Back when I was very young, my older brother would rope me into what he simply called “RPG”. RPG was basically a loosely based Dungeons and Dragons game, though I didn’t know that at the time. Our adventures were not standard fare, however, as my brother would more or less throw all the typical regulations out the window and make up his own stuff along the way. But that’s what made him a good Dungeon Master, because you really never knew what to expect.
While I haven’t dabbled in pen and paper games since, I’ve always appreciated and looked back fondly on those limited memories of mine. The thrill of the dice rolls to allocate my initial stats, and determine whether or not I would defeat the next monstrosity of my brother’s creation was exhilarating for sure. That is why when I first heard about Knights of Pen and Paper, I was excited to see what it could offer.
Although it was originally released back in 2012 on mobile platforms, I knew nothing of Knights of Pen and Paper until it was announced for Switch. And before I continue, let me make something clear: while mobile ports tend to have a certain level of stigma from the outset, I would ask you to set that aside and consider my experience with it before jumping to conclusions. I am typically not a fan of mobile-based games either, but this one in particular has managed to curve that mindset just a bit.
Due to my minimal experience with pen and paper RPGs in a traditional sense, I will not act like I’m an expert on them (therefore, bear with me). But I can say that Knights of Pen and Paper is heavily influenced by those classic tabletop games right from the very beginning. You will sit down at a table with two other nerds, with two additional slots becoming available to you later. Directly in front of you lies none other than the Dungeon Master himself. To those unfamiliar with mechanics behind a DM, they are essentially the lifeblood of the game itself, and are more or less responsible for the world building of the game in its entirety.
Building Your Party
As each person comes to the table, you will need to pick their avatar and class. Instead of allowing you to come up with your own names, you have to choose between premade individuals, each with a unique passive trait. While these bonuses are beneficial, you shouldn’t be concerned with optimizing them in favor of specific person/class combinations (though feel free to if that suits your tastes). I would have preferred the option to customize the names, as to make the experience more immersive. But the lack of such an option isn’t a huge detriment either.
There are a handful of classes to choose from, including but not limited to the Warrior, Paladin, Mage, Rogue, and Shaman. Additional classes can be unlocked by completing various tasks within the game itself, encouraging multiple playthroughs (though alternatively, you can opt to “bench” characters at any time in favor of new ones). Each of these classes have a set of abilities, both active and passive, that you are able to allocate skill points in upon each level up. Pen and paper fanatics may be slightly disappointed in the lack of statistical dice rolls during party setup, however. In other words, you get a skill point per level up, but your statistics are set and raised per level based on predetermined conditions.
While there are only four abilities per class, I found each of them to be quite useful. You will likely find yourself leaning heavily towards one or two of the four abilities rather than investing in all of them equally. The abilities you gravitate towards will be dependent on your party composition as a whole. Though it may sound like a simplified system at first, it really just had its fat trimmed out. Many of the classes can actually serve more than one role, whether it be tank, healer, or damage dealer.
If you’re into multiple playthroughs, you may find that you might build the Druid that was a healer in your first session as a damage dealer the next time around. Perhaps you’d favor a hybrid build of sorts? The choice is yours! I appreciate the fact that the ability system isn’t bogged down by an unnecessarily large pool of abilities. Instead, you have a limited, but completely meaningful selection at your disposal.
Now that everyone is at the table, munchies in hand, the Dungeon Master throws you into the world he has created. The story specifics of that world, I will leave for you to discover on your own. I only say that because my reviews are generally spoiler free, and Knights of Pen and Paper in particular is a bit nonsensical in that aspect. There is a mainline plot to follow, sure, but it’s pretty goofy and written in a way that naturally makes it feel like a conversation between buddies.
Again, you are with a group of friends that are playing part of a world built by the Dungeon Master from the local comic book store, so expecting anything of substance lore-wise is futile. Characters are often making fun of themselves and others, and where this might be too extreme in some games, it makes the whole pen and paper RPG experience more believable in my opinion.
