The Endless Empty

Middens, by John Clowder, is considered a quintessential RPG Maker game, throwing players into a collage world that’s almost sandboxy in letting you run around to talk to people and kill whoever for the sake of a talking revolver. It was a game that I loved, even though it lacked any real story. Then it turned out its creator was a bit of a creep.

The Endless Empty, by Erik Sheader, fills the space that Middens used to take in my heart, while filling in its narrative flaws.

Normally, I don’t like to compare games to other games too much, but also, Middens does not deserve nice things and I’d like to point to an alternative for it.

In The Endless Empty, you are a manifestation of identity in the dying thoughts of a song writer that committed suicide. Teaming up with Trigger Finger, the neuron that willed the finger that pulled the trigger, you travel through the surrealistic, fragmented mindscape of your host, gathering a crew of powerful aspects of his mind while Death stalks you in hopes of finding escape – or at least, proper closure.

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Nepenthe

I was wary going into this game because it described itself as something “inspired by Earthbound.” A lot of indie RPGs that claim to follow in the vein of Earthbound tend to fall flat. For this blog, I played an RPG Maker game called Tantibus and Citizens of Earth, both of which disappointed me in different ways. And of course, there was the discourse over YIIK (or, the YIIKscoruse), a game that had a huge asshole protagonist walking around in a world full of bad game design decisions. However, this game, Nepenthe, looked unusual, so I decided to give it a chance.

Nepenthe is an RPG Maker MV game made by a fellow that goes by Yitz. I don’t quite remember how I found this game. It might have been something that was in my Steam explore queue. I bought the game in a bundle called the Surreal RPG Collection, which also contains the game The Endless Empty, which I’m excited to also try out.

In Nepenthe, you play as a hero tasked to save the world from the apocalyptic threat of Nepenthe. Well, not quite. You actually play as a mailman that was supposed to deliver the letter to warn someone of the threat, but after a shipwreck, you lose all your memory and you just sorta fall into the role.

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Citizens of Earth

As we start swinging into 2019, I wanted to start things off with a longer game, something that I’ve had in my backlog for a while. Today we look at Citizens of Earth, a game by Eden Industries. It was a Kickstarter project that originally failed, but Atlus picked it up and got it released in 2015. It was released on PC, PS4, Vita and 3DS, but for the sake of this review, we’re talking about the PC version.

You are the Vice President of Earth, who has returned home after a successful election cycle. After being woken up by his Mom in standard JRPG fashion, he finds a whole bunch of protesters rallying against him. Enlisting his own family and some locals to help get rid of them, he decides to swing by the local Moonbucks and winds up stumbling on a bizarre alien base that sets the game’s plot into motion.

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Handsome Ransom

Today we’re looking at Handsome Ransom, by blankd. You are a 21-year old kobold that is turned into a princess by her Fairy Kobmother to fulfill her dream of attending a royal party. Naming herself Kosette in a cursed reminder of the Bowsette era, she attempts to attend a party, but is quickly seen through as not being actual royalty. In order to become royalty, she decides to conspire with a dragon to kidnap actual princes and princesses to acquire the wealth needed to be considered legitimate!

There’s one big issue with the game that’s glaring from the start and it’s that there’s little to no music. The sound is clearly there, there’s just no music set to anything – either that or RPG Maker MV has tried my patience for the last time (like how it’s erasing text on subsequent playthroughs, for me). It’s just kinda weird that there isn’t even RTP music, considering that the creator has no problem using the RTP graphics alongside their original art (which, by the way, is pretty cute).

Going in though, you’re greeted with some fun writing. After Kosette accidentally kills a man, she becomes a wacky, arrogant cartoon villain – in a good way. She meets up with other kinds of kobolds that will lend their aid, all of them offering amusing dialogue as they negotiate pay; there’s even a few interludes where they get to babble as you storm the castle of the demo’s royal. Said royal, the Rose Prince, also turns out to be a huge likable weirdo, which makes his knight upset. Handsome Ransom‘s writing is generally full of character and charm and was easily the best part of the game.

