The past weekend, Degica, the company that publishes the RPG Maker engine line, had a free period where you could try RPG Maker MV and their recent in-house release, Visual Novel Maker. I’ve been curious about Visual Novel Maker ever since I heard of it. I don’t have much experience in visual novels. I played around with Ren’py for a bit and made something, but I’m no expert in it. However, Visual Novel Maker, like the RPG Maker line, promises an accessible game making experience, so, I thought that I should check it out.
Downloading it, I tried to think up of a quick game to make in Visual Novel Maker. At the time, I had a bunch of school projects to work on, with an essay due the following week, so I thought of making something really short. I decided that my visual novel would be some jokey JRPG nonsense, more specifically, side missions.
When booting up Visual Novel Maker, you can start with either a blank slate or a sample project. If you’re starting out, I recommend building your game off of one of the samples. One of the samples creates a blackjack game, which shows you how to play around with variables and how to make a proper minigame. I would have paid attention to this template if I were making a sincere fishing minigame and were to use numbers, but nah, I was going for a linear story experience.
The template I used came with a whole bunch of default assets to use. I kept a few of the backgrounds and deleted the rest, because that stuff will end up clogging file space after publishing it. Instead of using any of the default characters to star in my story, I drew up my own. The character, Roselle, is based off of the first boss in a game I cancelled. I chose her because man, I love the idea of some hero going around in pajamas beating shit up with their bare hands. Additionally, I haven’t had a game with a woman protagonist yet. For my past projects, I went for nonbinary protags or gay dudes, so yeah, I thought it was time for a change of pace.
So, I drew up the character and made edits of it to make up different poses. If you’re familiar with RPG Maker stuff, people upload their resources into a resource manager, into a dedicated folder based on the nature of the resource. Since you’ll probably be uploading different versions of the same character (unless you want your character to be totally static), Visual Novel Maker has the handy feature of letting you make folders so that you can stuff all that art for one character in one place. It’s a small but really practical feature for organizational purposes and I honestly hope that later RPG Maker engines adopt this feature.
Also familiar to RPG Maker veterans is a database (shown left), though it’s more watered down. You set up your characters and their default expressions. You set up character expressions with all the different art you made. There’s a section for a CG Gallery and Animations, but I didn’t use them. Is a CG Gallery a normal thing for visual novels to have? I’m kinda surprised that this is a dedicated thing that Visual Novel Maker has. There’s also a whole bunch of pre-made common events (presumably because I used the sample template) that you can readily call in the scene content if you need stuff.
So, onto the actual putting things together part. Most of the screen is taken up by the scene content and live preview. To the left, which I somehow did not include in the picture below, is the navigation where you switch between scenes and a bank of functions, which is also handily divided into groups based on their nature (like dealing with message boxes or characters). Unless you’re a proper coder looking to do something more complex, your game will be made up of these drag and drop functions.
As I used the sample template, it came with a sample scene that demonstrates how you can actually put this stuff together. You can try to figure out how to make your own message boxes, but thankfully, you can call a pre-made text box as a common event. Gotta mention though, if you end up doing this, also remember to use the common event that removes that text box at the end of the scene. I sort of ran into this error where the nametags didn’t show up after you transition into a new scene if you didn’t do that. Visual Novel Maker also comes with a guide that’s apparently really handy. I actually didn’t read it, because with the sample scene provided, it’s sort of easy to figure out how things work, which is great.
Understanding how things operate, I got to work. So, my original plan for the basic plot was that it would have been revealed that the fishing minigame was a ruse to distract Roselle so that the Dark Lord can take over the world. However, I realized that it went against my idea of her being a portrayal of a JRPG hero too dedicated to completing everything, so, I ended up changing the purpose of the fishing minigame. I also originally planned for the Voice that confronts Roselle to be a fish. You know how in that last episode of Courage the Cowardly Dog a fish appears to give Courage and kids everywhere sagely wisdom on perfection? Yeah, I wanted to make a fish. But, I couldn’t decide on what kind of fish. What is a fish that I’m capable of drawing that connotes wisdom? So, I said, “whatever,” and just made a blank faced semi-transparent Roselle like an asshole.
I should probably address the elephant in the room, which is that live preview feature I mentioned. Instead of having to do constant test runs of the game and having to play up to the latest parts to see if everything’s working, you can just use that handy box to see how things turn out at any point in the novel. I’d honestly say that this is the best feature of Visual Novel Maker, because it really cuts down on the need for playtests. Now, I did find it glitchy at times; when I tried playing around with screen effects, it sometimes flickered the screen effects in at points where they should no longer be active. With some bugfixes, though, it’d be a really handy function.
After putting all the scene content together and doing some editing, this game needed some music. I looked up some music from Monplaisir Loyalty Freak Music, because their music is public domain. I’ve used their stuff before and it’s pretty good, so I recommend checking their stuff out, especially since some of their stuff is inherently made for games, like their “It’s Time for Adventure” and “ULTRA PERSON” albums.
According to my Steam playtime, it took 6 hours to make FISHING MINIGAME. Though, I’m one of those people that like to take breaks away from the screen with programs left open, so it might be less than that. Finally, I’m embracing the Glorious Trainwrecks game design ethos. Making FISHING MINIGAME was an easy experience, though, I feel that part of that was because it was entirely linear, so, I didn’t have to deal with choices or variables. However, the sample scenes also show how you can play around with that and that beginner’s guide probably does an okay job in explaining those functions, so beginners that would want to use them probably won’t be lost.
I created browser and downloadable builds for the game, all ready for upload. It was around like, 11 p.m. when I finished making this thing, so I waited until the next morning to post it, because its foolish to post something that late at night (and I should know, because I’ve also done that before).
And so, FISHING MINIGAME was uploaded onto itch.io. I tried to upload the downloadable file alongside the browser one, but, for some reason, the downloadable file kept replacing the browser one. Maybe I screwed up? Probably. Anyway, I suppose only the browser one is playable on itch.io. I did manage to upload the downloadable build on Game Jolt, where it got only three views and one bot follow, which is cool. I’m hoping to upload this on rpgmaker.net, because honestly, even my non RPG Maker stuff does better on there than it does on Game Jolt. So, a quick postmortem for FISHING MINIGAME:
- Visual Novel Maker games does an okay job at running on the browser, though, there’s a noticeable loading screen in between scene swaps that regrettably forces me to recall RPG Maker MV’s loading.
- I should have put Yoko Taro’s “JRPG needs fishing” philosophy in there. Alas, the free period is over and the license is expired, so I can’t go back and edit that in. I’m kicking myself over it. I fucked up.
- I actually vastly overestimated my time and I could have spent more time working on the game. I could have made actual art for the Fisherman. Oh well.
- I should have made the Voice wobbly like I did when I was joking around with the Fisherman, to convey her being a reflection in a pond.
- Also, speaking of Yoko Taro, I ended up playing Nier Automata the next day instead of working on my homework like I promised myself. Jokes on me, I guess. Finished the A route though and I have to say, those 15-20 hours did a better job at conveying themes and approaching them more sincerely than Persona 5 had in my entire 160+ hour playthrough.
- I still had fun making it, though, and sometimes, that’s all that matters.
You may be asking: is Visual Novel Maker worth getting? I can definitely say it’s more beginner friendly than Ren’py, especially if you’re not too big into coding. That said, Ren’py is free while Visual Novel Maker is $59.99. It’s the price for convenience, but if you’re hurting for cash and want to make a visual novel, you should try taking the time to learn how Ren’py works. Or, just wait for a sale. Degica loves putting their stuff on sale.