If you’ve ever played the Trine series from developer Frozenbyte, then you may already know what to expect from their games. Luscious and beautifully designed environments, a whimsical soundtrack, a quirky darling of a narrator and just that delightful Shrek-feeling fantasy world that they create.
You can expect that from Nine Parchments too, but that’s about it.
Nine Parchments tells the tale of student wizards at the magical Astral Academy that is recently banned from using magic because they’re just too darned unsafe. That is until an explosion hits the academy and a bunch of parchments flies out the new window the academy just received! Well, may as well send the kids out to find those pesky parchments! You’ll use an array of magical spells – and a single melee attack – to battle random monsters and journey through beautiful environments in order to collect another 6 parchments to add to your spell library. Also, why am I going out to seek them, and why are there now enemy monsters everywhere? Don’t bother asking, you’ll never find out.
Indulge me for a moment, as I’d like to talk about motivation and the drive to march forward. The enjoyment of failing/dying, yet wanting to try again. That drive that game designers research and research endlessly about how to recreate that feeling of risk/reward, player satisfaction and overall enjoyment of a game that they’ve played before. That feeling is just not present in Frozenbyte’s latest attempt at the “blast-em-up” genre.
Let’s take loot chests, for example. The first time I found one, it rose from the ground, hovered and bounced and with a loud creak it slowly opened and….
Bam. 67 XP earned.
Yep. That’s it. In their Steam description, it reads “Level up your character and collect magical loot”. Yes, you do level up your character, and yes you do collect magical loot. Unfortunately, saying the feeling is unsatisfying of doing either action is an understatement. Leveling up your character is fine, as you see incremental increases in damage or protection, however, the problem is that it’s never tangible. There’s no big visual representation of getting more powerful, which is typically fine if that power or true feeling of ‘leveling up’ was rewarded elsewhere. However, the “magical loot” I mentioned is only types of staves you can find. Staves that, again, have incremental increases in your basic stats (When I say incremental, I do mean 2-5% differences). Oh, you can find hats, did I mention that? I didn’t because they do nothing other than a difference in aesthetic.
The big effort in design for player motivation is finding the quintessential parchments which allow you to cast more spells, and this is where the game tries its best to “reward” you. Since you start with 3 spell parchments already, the game takes you on a journey of collecting another 6. Technically, there are many more spells, but once you join a multiplayer game, or start a new single-player game, you start at the beginning, regardless of character level or progression and lose all existing spells you’ve acquired. You also don’t have the ability for any type of “load-out” if you wanted to join up with your friends with specific spells.
I had no real feeling of motivation from the mechanics or gameplay, thus I looked at the story. Wrong move. If you truly do not want even minor spoilers, stop reading.
Although the boss enemy design is distinct and quite remarkable, I still did not care. There was never any story exposition. The narrator or character would have a brief voiceover periodically that commented on the environment, but not why the character was on this journey. Once I reached the final boss enemy, I was hoping for some kind of reward for the journey; some gratification or at least explanation of why I just went through this. My first thought was that I didn’t recognize the name of the final boss. That’s because she was never talked about or even hinted towards until you actually face that final battle. Again, perhaps I would have had the motivation or had cared to trudge through the journey if I felt I had a purpose. To be clear, the single player option was included, but it felt tacked on.
The multiplayer had its own shenanigans. While it’s cool to try to cobble together a strategy of combining beams of different elements to see what new tricks you can make, the lack of multiplayer tools like booting/banning or any basic server functionality makes it rarely fun. Most of the time, players were AFK on almost every server, and for those were playing were busy griefing others due to the friendly fire settings.
I absolutely adored the Trine series, but the lack of depth and flaws in design for Nine Parchments was just too disappointing to make up for what could have been a fantastic co-op game. I didn’t even discuss camera issues, lack of diverse enemies and other strange design decisions. The lack of motivation and replay value makes Nine Parchments’ seemingly not the sharpest quill in the desk.
*Nine Parchments was provided by Frozenbyte’s for review.