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Truly Hepic and truly worth the effort

  • Gibmaker
  • 01/04/2013 09:32 PM

This may be the game they had in mind when they made RPG Maker.

Made in RM2K, it uses that crotchety old spinster, the 2K RTP. But stay your judgement, because this game doesn't waste your time or take itself too seriously. There are no ponderously long dialogue scenes, and towns are nice and compact. Even dungeon areas are rarely more than a single large map, and you know what? That's good enough. Not expecting you to be wowed by graphics or some mind-expanding story, Epic Elf sets itself apart by being simply fun to play.

Initially the creator was apologetic about the use of the RTP, even going so far as to call the game a "tribute to the RTP" but I don't think this was necessary. I always thought it was an odd stigma, that you have to download 17 MB of media in order to run RPG Maker games, but you're not allowed to actually use it. Well, rest assured that never has the RTP been used to dress such a fun and entertaining product!

In fact, I think Spirit Young was determined to use every single character, face, chipset, monster and backdrop at least once. It shows how the old RTP characters in their pumpkin pants can still be used in surprising and inventive ways. However, he wisely snubbed the RM2K music and instead got his hands on selections from RM2K3 and RMXP, which are far superior.

Let us never speak of Peace2.mid again.

In this game you play as Dagree, a dark elf who smugly grins out from cell 10 of the Monsters.png face set. He comes to the Island of Vitality in search of treasure as some sort of coming-of-age quest. Naturally he becomes embroiled in the island's political unrest, but stays roguishly focussed on his treasure-hunting quest right up to a surprising Act 3 plot twist. The presentation is very detailed and lightly peppered with look-I'm-in-an-RPG humour.

Crucially, Spirit Young understands that the key to game design is to impose limitations. Start with the world map. It's very compact and in the style of a Super Mario overworld map (I don't know if there's a more generic term for this style of overworld) with a simple dirt road connecting areas of interest that Dagree doesn't stray from. Upon attempting to enter an area we are given its title and the level of the enemies inside. Story events transform the overworld, opening and closing different pathways as you progress.

Another RM feature we're all expected to never use is random battles. That makes sense, because they are dull. In one area random battles are used to represent surprise attacks from a swamp-dwelling monster, but most areas use event-based encounters instead. Most of the encounter events disappear permanently after contact, and in the first few towns you can make a one-time payment at the inn to stay there as much as you like, so I tended to escape back to town after every battle to rest for free. It was a cheap tactic, but too reassuring to pass up.

As you progress through the game you may return to a previously-cleared area to find it repopulated with a tougher set of monsters than before! Yet another small detail that made me grin almost as wide as Dagree's face graphic.

Since most encounters don't reappear, the way you grind for cash and experience is by buying Monster Cards from vendors, which start battles. You always earn back more money than the card cost. This feature is crucial, as at a few points there is a sudden bump in difficulty, especially at the end of the game.

A prison system to rival the Elder Scrolls.

It's the attention to detail and small events that really make this game stand out. For example, in a few areas there are simple events scattered around that look like coins on the ground. Stepping over them gives you money. An unbelieveably simple mechanic which was nevertheless hugely fun, although it wasn't used in nearly enough places.

Also, in battles, every type of enemy has a simple "idle animation" that plays each turn, such as that salty glint in the Clubber's eye.

And when you find out why it's called Juggler Fin, you will soil yourself.

There are scripted events within battles as well. An early battle against an evil spirit disguised as a little girl has the girl transform into the spirit after the first turn in battle, rather than on the map beforehand. Monsters also join and leave the enemy party, sometimes with a change of ambience. (No Stilhouse, I didn't forget about you!) In one section, if you destroy a witch before killing her minion, the minion will flee. Too many designers put all their effort into map events while leaving the battles straightforward, but it doesn't have to be that way!

By buying spell books you can teach spells to characters and create whatever party setup you like. Spells have different elemental features but, interestingly, they also all have different base strengths as well, so you sometimes have to choose between casting a weak spell that targets a monster's weakness, or a stronger and more expensive spell that doesn't. When in doubt, I usually just went for the stronger spell.

Yes, Epic Elf will remind you that even RM2K's default battle system can be made fresh and interesting, but it is still RM2K's default battle system, which I simply don't like. Call me hoity-toity, but it's a very rudimentary system and it tends to feel claustrophobic. I don't like how it stacks all your party commands, making it impossible to know for sure what order characters are going to move in, which is annoying when you want to pull off sick combos such as resurrecting and healing a fallen character. Oh yes, it's our favourite friend, the revive item that leaves the character with only a tiny bit of health and just enough time to get hit and die again, wasting the turn and the item! So good to see you.

It's also extremely difficult to experiment with different elemental attacks because you have to remember, every turn, not only what command you assigned to each character but also what amount of damage they were dealing previously in order to compare different attacks.

