Game development is a bit of an enigma isn’t it? For many of us, playing a game is a way to kick back and relax after a hard day’s work. Where what’s happening on screen, or when we click a button, isn’t given a second thought. In a lot of ways it’s like magic and it just works (for the most part).
That said, for those building the games we use to relax, it can be quite a challenge and can easily take months if not years of hard work, planning, iterating, and testing before it ever ends up in the player’s hands. Honestly, it’s a good thing it’s a labor of love, because I don’t think we’d ever see a fully released game otherwise. With that in mind, the actual process of developing a modern game has become marginally easier with the bevy of tools and engines available to us. Including a tool we took a look at in late 2020 – RPG Maker MV. Which in a lot of ways blew us away, especially since it ran on the Nintendo Switch!
Now, almost 2 years later, we’re not diving back in to re-evaluate this impressive piece of consolized software, but to instead take a look at one of the projects that was born from its existence, and the hard work of a dedicated developer – Kingdom of Neandrea from Nestor!
As I mentioned in my impressions of RPG Maker MV I have a long history with the RPG Maker family of tools. I mean, my relationship with them goes all the way back to the days of the unofficial fan translated releases of RPG Maker 95 and 2000 on Windows. In fact, it was those two pieces of software that made me fall in love with the idea of making games, and to this day I look back fondly on them. Despite that, one thing I never really dove too deeply into when it came to the RPG Maker scene, was trying and playing other people’s games made with it.
So, when Nestor reached out and asked us to give their game a try, I thought it would be a great opportunity to see how the development scene of RPG Maker MV on the Switch was faring. And to see how someone who has much more gumption than myself, utilizes the tools they’re given to realize their creative ambitions and who actually developed a full blown game with it.
Before I dive too deeply into my thoughts on the game itself, I do just want to clarify a few things. First off, since Kingdom of Neandria was built using the Switch version of RPG Maker MV, that does mean it suffers from a lot of its faults like for example the Switch’s inherent performance issues. Also, because you’re unable to create or use plugins and custom sprites/tilesets are a no-go in this version, that means this game was built with all vanilla assets. Meaning the graphics, sound, and other spicy functionality extras won’t really be taken into consideration since they’re basically out of the realm of possibility on the Switch.
With that in mind however, I really have to commend Nestor on their ability to create a compelling and believable RPG! Meaning, despite having to deal with the limitations of a closed system like the Switch and having to rely on only the sprites and tiles sets that came packaged with RPG Maker, Nestor really went out on a limb to create an RPG that didn’t feel canned and was wholly unique. Everything from the choice to not utilize an overworld map, to creating seamless and interconnected explorable areas, to personalizing each and every item, spell, and character, made the game feel fleshed out and lived in. Which is a feat all on its own, even outside of the RPG Maker realm.
One thing that really stood out to me was the focus on removing that tired out mechanic of random enemy encounters, which meant you could fight enemies at your leisure and it made exploring feel much more compelling and lively, instead of a slog. Especially when you just wanted to get from point A to point B. I loved that I could see each enemy wandering around the map, though I probably could have done without the fact that they respawn. That unfortunately demotivated me from backtracking to the town to restock my items all too frequently. That said, what really made exploring fun was the excellent map design with various paths to saunter down and more often than not, get rewarded for. I only wish that the save points were a little more frequent, because running into an enemy that puts you in your place after exploring for a bit can be more than a little frustrating.
Speaking of frustrating, the biggest detriment to the Kingdom of Neandria, in spite of the care and attention put into every little detail, is its balance. More often than not you feel underpowered against the enemies you encounter who seem to grow stronger and stronger on what feels like too steep of a curve. Something which ultimately made encounters feel too long, and too risky, so I found myself trying to skip them instead of grinding to get stronger. Unfortunately, this also made me end up not wanting to backtrack in order to re-up my supplies. Which in turn only made further encounters, especially bosses, that much more difficult. It also didn’t help that your healing items never felt like they did enough to keep up with the damage you were taking, even if well equipped. That and it wouldn’t be until later in the game that you acquire party healing abilities that can help mitigate some of the struggle.
I get that balance also means not making something too easy, but I think a good compromise would be to scale early game enemies back a bit, and give us more of them, so early game players don’t become discouraged and fall off. Then they’d have a place to gain a foothold in both money and experience, and can more readily prepare themselves for later in the game. This is doubly true for portions of the game where you don’t have a full party, because an encounter that’s easy for a party of four quickly becomes an impossibility for a party of one or two.
Nevertheless, I did still push through to the end, and that was all because of one thing, the narrative. Which was exquisitely written, well thought out, and refined. That of all things drew me into the world of Kingdom of Neandria the most, and truly gave character to each of the party members and NPCs. And if we were to get a part two, that would be what I’d be most excited to experience more of.
I had a great time playing Kingdom of Neandria, and it always impresses me to see what developers can do with tools like RPG Maker MV. Although it wasn’t perfect, and could use a tiny bit of refinement, it was still a ton of fun and if you’re looking to try something unique, or just want to see what this whole RPG Maker thing is capable of, then I highly recommend you check it out for yourself!
I look forward to seeing what else Nestor comes up with and who knows, maybe we’ll get to see it on a more open platform that’ll help them truly realize their creative ambitions.
If you’d like to try Kingdom of Neandria for yourself, you can visit Nestor’s website for details on where you can find it.