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May 26, 2017

The Chosen RPG (Part 1)

The version I personally like to use.
One of the very first things I bought on Steam was RPG Maker VX Ace, because I always loved the idea of building my own game – however unprofessional the end result could be. Of course, because that software offers all the resources to make your own game, you can simply build something with them and be happy; who knows, if it’s good enough, you might just be able to sell your creation!

And sell, many RPG Maker users do! The land of lower-price titles in the Steam store is home to dozens of games that were built with that engine. Of course, just because someone can finish a game and publish it on Steam doesn’t mean that the published game is all that great. Granted, the published games tend to be better than some games in development showcased in the Workshop... but that's faint praise.

And that's only Page 2!
Due to how inexpensive the RPG Maker games on the Steam store are, it’s actually pretty easy to gather many of them for a relatively low price. I bought that game, I kid you not, for 0.99$ USD (or 1.09$ CAD). The Chosen RPG is yet another run-of-the-mill Chosen One story, because obviously there aren’t enough of those out there. However, that’s far from the worst thing in the game. As a guy who develops his own game as a hobby (whenever I have some time between my night job and writing reviews for this blog), I decided to take a look at some of the RPG Maker games in my Steam collection, and review them: What did these developers do? Did they start with little knowledge, like I did? Since it’s easy to build something with that software, these games may be one young developer’s first attempt at making a game that they’ll then sell. What was done well, what was done poorly? Let's start this "series" of sorts with The Chosen RPG!

Hopefully you'll remember this scene when the end of
the game rolls around... but you likely won't.
This game starts with scrolling text explaining the backstory of this world we’re going to be visiting. Something about a God of Chaos and a God of Light dueling for the fate of mankind, with a sword given to the greatest hero in order to stop evil. I can already feel myself yawning. What else is new. All I can think of is that this backstory would have been more interesting with still images accompanying it, because that’s something you can do in RPG Maker. We’re also presented the hero, named Edge, because subtlety won’t be a part of this game’s repertoire. Edge wakes up in a prison cell where he meets his father, only for the man to vanish… and Edge wakes up in bed. Tortured by past events perhaps? We won’t delve on this too much for now, as Edge has plans to visit his mother’s tomb at the local graveyard today.

On the left: Town map, on the right: World map.
In this software, it’s possible to have a world map with detailed squares indicating the places that can be visited (for towns, mountains, and so on) and detailed maps for said towns, mountains, when the character enters any of these areas on the world map. It’s been a staple of certain RPG series, I remember seeing this in the first Dragon Quest game. It’s a pretty good choice, not necessarily one I’d follow, but it’s an option.

I should also say that in RPG Maker, the default type of dialogue has a small frame with the character’s face appearing on the left in the text box. Some people more adept with the software can change this so that the screen instead features a full bust of that character, as shown here. Wouldn’t be too bad, mind you, except that it’s been done in The Chosen for a very particular reason, as we’ll see.

Edge goes to the graveyard, finds his mother’s grave (who builds a graveyard at the end of a miniature maze?), and finds her bangle there. We also learn that his father has been missing for a couple months now. Edge returns home, only to see his long-time friend Serenity being harassed by local guards. They team up – Serenity joins the party – and defeat them. She thanks Edge, and as per this game’s tradition, her text shows her emotions and- Wo hoah! That is NOT proper attire, miss!

Suddenly, surprise boobs. I mean, kudos for the art of
these busts, but... that's gratuitous.
Say hello to the first problem with this game: Blatant gratuitous fanservice. I will frequently crack jokes about being a pervert. I get a lot of mileage out of that. And I have no qualms about viewing fanservice, whether it’s in films or games. However, even something as simple as fanservice must be done right. Sometimes it’s alluded to, like in No More Heroes where some female assassins wore little more than bikinis. Sometimes it’s a reference to the absurdity of certain gaming conventions, like that warrior lady in Dragon Quest Swords who just stood around doing nothing. I guess she wore a chainmail bikini precisely as a mockery of that video game cliché.