As you meet up with your teammates for the first time, an overwhelming weight is placed on your shoulders: team customization. There’s a whole bunch of characters to recruit and there’s a whole lot of skills to buy. Your shadow kobold friend could be built up as a poison expert or into a glass cannon that could wipe the floor with anyone you set them against; your chef can easily become a healer, but can also be retooled to be a strong attacker based on the amount of meat they have. There’s plenty to play around with, though the demo, covering a plant based area, encourages you to bring fire and cutting skills. The team building potential actually reminded me a lot of YOMOTSU, which was the winner of the last IGMC, so I went in with high expectations.

Unfortunately, going into the demo proper, I’m going to have to be honest: this does not seem like a game that was playtested.

You enter the Land of Roses and go into the next room. But it’s not the next room, because for some reason the teleporter takes you to the next room over. Enemies approach you. But their conditions are set up wrong and they only fight you when you touch them, not when they touch you, making them chasing you feel pointless. You get into a battle and you get poisoned during the battle. The poison carries on after battle and for some reason healing at save points does not remove it.

And the fights themselves are poorly balanced. The Busy Bees can attack with a move called Dazzling Speed that hits in the hundreds. Multiple times. And you typically encounter them in groups of four. To contrast, they’re paired up with Shine Flowers that have mundane attacks, only good for finishing you off if the bees haven’t already. The final boss of the demo has an attack called Thorn that does 0 damage, while also having a group attack that can hit into the hundreds.

Your attacks are no different. As Argeth, a commenter on Handsome Ransom‘s page says, the bees seem to ignore damage randomly. For me, this was a general problem. I brought out the fire breathing party member against the plant monsters and for some reason, attacks either did high damage or no damage whatsoever. On the plus side (in a bad way), if you have the cook and a bunch of regen spells to stack, you can pretty much heal all damage after every turn, as long as you aren’t just flat-out killed during the enemy turns (…which is entirely possible).

I had high hopes for Handsome Ransom. It had the set-up to be really engaging and I dig the original art and fun writing, but it is perhaps the most poorly balanced game I’ve ever personally played. I know that it’s supposed to be a prototype, but this is supposed to be a prototype representative of a bigger experience and I’m sorry to say that it leaves a poor impression. I can personally see myself playing this as a visual novel because as I said, I dig the art and writing, but as an RPG in this state, I wouldn’t rank it highly.

Junkdogs

Junkdogs is a Cowboy Bebop inspired IGMC 2018 entry by sudobeats where you are part of a team of space scavengers that gets on the wrong side of the law. Wanting to get the bounty off their heads, Joe scavenges through an abandoned ship but ends up getting the gang on the wrong side of the wrong side of the law.

While I’m not too into the story, I’m into the game’s atmosphere. Even with a criminal organization chasing after you, there’s this laid-back mood to it all that that gives off this tone that this is just another day of being a space outlaw. This is largely enforced by the game’s original soundtrack, which is a mix of jazz and chill beats to study to that I really got into. The soundtrack, for me, is what makes the game. It made the game’s writing more engaging than it really was with the mood it brings and sets the tone of the game quite nicely. While I personally think the battle theme could be more energetic, the soundtrack is overall a defining part of Junkdogs.

The game is split up into a big adventure segment and a battle segment. The adventure game part has Joe checking around the abandoned spaceship. On top of the usual adventure game puzzle stuff found in adventure RPG Maker games, you can also smash crates to get items for the upcoming battles and hunt down CDs to play the game’s soundtrack, which also includes music that doesn’t play in the game proper for a nice bonus, giving incentive to poke around a bit more.

After you accidentally piss off the local crime syndicate, you’re thrown into the seat of your scouting ship and head into battle. The battle system is your standard turn-based RPG stuff, but framed around spaceship battles. Skills defy the standard in that they’re limited use, with only the combat ones being replenishable. To be honest, the battles didn’t feel engaging to me, but this is likely a result of having only one playable character, which typically closes off variety in what you can do. Like, maybe one of the other characters could have flown in to back Joe up in the second phase of the fighting and have the Arc Cannon as a unique aspect of their ship instead of Joe just suddenly remembering he has it. Personally, I feel that while the game was generally good at presentation, it falters with the battles. It doesn’t fully capture the “cool space battles” image it tries to go for, with its plain scrolling background and mostly simple animations.

