Remote Control, a quintessential game made with RPG Maker

It’s been over fifteen years since the release of RPG Maker 3, the last installment in a trilogy of console-exclusive RPG Maker titles. RPG Maker is primarily known for its PC software and the console trilogy was a spinoff that didn’t reach the same level of popularity. One of the reasons is because RPG Maker on consoles had limitations that the PC ones did not. By downloading a run-time-package anyone with a PC and internet connection could play a game made with the PC Makers. On the other hand, playing a game made with the console trilogy required a disc of RPG Maker and the use of external devices like a Dex Drive or a Max drive. The PC Makers also has a larger user base, and several games made with the software, such as Yume Nikki, To The Moon, and LISA: The Painful, are more popular than any game made with the console RPG Makers. However, in 2001, a game called Remote Control made with RPG Maker for the PlayStation made it into a mainstream gaming magazine. Not only that, but it was also reviewed by the staff as if it were a game developed and published to be sold on shelves. To this day, Remote Control is the most notable game made with a console-exclusive RPG Maker title.

RPG Maker (RPG Tsukuru 3) was the first in the series to be released on a console in North America. It was released in Japan in 1997 and brought to the West in 2000. Despite being on the PlayStation — a console that was capable of low-res polygonal 3D models — RPG Maker looks like older sprite-based RPGs, especially the highly influential Dragon Quest, and even uses a similar first-person battle system. The nature of RPG Maker containing a specific amount of assets means that every game created with it will look the same. However, an optional tool called Anime Maker allowed creators to draw their own characters, enemies, and title screens that could be imported into their project. Unfortunately, the number of custom graphics that could be imported was limited to nine. Nonetheless, it allowed creators to make their game more unique. RPG Tsukuru 3 had another way to add content, but it was removed in RPG Maker. The Tsukuru series had a spin-off series of music-creation games that were never released in America. The second entry of this series, Ongaku Tsukuru 2, was used to create music that could be imported into a project made with RPG Tsukuru 3.

In issue #135, Electronic Gaming Monthly announced a contest for RPG Maker. The winner would receive a PlayStation 2 and a trio of games published by Agetec. The staff wanted a game that was unique and didn’t take too long to finish. Creators would make their games, convert them into files by using a Dex Drive, and email them to EGM staff. In issue #142, the staff gave an update on the contest. There were so many entries that the staff decided to highlight the most noteworthy ones. Remote Control, created by David Erwin, was announced the contest winner in issue #143 and became a popular and often recommended game in the console RPG Maker community. EGM could’ve easily announced Remote Control as the winner by writing a short paragraph and sticking it in a random corner of a random page. Instead, they went the extra step by including it in the reviews section where three critics gave the game strong scores.

Remote Control takes place in Aloha, Oregon, a mundane town where the only exciting occurrence is the arrival of brand-new television sets. David, the protagonist, is making a movie with his girlfriend, Kathy, and his best friend, Chris. RPG Maker’s graphics were created with fantasy games in mind but Remote Control has a modern setting. Dollars are currency instead of gold, Tylenol is a healing item, and David’s class is called “stud muffin,” which means he is capable of using special attacks instead of magic. David heads home after looking for people to star in his movie. His mother arrives with one of the new televisions but left the remote control at the hardware store. David retrieves the remote after noticing a mysterious figure exiting the store. Back home, Chris and David sit down to watch television but inadvertently create a portal that they eventually go into.

Remote Control is a time capsule of early 2000s pop culture. One scene is straight out of Family Guy and there is a reference to the song “Who Let the Dogs Out.” A character jumps off a roof because Britney Spears won’t return his letters. The game never takes itself seriously and has an endearing sense of humor. There are sight gags that make good use of RPG Maker’s effects. A character spins around to show off his dance skills while sped-up music plays. Another character is struck by lightning after questioning the existence of God. I had fun exploring the world and looking for the next funny moment despite the game’s lack of challenge. The menu-based combat is rarely difficult, but I think that’s fine. In fact, one battle is a punchline to a joke. There is one moment where you have to defeat three bosses in a row. The first two were the most difficult battles in the game. I thought the third boss would be the toughest challenge out of the trio, but I actually defeated him with one hit.

