Online gaming has brought an additional layer of replayability, excitement, and overall enjoyment to many titles. This feature can breathe new life into a game to the point where it’s often hard to imagine it standing on its own legs absent online play. Frozenbyte’s Nine Parchments undeniably falls under this category.

Taking on a similar majestic tone to what’s become their staple franchise – Trine, Nine Parchments runs with a sort of whimsical Harry Potter-esque fantasy setting; wizards and all. Mechanically, the game embraces a Dungeons and Dragons formula with a top-down shooting style; complete with easy-to-grasp twin stick shooting controls. It’s essentially what you’d expect from a stripped down, run-of-the-mill dungeon crawler.

You venture across a few dozen mostly outdoor environments as you fight your way through gaggles of monsters, gain experience, and snag a myriad of goodies along the way. Nine Parchments is essentially tailor made for exciting 4 player local or online multiplayer experiences. Yet the gameplay is straightforward and lacks substance overall, which is exposed in the mostly bland, lackluster solo mode.

Soon-to-be-Heroes

Much like the gameplay itself, Nine Parchments‘ story is about as simple and minimalistic as its gets. You play as one of several mage apprentices, defaulting to the light-hearted Cornelius until you’ve earned additional characters. Along with his reckless band of mages, you engage in hands-on training by venturing out to collect spells in the form of, ahem.. “nine parchments”, scattered about the lands.

The game injects some influences found in another recent release of Frozenbyte – Has Been Heroes; relying heavily on stat boosts, unlockables, and endless grinding as the crux of its progression system. Yet, Parchments dials back the grueling nature of the random elements and one-and-done attempts that hindered Heroes‘ otherwise appealing gameplay. In this game, the rougelike characteristics are mostly relegated to the relentless “hardcore” mode, which tosses random foes at you and makes you start the game over upon dying.

Still, even in easier modes, it can be tough battling through the plethora of baddies. They each contain their own strengths, weaknesses, and behaviors, and often require certain elemental spells to take them down. You’re granted a handful of spells from the get-go and earn more as you progress. Fumbling through these powers in real-time can be tricky at first, but it starts to click eventually. After toying with the mechanics a bit – including the satisfying ability to teleport – I grew accustomed to the repetitious process of peppering foes with elemental spells, evading incoming fire, and retreating as I waited for my mana to recharge.

A Magical Toy Chest

Those who fancy collectables and customization will certainly appreciate Nine Parchments‘ emphasis on these progression elements. Throughout the game, you’re encouraged to explore the mostly linear environments in search of partially hidden quills and treasure chests. These chests usually just grant you xp, but also contain some stock looking wizard hats meant for personalized aesthetic flair.

There are additionally over 30 characters to unlock by completing various in-game feats. Each comes with their own spells, and can be individually customized via skill points and obtained staves. As your journey can be rather uneventful and repetitive, these various perks are the primary driver that encourage you to press on. Growing stronger, and experimenting with new, more impactful spells is satisfying and injects a touch of longevity. Though outside of these aspects, there isn’t a ton to keep you engaged in the long term when going solo.

Multiplayer Mayhem

As you’d probably expect, the real meat of the gameplay – and indeed, the enjoyment – can be found in the multiplayer. Whether yucking it up with a couple of friends, or jumping into a random online romp, Nine Parchments‘ fun factor gets revved up immensely with fellow sorcerers at your side.

Not only is there more entertainment to be had, but the difficulty reaches a more manageable level. Having someone distract an enemy, being revived, or piling on a monster with multiple spell types, for instance, can help a great deal. Online sessions also serve to beef up your character more quickly, as you can find chests and rack up xp more efficiently.

Unfortunately, it’s not all sunshine and roses however. I can only speak of the Switch version, but jumping into a stable session was shaky at best in my experience. There were usually only a handful of servers at once, some of which struggled to spawn me in the game. I also had my share of disconnects and glitches; even a screen that refused to scroll to the next scene.

The multiplayer in general brings its own annoying quirks. Friendly fire is an unfortunate feature that makes things unnecessarily frustrating and stressful. These dynamics often make you feel like you’re dancing through a field of landmines, especially when 4 players and a band of monsters are all cluttering the small environments at once. While more on-screen action can add to the excitement, it can simultaneously produce greater frustration.

The aesthetics, with their flat and polygonal nature, are nothing revolutionary. Yet their vibrant, colorful style is easy on the eyes and works with the cartoony fantasy theme. The soundtrack also adds a nice atmosphere that fits the game like a glove with its soft, majestic melodies.

Pros:

  • Decent selection of unlockables for customization that entice you to play on
  • Overall enjoyable multiplayer
  • Ability to carry over gained xp/items to and from single player and multiplayer.

Cons:

  • Lackluster, and relatively brief single player campaign
  • Somewhat shallow and bland gameplay aside from the use of spells
  • Friendly fire can be annoying
  • Some connectivity issues online

Conclusion:

Nine Parchments provides a competent dungeon crawling experience, though it’s also a relatively shallow one, sprinkled with some weird quirks. Ultimately, you’ll find a healthy dose of enjoyment provided you stick with the multiplayer. Unleashing spells on a colorful array of foes and hunting for treasure is far more fun with friends. Flying solo proves to be a much duller – and often more frustrating – experience.

Stephen LaGioia

Stephen LaGioia

Stephen is an avid Nintendo, Indie, and retro gamer who dabbles in Xbox on occasion, mainly in the form of binge sessions of Overwatch. He's a history buff, an aspiring writer of short fiction, and a devout metalhead who enjoys poorly drumming along to Black Sabbath on his cheap drum set. When his beloved Chicago Cubs or Bulls are not playing, he typically likes to watch random documentaries or campy horror films.
Stephen LaGioia

@ItsaMeStephen

Writer @newgamenetwork @vgchartz, Metal \m/, Xbox/Nintendork. Bleed Cubbie blue. Libertarian, detest identity politics & Cult of Victimhood. Opinions are my own
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Stephen LaGioia