For many gamers, game development is a dream. Many of us have grand ideas of what kind of world and lore we would build, and what characters and monsters we’d like to play with. While some would prefer to sit on their amazing ideas, some take the big and brave step to bringing their dreams to reality. One of these brave souls is Jin Arabejo.
Offline, Jin is a lawyer working in a human rights non-government organization. Online, he is the one-man team behind Verinius, who created the magic school RPG Lawmage Academy.
While lawyering and game developing seem like two very opposite worlds, Jin represents the many multi-faceted gamers who love taking a break from the stresses of real life through the beautiful world of games.
“Back [in the day], I used to play a lot of DotA, but I also enjoyed RPGs like Mana Khemia and Persona. Now, I play a lot of JRPGs like Octopath Traveler, Fire Emblem: Three Houses, and some online boardgames like Dominion Online,” Jin tells Speed. “The game that really changed the way I viewed RPGs was Persona 4. I wanted to play a game like that but in a magic school setting and with more player agency.”
“What got me into game development was the free trial of RPG Maker MV back in 2018. I’ve had this rough idea for Lawmage Academy since I was in law school, so when I tried RPG Maker MV I felt that it was a good medium to turn that idea into something concrete,” Jin shares.
What it takes to create a game
We now, fortunately, live in a world where opportunities that were once so scarce—such as game development, music and album creation, and independent book production—are already being democratized.
For Jin, it took a lot of studying: “The biggest challenge was learning new skills like art and basic programming. I don’t have any background on making games, that’s why I had to learn everything from scratch. The good news is that you can learn pretty much anything from the internet nowadays. As long as you have the patience and commitment, you can learn those skills and make your own game.”
As a game enthusiast and a lawyer, writing comes more naturally to Jin. But he also had to study world-building and writing for video games to translate his ideas better into a playable version. It’s also inspiring that for the most part, he worked on Lawmage Academy alone. But to achieve his vision and make it a bit easier on himself, he commissioned a Filipino artist named Puzxle for the art and some smaller independent artists for the music.
The game has grown so much since Jin started developing it. In fact, he just dropped a huge update to the current Lawmage Academy demo that’s already available on Steam, making the current demo playable up to two months in game.
“The earlier versions had smaller character sprites, unrefined dialogue, and unpolished art. It took me two more years to learn the skills necessary to improve the game’s quality,” says Jin. “The Mentors update has an extended storyline, more quests, items, and secrets to discover. After finishing the basic classes, or the tutorial as I would call it, players will have more freedom over their time and that’s when the real fun begins.”
What to experience at Lawmage Academy
Speed had the chance to spend a few hours on the game and our verdict is straightforward: we love it! Lawmage Academy plays just like a legit indie RPG, with surprisingly polished sound effects, dialogue, and concept.
As described on Steam, Lawmage Academy is a “magic school RPG where you learn spells, craft potions, make friends, and go on exciting adventures as you uncover the dark secrets of the academy.” It’s this and more.
You start the game by getting sorted into one of the four houses, Harry Potter-style. Jin reveals that the house system was indeed inspired by J.K. Rowling’s blockbuster creation, but as you play, you’ll get more of the elements and styles of Jin’s favorite games like Persona 4, Mana Khemia, and Octopath Traveler, which were the primary inspirations for Lawmage Academy.
From the very beginning, the game doesn’t play or feel like a homebrewed game. In fact, you gotta love all the little details that make it feel so legit and polished like the small bubble emojis coming out of the characters when they converse, the added VOs here and there, and the level of attention to the SFX.
We also love the subtleties that add to the overall experience, where for example, opening the door to the weapons room sounds different compared to when you’re opening the door to a regular classroom because you’d expect a weapons room to be fitted with a possibly locked metal door instead of a regular wooden door. The level of attention to detail for a game developed solely by one person is astounding.
Instead of a tutorial, the whole gameplay and the lore slowly unfolds throughout the interactions you make, making it a much more engaging and realistic way of learning things in a new academy. At this early stage in the game’s development, it’s also really amazing that exploration is already rewarded with loots, giving you a sense of how much the developer invests in player satisfaction.
Choices are definitely a theme in this game. You get different outcomes based on what you do, and this will affect your game as you move along. None of those Genshin Impact illusions of dialogue choice, which all just essentially lead you to the same thing. At Lawmage Academy, you create your path, encouraging many of the players to replay the demo to try out the different outcomes.
Storytelling is such a huge part of JRPGs, propelling an otherwise okay game into a cult classic. And the way the story of Lawmage Academy was told, you know that Jin wrote it with passion.
“When I was in law school, I realized how knowledge of the law and access to justice empowers people to change their lives. If you know the law, you can defend yourself, pursue your rights, and make things change. In that way, knowledge of the law is like learning magic,” says Jin. “Unfortunately, access to justice is more of a privilege in the Philippine context—at least in my opinion. Everyone does not have equal access to justice and the law. In a way, I wanted to use the game to explore themes like inequality, grayness of morality, and other related issues.”
We’ve yet to finish the two months’ worth of content that the current demo has, but we’re already very much invested in the game’s lore, the secrets of the academy, and the impact our choices make in our overall playing experience. There’s much to praise about the game at such an early stage, but overall, it’s an engaging, intelligently written, and developed RPG that sets the bar high for local game development.
Currently, Jin is eyeing a 2022 launch, although he says he needs more time to complete his planned content. But if you’d like to help inspire Jin to continue working on Lawmage Academy so that it can be available in its full glory as soon as possible, you can now add the game on your Steam wishlist, try the demo, and spread the word to your friends!
Let the magic begin!
Words by Jovi Figueroa