In 1992, Japanese publishing group ASCII Media Works released RPG Tsukūru Dante98, the very first iteration of the RPG Maker series. The RPG Maker series is somewhat self-explanatory: each entry in the series provides a fairly straightforward way to make simple JRPG games in the style of titles like Final Fantasy or Dragon Quest, with the series proving very popular and even being released on consoles like the PS2.
Generally, however, the titles were most successful on PC (the most recent title, RPG Maker MZ, was released in August of 2020). The software was much easier to use with a keyboard and mouse, custom assets could be imported, and the games could be exported and distributed online. There has also been similar software released by others over the years including WOLF RPG EDITOR, which is aimed at more advanced users, but is also free to download. I found the versions of RPG Maker I had used difficult enough, so WOLF RPG EDITOR would be even more intense!
Although the RPG Maker series and its counterparts were mainly used for turn-based RPGs, some of the most popular titles created actually aren’t RPGs at all. Instead, being horror-adventure games, the games had players find items, solve puzzles, and run away from disturbing monsters – all whilst having more detailed and dark storylines to discover. Here are some of the classics.
Originally released: 2011, Made on: WOLF RPG EDITOR
Content Warning (via vgperson translations): Blood, gore, and murder, body horror, sexual assault, bullying, death.
Misao, a classmate of your character, has been missing for three months. Since going missing, strange things have been happening around the school with the students describing these happenings as the ‘Misao curse.’ At the game’s beginning, the school becomes warped and changed by this curse, filling with evil spirits and monsters. You’re then tasked with exploring the school to determine what happened to Misao.
This was the first RPG Maker horror game I played, and it is generally considered one of the best. Unlike some of the titles on this list, your way forward is always pretty clear. The story is incredibly disturbing, so I’d advise you to thoroughly check the content warning above.
2) Mad Father
Originally released: 2012, Made on: WOLF RPG EDITOR
Content warning (via vgperson translations): Blood, gore, murder, body horror, decapitation, jump scares, animal death.
The main character, a young girl named Aya, lives in a secluded mansion where her father conducts strange experiments in the basement. A year after the mysterious death of her mother, the mansion experiences a sudden change – similar to the change in the school in Misao – and becomes overrun with evil spirits.
Mad Father is a little more graphically polished than Misao, with the paid Steam version being even more so. The premise is extremely similar to Misao, so I’d recommend taking a significant amount of time between playing the two games. The gameplay is also similar to Misao – you have to explore to find items and solve puzzles, with some occasional action sequences thrown in. However, one notable difference between the two games is playing as Aya is far more interesting than the character you play as in Misao.
3) The Crooked Man
Originally released: 2012, Made on: WOLF RPG EDITOR
Content warning (via vgperson translations): Body horror, hanging and suicide, jump scares, animal death, mild swearing.
David Hoover has just moved into a new apartment after some terrible things happened in his life, but, as you may have guessed, the apartment seems to be haunted. His attempts to find out about the apartment’s previous tenant prove fruitless, so he ends up exploring various locations to find out the truth.
Although there are obvious supernatural elements – the Crooked Man itself is a sort of ghost-monster-thing – The Crooked Man seems to be set mostly in the real world. When combined with the variety of locations explored and the detail included in each ‘level,’ I would say that The Crooked Man easily matches the degree of creative story telling in both Misao and Mad Father. In terms of scare factor it is also on par whilst avoiding the gore levels of the other two titles.
The developer of The Crooked Man created three other titles in The Strange Man Anthology, those titles being The Sandman (2014), The Boogie Man (2015), and The Hanged Man (2017). The Sandman is noticeably lighter in tone, lacking gore of any kind, whilst the other two are much more horrifying.
4) Ao Oni
Originally released: 2007, Made on: RPG Maker XP
Created by noprops, different versions available for free via the game’s wiki.
Content warning (via memoriesoffear.com): Mild blood, mild violence, jump scares, chase sequences.
Students. Spooky house. They get trapped. There’s a monster chasing them. They also have to solve puzzles by exploring and finding various items. I realize this sounds quite like the other games on this list.
Ao Oni lacks hefty gore, instead relying on chase sequences to generate fear in the player. The game has many chase sequences featuring the titular Oni, all of which pretty much never failed to make me jump out of my skin whenever they happened. You could just be exploring one of the bedrooms looking for rope or something and he’d appear and chase you into a wardrobe.
The story is okay, it has moments of shock value and surprising poignance, but overall I’d say it’s one of the weaker titles in terms of plot line. I’d still highly recommend it, if only to be chased by the Oni a few times.
5) Corpse Party
Originally released: 2011
Original title from 1996 made on RPG Tsukūru Dante98, later versions thought to be built from scratch but retain aesthetic of RPG Maker titles. Original game by Makoto Kedouin, remake created by Team GrisGris and localized by XSEED Games. Available on Steam, PSP, and 3DS, with older versions available on other platforms as well.
Content warning (via developers): Frequent Violence or Gore, General Mature Content.
Corpse Party has a premise somewhat comparable to Misao. After performing a strange ritual, a group of students from Kisaragi Academy are thrown into a haunted school in which they must solve a multitude of mysteries whilst being attacked by various ghosts and monsters. Corpse Party could be considered the original, with the version that was released on Steam, PSP, and various other platforms being based on a game that came out in 1996, in addition to it being created with the original version of RPG Maker.
Throughout each chapter of the story, you cycle through all of the students from the Academy as they make their way around the school, facing dozens of dangers along the way. The students quickly realize the school they’ve found themselves in is actually called Heavenly Host Elementary, which was torn down before their academy was built. The plot of the first game is excellent, containing many heart-wrenching moments, made effective by the incredible visual and sound design, and the voice-acting being particularly incredible. The existence of multiple, fully-fleshed out endings also act to this game’s benefit – although the previously mentioned games have them, they are not nearly as detailed as Corpse Party’s, except for maybe Mad Father’s.
Corpse Party has risen far above its initial release, spawning numerous sequels, spinoffs and even an anime series. The first game is by far the best, but the character art is a strange pseudo-chibi style, dissonant with the maturity of the setting. As such, the 3DS version could be considered the definitive edition, which contains bonus content seen in later versions of the game that preserve the mature art style.
Words by Jack Oxford
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