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Children's book as a video game

Beginner game developers are often told to start with small games. While this is absolutely sound advice, it does not explain a whole lot in itself. What kind of "small game" should I make? Most people, aspiring game developers or not, have not played that many short games that are 1 hour and under. As such, they have little reference as to what kind of game their first game should be.

There are 2 main ways to approach it. One is to make a game that is essentially like a snippet of a bigger game. It could be a prologue, a prototype for the game's main gameplay mechanic, or just a chapter of a bigger story. The other way is to make an entirely self-contained game. This definitely seems much harder, as most people won't even know where to start, since there are even fewer examples of this kind of game than the first type.

Well, if anyone needs a near-perfect example of what a standalone 20 minute to 1 hour short game should play like, look no further than Forest Star.

This is one of those RPG Maker games that is basically a bunch of fetch quests. You go around talking to various NPCs, become friends with them, solve their problems, and in return they help you on your journey (or just get out of the way). Despite the simplicity, this kind of gameplay is surprisingly hard to get right judging by how many games do not. You need to get the player to actually care at least a little bit about the characters so it doesn't feel like a chore doing tasks for them.

Forest Star nails this like nobody else. The game just radiates wholesomeness, and feels like if a fairy tale picture book was made into a video game. It's not just cute, but has a sense of humor too, so kids and adults can enjoy it alike. The animals you meet on your way to examining the titular meteorite all have their own personalities and are likeable in their own way. This alone is sufficient for a good way to spend 20 minutes of your evening.

But this game goes a bit further. It throws a little bone for completionists. There are secrets, achievements, different endings, all of which expand the game's length by 10-30 minutes. And weirdly, it is pretty fun to go around exploring and finding stuff you missed on your first playthrough.

On top of all that, the game sports fantastic visuals and a beautiful soundtrack. The art style gives off Studio Ghibli vibes in its uniqueness and attention to detail. The music is no slouch either, some of the tracks rivalling the works of Mozart, Beethoven, and Death Grips. The dialogue is written with such nuance that even Jane Austen would be envious. Overall, the presentation is definitely a strong point, though I would say that the gameplay is still the best aspect of the game.

Why does this game matter? I think it is basically the perfect short game that every beginner video game developer should look up to. Moreover, it just has that something magical about it. I might even say it tips the "Are video games art?" debate quite a bit in favor of "yes", because if there is any 30-minute RPG Maker MZ game featuring a monkey as the protagonist that I would call a work of art, it's this game.

I have no complaints about Forest Star. It took me 30 minutes to see everything in it that I wanted to see, and another 30 minutes to write this review. And I don't regret spending all that time a single bit. It was simply a joy to experience this game, and I thank the developer from the bottom of my heart for creating it.