Review: Nine Parchments (Nintendo Switch)
- Release Date (NA): December 5, 2017
- Release Date (EU): December 5, 2017
- Publisher: Frozenbyte
- Developer: Frozenbyte
- Genres: Dual-Stick Shooter, RPG
- ESRB Rating: Everyone 10 and up
- Also For: Computer, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Single playerLocal MultiplayerOnline MultiplayerCo-operative
Going It Alone
Let me set the record straight from the start-- this is NOT a good game to play single player, mainly because there are front-shielded enemies that are an absolute chore to defeat without the help of another player to distract them so you can get at them from behind. To make matters worse, these same monsters appear in every single level of the game with zero variation, so get used to groaning out loud whenever they spawn in a pack of enemies.
Having said that, it is imperative that you play this game on single player mode first, before going online. Why? Because friendly-fire cannot be disabled. You can get a good handle on switching between spells and deploying them effectively, and learn the very small roster of enemies and develop simple strategies for dealing with them before slinging spells around haphazardly at your friends in Co-op.
Running through the first few stages, you'll feel an instant love for this game that is well founded. Beautiful scenery, a fantastic musical score, and a quirky narrator had me on board and ready for an enjoyable grind session. When the shielding monsters eventually appeared, I was impressed at how they can redirect spells and thought it a very clever interaction. When they kept appearing, my enjoyment level fell exponentially. Before I had gotten to the second boss, it was very clear that this was never meant to be a single player adventure, but now that I had a good grasp of the controls, a few skill points under my belt, and a good understanding of how to cancel enemy elemental shields, I felt I was ready for the big leagues-- boy was I wrong!
There are a good number of unlockable characters, each with their own set of starting spells and talent trees, with additional talent trees that you can unlock by performing different feats of strength during gameplay, such as keeping enemies stunned for a certain period of time or by letting the monsters all kill one another without you doing anything to damage them. There are color variations of each character that come with their talent tree unlocks and cosmetic hats you can find in predictably placed treasure chests throughout the game. Any weapon you find has it's own unique set of stats or mechanics that are tailored to just about every style of gameplay you can imagine. Do you want additional healing energy or faster spell regeneration? How about extra critical strike chance and life-steal? There is a weapon for everybody and neither is more powerful than the other-- just different.
The level and item system is deployed fantastically, can be accessed at any time during play (except while in combat), and has lots of cool ways to synergize spells and multiple talents together-- the only problem is, it doesn't seem to impact the game at all. A max level character with a full tree and a half of skills performs almost identically to someone that is only at level 1, and any noticeable change can be compensated with skillful play. You can alter your talent choices (re-spec/specialize) any time you visit the first level of the game if you want to try a different style of play for your favorite character, but no matter how impossibly strong the numbers appear to make you in the menus, your character will always seem weak and require effort to kill the enemies any faster than another player at a lower level.
The difficulty curve will hit you like a ton of bricks in single-player. I decided to try Hardcore mode (Game Over on death) to get a feel for it before trying online. Take a look at the fourth screenshot (third thumbnail). That pack of enemies is resistant to every single type of magic I had because they are all crammed into that one area, with no option to spread them out by kiting them backwards (the game makes sure you can go backwards by destroying bridges or passageways as you go through them). They were all sharing their resistance auras and, on top of that, they were immobile enemy types shooting freezing bombs and stunning electrical waves, which meant that even though I could have hit them with the incredibly weak melee attack (which is unblockable), when I got near them I would get stunned or frozen and then stomped into the dirt. There doesn't seem to be any safeguards in the randomized spawning algorithm on Hardcore mode to prevent situations like this from happening. Spoiler: I died.
The Missing Link
The first thing I noticed when joining the multiplayer lobby was that you can only have one set of level progressions on your Switch profile. If you switch from Single to Multi-player, it resets and you must start the game fresh or join a game already in progress at their latest checkpoint.
