Knights of Pen and Paper +1 Edition
Publisher: Paradox Interactive
Developer: Behold Studios
Release Date: 06/18/2013
Every once in a while, someone jokes that some future game will feature you playing as a person playing a game. Well the future is now! Knights of Pen and Paper (or KOPP for short) is an RPG where you control a team of gamers as they lead their fictional heroes on a quest to save the world. You even get to control some aspect of being game master. Also you get bonuses for buying snacks and equipping your game room with awesome furnishings. It’s about as meta as it gets.
The question is, however, does this make for a good game? Or does it simply make for a good joke?
It all starts with a DM. He’s just sitting there at a table, in a room, with his trusty pen and paper books nearby. Starting a new game gets the whole process underway. First up is creating a couple of characters. However, instead of picking race and class, you pick person and class. So instead of a half-orc barbarian, you get a little brother barbarian/nerd mage/jock warrior or one of many other combinations. Each person has a passive attribute that works no matter what class you choose. For example, the little brother character gets a plus five to initiative. It doesn’t matter if he plays a paladin, rogue, cleric, or whatever. Of course, there are some characters that work best with certain classes. The grandma character gets a plus two to threat, which makes her more likely to be targeted by enemy attacks. She makes a great tank.
Anyhow, the story is a simple one. If you’ve played many RPGs in basements with your friends, it might even sound familiar. The pen and paper kingdom is under siege by an evil dark mage. Not only is he going around cursing royalty, he’s also draining mystical ruins of their power. Clearly, he’s up to no good. It’s up to the pen and paper knights, a rag tag group made up of your created characters, to save the day.
What makes this plot stand out is the fact that it adds in a ton of pop culture references, just like a typical pen and paper game. My DM is constantly basing campaigns of shows he’s watching. We fought vampires when he was watching True Blood for example. Well this takes it to the next level. In the sewers, you’ll find turtles dressed as ninjas and wielding swords. The description of the pirate ship area makes reference to Davey Jones from Pirates of the Caribbean. The Knights Who Say Ni even make an appearance. There’s a ton more, but I’d run the risk of spoilers if I went on much longer. The story takes on an amusing twist towards the end as well, making it worthwhile to see things to the end.
However, the game fails to live up to its potential. The lines are all pre-determined. No matter what your character, they’ll say the same scripted lines. I was kind of hoping that creating a little brother character would have him constantly getting bored or asking about the rules of the game. I was hoping the nerd character would ramble on about stats. I was hoping grandma would constantly ask the DM to speak louder as her hearing aid is on the fritz. Alas, the game does none of these things. When you create a character, they spout off one character specific line and then go on script. It was disappointing. So the story, while amusing at times, could have gone a lot further with the concept.
KOPP goes for the nostalgia crowd pretty hard. It’s all about the pixels and midi music. It’s a great look, especially for a cheap downloadable title. The full color palette is used to effect, and the music is generic but catchy. If I were to complain about anything, it’s that they went really sparse with the animations. Using pixels and sprites does not really limit a talented choreographer, as Final Fantasy VI showed us. It would have been a tad more interesting if the DM actually rolled dice on the table, or expressed exasperation whenever someone interrupted him. Don’t get me wrong. I like what the game does. For example, I love the idea of the room changing behind you to match the location of the story. And any time you pop out into the “real world” shop, it temporarily turns back into your basement. That’s a novel and amusing concept. Like the story, though, the presentation doesn’t go all out.
Let’s just call “not as good as it could have been” a running theme for the game at this point, because that’s pretty much how I’m going to call the gameplay section as well.
Combat is as basic as it gets. Initiatives are rolled, and the turn order is established. After that, battle continues until one side is down or you make a successful escape attempt. Your options for combat are limited. You can attack, defend, use a consumable item, flee, and use a skill. The skills you have depend on the class for that character. There can be up to four of them, though some characters have passive skills, thus limiting the number available for active use in battle. These skills are all available from the start. You just have to put points into them. Since you get one point per level, you can quickly have the whole set. From there, you just upgrade them as you go, allowing you to pick a favorite or two.
