Release Date: December 05, 2017
Platforms: Nintendo Switch (eShop), PC (Steam, GOG, Humble Store), Playstation 4 (Playstation Store)
Price: $19.99 USD
Upon my first glimpse of Nine Parchments, I was immediately drawn to the game. Putting aside the impressive, lush, vibrant visuals, the game looked to deliver a much needed top down action RPG experience on the Nintendo Switch. At it’s core, Nine Parchments is a pretty solid game, but unfortunately will really only be truly enjoyed for those who can take advantage of the multiplayer, which is one of the main draws. With my time playing Nine Parchments, I overall enjoyed my experience, but with what appeared to be online issues along with an unclear indication of how multiplayer actually works, I personally felt I didn’t get what I was seeking.
In Nine Parchments, you play as a group of drop out wizard apprentices, who are constantly reminded by their instructor of their shortcomings. Upon discovering that the schools Nine Parchments have been stolen, they take it upon themselves to seek them out and complete their spell book. As the would be wizards rapidly acquire new spells without properly learning safety measures, this leads to many deadly accidents. Outside of the introduction, the story never makes it’s way to the forefront, but serves to provide some context for the quest at hand.
Even though the premise may sound a bit silly, it totally speaks true of the chaotic multiplayer madness this game holds. Chances are you’ll die a lot, and not necessarily by the hands of your enemies, but from accidental friendly fire. It’s not uncommon for you to try lobbing fiery explosives, only to realize after you took out one of your allies in the blast. Being a mage essentially, you are also naturally quite squishy, so it doesn’t take long for you to hit the ground. Thankfully, this is all part of the fun and never becomes a burden to constantly do this. I personally find it gives the game an special charm, although I’ve seen many complain about not being able to turn off friendly fire.
The game controls quite well given the number of spells available to you. You move around using the left analog stick and aim your spells using the right analog stick. The ZR trigger fires your currently selected spell and ZL performs melee hits with your staff. Using L and R, you can cycle through all your available spells. Pressing B allows you to jump and Y can perform a blink dash, which literally teleports you across the screen as it’s your main form of dodging and getting away from enemies.
With all this power though, there do come some limitations. Using your spells deplete your mana pool when used, but each individual spell uses their own mana pools. This means you can launch a barrage of icy shards, and then switch to your fireballs and work off a completely fresh mana pool while other spells recharge. Your blink dash ability also has a meter that depletes when used, and allows precisely two dashes before needing to be recharged fully.
Nine Parchments can be a pretty challenging game leading to much death and trial and error. For this reason, it’s highly recommended to play this game with another person, either through the local coop, or online if you can. The enemies thrown at you can have a range of elemental abilities that are weak and also immune to certain spells. Having even just one other wizard at your side gives you the flexibility to run different builds so to speak. This way you can avoid situations where you are facing tough enemies alone that are immune to your best spells, forcing you to spam one spell and having to wait for it to recharge.
There aren’t a huge amount of different enemies you encounter in Nine Parchments, however, the game more than makes up for this by throwing all sorts of different combinations of enemies at you constantly. The same enemy can also come in different elemental types, making it weak or immune to different spells In addition to having different element types for each enemy, the enemies themselves range from harmless little critters that slowly walk to you, to bird like dinosaur things that fly across the screen and have an area effect attack when they land. Other tougher enemies can block attacks or even emit an aura that makes enemies within it’s range immune to certain spell types. You’ll never have a dull moment when facing off against enemies and will constantly have to shift your strategy to get the upper hand.
Every so often, you’ll face off against one of the many bosses along the way. For the most part, they will have different attacks compared to the enemies encountered. In some cases, they are sometimes regular enemies, but with a twist in the stage you are in and are usually much stronger. In other cases, after beating a boss, you’ll encounter it as an enemy later on in the game, but as a much easier version to defeat.
Overall, I wasn’t too impressed with the boss fights. I didn’t find them to be too challenging compared to the regular enemy encounters, which I found made me think outside the box quite a bit more. There are a couple notable bosses that did really test me and give me a great sense of satisfaction once defeated, but for the most part, this wasn’t the case. Visually, most of them aren’t the most impressive and menacing things out there, so their impact doesn’t hit too hard.
Of course, one of the key mechanics in the game that will help make enemies easier as you progress will be your level progression. You earn experience points and will level up in a single to a max of level 40. Each level allows you to spend one point in your skill tree, which allows you to do things like increasing your spell damage, or increase the effectiveness of your healing spells. You also are able to collect parchments every few stages, which basically give you a choice of three spells to choose to add to your arsenal.
There are also a plethora of unlockable gear for your characters. These come in the form of staffs, which provide different stat boosts depending on the one chosen, and also hats, which are purely cosmetic. You’ll occasionally run into these items as you play the game, and some staffs are required to do trials to unlock certain characters. Furthermore, you can unlock other characters for a total of eight, and they also come in different variations. Each character can use the same basic spells, but differ in their skills tree. For example, the Mechanical Owl dedicated to one specific element, that being lightning spells. This variation provides much choice in the way you can build each character and can lead to some strategy if deciding to take on the harder modes with friends.
