This little RPG is hiding the biggest adventure I've had in years

RPG Time: The Legend of Wright (opens in new tab) is a game about playing a game, and that game is a ruled blue notebook pretending to be an RPG. Specifically it's the notebook of a boy named Kenta, every page bursting with giant monsters, bat-filled caves, and fantasy villages he's drawn all by himself.

The presentation of this paper game-within-a-game is flawless. Flipped pages offer brief glimpses of adventures still to come; Kenta's music player always sits just off to one side, the displayed track title and album cover always changing to suit the story's mood. My play area is a simple wooden school desk for me to look over at my leisure, covered in coloured cardboard and a thousand bits of repurposed stationary.

But every developer has a fancy pencil-effect shader and realistic looking materials at their fingertips these days, don't they? "Childhood drawings come to life" is not an original idea. What sets RPG Time apart is the way the game uses its handmade style to create objects that not only look real but act real too. Kenta's narration (complete with paper hats for each character he voices) really makes playing RPG Time feel like an excited friend is showing me the comic they made over a summer holiday.

He enthusiastically scribbles fluffy white clouds an ominous black with his pencil when the monsters arrive in his story, invites us to peel off the brightly coloured sticky notes covering his comic panels, and introduces giant dragons as paper cut-outs stapled onto stripy straws. Our hero's sword is a pencil with a card hilt slid over the end, sharpened using a pencil sha—sorry, I mean "a blacksmith's forge"—and secret messages from the captured princess are delivered via paper planes that float onto the notebook and then unfold before my eyes, their slightly wonky creases still visible.

The story Kenta shares is unapologetically a kids' idea of a grand RPG tale, where cliches are embraced without a hint of irony. Defeated enemies may become helpful friends, funny events can happen just because they raise a smile. It freely messes with its own continuity in a way that would inspire angry Reddit threads if it were a "real" story.

Playing RPG Time as Kenta unfolds his fantasy feels like I have a friend working hard to make sure I enjoy myself above anything else. It's littered with optional items to leave behind, alternative choices to pick another day, and sidequests to ignore—the aim is always to play, and not necessarily in the complete-every-task way games have trained us to over the years.

On the surface RPG Time is a celebration of the Dragon Quest-like RPGs that have brought joy to millions of people over the decades. But what this game really wants to champion with its deliberately amateurish framing is what we did as children with those stories after we'd been forced to turn the game off and sit at the dinner table.

RPG Time hopes to be a loving reminder of how we used to play, how we used to draw legally-distinct Slimes in faltering felt tip pens for our He-Man toys to fight, how we used to decide who had won or lost a monster battle with friends based on the number of scribbles drawn on top of the other person's imaginary beast.

When you've spent years learning what good games "should" look like, with their sensible rules, intelligent concepts, and careful balance, being invited to play feels almost revolutionary. RPG Time's tape measure life bars and cut-out achievements are a reminder of all I'd forgotten about playing games: I never hoped the sword-wielding heroes on my TV would take part in a cohesive storyline, have a backstory filled with political intrigue, or even a consistent moveset—I wanted them to have an adventure. I wanted spells that went FZZZ and evil magicians to go MWAHAHAHA. That's how you know they're evil!

Tapping into this childlike freedom allows RPG Time's world to be a charming stream of imaginative ideas born from paper cups and perler beads—and it's also why there's more creativity and variety in any 10 minutes of Kenta's homemade quest than I could ever hope to find in 10 hours of many triple-A RPGs. I've fished up a tank, enjoyed a hot bath with a turtle, and patiently queued with ants to grab a dessert. I've solved maths problems on a monster's shell and carefully popped a balloon with a compass' needle.

Of all the RPGs I've ever played, this is the one where I honestly don't know what's coming next, but I know for sure I'm going to enjoy finding out. I might even dare to draw the next chapter myself, if I can find my old notebook.

When baby Kerry was brought home from the hospital her hand was placed on the space bar of the family Atari 400, a small act of parental nerdery that has snowballed into a lifelong passion for gaming and the sort of freelance job her school careers advisor told her she couldn't do. She takes care of PC Gamer's daily Wordle (opens in new tab) column and has somehow managed to get away with writing regular features on old Japanese PC games (opens in new tab). Much of her free time is spent writing about old, imported, and weird games for her terribly named site (opens in new tab), giving herself a headache trying to code another short text adventure in C64 BASIC, or saying "Wow, I forgot I had this!" whenever she stares at a bookcase stuffed with games.