Remote Control’s most notable feature is an arcade that contains five minigames. One is a parody of Dance Dance Revolution and another is a puzzle game based on a scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. The highlight of the arcade is Blind Date, a minigame where your choices affect how well a date goes. Your date will ask you a question, and you must select one of three responses. What makes this minigame so entertaining and memorable is that the third response is nearly always something that negatively impacts the date. You can ruin the date or make it perfectly romantic. Completing a minigame gets you a coin that can be traded for an item. The arcade is an optional activity, but it can affect other parts of the game depending on what you do in it. The screen after the game’s ending changes if you do well in Blind Date. If you trade in your prize coin for a snap bracelet, you can get an exclusive party member later on in the story. The concept of playing games at the arcade to obtain new things later on is great but underutilized. I would have liked more characters to trade prize coins with. Sight gags and humorous dialogue that could only be seen later on by doing well in the minigames would’ve gave me more incentive to play the game multiple times.

The first show the protagonists fall into is an episode of Xena: Warrior Princess. David is mistaken for a character named Acleces and forcibly becomes the groom in a wedding. Each show has its own world and situation the protagonists must escape from. This is a great way to pace the story because the unpredictability keeps the player interested and wanting to see the next show Chris and David end up in. After Xena, the protagonists fall into a parody of Pokémon and David has to capture monsters called Lokimon. Each captured Lokimon becomes a party member that fights for you in battles. If you have a snap bracelet, you can trade it for a robotic Lokimon that can’t be caught in the wild. This world has two interesting locations you can visit. The first is a bar that features a quiz where you guess the music of role-playing games like Earthbound, Xenogears, and Final Fantasy. One of RPG Maker’s effects lets you play a sound and adjust its pitch. The creator used that command to create brief piano-sounding renditions of songs from popular RPGs. The second optional activity is a casino that has a playable slot machine, a Lokimon card battle game, a maze game, and a roulette machine. The casino and the bar aren’t as memorable as the arcade in Aloha, but they contain interesting diversions.

The first two shows make up the bulk of the story before the last act where David and Chris quickly go through the Jerry Springer Show and BattleBots. The last show is Who Wants to be a Millionaire and is a clever way for the protagonists to escape the television. The show allows a contestant to call someone for advice and David uses that opportunity to reach out to his girlfriend for help. However, Kathy is confronted by a gargoyle that was disguised as Eric, the town’s local idiot. Eric was in his underground lab perfecting a TV remote that would allow him to take over the world. He dropped the remote that David would eventually find at the hardware store. Since anything is possible in the world of television, Kathy wishes to become a princess and have the power to defeat Eric. This last battle lets the player fight as Kathy instead of David and Chris. After Eric is defeated, Kathy uses the remote control to rescue David and Chris from the television. The game is revealed to be a film that David made for class. The player sees familiar scenes but from the perspective of David filming them as a director.

It’s easy to see why Remote Control won the contest in EGM. It avoided many pitfalls that other games made with RPG Maker fell into. Maps are designed well and you won’t get lost exploring them. There are no impossible or overly difficult battles. Grammatical errors in the script are rare and I never encountered bugs during play. The game is filled with humor and takes just over an hour to complete. The contemporary setting and unique premise made Remote Control stand out from the crowd of games that adhered to RPG Maker’s fantasy assets. It’s also a showcase of what RPG Maker can do despite its many limitations. David Erwin impressively crammed a lot of detail into this brief yet very entertaining game. Remote Control was and still is a quintessential RPG Maker game for consoles.

How to play Remote Control

Playing Remote Control on your PC requires a copy of RPG Maker, an emulator such as Duckstation or ePSXe, and the Remote Control save files.

You can download Remote Control here:

Save files: https://www.rpgmmag.com/downloads/rm/games/63

Game page: https://www.rpgmmag.com/rmvault/rm/games/63/remote-control

Put the files onto two virtual memory cards and load them in RPG Maker.

You can watch a let’s play of Remote Control here.

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