Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Paper Sorcerer (PC)

Paper Sorcerer title screen
Well this isn't a good sign: it looks like they've taken the title screen from an Apple II game. I do like the candle effect, but that has to be a contender for the worst looking game logo on the site so far.

Hi I'm Ray Hardgrit and this is Super Adventures, I play games for an hour or two and try to figure out what they are and if they're any good. Today game is indie RPG Paper Sorcerer, the debut title by UltraRunawayGames (aka. Jesse Gallagher), and no relation as far as I'm aware to Paper Mario.

I realise the game's been out for almost a year now so it's perhaps a bit late (or half a decade too early) to show it off, but it was gifted to me by a kind and hopefully patient reader, and I promised I'd write something about it. So that's what I'm doing.

(Click the pictures to open up a bigger version and get a better look at the art).

Just like every other RPG ever made, the game begins by filling in some of the backstory. I'm almost surprised that there's no voice acting here, but I really shouldn't be. The game was a Kickstarter success story, but on a slightly smaller scale than something like Pillars of Eternity or Wasteland 2, and there's limits to what you can do with a budget of $13,000. There's no orchestra here either, so right now it's if Dragon Age's illustrated intro had an indie game synth soundtrack.

The narration explains that once there was a Sorcerer who terrorised the land with evil minions. Until one day he stopped. Lights could still be seen burning in the windows of his dark tower however, and the king decided this would would be a great time send to some of his men up there to sort the wicked wizard out.

And so the king gathered four loyal subjects and entrusted them with a powerful book-shaped artifact that would seal the Sorcerer away for good. Armed with this fearsome literature the four heroes embarked on a standard fantasy RPG quest, through poisonous marshes, ancient ruins and probably a spider cave or two, before climbing the dark tower and pulling off a standard fantasy RPG victory.

So wait, I'm not actually playing as these guys then? Oh of course, it's going with a classic 'ultimate evil was sealed away for a thousand years... until now' plot isn't it? Man after putting nearly 100 RPGs up on the site I really should've seen that coming.
 "In a blinding flash of light Sorcerer and minions were all sealed away. But that is just the beginning of our tale..."
Alright so the story's jumped ahead a bit, and now I'm playing as some other guy or girl, who found themselves captured after a battle with the King's troops. A quick limb count reveals that nothing is missing and in checking I confirm that I'm playing as a... I went with 'guy' this time, but I don't suppose it makes much difference.

OH! I'm playing as the defeated Sorcerer aren't I? Man I'm quick on the uptake today.

Okay it seems that I'm stuck sharing this pitch black cell with a worn out bed and a talkative mouse who claims we can get out if we just work together. Reminds me of another video game I played a while back... though last time I trusted a mouse to help get me out of a magic dimension they turned out to be a demonic bodysnatcher, so I'm a little tiny bit suspicious of their true intentions. Still, it's not like I have a choice.

The mouse kindly lifts the insidious magic field holding me in the cell and I take my chance to make a run for it.

Now that my power's returning I get to summon one monster from this endless list of former thralls into the team. This guy will apparently be a permanent party member so I need to choose carefully.

Fortunately clicking on a minion brings up a bit more information about how they operate, so I'm not entirely working in the dark here, but I haven't even seen how the fights play out yet so how am I know what sort of sidekick I'll need first? Though thinking about it, I could probably use someone with any kind of ability to heal, seeing as I left my first aid kit back in my evil tower.

Yeah, as tempting as it would be to bring out a werewolf monk or a skeleton paladin, I'm going to start out with a doctor, preferably one who hasn't taken an oath to do no harm.


But there's so many healing classes! I could bring out a defensive cultist, a life-stealing vampire, a powerful witch, or... well the sneaky goblin doesn't have any healing power really, but he's the only one who can steal things in the dungeon and that's important too!

Fine, I'll go with the boring sensible option. The cultist sounds like someone who can take a bit of punishment, and that's what I'll need considering he'll be the only thing keeping my people on their feet.


BUT THEN, IMMEDIATELY AFTERWARDS.


Hey, it's got a Dragon Quest style first person menu-driven turn-based battle system! I was expecting to be constantly clicking on attack icons like in Eye of the Beholder or Legend of Grimrock, but nope it's actually more similar to Final Fantasy. Actually it'd probably make more sense to compare it to the Wizardry games... except I haven't played any of them yet so I wouldn't really know.

Every turn I get to choose a single move for my Sorcerer and then his Cultist, then the guard I'm fighting gets his chance to hit me. It's not an unusual set up for an RPG really.

