So you want to make your own games, eh? Well, RPG Maker MZ is the latest in the series of development kits for budding game designers who don’t want to explore the labyrinthine catacombs of learning to code from scratch. As a tool for messing around with and making short games for your friends, it can be a good jumping off point to learning game design, but going beyond this requires a lot more than the app is capable of.
I should establish that I am a beginner with game design, and indeed RPG Maker. I suspect I’m MZ’s target audience, but while some talented developer have made some successful games within the engine, I wouldn’t really suggest going for something like RPG Marker if you’re serious about learning game design. It’s a cul-de-sac of game development when you probably want your skills to be transferable.
This is an evolution of RPG Maker MV, which plenty of experienced people will have pointed out features almost everything that MZ has to offer as well. Upgrading likely isn’t worth the trouble, but there are some new features.
Perhaps the most useful feature is a returning one that was inexplicably taken away. While creating maps, you can once more use layers to place objects on top of other objects, creating a more realistic map with ease. MZ can automate the layers, but manually controlled layers are a godsend for those with custom assets uploaded.
I’d also say that the Time Progress Battle System options, which basically turn your game’s combat into SNES era Final Fantasy, is a welcome addition. Previously this was only possible with external plugins, so having the option right in the box is great for those who like classic Final Fantasy.
Another time saving feature is the new character generator. The idea being that by choosing facial features, clothing, and other accessories, the app will generate all of the necessary sprites at the correct resolution for you. It’s a great feature for those who are just starting out with the app and want to create something without the default assets, but for anyone actually trying to make money with their own games, this feature is redundant.
This is because, as a game creation tool, some people would like to sell their own creations. The main barrier to the success of games made in RPG Maker is the same one that plagued early Unity games: people can tell that you used RPG Maker to make it.
There are other quality of life additions here too, and two worth mentioning are the tracker for all the events in any given map and the preview button for showing where NPCs will move to during events you configure.
But enough about what’s new. What about if you’re new to RPG Maker? Does MZ do a good job at teaching you how to use it?
My first impression of MZ’s user interface was that it was a familiar if confusing mess. It’s like looking at an index, but having no idea what to look for. You really have to start off by checking the tutorial that goes through all the important steps, like creating NPCs to talk to, configuring events so that an NPC only hands out a potion if your character doesn’t have one, and tinkering with boss battles.
It’s a great tutorial that’s simple to follow thanks to the helper notifications bouncing around the screen. That said, the notifications will occasionally desynchronise with your actions unless you do exactly what it says. You’ll then have to manually stop the tutorial and restart it to get back to where you were.
RPG Maker MZ is very easy to use for budding designers with little to no experience in game making, but it’s incredibly difficult to set things up exactly how you want. This is mostly down to some odd gaps in the documentation. For example, the Contents section in the Help menu does neatly specify the requirements for adding background music, going so far as to include notes on how MZ uses particular metadata, but there’s nothing beyond that. I highly suspect that a lot of the reasons behind such vague instructions were down to legal reasons, but it would have been nice for the app to at least suggest a third-party app like Audacity to modify the necessary metadata for the music file type it wishes developers to use.
I also would have liked to have more options for in-game battle text, like being able to quickly use a formula to select a party member or enemy that is being attacked.
RPG Maker MZ also feels somewhat primitive in places. It’s not possible to have enemy sprites with idle animations in battle thanks to imported sprites being PNG files. It would have been a great step to allow for multiple sprites to be used in sequence to create such animations and bring the enemies to life.
I realise that some of my complaints are exclusive to me, but I’d imagine that plenty of people would have different requirements that are simply not met out of the box. It may be missing a lot of things and if you’re serious about game design, I wouldn’t use RPG Maker at all, but with the help of the tutorial and community forums, you do have the potential to make something worth at least sharing.