We here at Michibiku have loved covering RPG Maker games in the past, so when a Switch edition was announced, we knew we had to take a look. (And talk to the team behind it.) And… then it took its sweet time actually releasing in the West! But it’s here now after a long delay, and we have to say: this one might be a hard sell.
RPG Maker MV is a PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch adaptation of the PC release of the same name. In it, you build maps and characters and monsters and scripting to assemble your own old-school JRPG adventure. Like previous console versions, it features limited assets instead of being fully customizable, but the trade-off is ease of use and built-in sharing functionality.
MV tries to one-up previous games, like the 3DS’ RPG Maker Fes, with how much of the PC version’s features it retains. It’s undoubtedly a very functionally robust engine, and you can build a lot of the gameplay of a PC build. It does so at the expense of usability. Entries like Fes used their limits to be friendlier and simpler. Here, just navigating the interfaces to get to what you want to change can be a real chore. By preserving how the PC game works, it isn’t built from the ground up in a way that would make creation more intuitive. (This is mitigated somewhat by plugging in a USB keyboard, but the console adaptations the game makes do make it a bit less designed for that, too.) And at a certain point, if you just want powerful functionality for a thing that will take you dozens of hours to make… don’t you just go use the better version that lets you use your own art?
It’s undoubtedly a very functionally robust engine, but it does so at the expense of usability.
The resulting games also feel a bit less at home. The chunky pixels that felt right on 3DS are smaller and cheap-feeling here. The movement feels sluggish. It’s hard to make a pleasant environment with the included assets, and with more assets on screen and a higher-resolution screen it isn’t using, that was a tougher task to begin. And at least on Switch, it just doesn’t run very well. Even basic menus have delays and hitches that will impede your progress.
Even if it’s not the easiest to build in, maybe it has a home with people who want to mess around and make things? Well… perhaps, but there’s a pretty big barrier to entry. RPG Maker MV starts with a lengthy tutorial, which is clearly designed to take you step-by-step into each of the base-level game functions. Unfortunately, it does so with plodding pacing, bad writing and forced controls that make you feel like it’s broken sometimes while it makes sure you don’t do anything but the next step in the tutorial. By the end, we had gone through the motions but not actually learned anything, and it took another few hours just to get acquainted with where things were.
While the creator is less than ideal, there may be some enjoyment in playing the creations others have made.
While the creator is less than ideal, there may be some enjoyment in playing the creations others have made. There’s a handy free RPG Maker MV Player app that allows you to do just that, making it easier for creators to get their games played. There weren’t too many posted projects in the review period, but those should populate as the game releases and creators have time with it. And it makes it easier for you to see what sorts of games you could make yourself, with the effort! Who knows: we can imagine circumstances, limited though they are, that would make this package your preferred way to go.
But even the Player has less appeal these days. The Switch is positively packed with fun JRPGs, much more so than when RPG Maker MV was initially planned for a Western release, and spending your time on something made in this feels ill-advised. Even on a budget, you’d probably get more out of a Kemco release, and you also have access to some classics on the Nintendo Switch Online service that are better on a fifth play than these are on their first. It’s not a dig; making these things well takes work, and that’s why these console makers are better when envisioned as toys than robust utilities.
Ultimately, if you’re looking to create an in-depth experience like a JRPG, the reason to use a console creator is because it’s more convenient or fun in some way. RPG Maker MV does some of the things it needs to do, but perhaps fewer of them than usual. Instead, the appeal here is this: making games in this version lets console players download the Player app and try it, and that might be easier or more successful than trying to distribute your PC build in its crowded market. If that’s enough for you, you might be able to stick it out.