Review: 'Nine Parchments' (Switch)

An in-game scene from 'Nine Parchments'. An in-game scene from 'Nine Parchments'. FROZENBYTE

Nine Parchments is the latest game from Frozenbyte, the independent developer best known for the Trine series that's currently on hiatus. I'm not the world's biggest ARPG player, since I stopped playing PC games for a long time around when Diablo II came out, but I did have fun with Heroes of Ruin when it came out on the 3DS, so I was hopeful for this game. Unfortunately, this game left me wanting, at least as a single-player experience.

The world of Nine Parchments is a magical one, literally. You play as one or more students from the Astral Academy, traveling the world to try and retrieve the nine magical parchments that were lost after an explosion. And if these parchments happen to contain spells that can make you a more powerful sorcerer, that's all the better for you, isn't it? There isn't much in the way of story, but it's not really a big deal, as the game is very heavily focused on gameplay.

The controls and gameplay mechanics are actually pretty slick and refined, all things considered. The game plays a lot like a twin-stick shooter; the left control stick moves your character, and the right control stick aims your spell. You start off with a handful of offensive spells belonging to various elements, but as you progress through the game and obtain more of the missing parchments, you'll have your choice of new spells to acquire, making you more robust and powerful. You'll also gain experience as you play, causing you to level up and give you ability points to spend on new abilities or powerups.

The gameplay is basically all combat. As you travel through the world, you'll end up in one enemy encounter after another, with a horde of baddies chasing after you, trying to shoot you with their own spells or mow you down physically. You'll have to do a lot of weapon switching in order to take your enemies down; each spell has a separate usage meter and cooldown, so you'll quickly learn to switch to another spell to let the previous one recharge. This can get annoying if enemies have certain elemental resistances, though, as you'll sometimes be stuck with no great way of dealing damage while you wait for a spell to become usable again. It's not that big a deal, though, and it's a good way to keep the battles kinetic while keeping the player on their toes. You're also aided by a Blink spell, which lets you do a short-distance teleport to get out of danger, a spell I was forgetting about on a near-constant basis.

The gameplay mechanics are really solid, which is great. I never felt that I had to wrestle with the controls, or felt unable to do something I particularly wanted to do; I did fall off of ledges once or twice due to my own idiocy, and I feel that an instant death is a bit of a harsh punishment for that, but oh well. The biggest problem with this game, at least in single player, is that it becomes really repetitive really fast. There's nothing to this game but enemy encounters and the occasional boss, aside from trying to hide the five hidden quills in each level. These encounters get more difficult as the game goes on, but they don't get very deeply strategic, and eventually they all start to feel the same. Once you hit that point, the game starts to become a real slog. It's really unfortunate, because the game is built really well; the lack of variety just completely sapped my will to play it, turning it into a chore. You'll notice my review of this game is a lot shorter than many others I've written, which is just another indication of how little you have to do here.

The main draw of the game is playing it in multiplayer, which I wish I had more time to try out. The game is clearly designed around it, as there are multiplayer-only mechanics like combining spells and resurrecting teammates that bring an extra dimension of fun. There are even options where you can adjust the friendly fire to make the game more or less chaotic, depending on how much you want to hate your friends after you play. This is definitely a more enjoyable experience, but unfortunately I had to play most of the game alone, which doesn't even remotely compare.

The game isn't lacking in other areas, either. Graphically it looks very nice; it's not cel-shaded but the world still has a bit of a cartoony feel to it, especially with the characters and enemies. The environments are all pretty and colorful, though you go through several levels that all look the same before moving onto a new location, which saps the enjoyment somewhat. Musically, the game is fine, as many games are; there's nothing wrong with the music, and it matches the environments well, but it's nothing that will stick with you for a long time, which is a rarer and rarer feat these days. Playing through the main campaign, you'll gradually unlock more characters, hats and staves, but they rarely come and they're not a very exciting draw. I wouldn't keep playing this game through just to unlock everything I can.

I really wanted to like this game more than I did, since the developers really did a lot of things right and paid attention to the details. Unfortunately, if you're the only person playing this game, there really isn't that much to do here. I can see a Nine Parchments II having a more robust story mode that I would have an absolute blast with. As it stands, I would solidly recommend this game if you have some friends to play it with, and you don't mind getting into arguments every once in a while. If you want a single-player experience, though, there are much better things for you to try out on the Switch.

Final Score: 7 out of 10

A copy of this game was provided for the purpose of review.

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