So, you may remember my previous blog, under the title 'I Played Yume Nikki in 2022'. Well, that article got me thinking. I haven't played the majority of what is considered classic RPGMaker games, because, as a child, I was extremely averse to horror. Now that I've grown into a certified horror fan, I haven't played any of the games that a lot of indie horror is inspired by. So, my unofficial 2023 goal was declared: to play even more classic horror RPGMaker games, and catch up on what I've missed!
First, though, I set up a rule. I decided that I wouldn't play any games that had its latest entry (not including remakes) after 2015. So, games like Hello Charlotte, which had its final installation in 2018, were not considered for this venture. It also counted out The Endless Empty (2018), which I was recommended for this venture, but which I will most certainly play at a later date. I don't want anything too modern here! This is about catching up with stuff I've missed!
Finally, I have also set up a rating system. 1-10 stars! With 1 star being, "I could not finish this game because I dislike it and its gameplay so much," 5 stars being, "I feel nothing negative nor positive towards this game," and 10 stars being, "There is nothing that I can think of that could improve this game in terms of story or gameplay." I will also be doing half-stars! I have based all of my scorings on the context of the scope of a game, so a longer game doesn't automatically mean a higher score. That would just feel unfair!
With all that out of the way, here is my journey through 7 more classic RPGMaker games!
IB (Remake) (Originally released 2012)
This game was the first that I played, and was an excellent start to this journey! The puzzles were sometimes a bit difficult, but not impossible for me to solve. I only had to use a guide to solve a puzzle once. The character writing was also excellent. Garry was extremely likable (even if I couldn't unsee him as Komaeda), and I suspected that Mary was not on our side or was otherwise 'odd' from the start. I liked that the game acknowledged that the player may feel sympathy for Mary. I'm also very grateful that there is a good end where Garry and Ib are able to recognize each other.
I can totally see why this was one of the most recommended games. It's excellently crafted, fun to play and the characters are very memorable. Even if I don't have too much to say about it, I'll happily say that Ib is a perfect 10/10!
DREAMING MARY (2015)
When I first saw this game, I got really excited that it was within the age limit, as it seemed right up my ally in terms of my search for RPGMaker horrors. Pink and cutesy games with a dark twist are my absolute favorites! (Shoutout DDLC, gotta be one of my favorite genders.) I also saw a content warning for SA, which also piqued my interest, as SA is a topic I love seeing explored in horror fiction. Otherwise, though, I went in completely blind.
I found the controls a bit wonky. You have to stand facing a character and press Z to interact with them, but if you're standing in front of them, it doesn't work. But if you stand too far away, it doesn't work, either. I never got it right on the first try. I also incorrectly entered the book color on my first playthrough, and I couldn't figure out how to delete what I wrote, so I had to restart the whole game. (It was only a few minutes into the game, but still.) The puzzles also went from oddly difficult to the point that I had to look up a walkthrough to comically easy.
I love the concept of this game. I love the art. I love the music, GOD, I love the music. And I absolutely ADORE the story! But, gracious, I couldn't finish this game past one ending because of the puzzles and the controls. I ended up watching a video about the game in order to get all the endings, and, to be honest, that is the best way to experience this game. Had I not originally played this game for myself, this would have gotten a much higher rating.
In terms of a game experience, it's a 2/10 stars for me. (Not a 1/10 because I didn't dislike the gameplay AND the story so bad that I quit; just the gameplay.) In terms of a 'watching others collect all the endings and just observing the art, music and story' standpoint, 9/10 stars! It's not a 10/10 only because the symbolism felt a little heavy-handed at times. That being said, though, this game's story is the main one that has stuck with me as time has passed. So, take of that what you will!
CORPSE PARTY (PSP Remake) (Original released 1996)
That's right! The man, the myth, the legend!! During my early 2000s weeb days, I heard this name all over, and I was so excited to see what the hype was about! All spoilers I had heard at this point, I had forgotten, aside from knowing Seiko's hanging death that happens early on.
I found that the voice-acting was great, and added to my enjoyment of the game, which was a relief, because bad voice acting can really drag a game down. The VA's screams of agony are so powerful. The music FUCKS, as well! And, from the start, I could see why it's so popular. The characters are well-written and the premise of the parallel planes and its mechanics are very interesting. So interesting, in fact, that I ended up staying up super late! I started playing the game rather late at night, planning to just go to sleep and complete it in the morning, but I got sucked in!
