I originally wanted to keep this one as part of a Steam Pack (the next one, in fact), but then I realized there may be more to talk about than I would in merely 500 words.
RPG Maker games get a bad rep, being frequently sold cheaply on Steam, in bundles. Doesn’t help that a lot of them only use the basic resources and don’t go much further than making basic fantasy stories. I reviewed a few already, some really bad, some okay, some really good!
|The engine is merely the material.|
Now, sculpt to your liking.
Cubicle Quest is a game made by Ian Isaro, published by GrabTheGames, and released to Steam on February 25th, 2015. The project appeared on Kickstarter with an original goal of 475$, and managed to raise 1599$ - more than thrice the amount. In an interview for GameSkinny, Isaro explained that he wanted to make a game about real life issues, one that was comedic in tone, yet closer to reality than most RPGs tend to be. He wanted a product that was more entertaining than didactic in spite of the myriad of economic terms used in the story, and he also wanted to present a story of hope, where the struggles of real life (especially debt) can be fought and dealt with, “defeated” to speak of.
And now I realize that I haven’t even explained what this is all about! In Cubicle Quest, you’re an aspiring young man known as Insert Name Here… oh, right. Let’s just say his name’s Nicolas. He has just found a desk job and is facing a debt of about 40,000$ in college loans and various credit cards. Desperate with his current state, he goes to sleep, and wakes up in the world of his own mind, at Castle Sanity. In this dream world, his real-life problems are monsters; the debts are armies of demons waiting at his door, the fields are roamed by monsters known as Idle Whim or Mundane Obligation, and his metaphorical in-game money represents troops he can send out to fight, though it can also be used to buy items.
|This guy grows incresingly monosyllabic as the game goes.|
|In the first floor, you can find your way easily, and the|
enemies are simple to figure out. Wait till they throw in
the invisible walls, and the mazes, and the monsters
with unique weaknesses, and...
|That tower looks peaceful. But it has enemies that can beat|
you down on multiple levels. ...Pun not intended.
Another way to receive more money each month is to cut into the expenses, which involves going downstairs in Castle Sanity and fighting the bills head-on, which helps to take them out, or at least reduce them (as an example, by beating the Phone Bill monster that costs 100$/month, you get a better plan that cuts it down to 30$). Those are too powerful when you start, but after the second promotion they become more manageable. And even if you get rid of those, then you have other areas that open, including one for unnecessary expenses that the player really likes or would prefer to keep. But if you want to spare a decent amount of money, you have no other option but to cut down on those expenses too. Finances can be a heartbreaking thing.
But, of course, that’s not all. There are hidden areas all over the place with tough enemies and rewards at the key, many of which feel like bonus dungeons. Problem is, you’re not usually told how strong the enemies can be in a new discovered area until you face one and lose against it. At least, with most pre-planned battles, it’s possible to flee, and if you lose you’re just back to the map with your team weakened.
Early into the game, you obtain a Ring that lets you travel back to Castle Sanity instantly, and this will work in most areas. It'll also bring any vehicle back closer to Castle Sanity. You can even purchase similar rings for some later areas, in order to return to them without traveling by foot! The rings don’t work in Dungeon Work’s floors, however.
The developer of the game stated that grinding for experience was not necessary, but that’s not really true; after the first floor of Work Dungeon, a lot of challenges that open up require a strong team. Your party members get special moves as they level up, as par for the course in an RPG, and many moves become vital to progress, whether they’re healing moves or type-based. In my playthrough, a LOT of time was spent grinding.
|These are the worst! Well, until you meet the next|
I know I certainly have a lot of fun punching the “Stupid Customer” monster on the second floor of the Work Dungeon…
|Time? That's guaranteed to kill you eventually.|
|I might find a nice community soon enough.|
|On to all the unnecessary expenses!|
After you’ve eliminated most of your debt, the South of the kingdom can be explored, with many additional areas. Once you’ve acquired a boat, it possible to go further east, towards areas beyond the sea. And, of course, there’s more to see up north, too.
So you can explore the wider world, what else afterwards? Well, at the bank, once you unlock savings, you can open an account (which somehow involves going through a mine in a cart and beating a boss) and set money aside every once in a while. Then there’s the investment path that can open more options, boosting your revenue even further.
Oh, but that’s not all. You want more options? You got more options. You want a new house? You can buy a new house. Yes, it’s expensive. But it’s possible. You want a boat? Well, you’re obviously going to need one to cross the sea, but you can get a really impressive one. Do you want a car? You can get one!
|Marrying the bookworm lady seems like a popular option.|
She certainly seems to be the philosophical type.
|I need attacks that destroy delusion too. Where can I get|
one of those?
This may actually be the most complete RPG Maker title I have played so far. Don’t let the name “Cubicle Quest” push you away, don’t lump it in with the cheap-looking games in the RPG Maker category. This game is impressive.
The concept is silly: An RPG world as a humongous metaphor for life, self-improvement, work and finances. Vanquish your debts, your fears, your loneliness – become the best person around. Ian Isaro wanted this game to be more entertaining than didactic, but the didactic elements are there, even if they heavily rely on the metaphor to work. It’s almost beautiful how all the big and little inconveniences of adult life were given monster form and can be battled in this game. How many monsters are there? I haven’t counted, but… a lot, certainly. Over a hundred, I'd say. Is it silly? Perhaps, but it works! And the tone is very tongue-in-cheek, very meta and self-aware, which improves the whole thing.
The maker of this game also wanted a game where grinding was never required. There, I would say that this didn’t succeed. You start off as fairly weak, with limited options. However, as you level up, more areas are revealed and the place nearly becomes an open world, which is great – you can go further and further. But it’s also an issue, as you can never really know the strength of the monsters in a new area until you step in, get the beating of a lifetime, see the Game Over screen, and reload your save file. Get ready to see the Game Over screen a LOT. Exploration and experimentation is required, and while you’re not going to run out of things to do (especially after you defeat the Debt Armies and get access to a boat), it’s always a gamble which areas you can actually beat at any given time. Your best option? Return to the last area you finished, and grind there if it’s possible. Since many areas open early on, some creatures tough like bosses at first may just turn out to be regular enemies later on.
|I can't keeop the massages?|
Fine, then, I'll just find a less expensive way to relieve
myself from stress. I'll find a way. Eventually.
All the characters have distinct personalities, offer pretty interesting dialogues, many of them can become your roommate… and then there’s the possibility to marry one of the women you meet on your journey, with associated perks and such. I could go over the various things you can purchase or gain in this game, but there’s just too much.
And of course, there are many secrets on the map, which can be found while exploring. I actually thought the game’s Steam page was joking when it said the game had 15 to 20 hours of gameplay. It’s not a joke. I fact, even after beating the final boss (which I won't spoil), you get access to an airshipo that can land in places you couldn't reach before, giving you access to more secrets.
|Oh crap, this game even has mimics!|
This is, without a doubt, the best RPG Maker game I’ve played on Steam. Go play it. Spare three dollars on the side and play it. It’s got flaws, a few programming erros perhaps, but otherwise it’s pretty fantastic.