While I often stay away from RPG games (with exceptions such as the Mario ones and the GBA Pokemon games), I felt I could still set foot in the independent portion of the genre since there’s no telling what exactly they could offer. However, there are polar opposites among the indie spectrum. Players could revel in the uniquely charming world and innovative play of Undertale, or they could accidentally look up one of many failed attempts to make loads of money via Kickstarter from an amateur-ish game cobbled together in RPG Maker.

Mind you, I’m not one to condone people for using a certain kind of game engine to create stuff. If anything, I’m just going to say I personally prefer Game Maker if you want to make anything you would want to safely call your own work. I am open to playing games made in RPG Maker that are at least fun and enjoyable, though. If I can be engaged with the story told and world on display, I’m good. That said, Valcarta: Rise of the Demon is a game made in RPG Maker that really wants to be such a thing, but ends up being a very, very middling experience.

Graphics

Easily one of the weaker categories around here; the graphics in Valcarta are mostly, if not completely, made up of stock graphics developers can use for RPG Maker projects. I wouldn’t have too much of a problem with this if it weren’t for the fact that they are simply the most overused graphics I’ve seen in any game engine! That, and the settings in particular are as generic as any fantasy RPG, notably other ones made in RPG Maker. You have your grass tiles, town areas, caves, castle tiles, and whatever else gamers have seen before. I’m not saying there should be grasslands or caves at all; I’m saying that they should at least look fresh rather than bland and arguably dull.

NPCs also tend to share a lot of the same sprite assets, so populations in many of the game’s locations could be a blur. Characters that are key to the story get to have their own unique sprites (at least in comparison to the surrounding people), although battle sprites of some of the enemies feel considerably misused.

Audio

The sound effects are the ones pre-made for RPG Maker, but the music selections are composed of royalty free songs elsewhere. That said, the choices used in the game are actually stellar stuff. The music is diverse, fun to listen to, and has every right to be used in an RPG. In fact, the music (and even the sound effects) are memorable, which is more than I can say for the story.

Story 

Now I know why there are critics on the Internet that take notes while playing games they review.

Valcarta‘s story is complex on a massive level, to the point where it feels unnecessary to have it at such a scale! And considering the atmosphere is still that typical fantasy setting RPGs are most often associated with, it, along with the graphics, neuter most sorts of actual personality from the environments the protagonists find themselves in. It’s basically a blur a lot of the time.

The basic sum-up is that there’s this dude named Valek, and he assists a mayor in a simple town named Olm. But then destiny is calling him to go to some shack and choose between a letter and an orb. This is where the game splits into light and dark paths. I chose the dark path for my playthrough, but frankly, I don’t think it would have mattered if I took the other path unless it turned out to be a completely different game with more memorable characters and plot points. But I’m getting ahead of myself a bit.

The dark path sees Valek work for a Lady Astrid, who is seemingly nothing but a mystical creature wearing a black cloak. It is revealed that the mayors of Olm and Malvern are working with the Empire, and Valek responds by instantly killing them. Hang on – even in the dark path, Valek seems as good-natured as any protagonist in a game of this genre. Why would he suddenly have the (lack of) heart to kill the mayors, especially when he’s assisted one of them for so long only to never reflect on it after? There was even a scene where a guy was trying to sell Valek the boat needed to travel to other islands and places, but he gets killed simply for charging too high. What? Just negotiate, for God’s sake; I don’t need all of this gold and items I’ve been racking up! At that point, it may as well be surprising he didn’t murder one of his allies for looking at him funny.

Anyway, after meeting up with Astrid, Valek is tasked to rally up allies, and then he and his team set off to perform some Cleansing Rituals in sacred locations containing special crystals, as well as stop the Empire. And Astrid apparently isn’t a spirit, but a woman Valek is somehow sexually compatible with.

That’s the best I could describe the overarching story, but there are so many details and tidbits that it makes my head spin. I didn’t even mention that robots also become important plot points, and that one of the team members eventually abandons Valek for personal reasons that I have in no way recalling because these characters just aren’t that memorable. I’ve never gotten to understand Valek’s relationships with the world around him, let alone the people he talks to. I mean, aside from Astrid since it was heavily implied they did have sex. Mikhali is probably the most recognizable of the bunch since she lives in a tribe that sees themselves as cat people, therefore having “~nya!” as her speech impediment and the desire to take naps. The other allies, Maria and Durnas, feel like they’re just there. That is until Durnas suddenly betrays everybody, anyway. There’s also never really a chance for NPCs to shine at all, with very small exceptions that reference outside works.

Ah, well. I’ll give credit where credit’s due. Even though there’s a lot to bicker about with the characterization, I can at least applaud that the story tries to be an epic that divides itself into two for the potential of replayability. I can also at least tell there is some sort of effort made to make the characters feel like they are part of their own world, as far as RPG Maker games with unchanged graphic styles go. It’s just a shame the execution is far from cohesive and wholly entertaining.

Gameplay

First off, I would certainly thank the game for letting me run around without holding down any buttons. That’s something more games of its kind should do. Otherwise, the game does more-or-less follow the typical conventions of an old school RPG title, albeit with some subtle things thrown in to make it its own. There are towns and similar locations with NPCs, places to buy things, and important plot points occurring. There’s an overworld map the player travels through to go from one major location to another, and random enemy encounters happen at appropriately…random timings.

One thing that’s interesting about the battle mechanics is that while it is mostly the same as one may expect for the genre, there is a stamina bar for each character in battle. The bar automatically fills up, and when it does, the character gets to attack. Or so that’s the case if you set the ATB settings to “Full” instead of “Wait” before beginning the game. If the player chooses the latter, the enemies’ bars won’t increase when it’s his or her turn, effectively turning the majority of battles into “take your time to select Defend when the enemy bar is nearly full”. So it’s a given that “Full” is the more fun option.

Battles with regular baddies can be over in less than a quarter of a minute if the player can button mash attacks and specials whilst still keeping an eye on the enemy’s stamina meter to make sure when to defend, but I do like the quick pacing of it all. The more interesting battles are with bosses; some of them could be genuinely fun and show a sign of brilliance for the combat design, but there are also bosses that feel like a chore since they take so much damage (making them waiting games).

The same thing can be said for roaming territory. There are some puzzles that are enjoyable to solve, while others (especially ones in the form of mazes) feel like they’re only there to pad out the game length. This feeling gets driven home when enemy encounters pop up in places one would prefer not seeing them appear in. Areas like the spider web forest complement the enemy encounters since the player is challenged to race against a time limit, but there are other areas that feature more direct puzzles; yet they include enemy encounters.

Verdict

Basically, this is a meaty package, but only a fraction of it is what I believe is good enough to eat. I may not play RPGs super often, but when I do, I expect to appreciate the characters, their personalities, the worlds they travel to, and the story being told. There’s a reason I constantly give the original Paper Mario series my praises; if writers can have Mario join a wrestling federation, spoof train mysteries, fight an anime-loving chameleon, and still be able to balance the crazier antics out with genuinely moving and emotional moments such as Princess Peach’s interactions with a computer trying to understand the concept of love, then they are darn good at their jobs to say the least.

I’m sure loads of people find writing to be difficult, but if you’re going to do it, you have to make sure you could really pull off such a feat. With Valcarta, I don’t feel it does that well, especially with its generic fantasy setting the graphics plague. Similarly, the gameplay as a whole isn’t really that fun, with moments here and there demonstrating a sense of something more yet lacking enough fulfillment for the long road.