Just a heads up that Steam Summer Sales means RPG Maker software are at semi-affordable prices, in case you missed their humble bundle packs. >u>
So right now:
RPG Maker 2000: Originally $25, currently $5
RPG Maker 2003: Originally $20, currently $3 (yes, RPG maker 2003 is cheaper than 2000 somehow)
RPG Maker XP: Originally $25, currently $5
RPG Maker VX: Originally $40, currently $8
RPG Maker VX Ace: Originally $70, currently $14
RPG Maker MV: Originally $80, currently $28
VX Ace is probably the most commonly used version right now! This is the one I mainly use, it’s very simple to use and there are thousands of tutorials for it. Most of the scripts you can download to do fancy stuff are for VX Ace. I’d recommend it for adventure/point and click games, but not for actual rpg games (mainly because there are no side battlers unless you download a script for it)
You can get RPG Maker VX Ace Lite for free, and there’s no time limit. You can make your own games, but you can’t make them for profit and you have less resources.
Out of the most affordable ones I’d recommend XP since it’s very similar to VX Ace, except unlike Ace, it actually has a straightforward layering system and easy fog effects. Also, it has side battlers. So in some aspects it’s actually better than Ace!
I haven’t tried RPG Maker 2003, but some of the most popular games were made there, like OFF, Yume Nikki, The Huntress of the Hollow and Pom Gets Wi-Fi so you can still do a lot with it!