Knights of Pen and Paper was a fun little jaunt through a fantasy world loosely based on the idea of parodying well-known tropes of the genre. The main hook however was that it simulated a pen and paper RPG, with the player simultaneously controlling the GM and the player party to keep the action going. Does its sequel (and subsequent expansion) build on these systems or rest on its laurels?
Much like the original, I’m going to be reviewing both the core game and its expansion, which adds a few additional missions to the game and bulks out the main story. It’s worth stating however that unlike the original’s free update to its own +1 Edition, the expansion pack in Knights of Pen and Paper 2 needs to be purchased by the player. It’s not a massive amount of money, but it would have been nice if the expansion to an already paid title were dropped free rather than locked away behind an optional pay wall. In this manner the game feels a little cheaper than its predecessor, even though what you’re getting is a polished product.
Graphically Pen and Paper 2 ups the ante by mirroring the 16-bit era rather than the 8-bit original and does so in the gleeful knowledge that it brings larger sprites and more detail to the plate. There are some drawbacks to this however, with some of the monsters you inhabit looking a little boring in their design compared to the relatively imaginative roster the game fills itself out with for the rest of its play time. The screen works in both portrait and landscape mode, with the action zooming into the core active zone and enlarging the sprites when held in portrait or zooming out to enjoy more of the surrounding scenery when played in landscape. It’s a great touch that adds a great deal of polish to the game and more titles should handle in this manner. Regions explored by the player are a single screen, with some variation between them but overall a lack of decisive imagination has gone into the fantasy world in the main game (with the exception of one dungeon which mirrors the graphical style of a RogueLike). You’ll find a couple of towns and a series of caves, forests and dungeons to explore in a vague send-up of the Song of Ice and Fire novels. Activating the expansion adds an eastern flavoured segment to the game that gives it some diversity and manages to give the spriters more opportunity for amusing enemy designs, such as Japanese Kappas designed in the vein of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
Sound effects mirror the feel of the 16-bit era and everything appears to have been re-recorded for the sequel to better match the emulated style upgrade. There’s a selection of sounds for the various class-based special attacks that are for the most part unique, and most monsters make their own sounds as they battle you too. Music is of a generally good standard, but largely serves as background filler, as if the games designers are all-too aware that most players will only be using this title with the mute button enabled on their journey to work or around the TV of an evening.
Story is a tighter focus in the sequel than it was in the main game, with the main thread being that the players (aided and hindered by their GM) have to track down and stop the Paper Knight, who is illegally using second edition rules to attempt to break the GMs First Edition campaign. Much fun is had with the concept of pen and paper gaming over this topic, with some genuinely funny moments at the expense of the player. On a strictly town-to-town basis the game falls apart a little however, with the story only really serving as a narrative tool to begin and end the adventure. The world setting is loosely based on a mockery of the Song of Ice and Fire novels by George R. R. Martin (or more likely the Game of Thrones television adaption) and is aptly named Paperos in an attempt to chase a laugh. There’s also a large wall separating two sides of the map and some other curt nods, but the game tends to distribute its mockery evenly, with Lord of the Rings getting a good stabbing as well and a whole lot of Monty Python thrown in for good measure. Some of the games better jokes aren’t in the dialogue, but in descriptive text, item names and attacks. Some puns, such as robotic outlaw Robin HUD, fall entirely flat from the word go. Stick with it to the ending however for an amusing twist to proceedings.
Gameplay sees the return of the same GM orientated menu system employed in the original title and for the most part it works wonderfully, the very definition of ‘if it’s not broken, don’t fix it’. Some slight changes have been made to the way the game flows however. Each area can be explored fully by making dice rolls, collecting enough of which will unlock a set number of chests containing bonus items or crafting recipes. Gold still needs to drive every action except for combat, with travelling, investigating areas and other actions all costing currency that can be purchased from an in-game store but never requires that real money be put up front if you’re playing properly or are happy to grind for it instead. The exchange rate is overall lower than it was in the original however, so amassing a fortune will take a while. Combat is turn based and against a set number of monsters of your choosing (unless a plot relevant mission dictates otherwise) and player characters are still a joining of race, player type and class to decide base abilities. The game adds a magazine section where cash can be used to unlock additional bonuses as well as check out online comments about the game, this serves as an interesting portal to the shop as well as serving up a few treats and hopefully will see more support that the single free starter magazine and paid expansion. Some post-game content is also unlocked with Fists of Fury, including a particularly difficult new boss, additional crafting items and a town with its own local area crammed with new goodies. The biggest addition to the game over its predecessor however is the addition of dungeons that need to be explored one room at a time, random in nature and tougher than the game up to their entry because they’re crammed with traps and high level encounters. Leaving randomly re-generates the layout, meaning that they can be tough to master and encourage careful exploration. The whim of the dice rolled by each player for many actions can be a massive deciding factor of winning or losing, and for some the cost of buying back a fallen character may take a while to save up.
Overall it’s not a bad title, but it doesn’t manage to put enough new content into itself to justify deleting the original and making the upgrade. This may change if additional content is made available by the developer, and the game shows a great deal of potential for just that, but at the moment aside from prettier graphics it’s not that much of a step up. Falling short of greatness when the original offered so much ingenuity and such a fresh take on the genre is understandable and the game does go a long way into fixing the major problem with the first game, which was a lack of story. Wait for this one to go on sale before buying it, and then purchase the expansion as well, you’ll ultimately save.