physical world and somehow, your character ended up on it. Followed around by a quiet little girl and a demon inside of a box, your character must go through the train’s cars and fight their demonic inhabitants to reach Yomotsu’s machinist in hopes of getting off.
The game’s structure is linear as you’re moving through the train’s cars to get to the front. Each car has a battle in it with alternating difficulty. Some cars contain fights against easy enemies that you can simply go spam attacks on. Beating them gets their respect and they join up with you. This easy train car is followed up by a much harder one, where enemies can’t simply be burst down and demands strategy.
I love the demon party members because they all feel different from each other and give nice variety to battles. There’s the usual differences in movesets, but there’s also stat differences like the zombie being slow yet tanky while the hellhound is fast and weak yet has a high critical rate chance to make-up for it. My favorite of these party members is the ghost, who’s extremely fragile but has an innate immunity to physical attacks, which it can pass on to the human character with a skill. You can only have one demon paired up with you at a time, but they can be readily switched out – even when they’re dead, so that’s pretty convenient.
Then there’s your human character. They’re like the typical human in games with a bunch of strange races: really bland on their own, but very versatile. You can hit up that strange little girl and the box demon to buy skills and armor to improve your character and build up a moveset. You can replay past battles past a certain point, so you can grind to expand the number of skills you can have and get some of the good gear – of which, there’s actually a large variety of gear with different stats and passive effects, so you’d have to think pretty hard on what you want unless you want to grind for a really long time.
As for the game’s battles (the ones where you don’t recruit people), they’re pretty satisfying. The battles all feel different, with some gimmick going on with them. You’ll have to figure out a good strategy to get around their nonsense and you have a lot of options to deal with it. Like for example, there’s the vampire battle, who’ll summon bats that do low damage but can easily blind or bleed you; a strategy I went with is swapping out for magical attacks and switching between the ghost and succubus as a partner to do magic attacks and give my character physical attack immunization. Aside from those easy battles that’s there to introduce party members, YOMOTSU avoids the “just spam attack” mentality of a lot of games, which I love.
Honestly, YOMOTSU‘s probably the best RPG in the jam and I probably agree that it’s the best game out of all of them. It’s got satisfying gameplay and offers players a lot of room for strategy and character builds, which really isn’t something that I’d expect from a jam game. I feel that it needs a bit of balancing (because honestly, the ghost’s physical attack immunization thing is too good), but I had a blast playing this.
Now, there were two things that these top games had in common. The first thing of note is that these games make copious use of the default RPG Maker assets, or at least, assets that wasn’t originally made for these games. Some people usually see the use of default art assets as a bad thing and these graphics are usually associated with the games that created the stigma that RPG Maker is a bad engine for lazy developers.
However, these games show that you don’t need to make your own graphics to make a good RPG Maker game. As long as it has strong gameplay and great ideas, original art isn’t necessary to stand out (though it’d help).
Now, the second thing connecting these games, on a less positive note, is that they were made in RPG Maker MV. So, this latest RPG Maker engine’s been known to not be well optimized, with lag problems happening on some computers. Unfortunately, my computer is one of those that seems to hate RPG Maker MV. This problem barely sprung up in my playthrough of The Rock and the Rose, which I think is mainly due to the game being not overly reliant on scripts. YOMOTSU, on the other hand, had big lag issues for me. It was annoying, but since it’s turn-based, it wasn’t too terrible of an issue.
But do you know what game isn’t turn-based? Final Winter. The lag problem reared its ugly head in my playthrough and unlike YOMOTSU, it was an active detriment. Performance issues kept me from timing attacks and blocks correctly, since visuals lagged behind the actual gameplay. Avoiding enemies while exploring became harder, as lag occasionally messed with how I saw enemy movements and I ended up in unnecessary battles, wasting that precious time. Now, I mention these problems here because it’s not the fault of Final Winter, but rather, the engine itself. I’m sure that on a computer that RPG Maker MV is more accustomed to, Final Winter would run smoothly and give you a fair experience. As for me, the game was actually sorta frustrating because of these issues and kept me from properly enjoying it, despite its interesting ideas.
Honestly, while there were some games that I preferred to have seen rank higher (let alone rank at all), this top 3 is pretty great, especially YOMOTSU. Congratulations to these devs for winning, their victories were well-earned! And really, congrats to everyone for working hard to get a game out in a month!