Earlier this year, I looked into visual novels made in Ren’Py, the most commonly used engine for OELVNs and perhaps the most user-friendly for beginners. Then I took a look at Unity visual novels, and although VNs made in that engine aren’t common, if put in the hands of an experienced user, they can make a really appealing and complex visual novel. There are obvious differences in how each presents themselves and what both engines can bring to the table. However, we haven’t yet delved into RPG Maker titles. So let’s do that!
Differences in visuals
While RPG Maker VNs feature the static images we’re used to such as sprites and backgrounds, the game can also feature environments and small 3D models. This is something I will go into a later point, but if a developer decides to include those, they’ll allow the player to go around, examine the world, and collect items freely. I also think it gives a nice break in between the text and choices.
From what I’ve played, although RPG Maker may seem limited at first glance, a developer can do a lot with it. You can implement a custom GUI rather than being forced to stick with the bare-bones UI that comes with the engine. Perhaps the biggest difference VN players will see is that sometimes games lack an autosave feature or the ability to save whenever you want. For example, if a player wants to save at a choice, they can’t. Other times, they won’t be able to save freely at all and will have to find a save point instead. It really varies from game to game.
Focus in horror
Those who are fans of horror might want to look into playing RPG Maker VNs. I believe this is in part due to how popular RPG Maker horror games are, due to the success of games like Ib and Witch’s House—which is ironic given the engine was originally made for RPGs.
Games like Your Turn to Die and a massive amount of games made by developer Charon do have horror elements to them. Like other horror games, expect a lot of bad endings. But if you’re someone who can’t stomach horror or would prefer to play something with less tension, no worries! There are other titles out there like To the Moon that aren’t horror!
A level of interactivity
The tricky issue of determining what is a visual novel, aside from quickly looking at what’s on VNDB, is that many RPG Maker titles have a level of interactivity that you don’t commonly see in visual novels. In some RPG Maker VNs, you’ll explore the area and check various parts in the environment to get extra dialogue or even an item that will either lead you to a good or bad ending or route. It’s similar to linear games like the Ace Attorney or Danganronpa series where you collect items and explore the games’ respective worlds, although in those games you can’t miss important items.
Alternatively, in a game like Cherry Tree High Comedy Club, you’ll have to juggle various stats such as Mairu’s fatigue, her money, her homework, and various other conditions while also trying to recruit characters to her comedy club. In order to recruit these characters to her club, you’ll have to level up 12 different conversational topics which range from video games and cooking to the news and sports. Once you reach a level 2 relationship level with someone, you can even call them in the evening to get closer to them.
As someone who has enjoyed many RPG Maker titles, if you honestly haven’t given those types of games a shot yet, you should, especially if you’re a fan of darker titles. For the most part, these games are free, or in Cherry Tree High Comedy Club’s case, relatively cheap, under $10. There’s always itch.io, but I also highly recommend checking out RPGMaker.net, which holds hundreds of titles, including VNs, that are waiting to be played.