But here? Nah, all three women who join the party seem to be in their underwear. Serenity has a tight-fitting bra that reveals her nipples, and low-waist pants… that is, if she wears pants at all. Same for the other two! These are not animations, just still images that pop up when these characters are talking, so there isn’t much of a point (and besides what they say is supposed to be more important than their looks). Thank God there aren't many other female characters whose busts appear while talking, or they'll all be in lingerie! More bonus points of awful, all the guys who show up as busts when talking are either correctly clothed or wear full body armor! Including Edge! That’s… that’s just bad. Seriously, I like fanservice, but this is probably the poorest example I have ever seen. Granted, it has nothing to do with how the game is programmed, but it’s a serious issue with this one.

Here is an issue linked to the way the game is programmed, though: The enemies. In RPG Maker, there is an entire section where you can set up the enemies’ stats and appearance. Upon buying the software, you get a readily-available selection of battlers (that’s how the enemies’ pictures are called). The screen during a fight usually looks like this:

You see the battle from the hero's POV.
Note how the party characters are not on the screen, implying you see the battle from their point of view, hence why the enemies are so large. However, using scripts, it is possible to get a screen closer to Final Fantasy games, with sprites of the characters appearing on the right, fighting the enemies on the left – like this example.

Here, enemy and hero are on eye level. Or, at least,
the enemies are of reasonable size.

The creator of The Chosen RPG set up the Final Fantasy style of combat… but kept the battlers from the normal battle mechanics of RPG Maker, and used the overworld sprites for the heroes, resulting in screens that look like… this:

Also note how all the battling enemies are still actually
facing the player, like in the usual RPG Maker system.

Every. Single. Enemy. Is. Freaking. Giant. Here. And they have no reason to be! It’s particularly noticeable when the group is fighting human opponents, and they appear as these colossal, humongous, gigantic characters, in comparison to the group’s sprites, which are so small. This game’s maker should have either resized the battlers, or kept the normal RPG Maker mechanics. This just looks silly.

This text almost trailed off the screen. We're missing
the dot.
Also, a minor issue but one nonetheless, obviously RPG Maker doesn’t come with its own built-in spell check, so it’s up to the game designer to make sure every instance of text appearing on-screen has no spelling mistakes, whether it’s on orthography, punctuation or syntax. I’ve seen a few errors here and there in The Chosen so far. Similarly, one issue in RPG Maker is that the text will trail off of the text box, meaning you must always make sure there isn’t half a word at the end of a line, and cut the text into lines appropriately. This has been done fairly well in this game, but it’s been forgotten in a few places.

Serenity asks the guards why they’re persecuting the town, and they reply that they’re trying to steal the legendary weapon, dubbed the God’s Tear, from the tower north of the village. Edge and Serenity head up there and repel the invading forces. Speaking of, there’s another thing that bugs me with this game. See those circles?

They’re meant to show the squares that must be used for Edge to walk to and from certain places. Edge cannot even walk on them, just walk towards them and he’ll be magically teleported to the place these circles bring him to. Not the most practical way to have characters move between closed off places, if you ask me…

A dark knight un full armor, against a hero and his three
accomplices in chainmail bikinis? Sue, we can win!
At the top of the tower, Edge and Serenity battle a mysterious knight who flees when defeated. Having protected the God’s Tear, Edge grabs it, and the sword somehow demands that he proves his worth… by appearing as a woman wielding the sword. Er… Boss Battle time? Yeah. Edge and Serenity defeat her and the sword equips itself to our protagonist. Whoa, I heard of getting super-powerful weapons way before endgame before, but at the start? That’s either silly or creative. I’ll go for the latter. The two go back to the village but find it overrun by guards (and battle some), but find they have to flee. They take refuge in a house located north of the village on the world map, a house that belongs to a girl called Myste.

Oh, by the way, the village’s fine even if they come back to it later. No evil guards left to terrorize the population. Well that wasn’t something to worry about after all! Before leaving the village, we can go to the local shops and buy items, weapons and armor to improve the main characters’ stats. Standard RPG fare, really. Take note that the character busts never change, so you can equip to these girls the best, heaviest or most covering armor you can find, they’re still gonna appear on the screen like they just woke up and only had time to put on a bra.

