Almost anybody who grew up as a gaming nerd knows the story. You and a bunch of friends find a good day to gather together, be it in one of your basements, dorm rooms, or even first apartment, depending on how old you were at the time. There might be snacks. There might be a stereo playing background music. There might even be pre-set recordings based around the event to set the mood. But what would be there no matter what was always the same: a rulebook, a lot of character sheets, some dice, and a great time collectively telling a tale where each member of the group would take a hero through an adventure as told by the dungeon master (DM) who ran the game session everyone was excited to get started with.
That is the story of this game.
Story: You will be guiding a group of heroes through a grand roll playing adventure, but you will not be playing the heroes in their fantastic world, but the friends who have gathered around the RPG table, dice in hand and eagerly anticipating how well their heroes will fair as their DM opens his book and begins the session.
And despite how dull this may sound, it actually proves an interesting take as you will experience the tale with your players, seeing the game unfold through their eyes as they work their way through villages and castles taking on the various quests in this world they play through, unfolding an ever-winding series of events that just might reach beyond their dice.
However I would not say the writing that wraps all this together is particularly good. It can often be simple and will at times make you wonder just how long it can keep going like this or how many more references to other followings they can fit into the tale. But at the same time, it does so in the same style that might occur if you were at that table and stringing several seeming unrelated story arcs for your party together. In this way, it is actually really clever about what it is doing, which will keep you around till the final act.
Graphics: Knights of Pen and Paper is a fairly simple game graphically. Using a retro pixelated style, the game will display a few basic items at just about all times, the most common of which is the gaming table. This will take up the bottom half of your screen with all your players all in costume and facing the DM, making it very easy to know who is playing what roll. Their character’s health and magic will display at the back of their chairs, making for a very well designed UI around the status of each character.
The table itself is another UI element that hides itself in ascetics exceptionally well. As you play the game, you will be able to change the style of the table everyone is sitting around as well as the toys, snacks, and drinks on it which will represent different buffs which will influence the game.
The rest of this screen will change dramatically depending on what you are doing. It could show one of many locations in the fantasy land your players are playing with, or when you take a break from the game itself, it may also show the room they have gathered to play in. And all this variety is bright, colorful and clearly put together with care with several examples of some tongue-in-cheek referential humor.
To go with this general set of backgrounds you will also have some menus to navigate. What you do around town is represented by fairly large icons also made to fit the game’s overall retro-design. Most of them are obvious for what they represent, like a tent/bed for sleeping and restoring your health, or swords crossed to go pick a fight. But there are some odd entries that are not quite so blatant, like a cauldron to go buy and sell thing, or a beer to go create or exchange players at your table, or even a black pirate flag to represent dungeons you can enter. Thankfully, it doesn’t take long to get accustomed to some of these more obscure options. And in the meantime, everything loads pretty snappy so you will never have to wait long to back out of a choice you really didn’t want to make. And when menus are actually necessary, everything is designed to balance the screen and look nice without breaking the illusion of looking back in time of a much earlier gaming device.
Sound: Just like the graphics, the music for this game just screams “retro-style” opting for a completely chip-tune soundtrack. And it does so very well, as most of the music is very pleasing, be it the opening and most iconic track in the group, the combat music, or any other of the handful of tracks the game uses. It all sounds like it belongs to a bi-gone era and pleasantly so. Unfortunately, hand-full is still the best way to describe the soundtrack, as there are sadly few of these tunes in place, and many of them are very short.
Nor do sound effects fair much better. Much like the games of the era this game is mimic, the sound effect do not sound so much like what they represent as bleeps, bloops, and booms. However, unlike the soundtrack which is good buck lacking in variety, the lack of sound effects just fits for the general vibe and presentation this game is going for.
Gameplay: Knights of Pen and Paper is a fairly simple game, and it hides a decent level of strategy at the exact same time. It also has absolutely zero keyboard controls. Instead everything about this game was designed with a pointing device in mind. For the PC version, this means mouse control only, which in this case adds to the simplicity dramatically.
When you start the game, you will be asked to make your first two (minimum)characters, which will be done by picking a player and the class hero they will be playing. Each player has their own unique benefit which you will need to pair with the stats and skills their hero has, but this is the total customization you will have available. Once you have setup your character, you will have to buy them with a total amount of gold available for your collective games (of which you can have up to 3), hinting at the meta layer of the title. You see, the RPG game you will have these players run through is only a part of the total picture. Throughout your adventure, you will have access to a button on the top-left corner of the screen called “Shop” which will allow you to use that same gold to change the room your players are rolling dice in, changing how the RPG itself plays. You can buy and then change between wall decorations, the door, the table, items strewn across it, and even a mascot or other Dungeon Masters, which will effect how the game plays. Except for drinks and snacks which have a time limit to them, all purchases are permanent, will be unlocked for any of your three games, and can be swapped at will depending on the effects you want, putting a unique bit of control into your hands.