And now, complaints. There is no title music. What the heck? It's called "Epic Elf." Where's the epic theme music? Granted, in RM2K games we rarely stick around for more than the first 1.5 seconds of the title theme, but still.

Also, the NPC who explains the different status effects appears curiously late in the game.

But now, prepare for the one single most damning complaint I have against this game: the final battle is impossible. I mean, really. Supposedly other players have beaten it, but I had to hack the game and cheapen it in order to see the ending. Even with level 40 characters, buffing my party's stats to maximum and using a heal-all scroll every turn, the final sonofabitch was just too punishing. He has insta-kill attacks that he uses far too often. I must have attempted it ten times. Not to mention that there is a mini-boss to beat first, with no break or opportunity to save in between. I filled with hate and ran out of patience.

Spirit Young responded to my complaint and offered to fix it, but he did that by releasing a new version of the game instead of changing this one. Because the new version has a number of adjusted features such as the removal of money (truly necessary??) I couldn't really just apply this review to that version. So, as it stands, I can't recommend the final boss battle of this game! Unless you're a hardcore difficulty purist. It's probably better to just play the new version instead.

(LouisCyphre is required to play this version as punishment for Speak No Evil.)

Still, I want to forgive the game for this problem, because for all I know I just suck completely. And up until that point I highly approved of everything.

It's odd to say, but many developers seem to forget that games should be fun. Aren't games fun by default, you may ask? No they are not, and RPGs have the potential to be excrutiatingly dull. In striving for great, high-concept plots of grave seriousness, with lavish graphics and grandiose prose, it's amazing how some games can be entirely lifeless.

Epic Elf reminds us that if the designer has fun making the game, then this experience will be infectious, and I will have fun playing it too.*

There is one detail that sums up everything great about this game.

When you go into the pub in Ardvark, there is a man (the Elvis-haired guy from People7.png) posed at the piano. With "Common/With Stepping" heroically set to ON, he plays the moving ragtime music of Track07.mid.

Every few seconds, he spins around.

It's such a very small detail, which certainly took barely 5 minutes to implement. But the fact is, it WAS implemented. Elvis-hair shows off his finesse and has a lot of fun. And so do I.

Spin on, People7.png man. Spin on for eternity and inspire us all. Until Ardvark gets devastated by the cataclysm and you die. Spoiler alert.

My score: 4/5

Best feature: Gradually evolving overworld map

Worst feature: Unbeatable final boss

Which Optional Character did I choose? Calvin
Why? Because you meet him first and I could never bring myself to kill him. :(

Favourite minion? Gargan
Why? Dragon. But why can't we claim Hex after defeating his Monster Card? I love you Hex ;_;

Favourite classic RTP charset? The blue guard with the helmet plume from People3.png.
Why? This game reminds us how dorky and fun to kill they are.


*Not to say that this is an ironclad rule. I won't necessarily have fun playing your game if it's just crap.


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First off Gib, gratz on finally completing this. Now get on our level and start playing Epic Elf 2. Its even better. But very nicely written.
(Socrates would certainly not contadict me!)
I so much agree with some of the things you write, about RTP and details in particular, Spirit Young seems to have an incredible ease for making rpgs fun, funny, wonderfully put together and challenging!
I hate RPG Maker because of what it has done to me
First off Gib, gratz on finally completing this. Now get on our level and start playing Epic Elf 2. Its even better. But very nicely written.
I'm behind in playing so many games. :(

@Clareian and chara, thank you. :)
Thanks guys! Now I hope I can keep up with the standards in my new games!
Oh! Love the custom art on top of the page! EPIC!
I hate RPG Maker because of what it has done to me
I'm sure you will. >:] And thanks!
Yeah I really enjoyed your Longing Ribbon game but I couldn't beat the chick with the shotgun! Gonna try your Professor game now!
Hm i Wonder if i can pul somethi goff here/
Yeah I really enjoyed your Longing Ribbon game but I couldn't beat the chick with the shotgun! Gonna try your Professor game now!
If you mean the party member that ends up going nuts, just make certain to equip her with a different weapon before the event- then she won't be able to use the gun on you.
OH just like in Final Fantasy Tastics when the dark knight Gafgarion betrays you at the bridge; but you can unequip all of his gear before the fight and laugh at his misfortune! Thanks for the tip Tyger!
No, I'm not. I warned you!

That's like sueing McD's for getting burnt by coffee.
No, I'm not. I warned you!

That's like sueing McD's for getting burnt by coffee.
Or slim fast for making me to skinny.
No, I'm not. I warned you!

That's like sueing McD's for getting burnt by coffee.
Or slim fast for making me to skinny.

I sued McDonalds because I have a weight problem! I hate weighting for my food. Har har. Kidding. I don't take the easy way out and sue people over stupid $hit!
I hate RPG Maker because of what it has done to me
No, I'm not. I warned you!

That's like sueing McD's for getting burnt by coffee.
Gotta re-read this re-review every once in a w-while!
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