Knights of Pen and Paper +1 Edition

I should confess that I’ve never played a full table-top RPG. While I’ve always been fascinated with the mechanics of Dungeons and Dragons and the like, I live in a tiny village on the west coast of Scotland, where organising a party of four bodies of sentient flesh to engage in an imaginary adventure is somewhat difficult. So when I heard that Knights of Pen and Paper +1 Edition takes facets of D&D and applies them to classic Japanese RPG battle mechanics, I said “Sign me up!”.

The game makes an odd first impression. Following boot it up, you’ll be presented with an interface that’s clearly taken from the original iPhone version of the game. Players will then likely spy the dreaded gold icon at the top of the screen, revealing that, yes, the game features gold-for-cash micro-transactions. Though you’re gifted this ‘gold’ naturally through play, the fact that this implementation of IAP isn’t mentioned anywhere on the Steam purchase page feels disingenuous at best.

This premise allows for some cool meta-commentary on gaming, as well as new twists on traditional RPG mechanics.

But things pick up considerably once you start the game properly. Your first step is to build up your D&D party, chosen from a selection of “real” people, who will be role-playing the characters of their adventure. This premise allows for some cool meta-commentary on gaming, as well as new twists on traditional RPG mechanics.

For example, including the stoic businessman Mr John in your party invokes the “Lived” buff: he gains a 10% EXP boost on battles through his learned wisdom in the real world. Should you choose to hire the Little Brother instead, he will gain +5 initiative on attack speed through his unending enthusiasm to play at the big table with the adults.

From there, you’ll assign each of your party members a class (from a selection of six well-balanced D&D staples, though more can be unlocked), and then it’s off to the world map to start saving villagers and collecting potatoes. Quests are created by the dungeon master hosting the session, which basically means you can head to a village and decide how to proceed.

This idea carries across to enemy encounters, where you can actually decide the quantity and type of enemies you’ll face outside of story quests. Through this, you can tailor the difficulty of most of the experience, though this control is taken away from you in the dungeons, which introduce a welcome sense of unease through random encounters and traps.

It’s a shame that the IAP model feels so out of place in a full-priced Steam game, because the way it is used in Pen and Paper is actually pretty smart. Want to improve your luck while travelling? Purchase a loaded die for better rolls. Need to buff your health for a difficult boss battle? Bring a cake to the session and share the treats. You can even re-decorate the play venue with items like a a fridge and a clear TARDIS parody, each with their own in-game benefits.

You probably won’t be shocked to hear that all the artwork in Pen and Paper is made up of pixel art. It’s charming enough, and backgrounds are occasionally flourished with gaming references, which is a neat touch. Animation is simplistic  most enemies have two or three frames of movement  but it still feels full of character nonetheless. On the audio side, the background music does the job well enough, but the selection is fairly limited and they loop perhaps a little too often.

Typically, a lot of the best RPGs grow deeper as you invest time in them: previously incomprehensible systems reveal layers of complexity and start to increasingly reward you for your time. Sadly, Knights of Pen and Paper actually starts to fall apart when players begin to clock some serious time in it.

After an initial five hours that highlight some brilliant new takes on genre convention, the game turns into an uncompromising grind, mostly made up of ‘kill seven or more of enemy type X in one or more battles’ quests.

After an initial five hours that highlight some brilliant new takes on genre convention, the game turns into an uncompromising grind, mostly made up of ‘kill seven or more of enemy type X in one or more battles’ quests.

The writing also takes a bizarre nose-dive near the end, swapping some clever ideas for broken grammar and plot-lines that I didn’t understand. I finished the game with a 22-hour play-time, though some players on the official Steam forums claim you can blast through things in less than ten if you abuse the gold system.

All of this would be more forgivable if it wasn’t for the game’s biggest problem: its price. Knights of Pen and Paper has been available on mobile platforms for some time, where it is goes for a rather modest £2, albeit with in-app purchases. On Steam, Pen and Paper +1 Edition commands £8, literally four times its previous price. Worse still, the mobile versions of the game were updated earlier this week to include almost all of the new content of the Steam version, making it seem particularly redundant. While I generally expect games on Steam to cost a little more than their mobile cousins, £4 or even £5 would have been a much fairer launch price.

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