Nine Parchments is described as a cooperative blast-’em-up; a fun run & stun where shooting your enemies is key except it’s with pure magic. Straight out of Finland, the team at Frozenbyte has put out their 2nd Switch release with their first being Has Been Heroes. However, Nine Parchments plays more akin to another game Frozenbyte is quite known for, Trine. It’s not without its issues, but Frozenbyte has been quite open to listening to feedback from the community and has implemented features requested from its players and continues to work on additional mechanics which strays from the original vision for the game. What you’ll get with Nine Parchments isn’t a reinvention, but nevertheless a game that is quite enjoyable to play through especially with friends.
You may bring your staves to the party, but keep your swords & shields at the door. This is purely a magic-wielding game with spells to earn and expel. The only melee option you have here (and quite useful, actually) is the staff (oddly enough a broom as well) you are currently holding to give a good whack to your enemy. The game opens with a tutorial level for you to get used to the controls and ends with an introduction to the characters and plot via cutscene. The head grand wizard who teaches at the Astral Academy, Cornelius, feels his amateur students need to hone their skills. As such, they get sent on a field trip to search for the missing spells, nine of which are essential. This provides a good, yet dangerous training expedition, but the wizards are certainly up to the task. The entire experience could be played alone, but as you’ll quickly find out it’s probably best with some friends and with good reason. Cooperative play provides more than just extra heads getting in on the action. The various characters carry different beginning spells and spell types to earn. While all wizards can be on the offensive, particular elemental damage cast by another player is fundamental; as is healing. Eventually, certain characters will be able to gain at least a couple of the same spells as their partner(s), but some of that also falls on choice. Essentially, though they aren’t labeled as such, wizards who begin as either a white mage, red mage, or black mage will learn newer spells best fit for their type and be more proficient as progress is made.
The early journey starts you off with 3 basic spells which you can freely switch between left or right using the shoulder buttons respectively. The selection of spells are displayed under your character. Any spell that you have currently selected can be rearranged by using left or right on the d-pad. While this feature may not seem as important in the beginning, once you’ve acquired multiple spells this will become helpful. Perhaps you would like to sort your spells by grouping together spells with the same element or maybe the type of projectile it is. As an example, I kept all of my fire elements together from weakest to strongest, followed by ice, lightning, healing, with poisons last. I knew just what I wanted when I needed it. Unfortunately, toggling between the spells later in the game feels a bit unorganized at times. As your spell list grows, the displayed icons shrink. When trying to make a selection, all of the spells in your possession are displayed and when there’s a certain amount of them it can be difficult to decide which spell you’ve actually chosen especially in a hectic battle. There were multiple times where I’ve accidentally shot a healing spell at an enemy when I thought I had chosen something else. This isn’t a problem with the less spells you have, but it can feel a bit like clutter once you’re quite far into the game. Another issue is since the spells are displayed under your character, the camera will not consider showing your spell list if you happen to be at the bottom of the screen while your friend is at the top. Depending on the scene, you might find yourself out of frame or at the very least not being able to see your spells as you rotate the selection. This doesn’t happen frequently, but the camera should me more accommodating in these situations.
Of course, spells are only as effective as they are fun to use. And they are fun. Types of spells can be cast as a constant stream while accumulating damage or be shot as a singular projectile while providing more damage. Nine Parchments approaches teamwork by having friendly fire. It is this direction which adds strategy and knowing where you and the other players should move around during a battle. Not being careful with where you shoot your spells will hurt your team. Ally spells coming in contact with each other will clash and shoot in off directions. This certainly adds a little more depth not being able to spam your spells in any direction mindlessly with a favorable outcome and is a direction I like about the game. The options to customize this is also nice. It also shows who your true friends are. Each player is allowed to choose how the friendly fire is distributed among themselves, such as defaulting as normal damage, 50/50 or taking all of the damage which would otherwise be inflicted on your teammate. Along with that is an ability called “Blinking”, done by pressing Y, which grants you to instantly teleport in a direction allowing you to avoid incoming projectile and enemies in general. These provide rewarding moments during your playthrough when you nail down the timing and when to use it, as there are two separate bars that recharge once used. Blinking can be done in succession twice in row if both bars are completely filled. Although at times it’s best to know when you should use it or have a back up Blink ready just in case.
Each spell, dictated by a blue meter of their own, use up mana independently therefore also recharging separately, too. Rotating between the right spells and managing their use can be crucial at times. All spells are perform by pressing ZR. At any time, players can use their staff as a melee weapon by pressing ZL. This is useful in desperate measures where you’ve used up mana for all of your spells. It’s impractical in many situations, but yet more powerful than it would seem to be. Sometimes me and my teammate would whack on enemies using only staves and I found it to give me a chuckle. Having one player freeze an enemy in place with an ice spell while another bashes them into pieces can also be a good time. Jumping is performed by pressing B which is useful for hurdling over enemy trails that cause elemental damage. Some spells, whether healing or elemental, can be tossed at a distance with a 2nd press of ZR choosing where to land the spell providing an area effect on the ground. As one who was mainly in charge of providing health, these spells can provide some satisfactory gameplay. In one scenario, a heavy rock-type enemy took the center of the map while my teammate and I circled around it in opposite directions. Typically, we would try to lure it into coming after one of us at a time. While both of use were circling the enemy and noticing my teammate was low on health, I aimed and tossed a health spell overhead and landed it in the right spot at the right time to heal him and it felt nice. It was like elemental football or something. If a teammate is knocked out from completely drained health, a ring effect will slowly circle around them to revive them. It’s ideal to have as many players stand in that ring to quicken their revival in a matter of seconds. Each player is given a 2nd chance to get back in the game. Once all players are wiped out, someone at random will be chosen to as the revival to quickly get everyone back into the game. If they get knocked out, it’s back to the last checkpoint for everyone. It is possible to collect health and mana drops during battle, which is the only way to regain any aside from certain spells. However, once a battle is cleared, everyone’s health instantly replenishes without worry until the next battle.