The second thing I noticed was that it is nearly impossible to join a game from the game selection menu. Real numbers here: I would need to try to join at least 8 games before I could eventually join on the 9th. If you think that sounds bad, let me lay this nugget on you: if you try to join a game, you must wait the entire time-out duration before doing anything else with the game. That's a full 3-5 minutes or twiddling your thumbs, waiting for the game to time itself out and reload you into the main menu without an error or explanation. If you cancel joining and try to start a new game (either single player or by hosting yourself), it will boot you back to the main menu after the timer expires, so you have to start the process over again. Be prepared to spend 20-25 minutes getting into a game and pray to the gods you don't game over the poor souls already in the match just by joining it if you like to play on Hardcore mode (more on that later).
Now we get to the real problem with the game-- other people. They can, and will, at any point do any of the following things:
- Unload a full mana bar of fireballs into you and kill you instantly
- Panic switch spells and hit the entire enemy group with a full-heal spell
- Continue to rebound their spells off of shielder enemies into you after seeing IT CLEARLY ISN'T WORKING
- Fire a huge wave of lightning across the screen, stunning you right in the path of the rampaging enemies
- Use a screen encompassing spell and kill your entire team
Joining a game with an incompetent healer will set your team back just as much as someone that is only rolling with Area-of-Effect spells. Speaking of spells, more than 80% of them seemed to have been designed by monkeys. Imagine a healing beam that bounces between all injured targets-- sounds good, right? Small catch, once your hit your buddy with it, healing him up to full, it will bounce uncontrollably between all the enemies in its heat-seeking fashion and heal them up as well. How about a shadowy flower of death that erupts and sends out a poisonous shockwave? Sounds cool! Except none of your teammates remember that there is a jump button and you've now poisoned everyone on your team and doomed them to an early grave.
To anyone reading this who has or will play the game multiplayer-- Dear, sweet, baby Jesus, JUST MELEE THE SHIELD ENEMIES! Stop trying to hit them with spells, you are going to reflect them into your teammates EVERY TIME.
There are a TON of game-ending glitches for anyone that likes to play on the Hardcore mode, which completely ends your game and deletes your stage progress if all team members die.
My most annoying was the one shown above. Our team was cruising through the game at a good clip, with a level of skill, teamwork, and comradery the likes of which I had never seen before, and we all loaded into this "boss" arena. At the start, you are on an elevator platform that goes down to the floor of the arena. As we traveled down, the camera stayed fixed to the starting position, and since you die if you are off screen for more than 5 seconds, we all died at once with no way to resurrect each other, promptly giving us a game over and throwing us all to the main menu where we were forced apart, never to see each other again.
Another huge problem with hardcore is that when a new player joins your game via drop-in, they become the cameras main focus and will drag the view all the way back to the previously crossed checkpoint, killing everybody in the process in places where checkpoints are far apart because the camera pans slowly and both the new player and existing party will be off screen for more than 5 seconds. Game over, man-- game over!
I really can't help but be torn about the state of this game. I really want to like it, but it feels like it was rushed to production after they had a really solid base engine and environment design completed. The total lack of variety in enemies spanned out over so many stages and the tedium in defeating some of them really get on my nerves. There is still hope for this title in the future if the developers are willing to go back and make some changes to the mechanics and fix a lot of the bugs plaguing the game, but until then, I'm forced to give the game a very mediocre score.
Side Note: If you want to play this game un-docked with friends, bring a magnifying glass and be familiar with the game first.
+ Fantastic Visuals
+ Bosses Have Fun Mechanics
+ Wonderful Music Score
- Poor Single Player Experience
- Online Connectivity Issues
- No Full Friendly-Fire/Enemy-Assist Toggle
- Skill Trees Lack Impact
- Majority of Spells Are Useless in Co-op
- Small Enemy Pool
- Lots of Game Breaking Glitches
out of 10
A near miss for "instant classic" that could have been so much more, and possibly could still be someday, with some quality of life updates from the developers.