Thoughts: Paper Sorcerer (PC)

And so the summer sales of several digital retailers came and went taking some of my money with them. Again, I’m surprised by how little I splurged on the event, but as I’ve said to people before, I think that one Black Friday sale a few years ago netted me everything I could possibly need and subsequent years just haven’t brought enough new things interesting enough for my greenbacks.

Paper Sorcerer happens to be of a genre very dear to my heart–first-person dungeon crawling. I’ve sank many-an-hour to many games of this genre mapping things out on graph paper when in-game maps weren’t a thing. I remember the frustration when passageways would overlap by no fault of my mapping. It’s no wonder I enjoy the Etrian Odyssey series so much.

What drew me to Paper Sorcerer were its inked-looking graphics. They reminded me of pictures from old table-top RPGs upping its nostalgia attack against me to +2. It looked like a fun little jaunt through nostalgiaville and for the sale price, I had little to lose.

In Paper Sorcerer, you take on the role of a villain trapped inside a book and striving for escape. In order to escape, you must navigate the book’s dungeon and destroy the book’s bindings. Once the final one is broken, you are free.

Each floor in the book prison is made of several small, easy to navigate levels populated with a few encounters appearing as big blobs of smoke. Some floors have invisibles, but the game is not a grind fest. Random encounters can be ground out in a separate dungeon obtainable by collecting spirits and allow you to unlock new party members, offer treasure, and also provide a choice of three top-end gear to finish the game with. It is also where you can obtain the puppet and his equipment which cannot be found anywhere else.

Character progression is very classic RPG. As characters gain levels, stats raise, and skills either get stronger or new ones are learned. In the game’s town, one can purchase a variety of upgrades to stats, damage, resistances, and the like for gold. It is where all mine went. Everyone but my sorcerer got weapon damage upgrades. My Troll got strength, my Goblin agility, my Skeleton defence, otherwise. My Sorcerer focused only on magic. Anything strays from this strategy tended to be resistances or health. I had no troubles getting through the game and my progression went quite smoothly.

Through the entire thing, I also never switched out party members; I never needed to. I made do with what I had and fortunately, inactive party members still gain XP, as they should, since there is only one place to farm Xp otherwise. As such, I feel I wasted lots of money on the extra dungeon working on the puppet–finding better limbs and wasting the gold on someone I never used. I found myself quite satisfied with the Troll, Goblin, and Skeleton with inactive party members keeping me healthy between fights.

Things were okay in the beginning when I just started playing. The game presents itself quite well and has the basics of a story with not much straying from your task at hand, so there’s no fleshing of the world. There are some books you can find, but they offer little in the way of expanding the narrative–arbitrary collectibles for those who care. It’s not a huge fault for me. Having played games when story, plot, and lore weren’t a requirement of making good games, I tend to not care as much as others. It has an opening story to explain your situation and task and has an ending with differences made by what characters were in your active party upon completion–good enough for me as far as this game is concerned.

Trouble comes firstly with the graphics after some levels have been gained and there are a lot of skills the characters can use–and often use. The indicators of your abilities all appear simultaneously in the same space. If an enemy is afflicted by two ongoing damage effects (poisoned, frozen, or fire), you’ll not be able to tell how much damage it is taking. The graphical effects for these afflictions also overlap. When a party member as afflicted by one of these things, it’s difficult to tell WHAT is afflicted because the graphical effect of it seems to take up the same space as would an enemies with only a little bit of bleed onto the character’s little status box. This isn’t the only problem with the graphical effects of ongoing afflictions. There seems to only be a few places where the graphic appears, so when you encounter larger groups of enemies that arranged with some slightly behind another, you have no fucking clue which enemy is effected sometimes. I’ve had an empty area have this effect with no idea which opponent(s) were affected.

Aside from these abilities, there are also buffs and debuffs characters can use. When a character is effected by one, there are icons that appear beside their character box. When your characters are displayed in a row beneath the dungeon view, they end up in-between with no obvious attachment to a character without constantly reminding myself on which side the icons appear. What some of the icons represent isn’t obvious, either. The worst part, enemies under negative effects that don’t have a visual (which only the ongoing damage have) do not get any icon or any indication they are under an effect so you have no idea if anything you do works or how long it lasts.

Here is another odd anomaly of status effects. If a character dies from them, they will still be under the effect when brought to life. I have no idea if this is intentional. Sure, if you were bleeding when you died, it makes sense you’d be bleeding if brought back to life. It’s not something I’ve ever seen in any RPG I’ve ever played, so I have no idea how to feel about it beyond how it made things unnecessarily aggravating. Being used to status effects being cleared upon death, I’d never think to cure them before bringing a character back to life only to nearly immediately die thereafter.

If any of these aren’t annoying enough, there is no way to tell what enemy is attacking nor its target. All that is displayed is the name of an attack, some kind of sparkly or slash to punctuate it, and then a party member will flash and take damage and effects. This can makes some strategic choices difficult when facing several different enemies of the same type when you’ve no idea which of them did a one-hit kill or something equally nasty.

I’ve not finished, though. There are some UI things that irritated me, also. When you use abilities and items outside of combat, the windows don’t refresh. You must close the menu and open it again to see the effects such as how much a character has healed… Every. Time.

There is also a glitch that has not yet been resolved involving opening the menu in your room at Sanctuary, the game’s only town. If you do this too quickly upon entering, it glitches becoming unusable and unresponsive with a force-quit of the game the only way to resolve. It is the only place where you can bring up the menu in town meaning it’s the only place to save your game outside of the dungeon.

Another glitch involving your room has to do with leaving. Sometimes upon leaving, the transition isn’t triggered and you pass through the door into blackness where you are stuck for all eternity until you force-quit.

Other glitches involve the various keys acquired in the dungeon. Once used upon leaving that floor, the rooms they unlocked will become inaccessible. If you opened a door and noticed an encounter or two and wanted to leave to resupply, when you returned, that area is closed to you… forever. You have to do everything right then. One of the keys is also bugged and not appearing on your list of usable items to open a door housing one of the most powerful spells in the entire game.

These door and key related bugs do make a few achievements unobtainable

The game is still playable with these flaws, but not nearly as nice as it could be. These seem like really rookie mistakes that could have easily been avoided with some forethought and play testing and it boggles me how any of it was deemed okay for a release. A patch had been released before the time of my purchasing which fixed a few issues and achievements, but there is still more work to be done.

Moving on to the audio, if anyone out there has dabbled with Garage Band, Mixcraft, or any other production software like that, you might recognize some stock loops in the tunes. Some have been slightly modified, but I recognized a fair few. I also picked out a play on some Requiem For A Dream and even Swan Lake. Once my brain recognized this, it became fixated and became annoying. Regardless, I found none of it to be very good.

This game could be great with a little bit of polish cleaning up combat and ironing out all those bugs. It would be something I could recommend to fans of first-person dungeon crawlers who’d like a short delve to break up their gaming routine. As it is now, I’d keep it on your radar if genuinely interested in the game and see if things get patched. It released in 2013 and the latest patch came this past May, so there’s hope. Until then, I’d advise caution even with the $5 price tag.


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