I’ve been playing and enjoying many RPG Maker games since about 2001 (and far too many JRPGs to count in general since the 1980’s), but Starless Umbra is turning into one of my new favorites and it’s not even completed yet. RPGmaker.net user Andrew Keturi (aka dragonheartman) has been slowly working on this game since 2002 (!) and it’s shaping up into quite an epic that’s going beyond simply working with the basic RTP assets or being yet another shameless Final Fantasy meets Dragon Quest clone. Not that there’s anything wrong at all with a great FF or DQ clone at all (I’ll name two awesome ones next week from the site you should grab). Based on the dramatic prologue and few hours of gameplay I’ve squeezed in alone, there’s a sharpness to the project that’s welcome in everything from the battle system to choice of music and sound effects. In the build I played, the mix of challenging combat and interesting use of stamina (where choosing whether to walk and run actually makes a difference) kept me glued to my monitor for longer than I expected..
In a nutshell, the story revolves around a young man out to search for his missing sister after a raid on his home village leaves it in flames. Of course, that turns into a complicated process when he ends up getting a bit de-located from his original goal. There’s a lot more going on beyond that, but I won’t spoil much (and can’t, as the game is still a work in progress). As you can see in the video above, Keturi is updating everything from dropping random battles, adding new character animations, dungeon layouts and even tweaking menus for an even more user-friendly experience. I like that the game mixes genres, adding in adventure, RPG and even a mine cart level. Seeing that screenshot on the game’s site made me laugh out loud because I have nightmares of playing Taz-Mania on the Sega Genesis. But I think I can trust that this section won’t be as hilariously sadistic as that notorious stage was.
Anyway, if you love JRPGs, indie games and labors of love, definitely try out the current build which you can grab here or here. Both links hit the same download at RPGmaker.net, by the way. While it’s not quite clear when the game will be 100% complete, it’s clearly going to be a winner. Hell, I’d bet real money (well at least a buck, as I’m always broke these days) that it’ll be a game that just might be up there with some of the better indie titles in the genre and may in fact touch the stars in terms of being close to some of the console classics I love. In a way, it’s too bad guys like this aren’t getting paid for all this hard work – they certainly deserve something more than endless praise after so much time crafting some truly unique experiences.