I’ve often stated to my friends that video game design is very similar to cooking. There are endless flavors for countless palettes. Yes, there are fundamental stanchions, shooters, rpgs, platformers, just like there are appetizers, dessert and main courses, but the combinations are bound only by creativity.
Why is this relevant, you ask? Take Nine Parchments, a new action rpg, developed by the excellent team at FrozenByte. It is, at its foundation, a dungeon crawler similar to the Diablo series. Except you don’t really ever go in a dungeon. And instead of heroes of traditional high fantasy, your available classes are all wizardy students at a magical institution.
To that point… I don’t like Diablo-type games, never have. But evidently all you have to do is throw in some Harry-Potter-esque spices, and I. Am. Hooked. There are other reasons why this game is worth your attention and hard earned bucks, but this symbolic banquet is off to a delicious beginning.
Nine Parchments starts the player off in the aforementioned school, Astral Academy. The tower holding all the yet-to-be-learned spells is attacked, and their parchments are scattered to the far corners of the world (which, by the way, is the same universe as one of FrozenByte’s other popular efforts, Trine, a gorgeous platformer).
You are tasked by the head of the school to retrieve the magic spells. The game is split up into several areas, each with many stages, and a final boss level. After defeating the boss, you get to pick a parchment spell for your character, and this is where we start seeing the deep customization options. Each character has 3 versions of themselves that can be unlocked, and you can choose your spell load-out within certain parameters. Also, as you progress and gain levels, there are skill tree points to assign, a familiar mechanic for anyone who’s played a game like this.
As you play, either solo or with drop-in/out co-op (just like Diablo, bring some friends and it gets even more fun!) you can unlock and discover characters, stronger spells, armor and items. All of this is wrapped in a fun layer of magical student ambiance, which is what really sold it for me.
Nine Parchments uses an angled overhead perspective that’s pretty zoomed out, giving you a big view of the surroundings. This is needed, because things get crowded with enemies and projectiles, especially as you start working your way through the middle levels.
The challenge here is fair, and the checkpoints are semi-frequent. On normal difficulty, I had to try many sections and bosses several times, but I never felt like the game was punishing me, rather I wasn’t analzying the battles correctly.
Speaking of the battles, they are cordoned off to particular areas. Once you engage an enemy, you’re stuck in that arena until they’ve all been defeated, or you die. The enemies all can have elemental associations, fire, ice, electricity, death, and life, and finding weaknesses is a big part of the strategy. There is also a very interesting shield mechanic whereas a fire monster can have an ice shield that grants them an additional level of immunity, so you have to be cagey. This takes the gameplay far beyond your typical hack-n-slash. The controls are responsive, as well, and very well laid out by default.
My advice: don’t forget about melee and blink amidst all the spell-slinging. Despite being a caster, melee is a viable option, especially to finish off a stunned or frozen enemy, and the transport ability, even though it has a cooldown, can eventually have an elemental area spell attached to it, really increasing it’s usefulness.
Just look at the screenshots! Every single area is brimming with incredibly gorgeous secenery and architechture. Most of the gamplay takes place outside, either in nature or in ruins of varying types. My personal favorite were ruins that had a very Tolkien-esque elven aesthetic.
The UI is also very customizable, and I applaud FrozenByte for offering those options. This is a game that you’ll need to play through multiple times to unlock characters and items, so being able to tweak the interface is welcome. Nine Parchments is a feast for the eyes, and holds up to multiple playthroughs.
SOUND & MUSIC
As a sound engineer in my other life, I can’t help but critically examine the audio in the games I play. Nine Parchments surprised me in this area, as most other games I’ve tried in this vein had pretty generic, if well executed, audio. Every footstep, voice-over, creaking rope, and monstrous howl is rendered in extremely high quality, with great attention to detail. Your footsteps change depending on the terrain, the crackles and booms of your spell-castings impart a visceral joy as you mow down enemies, and the characters each have a distinct personality displayed through strategically placed voice acting.
The music also deserves special mention. Most fantasy games have very generic scores, especially the AAA modern titles, and while Nine Parchments generally sticks to the “orchestral” take on the music, it’s very good. It’s like they took the excellent Gregson-Williams scoring tone from The Chronicles of Narnia films, and just ran with it throughout. I feel the music being executed this well and ranging from whimsical to suspenseful really solidified the association to the overall Harry Potter vibe.
Nine Parchments is a magical experience, top to bottom. This is one of my favorite games of 2018 so far, and I feel confident in recommending it if anything in this review grabs your attention. At $19.99, it’s not as cheap as many indie titles, but you get a deep, engaging campaign, crammed with style, multiplayer, and a ton of replayability. The execution and presentation rival many full releases on the Switch. If you’ve ever dreamed of being a magical apprentice in a rich, enchanting world, look no further.
Charlie’s first attempts at gaming did not go well. Repeated, failed run-ins with the first Goomba in Super Mario Brothers 1 plagued his maiden gaming voyage. Undaunted, he would go on to become an avid gamer of all platforms, with Nintendo always sitting atop the highest pedestal. Except for that Halo 3 incident in 2007. We don’t talk about it. It never happened.
Currently, Charlie enjoys playing games on as many platforms as he can get his hands on, with current favorites being the Switch, 3DS and Neo Geo. When he’s not playing games, Charlie is a live sound engineer and manager for his production company, Clear Harmonies, based in Washington, D.C.
Charlie enjoys talking about games nearly as much as playing them, and loves meeting new people, so hit him up!
Plays: All of them games. Seriously.