The gameplay itself feels good. One area where Nine Parchments faults is its repetition, however. The enemies themselves are varied enough, all with different elemental versions of themselves. They don’t all get introduced all at once, though. At certain points you’ll come across an entirely new enemy alongside a new elemental variant of one you’ve encountered before and it generally follows that same pattern. You’ll be going through many of the same enemies that it will feel uninspiring at some point. One thing that could alleviate the repetitious nature is alternate paths in levels and puzzles. Unfortunately, there are neither. Albeit carefully crafted level design full of detail and undeniably gorgeous to go through, its linearity leaves a lot to be desired. Tie that in with hoards of enemies you already know how to handle and you know what you’re getting into once you reach the next level. That isn’t to say the gameplay itself is bad; it’s not. The game’s nature is that it’s meant to be replayed multiple times. In fact, there are 8 unlockable characters and 4 variants of each, all requiring players to level their characters high enough and/or find a particular item. They all have their own dialogue and banter. Players can even press up or down on the d-pad to change their current mood. They all have different moods and they may not even apply to how you, the player, currently feel. While new spells and characters seem like a fun option to replay the game, I think being able to choose these characters from the get-go would have been more appealing.
Secrets and unlockables are still meant to be sought. So they’re not necessarily lacking. It’s just a matter of them being worth the pursuit. Each stage has 5 quills to collect. There are also treasure chests which offer either an item or experience points. Both can be hidden from view and missable. While a lot of it is meant to be cosmetic, loot found come in different types of hats and staves. More than just being stats, they change the appearance of your character. Some staves will offer different attributes. One example of that is a staff that performs lightning damage when using Blink. This allows the player to create a trail of lightning and temporarily stunning enemies in place as you pass them by. There are other variants to this. Also, still be cautious of not Blinking your teammate with an elemental attribute. Each character has their own perk tree, and three of them. You’ll have to replay the game with the same character to unlock them, however, as your experience and spells earned carry over to a new game with that specific character. Each level gained earns you a point to spend and some perks require a certain amount of perks needing to be spent in order to access. Once players complete a level, they will be brought to a results screen presented with how much experience they’ve gained and the option to choose a perk. Alternatively, whenever a player levels up during a level, they can bring up the inventory screen by pressing X and choose a perk on the spot as long as they are not in battle. The perks aren’t unique and act as more of an incremental stat boost of your choosing. Some are stackable with a certain limit and it will take a bit of leveling to feel a substantial growth to your character.
What does make you feel skilled is overcoming the number of mini-boss and boss encounters. These are easily the best battles of the game and some that require minor puzzle elements to figure out. My teammate and I found none of the bosses to be bad at all and quite enjoyable, with some being better than others, though. I’ll take a game just full of these, please.
Nine Parchments scores good points for its visuals and music. There’s plenty of locations that are filled with vibrant colors and pretty backdrops. Shrubs will sway when you brush against it. Shadows are smooth. Water reflections shimmer on rock walls and land. The texture work looks seamless. You’ll travel through beautiful looking forests, snowy mountains, caves, beaches, volcanic regions and fantasy landscapes. I think Frozenbyte managed their assets efficiently to make the levels stand out. It’s just a shame we can’t visit the lot of what we see happening in the background. The soundtrack deserves some praise here, too, as it makes good use of pan flutes, mandolins, strings and vocals. It certainly captures the medieval vibe with its melodic structure.
There were some ugly bugs and annoyances on our playthrough worth mentioning. At one point, my teammate would spawn and die instantly every time we restarted that checkpoint. Another time the camera wouldn’t pan to the next section unless one of us died off-screen. We ran into weird issues such as our body spazzing due to something physics related. These were seldom, but they did happen. What’s not a bug and is a feature Frozenbyte is promising to implement is the ability to hose private sessions. At some moments we had random players join our session without a way to kick them. At one point a player joined just as we defeated a boss. How fun it was to have reaped the rewards with such little effort. In the latest patch, Frozenbyte has fixed numerous bugs and has even added a multiple save feature so you won’t lose progress whenever switching between your current session and a new one. So that’s a plus. They’re also promising to release an update including the option to remove friendly fire as it’s been heavily requested. While this goes against the original idea for the game, it’s nice that they’re involved with its fanbase and working on it.
Thanks to “Squid” for his companionship and patience during our playthrough.