Archives by Day

September 2018

Nine Parchments

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: RPG/Action
Developer: Frozenbyte
Release Date: Dec. 5, 2017

About Andreas Salmen

I'm sure this is all just a misunderstanding.


Switch Review - 'Nine Parchments'

by Andreas Salmen on Dec. 15, 2017 @ 1:15 a.m. PST

Nine Parchments is a cooperative blast-'em-up game of magic mayhem.

Nine Parchments is the latest game by indie developer Frozenbyte, who's best known for the Trine trilogy and a Switch title from earlier this year, Has Been Heroes. Fans of Frozenbyte's previous work will find a lot to like about its newest project, as it's a return to its co-op roots in the well-established Trine universe. It offers mostly enjoyable cooperative play in a beautiful fantasy world, but not all is well in this magical twin-stick shooter.

Nine Parchments isn't too concerned with building a meaningful story or memorable characters. Instead, we're thrown into the game as one of several young recruits at the magic academy, and we're being scolded for our irresponsible use of spells. An explosion occurs, scattering the academy's nine parchments into the wind. The recruits take as a welcome excuse to venture out and wield some more dangerous spells while recovering the lost artifacts. You go from point A to point B and defeat some monsters with flashy magic, but that's about all we're getting.

Since this is a twin-stick shooter with light RPG elements, a richer story would've been appreciated but isn't necessarily a staple of the genre. However, given the fact Nine Parchments is based in the beautifully staged Trine universe, it's a shame that it doesn't use more prominent storytelling to introduce and develop this fairytale world. Interestingly, the Trine trilogy struggled in this area as well.

This is a twin-stick experience at heart, so we walk and aim with the control sticks while shooting various magical spells. All characters start with three spells and can cycle through them at will, since each has its own mana bar. Additionally, there is a melee option when enemies get too close, and we have the option to jump and "blink" (essentially teleport) out of harm's way up to two times in a row.

Spells vary in the actual usage/projectiles and their elementary attribute. We can wield spells that consist of electricity, fire, ice or poison, but the projectiles can be round, heavy with area effects, cone-shaped attacks, and small rays. They all differ in range and efficiency, which introduces a light strategic aspect to the combat. Enemies are usually color-coded the same way that spells are, which means they also have a specific attribute that they're immune to. In addition to enemy attributes, we face specific magical shields that make enemies invulnerable to attacks up to a certain degree, physical shields reflecting all projectile spells back at us, and enemies that dash or jump toward us. The combat is the game's bread and butter, and while it feels very basic, it does a lot of things right.

As soon as we find the parchments and learn some additional spells, we can counter most enemies in multiple ways, so the combat becomes fun and engaging. However, the game hurts itself by only providing combat incentives. There are no puzzles or platforming segments like we've seen in the Trine games. This is a non-stop action twin-stick shooter from the beginning to the end, stage after stage. If you hurry through, you may see the end of it in about two hours. Even in that runtime, Nine Parchments manages to get repetitive on occasions because all we do is run from the start to the finish in incredibly linear stages. The game throws in a few boss battles, which we need to defeat to collect the missing parchments. They're fun and mostly memorable battles, but they can't detract from the fact that in many ways, the game is a very basic game experience. I can stomach the absence of puzzles since this is a shooter, but some exploration and hard-to-find collectibles would've been nice.

All we get are some quills and chests that are mostly hidden in plain sight. Some may occasionally be placed under a tree, but that's as inventive as it gets. There is loot in chests or through rare side-quests. Chests usually just award you a few experience points and maybe a magic staff.  Nine Parchments is beautiful, and the core gameplay is incredibly fun, but it feels like a missed opportunity throughout.

Luckily, the game improves drastically as soon as we join some friends for cooperative gaming sessions of up to four players. As soon as you tackle it with a friend, this title will probably hook you regardless of its flaws. It introduces another layer of fun into the mix, making the whole combat experience more tactical. Friendly fire is enabled by default and cannot be turned off entirely. There are modifications that can distribute the damage taken among the team, but it's always a part of the experience and may enhance the difficulty level as well.

Unfortunately, this only works with a friend in the same room. Once we join other players online, the whole endeavor can become a tightrope act between great experiences and frustrating encounters. The inability to communicate in any way can evolve the gameplay into a case study about blind trust. There are nice co-op touches, such as in-game characters having some (meaningless) banter that we can influence by setting the overall mood for our character via the d-pad. Ray-Attacks can be joined into one more powerful ray, although this rarely happens online.

As mentioned before, the actual story is rather short. That is part of the experience, as Nine Parchments encourages us to replay the game multiple times. Every piece of gear, level, and skill we learn is carried over when starting a new game. By meeting certain achievements, we can unlock more characters and collect more gear. The difficulty is scalable as well, so we can go upstairs to hardcore and test our magic-wielding skills.

Visually, Nine Parchments is on par with the Trine games. It is an incredibly colorful and beautiful world, with varied environments showcasing this come-to-life fairytale. This makes it even more frustrating that we don't learn anything about it or explore beyond the beaten path. Technically, we've run into some major annoyances. Sure, there are some minor bugs and glitches where enemies won't spawn, or our character glitched into a wall, but those were relatively rare and didn't obstruct the overall gameplay. What became annoying were the frequent server issues when trying to play online on the Nintendo Switch. In some instances, we wouldn't be able to join or host any online games. Restarting the Switch would sometimes fix the problem for a short period of time, just to reappear shortly after. This is an issue isolated to Nine Parchments; other online games and the general internet connection on the Switch are in perfect working order.

It wouldn't be as much of a gripe if Nine Parchments would let you create multiple saves, but you have only one save file for online and offline play. Whenever you want to change from online to offline (or the other way around), you have to delete your current game progression and start anew. Frozenbyte already announced that this, among other issues, is going to be fixed in an upcoming patch in January, but it is mind-boggling that this feature even made it into the final game.

Nine Parchments isn't necessarily a bad game. It's a very basic experience that lacks many different qualities, and from what I've witnessed, the title has to work out some major technical issues. However, many people will find a very enjoyable experience here, with a lot of unlockable characters and stuff to find. If you're into co-op experiences, you can't go wrong with Nine Parchments on Nintendo Switch. If you rely on online play, you may want to hold off until a patch is released to fix the connection and save file issues.

Score: 6.3/10

More articles about Nine Parchments
blog comments powered by Disqus