We get to Myste’s home, and- Wo hoah! I wasn’t joking with that last “bra” comment!

Might as well go topless, for God's sake.
Also, yes, erect nipples on all of them. All the time.
Because that's how female anatomy works, right?

Again: As fanservice, that’s fucking shameless.

This reminds me that I have to add some magic attacks
in my own game... I've yet to do that.
After being explained the situation, Myste joins the party. Now we’ve got a major magic user in the group, thus introducing special attacks in the game. Elemental moves, hits that can induce status effects… all that good stuff. Kudos to this game’s developer for at least adding that dimension, I don’t think every RPG Maker game out there thinks about that aspect. Myste tells the group to go to Volcano Village, on a separate, desert island, which they reach thanks to a nearby secret passageway. Although they end up having to battle an orc to get in there, which is just the third random sudden boss fight.

This underground passage has a dragon statue in one room by the way. Is it plot-relevant? No, but it’s something to remember.

Reading plain text on a video game screen is so
The trio reaches the desert island, and enters Volcano Village. Wondering about the God’s Tear, the associated legends, and that dark knight who seemingly desires it, they ask the local scholar, who explains the story and reveals that someone out there is the offspring of the God of Chaos. The guy made himself known as Lord Akuma. And we’re not explained this with images, but with a long, scrolling text. Of course.

After this explanation, we’re told to investigate the local deserted castle. Before that, we can visit Volcano Village (and get new items and equipment if needed). Speaking with some townspeople also reveals that this particular island has been suffering from semi-frequent earthquakes for a while now, and that’s something else that need to be stopped. The team enters the nearby castle and sees its guards and King dead. They do end up finding a legendary item in there, though: The Angel Wing, which turns out to be vital in upgrading the God’s Tear. Upon going back to the village, the place shakes even more than before, so we’re told to explore the volcano.

Look at the timer on the top right.
Yeah, unless you're very unlucky, you shouldn't
see it run all the way to 0:00.
In this particular sequence, Edge and the others have only 5 minutes to complete the area. That means running around, opening chests, and solving minimal mazes. Oh, and at the end of the volcano, we find and battle a Fire Demon who works for Akuma. I should mention that, like any other, this game’s difficulty progresses as it goes, so it becomes harder to prevent your party members from fainting. There are revives for that… but while they do revive a character, they only heal back 1 HP. Another attack and boom, that character’s dead again. What’s the point of a Revive if it doesn’t even give a slight chance of survival? Once the fire demon is defeated, the volcano’s imminent eruption is ceased, and the group heads back to Volcano Village. On this, Chapter 1 ends, as we’re informed through more scrolling text. Speaking of, splitting that game into "chapters" with recaps of what happened is completely unnecessary.

The bigger they are... the harder they are to kill.
"Didn't receive damage"?
Damn, we're fighting the final boss so early?
We're screwed.
At the village, we receive a key for a boat on the island, allowing the heroes to sail the seas and visit any other island in the vicinity. There’s a nearby island with no features except two types of enemies, which are very powerful and have a lot of Hit Points, but reward the team a TON of EXP. Think of it as The Chosen’s version of the Power Peninsula from Final Fantasy. Same concept, basically. But that’s not where you have to go right now, though it’s a very useful place to level up for the upcoming challenges. Nice touch, though. I know I spent nearly an hour fighting these monsters during my playthrough.

Sailing around, we find Akuma’s Fortress and encounter Akuma – although he has end-boss stats and is impossible to defeat at the moment. This fight is lost, but the party is teleported out of the fortress before Akuma can retrieve the sword. Outside, we find out who exactly teleported out our characters: Trinity, another girl in a (Wo hoah!) skimpy outfit, because it’s practically a requirement in this game.

Trinity is a jack-of-all-stats, able to fight and use magic, unlike Myste, whose physical attack is useless. With her in the team, we can level up a bit more, then look for Elfbush Village, where we might find the second piece towards completing the legendary sword upgrade. Upon meeting the elders of the elf village, we’re told to go to the Snow Temple, located south.

Okay, first off girl, you need to learn to use commas.
Second, put on a goddamn shirt.

Hm… How about we continue this in Part 2?