Software Review – RPG Maker MV

NOTE: I’ve never used any of the previous versions of RPG Maker before. This is my first time ever using game-making software of this sort. If you find that in this review there are points where I don’t make a big deal out of a certain feature that was not previously there, I apologize in advance. For the most part, I am reviewing this product on its own merits, rather than comparing it to previous iterations. This is my very first time ever writing a review for software, rather than games, so I’ll try my best for this to be a good and concise opinion regarding the software in question.

No, MV doesn’t stand for “Music Video”

TBS ARTICLE RPG Maker MV

I’ve always liked the idea of someday creating my own game; nothing amazing, mind you. It is simply something I would like to do for fun in order to flesh out ideas or to tell a story. Sure, I’ve made one or two levels in LittleBigPlanet and dabbled into a little bit of Super Mario Maker once in a while. However, I’ve never truly sat down and starting creating something from scratch with a certain plan in mind. Given this itch I’ve had, included with the fact that some of the most memorable games I’ve played in a while such as Hylics, To The Moon and LISA the RPG were all created in some version of RPG Maker, I thought now was a good a time as any to delve into the newest iteration of the well-known game-making software.

Right off the bat, the website selling this software advertises that it is “simple enough for a child. Powerful for a developer,” which after using the software for about 13 hours, with 30 minutes spent during each session for about a whole month, I can safely say that none of those claims are true, but rather a strange mix of the two. If I were to rephrase it, I would probably say that it is simple enough for an adult with patience (something a child doesn’t tend to have), but not powerful enough for a developer to use it without modding the heck out of it or adding so many plug-ins that you wonder where RPG Maker MV ends and something completely different begins.

Over/underwhelmed

When you boot up RPG Maker MV for the first time, you are met with nothing but a grey screen and a few tile sets on the side. There is no tutorial and nothing popping up that welcomes you to the software or anything else that gives you any idea on how to begin. I pretty much spent most of my first session opening up a new project, confused and overwhelmed as I wandered aimlessly around all of the menus in order to figure out what Step 1 even was. I am aware that there are many Youtube videos and websites that can walk me through the whole thing, but I shouldn’t have to do that. If I have to leave the software in order to go to some other website to figure out what I’m suppose to do, than it is not in fact “simple enough for a child.” If anything, it is annoying and tedious.

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It also won’t provide any extra patience for when that child inevitably figures out that the only trace of an explanation of the software’s features is by keeping the mouse cursor perfectly still for a few seconds on buttons, blank spaces and other strange areas for it to summon a small box that keeps a brief description of what the thing you’re pointing at is. These few seconds don’t sound like much, except for when you’re a newcomer and feel the need to do this for every single thing you don’t understand, to which then it feels like an eternity. I feel this could’ve benefited from some sort of database or manual that you can resort to whenever you need a place to start, or a refresher course for more experienced people.
Speaking of databases, that is also the name of the place you’ll spend a lot of your time in. This area is basically one window where you are able to change and manipulate the huge majority of what you’ll see in your game in terms of characters, skills, items, equipment, terminology, menu options and flavor text during battles and menus. You are able to change everything from the description of an item, the sound effects, the look of the opening main menu and even the organization of enemies and the style you fight them in. There are some pre-made options for you to play with, but anyone is free to add in their own original assets and add them into your project.

Let ‘em run free!

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Of course, those assets are useless if you don’t have a place to see them run around in the wild. The grey screen that I mentioned in the beginning is actually an empty canvas for you to create all of your maps and dungeons. I must admit that it is very enjoyable and simple to pick a tile set and start drawing the map you have envisioned in your mind, as long as that vision is a game that could’ve been made on an SNES in the 90s. It is very clear that the tools are available to make something completely different from that, but if one relies solely on this package, without plug-ins or mods, it seems that RPG Maker MV is very focused on helping create something that is deeply rooted on older games, even right down to the resolution and the style of the menus.

This could be fixed with the use of Javascript coding, for all of you legit game programmers out there, or you could also use plug-ins. Thanks to the addition of a new Plug-In Manager, you can import, organize and implement different plug-ins that modify your game and even add more features available to use. This is really cool and convenient, but it raises the question if the credit should be given to either RPG Maker or the plug-ins that made it better; or in my opinion, gave it the features it was suppose to have from the very beginning. For example, in my research I came across a website called Yanfly, which provides a variety of plug-ins that improve the RPG Maker experience by an enormous deal. Most of the things I wanted to see in the base software is, for the most part, made manifest through these plug-ins. It’s cool that we are given a way to manage plug-ins without any hassle, but this only speaks louder about their limited amount of assets and lackluster job at explaining how to use them, bundled up with a baseline of old ideas and structure.

I’ll call every single game release a “deployment” now.

With that said, one of the most modern and forward thinking aspects of this software is potentially my favorite part of the whole thing. After finishing your game, with your own characters from the new character generator, all of your original text placed in the database and all the custom-made events you could ever think of, you can finally “deploy” your game into a variety of different platforms. Of course, you have the obvious Windows PC compatibility, but now you are able to export your project into Mac computers, iOS, Android phones and even HTML5, allowing people to be able to play your game on a browser with mouse and touch control already integrated. That’s a big deal and probably one of the biggest features that will distinguish this version of RPG Maker from all the previous ones.

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In conclusion, I would be lying to myself if I said that I didn’t have an enormous amount of fun creating my own tiny game and trying to figure out how everything works. The things that are there are enough to peak your interest and expand your imagination to unexpected places. The expansion of export options, along with smaller changes from previous iterations that make for a more accessible and convenient experience are definitely not left unnoticed. However, I still don’t think it is accessible enough, due to the complete lack of a tutorial. I really want to like this, and I do, but I still can’t shake the feeling that there is so much here that can be improved upon. In the end, children have Super Mario Maker and developers have a magical world of other programs they can use for something more suited to their skills. I think RPG Maker MV is better suited for the average Joe that thinks it might be fun to make a little something for their friends to play on a web browser. It’s good, and I see both the appeal and potential, but it’s still got a long way to go.

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