Though, there are a lot of negatives to the game. I found that a lot of the girls were just there to act as narrative burdens for the boys, with the exception of the teacher (who is the only adult), and Seiko (who is arguably only like that because she was one of the only girls in a group of exclusively girls, and somebody had to be useful so it wasn't just a team of deadweights (plus she was the first to die anyway so)). The literal one time that I can think of that a girl DID move the plot forward, she did it while crying and hyperventilating... Meanwhile, the boys do it without a second thought. In fact, for the most part, there was a noticeable divide in that the girls got all the emotional moments, while the boys were the rocks who moved the plot forward. No character got to do both. The only time a boy got to express any sort of negative emotion about his situation was when one of them thought, 'What about how I feel?', when a girl was crying and hyperventilating. And that wasn't even spoken out loud, and was immediately moved on from. It's almost comical.
Aside from the pretty blatant sexism, even after playing the game for so long, I still found myself getting lost a lot. And, honestly, what little we did get to see of Morishique's actual character, I really liked, so it sucked that, in literally almost every scene he's in, he's reduced to "the creepy corpse-liker". (Although, it did lead to one of the most chilling scenes I've ever seen in a video game; the "stop staring at my insides" scene.)
This game was a very good game to go through, and I enjoyed it a lot, but, once I noticed the thing with the divide between the boys and girls, I couldn't unsee it. I'll give this game a 7.5/10 stars! Still a great game, and another one whose story has stuck with me.
AO ONI (2008)
Okay. So, I sort of already have consumed this, a long time ago... As... Um... As... A... Hetalia mod... Sorry. But, all I really remember of the mod was the monster (as it was very memorable), and crying over the twist with Italy's character. I recall him controlling time somehow? I don't know, it's been a long time. But, Heta Oni was based off of the 3.0 version of the game, and I played the 6.0 version!
I had to save often, and I felt like the Ao Oni could pop up at any moment, which led to a very tense gameplay experience (which is a positive). It was very nerve-wracking, in the way you don't always get with RPGMaker horror. The Ao Oni's ability to disguise itself as one of your friends before returning to its normal form to catch you made me jump in my seat the first time it did it! And Takashi hanging himself, then falling suddenly as we left, really spooked me (mainly because hanging imagery really freaks me out, so I was primed for a spook). The breathing noise in the basement also really creeped me out. Overall, this game's horror is shockingly effective! Takuro joining the party, when the player knows that its almost certainly Ao Oni, was an excellent way to build tension, and the reveal that she was the Ao Oni was also great. As well, the twist at the end, with multiple Ao Onis, was also really good, and it left me with a sense of wonder about what, exactly, these creatures are.
However, one distinct thing I recall about the... Um, the Heta Oni mod's... Characters is that they all felt super alive and distinct! But I suppose that was a product of Hetalia, because the characters here all felt very bland, so I never cared that much when they died (although that may have been the point). I had to look up the answer to a multitude of puzzles, as well.
Also... There was no timetravel plot twist??? That shocked me. It must have been a creation of the Heta Oni mod, which just speaks to its creativity... Maybe I'll stomach my pride and replay the mod for old time's sake, too, one of these days.
This game felt very 'pure' and straightforward, though a bit obtuse at times. Its age definitely shows, and that can be to its benefit and its detriment. Overall, 6/10 stars! I generally have a pretty positive opinion about this game, but it's a little bit bland.
THE WITCH'S HOUSE MV (Originally released 2012)
I went into this game under the impression that it is considered one of the original RPGMaker horrors, and one of the greatest, but otherwise completely blind.
The remake's graphics are gorgeous, and, like Ao Oni, the game is rather straightforward! The chase scene at the end was extremely good, as well, with the noises the legless girl makes being extremely gross (in a good way)...
However, that character-driven reveal at the end, with who was who REALLY, shot this game up for me. I felt like something like this is what Ao Oni was truly missing. What a tragic and harrowing story this becomes, with just one twist...
However, the usage of the "chronically ill / disabled person is actually horrible, and will do anything to be 'cured'" trope is kind of, how they say, cringe. And the game felt like it lacked substance for that first playthrough of mine, until I got to the twist.
Overall, a 9/10 game! It's excellent, and it deserves its title as one of the classics.
MISAO: DEFINITIVE EDITION (Originally released 2011)
I went into this game completely blind, knowing nothing except for the name!
I found the quick save feature very nice, right off the bat, and the sprite animations are very cool. I could tell a lot of love went into this game. The very first flashback about how Misao's classmates bullied her made me so angry that I felt sick. They did an excellent job at getting you to sympathize with her immediately, and hating everyone who didn't step in to stop her torment. (Or at least, it was really effective on me. Maybe it's the bully victim in me talking.) But it makes you immediately understand why Misao would want to curse, not just these students, but the whole school. Also, I found Kurata's design very slimy, even before the twist reveal with his character.
