11 October 2015

Prague 2015 - What I Played

Knights of Pen and Paper II review

Gaming isn't usually associated with a memorable overseas holiday - after all, you typically go abroad to explore new real world environments, not bury yourself in virtual ones as you otherwise might at home; but the four days I spent in Czech Republic this summer had me finding that actually, a good game can do more than just speed up the time spent waiting for your flight and in fact add to your holiday experience. Knights of Pen & Paper II has proven to be one such game.

Developed by Kyy Games and published by Paradox, the main game and its DLFist of +1 Fury are available on Google Play and the Apple App Store for £3.99, with a Steam release on its way in about a month's time. Since the only technology I would be taking on holiday was my iPhone, I purchased the version for iOS. Upon startup the option to buy the extra content for £1.49 is immediately available, but I held off on getting it to avoid distraction from the main game and my sightseeing schedule.

I began a new game to find that in Knights 2 you're not the hero, not exactly - you're the players who are the heroes in a Dudgeons and Dragons-style table top fantasy game. As such your party can, quite ludicrously, include a hipster dwarf, a goth paladin, and even a ninja-elf cheerleader. Then there's the pimply bearded guy with the book who acts as your dungeon master, and the visuals to the story appear on-screen as per his narration, including the times when he gets his own story wrong. The introduction of these hilarious, obviously sarcastically designed characters is a great start to the game.

Apart from the more detailed graphics I can't say for sure how this sequel compares to its predecessor (Knights 1 is still sitting in my Steam library untouched) but from what I can tell this isn't a drastically different addition to the series. What I can say is that you're not at any loss if you go in to the second instalment with no experience of the first - for anyone who's ever played an old school RPG the gameplay is simple and familiar enough, and there's a comprehensive in-game handbook for anybody who hasn't. To quickly summarise, the battle system is turn-based, relying on stats and luck rolls to determine things like status afflictions and priority of action. Victory rewards you with gold to spend on equipment, consumable items, and travel between areas, while levelling up provides you with upgrades to skills and special abilities. 

Something interesting is that you can tailor the difficulty of some scripted monster encounters by choosing how many enemies to fight at one time, which can potentially cut down the number of times you die and the time you spend grinding for experience elsewhere. The gameplay is admittedly repetitive, but that's kind of the point: it's the nature of the genre, and so are the other games that it pays homage to. The real key to preventing Knights 2 from getting too grind-happy is to fill up your party as soon as you can since new characters start at level one and the earlier they join you the more experience they can gain from main quests alone.

Knights 2 also suffers from the same problem as Skyrim in regards to your characters' finances: at the beginning money is scarce and seeing as items, travel, and bonus chests all end up costing you a fair bit, the feeling that you should be grinding for more cash can be frustrating. After that, the fact that eventually you end up with more money than you know what to do is even more annoying. While this isn't the most major of gripes that could be made about any game, if we're on the subject of grinding it might as well be mentioned and besides, there isn't really a whole lot here to complain about. Yes, the game is incredibly linear story-wise, lacking in different game modes, and not particularly long (I finished it by the end of my holiday by playing only in those rare moments when I was completely unoccupied), offering fairly little replay value, but it's a £4 indie game for your phone, not a £30 or £40 triple A PC or console title; and so it delivers on what you pay for: a simple yet satisfying, short and sweet experience.

In a very successful attempt to imitate the classic games of yesteryear Knights 2 makes many of their same mistakes, but despite all the page space I've spent talking about its mechanical flaws, at the end of the day those aren't really what you're playing it for anyway. The writing, which implements a prototypical RPG plot only to mock it relentlessly and lovingly, is what gets you hooked. This is a game for people who love games, for those who can appreciate the nostalgia of vintage tropes such as helpless townsfolk and wise magicians enough to see them presented as whiny layabouts and laughable frauds, and who can chuckle at the ridiculously blatant nods to well-known franchises like Fallout or Super Mario. It's rare that a game makes me laugh out loud yet this one managed to do just that. It's funny, it has charm, and thanks to its parodic approach to other games, itself included, it also manages to stand out just that little bit more amongst all the other low-key indie productions nowadays that cater to the recent 'pixel-art-and-chiptune,' retro-hype trend.

I left Prague after several days having enjoyed not only the city's beautiful architecture and its cheap alcohol, but also some good laughs that I now strongly associate with the trip and wouldn't have had if not for the game I played there. With finals looming over the near future I'm not sure exactly when my next opportunity to go on holiday will be, but what's now for sure is that I definitely won't be going without some form of virtual fun with me; something preferably similar in length, simplicity, and tone to Knights of Pen & Paper II. Maybe at that time I'll finally pick up that Fist of +1 Fury DLC; or who knows, maybe it'll even be Knights 3.