Release date: June 27th 2017

Have you ever had the urge to make your own game? Has the siren call of game creation ever tugged at your curiosity? For many of us, it’s a realm we dare not enter, a world of many facets, each taking years to master. But what if that process was broken down into manageable, pliable chunks? What if you could finally breathe life into your own fantasy?

“A parody of Pokemon, but with fidget spinners.”

The original Final Fantasy, long before the rag-tag, road-tripping boy band romp of XV, was a far simpler beast. Back in the days when pixelated sprites, overworld maps and linear quests laid the framework for JRPGs everywhere, where characters follow tropes and levelling-up is paramount. Fes offers a set of building blocks that allow players to create games that hark back to this era, but instead of years of development, the bases of a game can be birthed in a matter of hours. It’s not just RPGs either, with some innovative use of the tools provided, horror games or life sims can also be crafted.

In the vein of other RPG making software, players design maps and dungeons, characters and monsters, write dialogue and program events without the need for coding. Selecting simple options and inputs are all that’s required here. Bereft of a tutorial, navigating menus and picking up the tool shortcuts is initially overwhelming, but very quickly a nebulous magnitude of information clunks and clicks into place thanks to a welcoming and relatively streamlined UI.

The bulk of game creation is divided into three sections that can be easily swapped between: Event Settings, a Database, and Map Settings, where you drag, drop and draw pre-made assets into the game’s grid from a sprite sheet, touch screen controls lending a seamless process of lucid world building. Programming comes under the more welcoming title of Event Settings, where squares or “chips” are laid out to instigate conversations, interact with items or be passed through, connecting maps as players travel between overworld maps and towns. Finally, all your characters, monsters, fabricated skills, weaponry and armor live in the Database. Throughout, pre-made samples are available to use or work over as a base, to speed up the process of RPG making.

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Character graphics each come with pallet swaps and variants, all are anime styled and fit a very traditional fantasy aesthetic. Both free and paid DLC can be downloaded to change up the visuals and worlds available to design, packs that cater to Sci-Fi, Modern Day or even Sengoku Japan are all free and widen the potential scope and creative freedom offered. Unlike other versions, Fes doesn’t allow players to import or make their own assets, but what is available is deeply varied and broad. Character portraits are beautifully painted, illustrating the streamlined pixel graphics, DLC monsters come with quirky, delightful sprite variants that look like unseen Earthbound creatures, peppering RPG monster tropes with a little more charisma.

The library of background music covers every kind of feeling and setting expected, alongside ambient tracks for dungeons. Special moves and magic attacks are created by selecting attributes and picking through a menagerie of dynamic animations whilst monster formations, attacks, events and rare encounters are also simple to set up. There’s a lot on offer here, a treasury of tools to toy and tinker with, allowing all manner of game and story to take shape.

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Fes is a jigsaw without any pieces; the game is crafting those pieces and slotting them together. Something to be whittled at slowly, perhaps taken with you, as you the design the geography and build the lives of your own characters; what can be achieved with these tools is truly impressive.

A brilliant feature of Fes is the ability to download and upload games, playing the work of others is a great way of seeing what can be achieved with the software and innovative titles like user Aleph’s Apartment 412, a riddle laden horror fest, or Bizz’s Coexistence, a money management Sci-Fi adventure, really showcase the creativity of the community and how robust the tools are. It seems SBOC Land II: The Return of Jafar has a ways to go before it’s ready to transform the world of gaming as we know it…

VERDICT
While a very powerful tool RPG Maker Fes is limited only by finite assets and a user’s creativity. Whilst the games created might seem a little blocky or cut-out, more a collage of assets than an organic world, the ease of use it offers players in comparison to other versions can’t be denied. The preset samples can seem sterile and your mileage will definitely vary, but the ability to create RPGs on the go as well as share and play with other players is a massive bonus. We just hope the world is ready for the eventual release of SBOC Land III: Goldmember.

RATING: 7 out of 10

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