I have very fond memories of sitting around a table with all my friends as we played Dungeons & Dragons and Warhammer through to the early hours of the morning. It was role-playing at its finest, especially during the eighties when these series of games first came about. However, with adulthood and the responsibilities that go with it, finding the time to revisit these dungeons of past lore has become a fruitless exercise. However, that’s all to set to change now though, with the release of Knights of Pen & Paper +1 Deluxier Edition on the Nintendo Switch.
Developed by the Seaven and Behold Studios, with publishing through Plug In Digital, this retro-styled, role-playing game follows the adventures of a group of friends who, along with a dungeon-master, sit around a table playing a Dungeons & Dragons styled adventure, making it essentially, a game about people playing a game. Genius! It all starts around an empty table as you begin to fill the chairs with a selection of your friends; you can choose two at first, although you can also buy a third and, as the game progresses, purchase extra seats to add more people until your party reaches a total five players. Sat opposite, a character who plays as the dungeon-master reads from a book that sets the scenes and provides the challenges for your band of wannabe heroes.
As you choose what friends you want to join you, ranging from the little brother to grandma and even the pizza guy, you then select a race, or role, that each person will play. Your selections can range from a variety of classes, such as knights, mages and clerics, to name but a few. Each player and class also comes with a variety of abilities that add buffs, attack options, healing and defence, which, when utilised as a party can produce some impressive combinations on how you approach the variety of scenarios the dungeon-master sets for you.
The gameplay centres on your group who are sat around the table, with its predominant placing on-screen at all times. You start off in, what I presume, is the living room of your, or your friend’s, house. However, as the scenes and settings are read out, your surroundings change to project the imagery being described. It’s a nice touch that highlights the imagination that playing such games would conjure from each player.
Although these different scenarios are revealed by the dungeon-master, how you approach the quests or battles in each setting is entirely up to you. You can choose to fight monsters, fetch items, run escorts and find missing people, plus many more. Whatever you choose, the freedom to make your own choices adds a touch of personalisation to the game; you can even dictate how many monsters you fight at one time. Although the total number of enemies is revealed by the dungeon-master, you can choose to fight them all in one go, thus increasing the difficulty, or take them on one at a time. This brings an element of freedom that allows you to push the boundaries of your team’s capabilities, as well as reap the rewards for doing so.
The combat mechanics, a major part of the gameplay no matter what quest you undertake, works on a turn-based model with a surprising amount of depth, considering the style of the game. With various options of attacks and abilities, you can easily produce a team that complements each other. For instance, you can easily create a tank-like character who sponges the attack from enemies, whilst your friends buff your defence, heal your health and concentrate their own attacks. Its quite surprising the different variations that can be found through experimentation. Although limited to a party of five players, this deluxe edition of the game comes with a new addition in the form of a tavern, in which you can place other players, allowing you to switch characters in-and-out to make the best use of abilities and combinations within your party. As well as the tavern, extra new features also include extended campaign, new dungeons, monsters traps, treasures, bosses and more variations in character attacks, making this the most definitive version of the game to date.
As you progress through the game, your characters earn XP and gold coins which can be used for a number of purposes; from upgrading abilities, travelling to locations and purchasing items or chairs in order to add friends. You can even buy furniture for your room or change the appearance of the dungeon-master, all of which add extra buffs for your party. The more you play, the more you can enhance your experience which leads to a very addictive formula that pulls you in with the strengthening of your party’s abilities. It’s this level of freedom and experimentation that makes the game so much fun to play. However, its presentation also adds to this with its throwbacks and, often humorous, interactions.
Throughout the game, each of the characters interact through dialogue, often speaking in their own personas and within the characters that they are playing in-game. The hilarious banter between them and the dungeon-master keeps these narratives fresh and amusing, with many references to the eighties and nineties, both in-game and through the speech of the friends. It adds a nice little touch to the players that grew up with the Dungeons & Dragons franchise with many homages to the sights, sounds and scenes of the era.
Overall, Knights of Pen & Paper presents a wonderfully reminiscing view of table-top role-playing. The whole presentation of the game is a complete throw-back to the eighties, but with a mix of modernity thrown in for good measure. The developers have created a good balance between video and board game, merging modern RPG mechanics with dice-throwing, 16-bit graphics and static displays. It’s all of these elements combined that produce a rather unique game that feels very fresh, despite its retro inspirations. Because of the nature of the game, it does possess an element of repetition and the need to grind, but then don’t most rpg’s do anyway? Despite this, it’s the fun that this game projects that makes it a worthwhile experience and the grinding aspect of the gameplay never feels as repetitive as it should. With its large roster of characters, classes and abilities, its replay value is extremely high as no two games run along the same path; just as any good table-top adventure should. Despite my fondness of memories past, now armed with my switch and the Knights of Pen & Paper by my side, I’m off to explore more dungeons and at the same time, make new memories of my adventures with my new virtual friends.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Nintendo Switch code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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