Except for a handful of pre-arranged fights, you have a good amount of control over what fights you participate in. When you intentionally initiate battle, you’ll have options. You can choose which enemies you face, as well as how many of each. If your quest is to take out a certain number of an enemy type, you can choose to fight them all at once, one a time, or any other configuration. The game offers bonus experience for taking on extra baddies, creating a risk/reward system that works nice. This kind of customization works for some quests as well, allowing you to choose the order you do things. While some things are set for you, the amount of freedom in this game is nice.
Gold is the currency that works as the game’s lifeblood. However, it’s used in a way unlike any other. You see, the gold is universal, and works in the game world and the “real world”. So, you can take the gold you earn in battle and use it to buy a snack for the table. That snack will supply your team with a temporary boost of some sort. The gold also works between save files. So, if you’ve earned more gold than you know what to do with, you can always use it on a different team. As such, you probably won’t want another person using your game. Just saying. Gold can also be used to buy items in the shop, craft items via the blacksmith, and travel. If you don’t want to grind for gold, you can actually use real money to buy some. However, I found the game gave me plenty, so only the impatient should go that route.
Dungeons have a bit of a twist as well. When you enter a dungeon, you’re there until the end or not at all. If you attempt to leave, rest, or use the shop, you loose your progress and start the whole thing again. Each dungeon is a series of rooms and a boss room. The goal is to find the key to the boss room, take out the boss, and get out of there with the loot. When you enter a room, a dice is rolled to determine what happens. More than likely, you’ll end up in battle, but you could also get hit by a trap, find a health-restoring aura, or even get some cash. Since you can’t rest to heal up, you’ll have to play battles a bit more carefully. Keeping the tank healthy is a must, and conserving MP becomes paramount. You’ll also have to make sure you’ve got consumables to use in emergencies. These sections are easily the most interesting in terms of gameplay.
KOPP is pretty easy if you play it right. What it really takes is one tank. If you’ve got a good one and keep it healthy, you’ll breeze through most battles. My paladin had more health than the rest of team combined, could boost his threat, and could raise his defense to insane heights. Many is the battle where several high level enemies threw attacks his way while the rest of team whittled their health down. When you add the fact that three of my characters could use stunning/sleeping spells, I had a ton of control. Several fights ended with enemies not landing a single shot. There is some challenge to be hand, provided you make things harder for yourself. Elite enemies cannot be stunned or put to sleep. Facing them is much harder because of it. Also, you can choose to fight the maximum number of enemies each time, making each battle that much tougher. Also, the game has some post game content that ratchets up the challenge quite nicely. You’ll have to power level for that.
I beat the game in about twelve hours. That’s not terribly long for a RPG, but the game does have some replay value. As you play, you’ll unlock more characters and classes. You can then create a new save file with a completely different team. It’s also great to try and move through the campaign as fast as possible. One achievement tasks you with winning in an in-game year. My first playthrough was nearly three years, so that’s going to be a challenge.
For all the good the game does (I liked it quite a bit if you couldn’t tell), it really could have done more. Having only four skills per class seems a tad low, and lessens the possibilities of creating different builds. It also sucks you can’t have more than one of each class and/or character. What? A guy can’t have two little brothers? The quest/battle creation aspect is also suspect. The end game features too many pre-arranged battles for my taste. The customization disappears. The game can also get quite monotonous. It seems like all you do is travel to a location, fight seven of an enemy type, and collect a reward. There’s not enough variety here. I found myself zoning out while playing.
Still, this game is quite enjoyable, and worth the small amount of money you’ll have to spend to play it. It’s great for short bursts and/or extended sessions. It’s also great to play when you’re doing other things, as it doesn’t require too much focus to play. I’m glad I played this, though I’m really hoping for a more advanced sequel down the line.
Short Attention Span Summary
Knights of Pen and Paper is a pretty decent game with a fun theme and some nifty concepts. It plays to nostalgic crowds with retro graphics, music, and gameplay. It also shamelessly throws out pop culture references left and right. It’s certainly got style. While it could have gone even further and been a truly great game, it still manages to be fun and addicting while it lasts. If you’re looking for an old school RPG with a twist, this is pretty much exactly what you want.