Both characters have got a set of skills (which includes their magic spells), and using one of them burns up the amount of energy listed on the right. My heroes only have a maximum of 4 energy points right now so they'll be out after just two shots, but each turn they'll get a point back so a few rounds later they'll be back to full strength again.

Fortunately the guard turned out to have a glass jaw and so it wasn't long before I relieved him of his 5 Gems, 1 Leather Helmet +6def, 1 Basic Tough Rune +10HP, and got a bit of experience for my trouble too. He didn't drop any other clothing so I suppose I must have hit him so hard that I vaporised his pants.

Oh by the way, these battles scenes are exactly how they look: motionless sprites overlaid against a static pre-illustrated background straight out of a game manual. My blokes appear on screen each turn to carry out their two frame attack animations, but there's no cel shaded 3D thing going on here.

The dungeon on the other hand is all real-time 3D with proper freedom to move around. No cel shading here either, it's just monochrome inked textures, and it's a great look in my humble opinion. Reminds me a bit of MadWorld's art style, except a bit more... sepia.

Damn I just figured this out: I'm trapped in that bloody book aren't I? Man, I'll have to be careful with the fire magic then, I could accidentally incinerate the universe with me in it.

I tried opening the other cells, but the doors are sealed shut and the occupants are either barking, screaming, or are evil enough that just their existence is enough to give my dude a headache, so I'll leave them be for now.

Plenty of other interesting things to investigate in here anyway. Like... that chest over there on the right!

Yeah yeah, I get it already, it's a trunk of shit. Still, it's better than fighting naked, and with only 4 mana my Sorcerer is in no position to turn down a blade. The box on the table probably contains something more valuable, but it'll have to wait until I find a key.

Okay, there's two exits to this room so I think I'll try heading... left.

The left hand door led me to the cell block exit so I came back and took a right instead, and found a room full of stuff to steal! Like a goblin idol, a mop and a book about banditry (and how to stop doing it). Oh, plus a small key which just so happened to fit perfectly in that small lock I found earlier. There were Restoration Crystals inside if you're curious, which apparently work like phoenix down, bringing dead heroes back into the fight. No regenerating health in this game by the way.

Okay, back to the other door then.

Ooops, I just ran into the goblin who's stuff I just stole. I gave him back his idol as a peace offering to keep things civil, but there's no way I'm letting him have his mop back.

I've got a proper dialogue box here packed full of questions, so I'm finally able to fill in some of the blanks. Turns out that the mouse I met earlier is the 'Spirit of the Book', and we really are all trapped inside that Librum Claustrum artifact: the Book of Closure (or something like that). He also explains that the gems I've been collecting have value in here as they allow people a glimpse of reality through the eyes of someone else on the outside, which is a nice bit of world building.

Can't stay here chatting all day though, I'm taking my mop and going in search of exits and XP.

The first few fights were scripted, but it seems that from now on enemy encounters are going to be represented by abstract smoke clouds. If I get too close to that thing then swords will be drawn, but if avoid fights then I won't get any stronger. Plus my mana energy only recharges in battle, so if I want to keep healing my dudes with magic I need to put them in harm's way first.

Man this is the beepiest battle music (youtube link) I've ever heard in a hand drawn western RPG. Nice tune though, I like it.

There's another twist to combat I should mention: when a character is attacked, their defence stat is subtracted from the physical damage sent their way; so if they're hit for 8 damage and then have 10 DEF, then they lose 0 hit points. BUT, defence is worn down every time they're physically hit, so if a battle drags on long enough they'll be utterly defenceless. At least, that's my understanding of what the tutorial just told me.

So my Sorcerer can either:
1. Blast the enemy with magic whenever he has the energy, bypassing their defence entirely and dealing a good amount of damage directly to their health bar.

Or.

2. Hit them with a dagger and do limited damage, but help chip away their armour so that my other two characters can deal more hurt. Well, other one character, seeing as my Minotaur seems to have picked up a nasty status effect and is sitting this one out.

Honestly though right now it doesn't seem to matter much what I do, I'm still going to win against these low level goons. And then at the end of the fight I'll get all my defence back ready for the next set of them.


SOON.


This may look like an RPG Maker game menu, but I assure you that it was actually made in Unity and... well okay it functionally is a well made RPG Maker game with a 3D dungeon, though that's fine. The menu's slick enough and a pleasure to use compared to that bloody GBC Harry Potter RPG I suffered with a couple of months back. Plus it's always nice to be able to save any time I want instead of having to hold out until the next save point.

I've got a full party now (finally got my goblin thief) and I'm managing to keep them in good health and full energy between fights just fine. I have the option to use healing magic outside of battles, but if I'm out of energy I'll be stuck using up health potions.

