Sunday, December 10, 2017

Review: Nine Parchments [ Nintendo Switch eShop ]

The action RPG genre is a popular one that hasn’t, overall, been very well-represented on the Nintendo Switch to date. With the Diablo series standing out as one of the standard-bearers people have come to expect a combination of intense battles, varied classes and play styles, and copious amounts of loot. Fronzenbyte’s Nine Parchments is coming to the table with its own take on this, playing with the formula in ways that are effective in some cases and a disappointment in others. Overall it makes for an often challenging experience with memorable battles and a gorgeous art style, it just comes up short in terms of loot and has some technical concerns for the moment holding it back.

Unsurprisingly, given the studio’s previous titles, the emphasis from top to bottom ends up being on strategy. Unlike the comparatively simple fights you’ll have with large but generic mobs in typical games in this genre almost everything you’ll fight here will require careful spell selection. This is because elemental immunities, resistances, and buffs are pretty well a constant and over the course of the game the combinations you’ll encounter will force you to diversify your arsenal of spells to include a little bit of every type of magic so you don’t end up having an Achilles heel against certain monsters. Even beyond the elemental concerns the types of monsters you face will also dictate style as they may have a shield of some sort, forcing you to flank them in order to get in a shot. When you then sometimes add healers to the mix it can then get even more crazy. This makes every fight into a sort of tactical puzzle to be solved and turns what is normally pretty rote action into something that is consistently challenging. That’s also all before even getting into the boss fights which are typically both creative and fairly difficult compared to the normal genre fare.

In the interests of potentially making your life easier the game features support for up to 4 players, whether local or online, to help. In practice how this works out is a mixed bag at best though. On the positive side online play opens the door to people playing more specialized roles, something that is very tempting with the more elementally-focused advanced wizards. As powerful as they can be with their preferred area of expertise since they start out the game with only 1 spell that isn’t for that element they can also be challenging to get going with initially. However, if you’re in a group with varied wizards this is obviously less of an issue. I’d say that local multiplayer would be the preference in order to promote more effective cooperation but if you’re able to find a good group online this can happen organically if people demonstrate some common sense. With Friendly Fire in effect the wrong group can make for a spammy, and lethal, mess though.

Getting into the game’s challenges probably the most substantial one, given the expectations tied to the genre, is the loot system. Calling it limited would be generous. In effect the only “loot” in the game comes in the form of different hats and staves. These are ultimately important for more than aesthetics as they open the door to unlocking new wizards (though for many that will then require you to complete a challenge) but hats are only for appearance and while different staves have varied buffs there’s not much else to it. Tied to this the often “hide and seek” nature of chest placement can be annoying at times, especially since the game’s art is so elaborate and they often blend in. Since what each chest will drop appears to be random finding one that is well-hidden is often anti-climatic though as the majority of the time nothing at all will come from them, just a little boost of experience. The much more serious issue with the game, for the moment (the developer has said they will patch this in January), is that while the experience and core skills you acquire tied to a specific wizard and always retained you can only have progress in 1 game at a time, period. That’s in single-player, multiplayer, whatever. If you have an active game in 1 space and participate in any other game where you were formerly is lost. This can be aggravatingly limiting and discourages people from experimenting so, for the moment, this may be a red flag for some people depending on how they may have planned to play.

All said there are many things I really like about Nine Parchments. I found that combat was far more engaging and difficult than the genre normally offers. Each skirmish, especially once you amp up the difficulty to Hard, will test both your planning and your skills as you try to pick apart the combination of enemies thrown at you. That said, for the most part getting through these challenges tends to be very weakly rewarded as the game’s loot system doesn’t ultimately have much to offer. As a whole I’d consider my experience with multiplayer to be a draw with the downsides of joining a group of people, and the chaos it can add, roughly coming out even with the upsides. Playing it solo is most definitely different than with a group though and I can see where people could settle on either as their preference. In the end it all makes for a game that is both compelling and, at times, frustrating but also very unique in its play style.

Score: 7.5

  • Challenging and engaging combat with a tactical edge
  • A pretty diverse set of play styles are possible once all wizards are unlocked and powered up
  • Both local and online play are supported and can work well with the right group of people

  • Group play can get very confusing and lethal depending on the skill level, and restraint, of your teammates
  • Solo play is demanding and may too aggravating for some people
  • The loot system, or at least the fact that many times you’re only rewarded with experience, is underwhelming
  • For now the lack of ability to play more than 1 active game may be disqualifying for some people, though a patch is in the works and planned for January