Once you have your initial party, it’s time to play and the DM begins to set the scene which replaces your room. You will then choose what you want to do by clicking the DM to bring up an icon-based menu, giving you a selection of options including things like picking a fight, taking on a quest, camp/use an inn, shopping for accessories and items, or even visiting the blacksmith to try to upgrade your armor and weapons. Doing anything offered to you looks great and is very intuitive to get into, letting you dive right in.
But most of your time will be spent either traveling or in combat, and travel itself is very simple. You will be given a map with all places available to you as locations you can click as well as a marker to show which one you are in. Clicking any other place will show you it’s name, how much of gold you will need to get there, the path you will take, as well as the recommended level your party should be at if you choose to go there. This last part is useful to compare the area to to how difficult other places might be, but you will often (depending on the makeup of your party, of course) get by just fine being a little under level. Clicking to travel from here will set you on your way, a 20-sided die rolling to find out if you are attacked on your way at each stop your path crosses.
Getting the money you need to travel and do anything else is very easy in this game, however, as you get this from successful battles. These battles, as mentioned before, can be accessed by luck when traveling or when you reach your destination picking a fight. Quests will also often require you to get into battles if not force you to in the form of defending someone trying to reach a destination or boss fights. When you choose combat, you will be given a window which will let you select what monsters you will fight and how many, as well as a general difficulty bar to give you an idea of how hard the fight may be for your party.
Once you have set this up, the fight begins and everyone will have a number appear over their head, representing the order in which their turns will happen. When one of your party has their turn, they will stand up and you will see icons to represent a basic attack, using one of their skills, using a single-use item, defend themselves, or attempt to flee the battle. All of these buttons do exactly what it sounds like, from allowing you to select one of the available moves their character class offers to trying to end the fight and avoid a party-wipe if necessary.
When the fight is over if you win, you will be awarded for your efforts in gold, experience, and occasionally an accessory you can equip to one of your characters. These will do various things for them, but you can only equip 4 at once, requiring you to choose wisely as the game progresses and you get access to better stuff both by finding and by buying them. And with the fight over, resting will let you recover (although doing so by camping will require a dice-roll to se if you are attacked over-night).
The only time this is not true is when you are in a dungeon. This is not a majority of the game by any means, but it is an interesting shakeup, as you will now find you only have access to a button to bring up the dungeon map and pick a new room, use items, or leave between fights. You can only pick rooms next to ones you have handled already, adding some level of exploration to this point, and picking one usually means rolling a die to see if you found a trap (lose life offhand), a fight, get to heal, or found treasure. If this does not happen, then you found the key to the dungeon and can now make your way to the skull marking the boss’ room and your ultimate goal in the dungeon.
That is not to say the game handles itself perfectly, however. Many familiar with RPG games are also familiar with the occasional bad difficulty spike or curve, and this game is no exception. There are two points in the game where the main quest’s recommended level will jump dramatically, requiring you to grind to keep up. The first time this happens, it is annoying, but you should have enough side-quests to catch up quickly and keep moving forward. The second one, however, is at the very end of the game, and you are likely to run out of quests to help you grind, turning the last leg into a mindless drudge of finding a place with enough rewards for the monsters you can fight so you can finish this last climb as soon as possible. Suffice it to say if someone got bored at this point, I could more then understand.
Bugs: I can not say I found a single bug when playing this game. It ran perfectly across multiple PCs and the only issue I had was finding the save-game on my dedicated gaming rig so I could do just that.
Overall: Knights of Pen and Paper is a solid game, but not a perfect one. It has fairly well thought out mechanics and there is nothing you can do in the game that the game itself doesn’t make intuitive to do, but there are multiple points when the difficulty-curve is not so well designed, even going so far as to require you to grind well after finishing every quest in the game save one that is actually HARDER then the last main quest of the game.
It is also very simple. In fact many would probably call this game an RPG-lite and they would not be wrong. Despite the new angle of playing the people around the table instead of the heroes on their character sheets, this game is overall a very simple title… simple enough I was not surprised to see the game is readily available, not just on the PC, but on mobile phones.
This makes for a surprisingly good game overall, but not one designed to be played over long sessions. Rather, it’s a series of bite-sized sessions that will ultimately get you through the to the end, assuming you have the patients to get through some of the later muck.
Source’s Listed System Requirements:
- 2Ghz CPU
- 512 MB RAM
- Direct3D/OpenGL card with 128MB VRAM
- 640x480 resolution screen
- 100 MB hard drive space
- Windows XP or later
- AMD Athlon 5350 APU 2.05 GHz
- 8 GB RAM
- Radeon R3 (512MB VRAM minimum)
- Windows 10