So now I'm searching the shelves and boxes in the guards' rooms for potions and better armour. It's cool that I can tell at a glance if I've raided a chest, but searching shelf items one at a time is going to get old fast.

Something else that's getting on my nerves is this equipment menu. It's great at showing me how an item would boost my base stats, but it doesn't take into account the gear I've already got equipped. So I can pick up a Worthless Iron Staff that does 1-3 dmg, and the game will throw a green +3 next to my damage stat and assure me that the thing is far better than the 11-27 dmg Steel Long Sword in my hand.


A FEW HALLWAYS LATER.


Whoa, I was not expecting to find an outside to this place. Seems that I've actually made it out of the prison! Not that being lost in a maze of crumbling paths and floating houses suspended over an infinite inky black chasm has improved my situation any.

Oh damn, not quite out yet. First I have to fight... the Knight. They've broken out the boss music for this guy so I can tell I'm going to have to pull out all the stops. I'm even using colour against him, so you can tell things have gotten real. I'm using all my status effect skills, getting my goblin to steal from him, making my heavy hitter hit his heaviest and generally trying to not die as my defences fall to zero. If things get really bad I might even use up one of my precious potions.

Fortunately I'm playing on normal difficulty so this wasn't the massacre it could've been. I bet if I'd turned this up to '1980' mode though things wouldn't have gone so well. Difficulty modes named after years are never a good sign.

Paper Sorcerer Sanctuary town screenshot
Whoa, I was expecting to run into merchant or two around the hallways, but they've got a whole town sketched in down here! The Spirit of the Book has even arranged a room for me to sleep in, which was kind of her.

It's a good time to introduce the town I reckon, because at this point I know the systems a little and I have an idea of what stats are likely to benefit me at the moment. So I immediately dumped half my cast on the Skill Trainer and told him to make me better at defence.

Paper Sorcerer shop zombie screenshot
Zombie shopkeeper huh? I wish I'd known earlier, I would've held onto enemy brains for him.

First thing I need to do is to sell all the trash I've been picking up, one junk item at a time, to earn enough cash for more skill training. Actually I should probably scan through the weapon and armour lists while I'm here and see if there's anything in there that my cash might be better spent on.

Paper Sorcerer level map screenshot
The book even comes with a level select world map screen (or table of contents I suppose). Shame the floors themselves don't seem to have a map.

My goal, given to me by the Spirit of the Book, is to tear the book apart by making my way through each block in turn and destroying the bindings. Once the bindings are broken we may do as we please. I can also return to that block I just came from, but with the rooms looted and the enemies dead there's not much point. Not much scope for grinding in this one, grind fans.

And that's Paper Sorcerer then I guess. Doesn't seem to be much point in showing off the next cellblock as I'm sure it'll be pretty similar looking.

Yep, same shit, different floor. Except the fights seem to take a bit longer now. Hang on, there's a mysterious switch behind this door. I wonder if this has anything to do with the misaligned masonry the game brought my attention to outside...

Okay I really am turning this off now, while I still can.


CONCLUSION

Paper Sorcerer is what you get when one man sets out to create a traditional turn-based RPG... and succeeds. There's no massive twist to the tale here, at least not at the point I've played up to; it's a solid imitation of an 80s first person dungeon crawler RPG with a fresh coat of paint over the top. Not that it doesn't bring new ideas to the table, and it's certainly designed to look and sound different to the crowd, but the core of it will be very familiar to fans of the genre and they'll likely find a lot to like in it. The writing especially seems a cut above the average RPG, and you can tell from the screenshots that it usually goes for the joke without being awkward about it.

Of course I've only seen the first hour or so of it (I haven't even found a puzzle yet), so for all I know it eventually degrades into a tedious crawl as enemies take longer and longer to kill and the battle animations begin to wear out their welcome...

Right now though it seems good to me. I'd play more of it.

You can find a web demo on the game's site: http://www.ultrarunaway.com/web-demo.html


Leave a comment, leave a comment, leave a comment! C'mon do it, I crave attention.

3 comments:

  1. I think you might have convinced me to buy this. Not that I need another game to sink my time into, so if VGJunk's output decreases then on your head be it!

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    Replies
    1. Well at least it's cheap, so if you hate it you won't be left too out of pocket. And if you end up loving it you can always direct your disgruntled, screenshot-starved readers to Super Adventures while you're busy! I'll give them some mediocre turn of the century PC games to look at or something.

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  2. I'm no fan of dungeon RPGs, but liked this game!
    And its beautiful - everything looks better in sepia XD

    Cant belive that we will have a Pokemon game here!!!

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