Like Cracking Open A Book – PC – Paper Sorcerer – 2013

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Paper Sorcerer
PC / Linux / Mac
Ultra Runaway Games
© 2013
Genre: Dungeon-Crawler

A love of RPGs should not be a surprising thing to see on the 3pstart blog.  Sure, we generally play and post about JRPGs, the most populous niche of the genre that has given us fantastic titles and series.  Western RPGs, both old and modern, tended to be based more within the bounds of Dungeons & Dragons and other tabletop RPGs, drawing inspiration from the tabletop fantasy genre and ideas to bring us stories and gameplay that didn’t even require the trouble of finding a tables worth of friends to throw some dice with.  Paper Sorcerer is steeped in the traditions of the classic western computer gaming RPG Dungeon-Crawler, with the modern twist of casting you as the villain of the tale.

First, the story itself.  After years of terrorizing the land and being feared by the kingdom, four noble adventurers are hired by the king to help bring you down.  You are The Sorcerer, from what little you can remember, who binded the souls of evil men and monsters to do your bidding and control the land.  Until you were defeated, of course, and locked away within the pages of the legendary artifact, Librum Claustrum.

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I have tried a few different parties, but I settled on the Victorian Gothic crew. Choosing between the Witch and the Vampire was my toughest choice by far.

The game opens, after choosing whether you are the horned male sorcerer (who looks suspiciously like a nod to Elric) or the strangely pleasant female sorcerer, with you locked away in your cell.  Other than what little light comes from the door to your room, and the bed itself, an inky blackness surrounds you, and you are tired – oh so tired.  Laying down to fall asleep, you are beset upon by a mouse, who offers to help you escape this place, and explaining the enchantment you are under in your cell.

Leaving your cell, you find yourself able to begin channeling some of your powers once again, and you summon up your first ally, who has also had their powers muted.  You and your allies will have to grow strong within this strange prison once more as you fight your way out, undo the bindings of magic that have been set in place, and win a true freedom.  Maybe even get a little revenge out of the deal, once you’ve escaped.

The allies that you choose are some of the biggest customizations you can get in the game.  Each monster is based on the class of a typical RPG, as described when you go to summon them, but ultimately you have three genres to help you: DPS, Tank and Healer.  DPS may be magical or melee based, tanks may be better against magic or physical attacks and healing may be traditionally done or through a more interesting system, but it really all boils down to style and personal preference.

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I settled on The Witch for my healer, The Abomination for my tank, and The Werewolf for my attacker to make up Team Victorian Gothic. I like to be thematic.  My first team of undead didn’t fare so well.

The gameplay is that of an oldschool dungeon-crawler with modern elements.  It looks like it should be grid based, but it is free movement, all done through the mouse and WASD keys, along with the space bar.  Puzzles are explored and solved in the dungeon world as you go about, and the menus, stats and equipment screens all have the sort of simplistic yet inexplicable oldschool 1980’s and early 90’s feel that adds to the thematic charm of what the developer had been going for when he started to Kickstart this game.

Granted, some of the things he may have wanted to try and clean up from an oldschool style RPG: treasure and loot are so randomized that you can easily exploit them by saving before opening a chest to keep reloading to get what you want, since the loot tables are randomized.  Most equipment has little to no explanation behind what it should be doing, or who can equip it.  Some equipment, such as Katars [for the Troll] and Axes [for the Minotaur] will never be used by anyone else in the party, and yet you can still find them if you don’t have those characters in the party.  It can feel a bit futile to find an awesome items that no one in your party can use, and makes the temptation to exploit the loot table much more appealing than it should be.

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The only real town outside of the tower, The Sanctuary, is also populated by villainous types. It can make the game feel a bit repetitive, if you aren’t used to the old dungeon delvers.

Additionally, three years after release, there are still some random bugs and strange typos to be found.  I’m not sure if the developer abandoned the game or simply has no time (he is, after all, a one-man team), but it makes it much harder to sell it to current gamers.  Still, I don’t find most of the bugs to be too glaring or to disrupt the gameplay, but it is worth mentioning for people who are stricter in the judgement they would pass on developers.  In the creators defense, he describes himself as someone who was never in the industry, and had no background experience.

So one of the coolest parts of this game are the graphics.  It looks like a lot like the illustrations in tabletop sourcebooks from the 80’s.  While I was too young to appreciate that era, I did own a lot of them due to having a local nerd store with a huge surplus that would sell them for cheap in the early 90s, and I find this look to be both charming and appealing.  The character portraits look as if they were drawn by Mike Mignola as well, which I also found to be a nice touch.  The game takes place inside of a book, and everything looks as if it’s hand drawn, with the shadows and darkness made up of a deep, inky blackness.

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Seen here: a rare glimpse of one of your party members.

Character design itself is another cool looking aspect.  Enemies are mostly adventurers and heroes, with the occasional fellow villain or sinister monster that has escaped and is fighting everyone and anyone in their way.  Once again, enemies all look as if they are taken straight from a Monster Manual, with most animations being very simple.  Your own characters are rarely seen, with the occasional glimpse of one of your party attacking with a shot of them from behind being the most common.

Characters level up and gain skills in a linear fashion.  Later in the game, you have powerful abilities that could make the game unbalanced if you make the time to grind before you continue along in the story.  The most customization in the game is done through a demon-faun gentleman in the sancutary, which allows you to boost up certain stats, abilities or resistances for a price.  I think my biggest gripe with this game is sadly one of the things that makes it feel so old school: everything is extremely linear.  In fact, the story itself is downright railroaded, with text options making no real difference.  While the plot does unravel itself through the dialogue and texts that you find, you don’t really have an effect on that plot, and are just along for the ride.

20160807125313_1The combat system for the game is more modern and tactical, where you need to keep an eye on the defense (which is added as additional hit points that go away mostly before your normal health bar) and energy (which is used to cast spells).  Most spells and abilities can’t be spammed one after another, and the elements of the game include Divine, Dark, Fire and Ice – which circumvents a lot of the overly complicated elemental struggle found in most games, to more of a preferential choice.

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This is an example of how the story unfolds – one of the first explanations you get about what happened to The Sorcerer, describing the Librum Claustrum.

I have a few mixed feelings about this game.  It has a lot of good things going for it, and it has many cool ideas.  The bugs and the railroading story tend to weigh it down, along with flip flopping between a serious story and random bits of goofy humor… including the final cinematic.  I’d expect a bit more for something that was community backed (myself included via Kickstarter).  It’s a cool game overall, and since the current price is only $5 on Steam, I do think it’s well worth checking out.  As long as you can take the game for what it is, a nice looking, fanmade genre-clone, it will be an enjoyable game to beat.

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