The stages themselves can be pretty lengthy, and completion time can vary depending on how many times you die. There were levels that I breezed through in five minutes, while others felt like they took me half an hour. Either way, there’s much to play through in the games 32 stages, including the boss fights along the way. The levels themselves hold some secrets such as chests that give you experience points. Throughout you’ll encounter instances where you can take on trials that help unlock other wizards. There are also some feathers to be found in each level, although I am unsure what their purpose is.
Outside from the secrets that can be uncovered, the levels themselves are structured in all sorts of different ways to provide different challenges in dealing with some enemies. Sometimes you’ll face off against two large rock like enemies in a vast open area, and other times, you’ll be on small platforms where falling off means certain death. Other areas can have the stage slowly crumble beneath you limiting the real estate available to you.
One frustration I’ll bring up in level design are their checkpoints. They are sometimes spread too far apart, where dying means you’ll be taken so far back. It’s quite frustrating to have to face the same waves of enemies over and over again just to reach the one that is ultimately causing you all the trouble. I felt like the game was wasting my time by making me do this over and over.
Now as I eluded to earlier, the core mechanics of the game are pretty fun and solid overall, minus a select few things. However the big problem for Nine Parchments is that it’s not overly thrilling to play this game alone. Majority of the fun to be had will be playing with others while sharing your laughs and struggles. If you have people you can regularly play coop with, or even friends online, you’ll have loads of fun.
However, if you don’t have anyone you can regularly play with, you’ll be forced to depend on Nine Parchments online public infrastructure to fill in those empty player slots. This is not an easy thing to get working however. Starting a new multiplayer game is easy, as you can join or host a public game. Your team will fill up and you’ll be set on your adventure. However, trying to join an existing game in progress never seemed to work for me.
The problem is Nine Parchments has no method of stage selection. Meaning, should you wish to form a party, you’ll need to start a new game and wait for people to join. However, once you leave that game, your level and stage progress is retained, but you are at the mercy of other people choosing to join your game to fill your party. Over the several hours I had to play this way, only one person even showed up, and quickly left after.
Nine Parchments also allows only one game to be saved at a time. This meanings, should I wish to host a new game, I’ll wipe away my previous progress and have to play from the start again. So really, to stick with your party, you’d have to finish the entire game in one sitting to avoid this problem, which is unrealistic given the length of the 32 stages, and whether or not other players will also stick around. It’s a shame, because playing with other people is way more fun than playing single player, however it’s a chore to get people into your game.
I think Nine Parchments strongest point, and the thing that really lured me into this magical world was it’s visuals. The game looks absolutely gorgeous. Back drops in all the stages show off some spectacular views, something I don’t see as a common thing in top down perspective games. The game is incredibly vibrant and bright and there is colour teeming all over the screen. Textures are also very sharp and the game runs quite smooth overall. It wasn’t uncommon for me to just stand still and take in the many great views along the way.
The fantasy orchestral track also fits Nine Parchments very well. It won’t have you humming any tunes, but it fits the mood of the game nicely and sparks a sense of wonder as you progress through your journey. Sound effects are also well implemented as fiery spells give off explosive type sounds and ice spells sounds like cold howling winds. Voice acting, although not common, has a nice light hearted vibe to it that suits the stories childish nature.
The 32 stages within Nine Parchments can be completed in around 10 hours. However the question is whether there are things to come back to. Playing with friends on harder difficulties can definitely be a draw for some, but collecting loot and upgrading your characters will also be a big appeal. Characters retain their levels through each play through, so you can keep buffing up your favourite characters in preparation for things like hard mode.
However, as I said earlier, if you are going to be stuck playing alone, the game can probably become quite repetitive pretty quickly. After one play through, I didn’t see much reason to jump back into it and continue unlocking things. As much as the coop experience appeals to me, given the frustrations in having to deal with putting a party together puts me off altogether from picking up Nine Parchments again.
Nine Parchments is a great coop action RPG game, that is if you have a friend you can consistently play with. At it’s core, the gameplay and level progression is well implemented and thought out. All the different spells available to you feel distinct, and have their clear strengths and weaknesses that make switching between them loads of fun. Taking out wave after wave of enemies can be very enjoyable and provide much challenge and satisfaction when overcoming the odds. However, taking on these odds alone can provide to be both pointless, and frustrating. Nine Parchments has a wealth of modes within it’s multiplayer menu, however given that you can only have one game progressing at a time, getting together a group of wizards can prove challenging. Being at the mercy of random players joining your game, for me personally, lead to hours having to play alone. Although there is the ability to join other peoples public games, for some reason, this never worked for me, and even if it did, you still have no way of selecting specific levels, should there be things you want to revisit. Patches are on the way to rectify the issue of only having one save game at a time, however in it’s current state, it’s hard to recommend Nine Parchments if you will depend on the online multiplayer. Doing so may result in you playing the bulk of the game alone should you not have other local players available, or be forced to restart your game just to get in on the action with others.
Disclaimer: This review was done using a Nintendo Switch copy of Nine Parchments provided by the games publisher/developer, Frozenbyte. Please be assured that this did not affect my opinion of the game, and that my criticisms are an honest and true representation of my thoughts on the game.