The Nine Parchments; spells so powerful a wizard or witch is only granted access to them upon graduation of the Astral Academy. Here, we return to the familiar world of Trine. When the Master Wizard makes a magical blunder, the Nine Parchments are let loose to spread across the fantastical lands. Privy to adventure and with a lust for the ultimate spell-book, the seven students of the Astral Academy embark to gather the spells. Whether journeying alone or in the company of friends, this is a charming adventure that highlights the passionate work of Finnish development studio Frozenbyte.
Having no choice but to release Trine 3 earlier than wanted in 2015, the studio immediately set out to work on Nine Parchments to redeem some of the features that unfortunately its predecessor had to debut without. Transitioning from three separate classes to an all-wizard cast, gameplay surrounds the strategy of your use of spells. Similar to the likes of Magicka, the beam streams (my less than desirable name for the beams of magic) of different elements combine to either create one powerful beam or a stream of an entirely new element; ice and fire clash together to produce burning steam, etc.
My first run through the game was a solo adventure. The soothing voice of Terry Wilton as the Narrator eases you back into the world of Trine (and put a big fat smile on my face). Only one character is available to begin with; Cornelius Crownsteed the bullied kid turned apprentice wizard. Hidden challenges are used to unlock the rest of the cast. You begin the game with only three rudimentary spells that differ for each character. Most characters start with two different elements which will come in handy as enemies are vulnerable and immune to certain types. Ice will not affect the blue monsters, however, fire will obliterate them – standard logic.
To attain new spells for your arsenal you have to progress through levels until you reach a parchment boss. These are lively battles and one of the highlights of the game in terms of combat. Each boss is creatively made to test your skills and the reward is a choice of one out of three new spells. You must consider which elements you lack and also how the ability is used. There are three methods: the standard projectile, the long-range beam and the overhead missile. If you have been struggling with shield bearers then the electric overhead missile is the choice for you. Not enough firepower? Then go with the fire projectile spell (pun intended). The freedom of choice, albeit somewhat limited, is a neat addition and adds to the replay value of the game as you venture back to collect a different spell. The level-up system is pretty much the standard. Blow up monsters, earn experience, improve a skill tree that bolsters your magic power – rinse and repeat.
The environmental art is where the game truly shines. Upon Frozenbyte’s completion of Shadwen, the art team joined the Nine Parchment project and created gorgeously immersive worlds. From the beach (that some may recognise as Amadeus’ holiday home in Trine 3) to the frozen mountains, the game looks beautiful. It has the same fantasy charm that I loved so much in the Trine series that encapsulates the spirit of adventure. The soundtrack blends perfectly with the scenery only making the immersion even greater.
Sadly, my love affair with the setting and music was spoilt by a couple of shortcomings. For a company that was frustrated with an early release, it is a shame to have run into a few persistent bugs. One such bug prevented me from using my most useful of spells despite having full mana and no cooldowns. Additionally, the environment is not quite so lovely when your character decides to fall down every nook and cranny to their instant death. Whilst I absolutely adore the blink mechanic that provides fast paced action and playmaking opportunities not usually associated with wizard gameplay, the amount of times I fell into the lava/lake/pit/despair was unbearable.
My final issue resides in the monotony that occurs playing solo. Towards the end of the game and its five different worlds, gameplay had become somewhat repetitive and stale with no real story elements in sight. This can be taken with a pinch of salt, however, as it is very much clear that the game is intended to be played with others. Spells are meant to be combined to create monstrous power that overwhelms your enemy, or failing that, an explosion that kills you and your friends too. It is meant to be havoc. It is meant to be an adventure for your group. It is meant to be fun. Single player is not that. Ok, it is still fun, but only for its challenging aspect. While I only played on normal mode (hard and hardcore for the truly insane), I was pushed to my limits on the final few levels. My walls, fists, and head felt the repercussions of this the most. There was a very satisfying final boss battle, however, this great evil antagonist was only introduced in the final level. Had I been chasing this person’s tail the whole time, I might have cared a little more, or at least enough to be distracted by the repetitive battles.
All in all, this is a good game. If you want to have fun with it, play it online or with your friends. If you want a challenge, play it on your own. If you want a story, look elsewhere. I really hope Frozenbyte pursue games similar to Nine Parchments: great immersive environments; fustercluck multiplayer gameplay; Terry Wilton. Almost everything right is there. Almost.
Nine Parchments (Reviewed on PlayStation 4)
This game is good, with a few negatives.
A game lovingly made by a studio with big ambition that, for the most part, succeeds. Single player and a lack of story are its downfall, but, none of that matters when you are adventuring with your friends and writing your own story!