This may come as a shock, but, despite my roots, I don’t often go for traditional turn-based RPGs anymore (barring tactical games like Fire Emblem Awakening). I just hate the grind. It bores me. To me, they become methodical and repetitive; if grinding is what it takes to win, give me a game requiring a little more finesse than banging characters against monsters for hours.
So believe me when I say that I thoroughly enjoyed Paper Sorcerer, the dungeon-crawling RPG from Ultra Runaway Games.
I will not, for example and despite the many reasons to do so, be purchasing Bravely Default despite its doubtlessly excellent characterization and story. Thus it came as a supreme surprise when Paper Sorcerer, which has neither of the aforementioned quality, sucked me in so thoroughly. It probably has something to do with its unique combat system, diverse set of strategic options, and calculated execution of the “just one more level” addiction.
Paper Sorcerer is a standard turn-based RPG dungeon crawler. Its controls closely resembles the now ancient Ultima Underworld: Stygian Abyss, but combat takes place in separate encounter battles, most of which are not random.
The story is a nice framing narrative, unobtrusive yet always present. For once, you play as the villain. A brief cutscene details the reign of terror by a sorcerer over a kingdom before four heroes cut him down, imprisoning him within a magical dungeon inside of a book. The player then takes control of the sorcerer (after a gender-equality option) and the fun begins.
Controls are handled with the WASD keys, mouse, and spacebar. After you make it out of the first room you are given the option to summon a minion. A sorcerer’s powers allow him to bind souls to his bidding, and you are prompted with a list of creatures from which your party may be formed. At first, only three may be summoned to fight with the sorcerer but as the game progresses it is possible to recruit reserves. This is good, because the choices are mostly permanent.
Each minion has their own unique set of skills and abilities and is suited for certain roles in combat. The game balances each of these types well, and the strategic possibilities are endless given the various possible combinations of creatures. Do you go for a heavy-hitting party with only a cleric to back you up, or take a more balanced route by picking jack-of-all-trades characters?
Battle, as mentioned previously, is unique despite being a standard turn-based affair. Each fighter has the traditional HP, Defense, and Energe. Defense functions as an armor; when hit, your defense is reduced first by a percentage of the damage if not all, and then leftover damage breaks through to HP. Energy is consumed by skills; however, it regenerates every turn. Skills themselves each have individual cooldowns as well, and some even increase energy while simultaneously granting bonuses or affecting the enemy.
Balancing the stats of each unit proves to be quite enjoyable and makes every battle a tense affair. A range of difficulties from easy to “1980s” can keep things interesting for the RPG pro, but by and large the battle system works quite well to keep the player engaged from beginning to endgame.
The purpose of the game is to escape the magical prison of the book. To do so, a seal must be broken on every level of the dungeon, comprised of cell blocks and ruled by a jailer otherwise known as the level boss. At any time, the player can warp back to a base of sorts where the rest of the escaped prisoners have gathered to rest, purchase supplies, and pursue a sidequest involving the catacombs of the dungeon. The ability to leave a level, heal, and return right where you left reduces the difficulty considerably, but it isn’t necessary often below 1980s difficulty.
Where the name gets its moniker is not only the nature of the game (a sorcerer trapped in an book) but also the graphics. Everything is drawn as if it where ink on old paper, and a lens film continuously gives the feel of a musty “Tome of Ye Olde Forgotten Lore.” Animations aren’t skimped on either, and sprites and environments are detailed and crisp. The soundtrack? One word: groovy.
The game doesn’t have a lot of issues. It’s fun and not too repetitive, though trudging through the same number of blocks on every level slowly develops a wash-rinse-repeat feeling. The largest complaint to be found is the complete and utter lack of a configurable options menu. Want to adjust the sound levels? Sorry, no can do. Game a little too bright/dark? Tough.
This one doesn’t stop being fun, though. With an addicting formula of levelling and loot pervasive throughout, the player is continually rewarded for their efforts. The grind is practically nonexistent, always a plus, and the urge to play through one more block or find one more secret room is nigh-irresistable. I found myself excitedly calculating which minion to summon next, weighing the options against each other.
Paper Sorcerer doesn’t promise to be the next fantasy epic, and it isn’t. What it manages to be is a great little dungeon crawler with tons of options to customize the player’s experience and a challenging, fun time. Yes, it’s been awhile since I enjoyed such a game. But Paper Sorcerer’s minion summoning system and engaging combat kept be coming back for more. Throwing loot and XP to a player isn’t a bad strategy either but this game manages not to overdo it, striking a balance between effort and reward.
Now to find those last few secrets….
[+Many gameplay options] [+Challenging] [+Addicting] [+Neat graphics] [+Excellent music] [+Good twist on old formula] [-No options menu] [-Slightly repetitive]