On the note of presentation, Junkdogs uses assets from the POP collection of RPG Maker assets for most of the game. The packs are actually geared more toward horror games and are almost always used for that purpose, but I think Junkdogs succeeds in putting them toward a different direction, which I admire.

Junkdogs is an alright game, though it’s one that knows what direction it’s going. While the battles could have been better, I think the demo acts as a good showcase of what a full version of the game would be like and the effort put into the soundtrack indicates a strong direction, to me. It’s definitely an entry that carries itself with confidence.

Ara Fell

I’ve had this game on my backlog for a while now from some hedonistic RPG Maker spending spree. I got Helen’s Mysterious Castle from that and thought it was cool but found the ending to be really unsatisfying and I also got Artifact Adventure, which, I’ll be blunt, holds the dishonor of being one of the few games on here I just didn’t like. I didn’t spend any time on Ara Fell for months, perhaps due to my disappointments.

At least until recently! I was listening to a podcast hosted by one of my friends’, the Sockscast, and they briefly talked about Ara Fell, which finally ignited my interest in digging into this game to see if I had the same thoughts they had. So, without further ado:

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Ara Fell is by Stegosoft Games, released in 2016, one of those indie RPGs trying to evoke old 16-bit JRPGs in a sincere fashion, rather than one of those indie RPGs by condescending western devs believing that they can “fix” a genre based on their limited experiences. Ara Fell actually has a long history to it, originally made years ago as an overly ambitious project, to briefly being revived in RPG Maker XP and eventually getting picked back up and reworked for a formal commercial release after RPG Maker 2003’s official localization.

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Facets

Alyssa lived her life under the oppression of a magic wielding evil empire and watched as they took everything from her. And so, she rose up against the empire, fighting in memory of those she lost, their hearts united as one against the empire of the Guardianship! Alas, Alyssa has been captured by Guardianship goons and they’re trying to wipe her mind – but as soon as they let down, she’ll harness the power of friendship and defeat them! Truly, she is an ideal JRPG heroine!

It’s a shame that you’re playing as the villains in this story.

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Facets is a game made in RPG Maker 2003 by John Thyer, where you are the JRPG villain. You may ask me, “Dari, aren’t you friends with John?” Well, I am, but he playtested my game Fishing Minigame 2 and gave honest criticism, so I thought it’d be fair to do the same.

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TYPOCRYPHA – An Interview/Postmortem

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Typocrypha is an experimental typing JRPG visual novel about social and cultural alienation. Armed with the Typocrypha spellcasting device, a young member of the EVE-IRIS Counter-Demon Force confronts the demonic forces of the Evil Eye, an unknown enemy whose gaze is felt everywhere – including in themself.

I would have liked to write about it, but also, Hughe, the game’s lead developer, is also my friend, which would really cloud my judgement. I even made him fanart for his birthday, dangit. But I thought, hey, since I know him, I should hit him up to answer some questions on the game.

And so here we are today with an interview that’s also effectively a postmortem on the game and the experiences making it. Hughe’s responses are joined by James (producer, programmer, writer), Valentino/Tino (designer, programmer, writer), Herman (artist, animator) and Paige (artist). Many of these responses are pretty long, though I found them insightful and hopefully, you will too.

On the questions regarding the future of the game, please note that as the game is still in development, things may not be set in stone.

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LiEat

Now that tests are out of the way, I can finally look forward to clearing through my backlog of stuff. This particular game is outside of my comfort zone of playing RPG Maker games. Because this is made in Wolf RPG Editor, which is technically different.

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LiEat is a a game by Miwashiba, translated by vgperson and published by Playism. The release of LiEat on Steam is actually three games in a launcher, acting as different chapters.

The world of LiEat is a weird modern-fantasy mix where dragons are humanoid with different, specialized powers. In the case of the main protagonist Efina (or Efi), she has the power to eat the manifestations of lies. She is adopted by a swindler named Theo that changes his name and identity wherever he goes, selling information to people. While each chapter has a standalone story, there’s an overarching story about the nature of dragons in the world and what the deal is with Theo.

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