The blizzard was terrible. The wind howled, blasting glittering snow into the eyes of the great knight Kiras and his humble apprentice, who trudged on foot from the launch of their ship, since the nearby docks had frozen over. Summer Vale had once been an island untouched by such unpleasant weather, but that was why its governor had summoned them from the Aegian Empire. Then something more menacing than the wind howled in the dark, and out of the storm emerged three goblins...
That's not a scene pulled from any pre-existing RPG, but one I slapped together myself with the latest in the RPG Maker series, the brainchild of Enterbrain, brought to the US by Agetec. The first was pure 2D and somewhat limited in scope, thanks in part to the size of the PSX memory card. The second moved up to the PlayStation 2, offering deep customization and 3D graphics...which were primitive even at the time. Not to mention it was so complicated that you practically needed to be a programmer to make full use of the thing, which in a sense defeats the whole purpose.
RPG Maker 3 presents a lush 3D environment with rolling landscapes, winding paths through thick forests, dark dungeons with secret passages and deadly traps, and detailed towns with smoke rising from the chimneys. Townspeople nod their heads, chickens flap their useless wings, and butlers check the time as they wait for their master to finish speaking with the dirty adventurer. Monsters snarl as they stomp the ground, spirits hover in the air, and arrows fly with deadly accuracy, luminous with the mark of powerful spellcraft. Thunder crackles as the sky grows dark, snow flutters down to turn the ground white, and strange melodies drift by, all under your control.
You want your adventurers to get into a brawl with a group of drunken trolls after they make a pass at the overworked waitress? Create an automatic event on the spot in layout editor, dive into the storyteller to create a cut-scene that sets the mood, make a troll in the monster editor (or just use a template if you're lazy), make a monster party of these drunken hooligans to give them some sweet swag to drop, and put the whole thing together in the event editor, perhaps adding some heartfelt thanks by the waitress once it's over, or the group getting robbed by the trolls should they fail. Putting something like this together in RPGM3 will take you all of fifteen minutes or less.
It's easy, but more importantly...it's fast.
If you've ever used a paint program before, you've used the landscape editor. Just select your brush from dot, line, square, and circle, and choose the sort of terrain you would like to paint with, from grasslands to lava-scarred rock. Then switch over to the elevation editor to raise up mountains, lower valleys, and or just add a little uneven ground. If anything, the dungeon editor is even easier to use. With themes with everything from ancient stone to dark caverns, draw out your rooms and tunnels, then sprinkle them with secret passages, traps, and treasures. Of course, both of these allow you to toss in random encounters, letting you set different groups of foes for varying terrain on landscapes or different levels of a dungeon.
Monsters for these battles are just a matter of choosing the 3D model, setting a few stat values like health and strength, and making the skills to strike down your heroes with. Skill creation is perhaps the most flexible and fun aspect of the toolkit, choosing from a wide range of primary and secondary powers, setting potency and mana cost, and combining this one of a half dozen possible animations and visual effects.
Noncombatants (i.e. average citizens) can be no more than a name, a 3D model, a 2D portrait, and a series of event codes to govern their actions. Making them into fighters also requires creating classes that will define their weapon choices, stats, and skills. This is a bit inflexible when it comes to what weapon can be used by what model, but the fighting model need not be the same as the person. So you can have an ordinary man buff up into a werewolf, or a nun with ninja gear hidden under her habit.