However... I personally found the amount of deaths annoying. It felt like I got punished for being curious and interacting with things. I also found the game's messaging inconsistent... It's obviously sympathetic to bully victims, but it makes Library's "nerdiness" and lack of friends the butt of the joke a lot of the time. This is, of course, not the first time I've seen "anti-bullying" media do this, but I doubt it will be the last, either.
Now, we get into the REAL bad stuff. This is the very first media that I have consumed where I have understood the idea of "putting in a sexual abuse plotline for shock value". Before now, I've never felt like any media I've consumed has deserved that accusation, to the point that I thought that maybe no media would ever register as putting in a sexual abuse plotline 'for shock value' to me. But, no. No, I get it now! Especially given that they decided to give the sexual abuser a sympathetic backstory at the end, in order to make you, the player, feel better about freeing his soul from Misao's curse... And, speaking of that flashback, I stayed in it for a solid minute before I got too bored and started clicking through it without reading. Like, we get it! He was ugly and he was bullied! So was I, and I didn't become a pedophile and murderer!
And then our character has the audacity to say that "everyone LOVED the teacher" to COMFORT him after seeing his backstory, and gives him a comforting hug, and THAT'S the ending note for his character?? That he's tragic, but loved??? Bitch, the game SHOWS us that if we choose to NOT kill Kuwata, not ONLY would he kill the main character, but he would be shown to CONTINUE TO PREY ON HIS STUDENTS, LIKE, WHAT???
While observing this storyline, I couldn't help but remember Dreaming Mary. For its gameplay flaws, it did one thing right: it focused on the victim of sexual assault. It did not attempt to humanize the perpetrator. It did not attempt to tell "his side" of the story. It focused on solely Mari, her trauma, and making the player sympathize with sexual assault victims. NOT the people who commit it.
After all of that abuse apologism, I can't, in good consciousness, give this game a good rating. Plus, the frustrating deaths... 2/10 stars. And it would have been a 1 star if that "Kurata as a sympathetic figure" twist came any earlier than the very end of the game, because I would have quit if it was.
MAD FATHER (Remake) (Originally released 2012)
I went in understanding that this game was created by the same person who created Misao, and it was set in the same universe. As you can imagine, this set my expectations pretty low, given my opinion of Misao...
However, I found this game experience a much more positive one! I found the fact that Aya knows what her father does, but feigns ignorance because she, simply put, loves her father (which we learn through flashbacks is not just a thin love because he is her father, but rather, a genuine familial bond, born through happy memories before Aya's mom passed) very authentically childlike. This game has a similar quality to Misao, with a lot of ridiculous ways to die, but they are a lot more reasonable in this game, and much less frequent. It also feels a lot better because there is something I can do to escape the ridiculous death traps; there's a minigame you can play to escape the situation, and avoid the death. This makes it feel a lot more fair, rather than just a "fuck you". The idea proposed by Ogre that Aya can't sympathize with her father's patients yet, and then her being put in the shoes of / being shown the patients as they're tortured, is very clever, as well.
Also, the portrait of the mom seemed to put an odd emphasis on her tits which was funny but also kinda took me out of it.
Anyway. I found it interesting how, although the titular Mad Father himself is experimenting on humans in horrific ways, and is, objectively, a terrible person... He is a good father (or so it seemed at first), and he has two women who are in love with him. Although just about anyone else would hate him, these people who love him are enough to make, not his wrongdoings and repenting them the main draw of the story, but, rather, whether or not he is hurt by the ghost of his wife. Of course, the plot twist about the nature of his relationship to and intentions with Aya is a huge part of the story, as well, but that comes largely after the dust of the climax has settled.
There were two issues I had with the game though. Robin being mistaken for a 'monster' because he has a facial deformity (a missing eye and burnt skin), while also ringing true to the ignorance of a child like Aya (to her, his deformity would be the same as the deformities of the corpses; she wouldn't know the difference), still sucks. Not a fan of ableism towards those with facial deformities. I also really, REALLY disliked true-end Aya being like her father. For games as dark as this, having a dark ending after all of that work just feels... Unsatisfying.
That being said, those are my only issues with the game! I give it an 8.5/10 stars!
This self-imposed journey into the past of indie horror was super fun! Even for the games that I didn't quite like as much, I could totally see why they were popular, and how they impacted the indie game scene going forward. I even found some new favorites among this set of games! I'm super glad that I played through all of them. And I hope to play even more in the future!