Nine Parchments Review (Switch/PS4/X1) – “Spellbinding”

Nine Parchments is a spell-casting adventure where you take on the role of a wizarding student just trying to prove themselves, but often finding that their confidence puts them in a bit of trouble. Set in Frozenbyte’s Trine universe, this story is a little less puzzler, a little more beauty, and plenty of action. Does it succeed in making us feel like an all-powerful sorcerer, or does it cast a spell of grief on us?

Nine Parchments starts with a tragedy that has befallen on a wizarding school. Powerful scrolls containing instructions on how to cast dangerous spells have been stolen and scattered across the world, and it is up to a few unlikely heroes in training to get them back – not that anyone asked them to… or even recommended they should. You start the game with only two choices in characters and their preset spells. At first this seemed a little limiting but it was soon clear that you had to earn your rewards in this game, and it definitely helps with the replayability. Fitting well into the story, your student of choice learns new random spells following the collection of a missing Parchment. This plays off of the story’s premise that you really aren’t equipped to go out into the world on such a quest and the small banter between characters throughout the game offer a nice insight into their thought processes and personalities.

The story was laid out pretty clear and doesn’t attempt to create an emotional connection to the player, but this should be expected from a shorter, adventure-type game as this is. You progress by wandering through single path levels, about 34 in total. At regular intervals enemies will spawn that you must defeat to move on. At the start, enemies are relatively easy; mainly melee-based enemies that might do a small amount of various elemental damage. However as the game advances, you will find that enemies become increasingly (and almost insanely) more difficult. Added resistances and immunities to certain elemental damage types make certain of this, as well as enemy mechanics and simply the sheer number and variety of enemies at once! There were a few times when, based on the spells I had chosen previously, I felt an unfair advantage as some enemies were immune or very resistant to all of the spell types I had – something that was thankfully somewhat remedied by the fact that I was playing co-op with someone who had the countering elemental spells. This in single-player could have made for a few very frustrating instances. You are able to melee with your staff, which is surprisingly effective against solo enemies, but not very useful when you are being bombarded.

There are various difficulties and a healthy variety of options to alter your experience but one thing that seemed to keep coming up during co-op play was the always active friendly fire. On one hand, it makes complete sense. You are a student who has no control over their spells, and well, magic is magic and by nature it is non-discriminatory. On the other hand, the soft lock feature needs a serious tweaking to not favor teammates over enemies (something the developers have verified they are working on). There are some spells that really should be left within single player due to their nature of chaining or area of effect, but this system does add to the strategy of playing, as well as the chaotic nature of it.

Nonetheless the spells were all very exciting and dazzling to see. There is a large variety of spells. While spells given after each boss are at random, by the end I felt I had a decent mix in my arsenal – something that would be improved upon in following playthroughs. That’s where Nine Parchments attempts to hook you in. You can unlock better variants of your characters as well as new, cleverly designed characters with their own variants – all of whom have different starting spells and skill trees that can drastically alter play styles. You can collect various cosmetic hats and powerful new staves to use, and of course playing through enough times to use all of the spells is a must! Honestly, at the end of our first playthrough, despite its difficulty and a few random glitches (stuck in place and some elevator shenanigans), I wanted to play again. The new characters are visually enticing and the spells are unique and devastating! There is plenty of progression to work towards, as well as layered unlocks based on difficulty levels.

Of course none of this would be as enjoyable if the world weren’t…so. Damn. Beautiful. Frozenbyte has expertly captured the world of Nine Parchments in all of its alluring glory. Gorgeously deep and immersive environments ran rampant throughout the entire story and displayed their prowess in developing detailed levels and backdrops. Assisting in this was an impressively locked 30fps despite some of the pandemonium that was going on at times with spells and enemies.

The immersion continued with a subtle soundtrack that played well off of each location, as well as the various events taking place (boss battles, general fights, or the sweet, sweet sound of the main menu music near the end of a level). Spell sound effects were all tailored to each spell type, forcing some natural overlap but still aiding in placing blame on your co-op partner when they clearly used a stunning thunder spell on everyone including you. While somewhat infrequent, the voice acting was surprisingly well done, if not a little cartoony – playing off of the theme of the game.

There are a few minor issues that arose during our playthrough, but Frozenbyte has already been extremely open and recognizes them with details on when they will be patched (very soon). In the end, Nine Parchments hits a lot of great gameplay notes: the spell system is easy to understand but rewarding to master. Even in the end we were still discovering clever spell combinations that can be utilized in co-op play! There is plenty of replay value and the game offers a variably challenging experience. I do recommend playing through the game at least once in co-operative mode, but I can see it getting pretty insane with 4 players trying to juggle friendly fire. I believe to feel like an all powerful sorcerer with no cares, solo play is best for carefree enjoyment.

Overall score: 9.0 out of 10 = BUY IT!

Second Opinion: by Marcello Apostolico

During our co-op playthrough, I couldn’t help but feel Frozenbyte had a clear vision for this game. While their earlier efforts with Has Been Heroes this year met with mixed reception (myself enjoying it quite a bit, while Karl not as much), Nine Parchments feels like a return to form for Frozenbyte. The stunning vistas, magical spells, and cleverly crafted gameplay, it all just works superbly.

Returning to their roots of co-op play, Nine Parchments actually hits notes that rekindled playing games like Gauntlet Legends. The game’s does provide a good challenge and scales up quite well difficulty wise. The one thing that just kept coming to mind though was that not only is Nine Parchments a very well made game with passion put into the project, but it’s hands-down a quintessential co-op experience. I can’t remember the last time I had this much fun playing a full campaign in co-op, and wanting to return immediately after finishing the 6-8 hour campaign.

Without repeating much of what Karl stated in the review above, there’s no question that Nine Parchments is a must-own. While the Trine series is what the studio is known for, this is without question Frozenbyte’s best title to date. Here’s hoping we see more of Nine Parchments (Ten Parchments maybe?) in the near future.

Overall Score: 9.0 out of 10

 

 

A special thank you to the publisher for providing us a review copy for Nine Parchments! Copy reviewed on Nintendo Switch.

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