Traveling around the Knights of Pen and Paper world is done by way of a point-based world map, but each location you visit has completely visible surroundings. Meaning, the backdrop of each location is portrayed behind your party’s table. This further intensifies that pen and paper RPG experience, as you see the world come to life directly from the perspective of the table. And while the graphics aren’t amazing, it is easier to process than imagining this stuff up all on your own like you would in a traditional tabletop setting (though that may take the fun out of it for some people).
Traveling between points on your map will cause you to saddle up your horse, or deploy a boat depending on the terrain. For added pen and paper RPG flair, a random dice roll will determine whether you get into a random encounter between any two points on the map.
It is all about traditional turn-based battles in Knights of Pen and Paper. The in-game stat “initiative” determines the order of attack, with a side of randomness to make things more interesting. Choices in battle boil down to your standard melee attack, the previously mentioned abilities, consumables, and just running away. If you choose to flee, a dice roll will determine whether your attempt is successful. If you fail, you have the option to flee again once another one of your turns come around.
Knights of Pen and Paper is going to be as challenging as you make it. What I mean by that is your choices will directly impact the overall difficulty you face along the way. Both main and side content often allow you the freedom of choice when it comes to your enemy encounters. Many times, you are able to hand pick the enemies in an upcoming fight. Your rewards from that battle are dependent on what kind and how many monsters you face. If you feel like doing the bare minimum to complete a certain task, you can do just that. Tackling groups of enemies at the same time, however, will net you additional rewards for the extra effort, but you can utilize the system in whatever way suits you the best.
Gear Progression and Crafting
Knights of Pen and Paper makes it easy for you to spend your hard earned cash. You have access to an item and accessory shop from any village. Consumables can be used in or outside of combat (depending on their nature), and each party member can equip up to four different accessories at a time. There is a huge selection of both consumables and accessories, which makes building your team your preferred way that much more satisfying.
Crafting is a little more RNG heavy than I prefer, but it makes sense given the emphasis of the other roll-based mechanics in the game. Basically, you start with a very low percentage of success when crafting an item. That percentage equates to a roll range that will affect the success or failure of your craft. So, if the blacksmith has a 40% chance to craft something, that could mean a successful craft if you roll a 12 or higher, a 50% chance could be rolling an 8 or higher, and so on.
The blacksmith can level up as well, increasing the base percentage of success by 5% per level. This can prove troublesome at lower levels especially, but at higher levels it is easier to overcome via +% crafting and +dice roll accessories. It is a high risk / high reward scenario that may be tough to swallow early on when you have very little funds. But you should at least aim to upgrade each party member’s weapon and armor once, as their base properties offer no bonuses whatsoever.
Additionally, you can upgrade your game room, from the walls and decor, to the table itself. These items will offer passive bonuses, with some that extend through to other playthroughs. You can also purchase snacks, which will appear on your table and generally offer temporary combat bonuses. In short, there are no shortage of money sinks to partake in Knights of Pen and Paper.
You may be thinking to yourself, “wow, there are a lot of options available to me in this game.” While it is true that the class and ability design allow for many different ways to tackle the game’s challenges, the rest of the “choices” are really superficial at best. My biggest problem with Knights of Pen and Paper is the fact that everything content-wise is pretty much the same. In any given location, there are fetch quests, escort missions, and your standard clear X amount of enemy tasks. But all of these features lead to you killing monsters and nothing more. Sure, you might occasionally unlock a new class to play, or get rewarded with a nice piece of loot, but it all leads back to killing stuff.
Now, I like my turn-based battles just as much as anyone, but some excitement gets lost when you are handed the ability to craft your own encounters. While in any one location you may have the option to place 3-4 unique enemies on the field, you will likely default to the easiest or the one within your level range, rather than mixing it up every time. Because of that, you really begin to see what makes random encounters in RPGs so enjoyable. Really, the only time you will be faced with random or unexpected combat here is when traveling across points on the map, and some of the more scripted events during story missions.
Another complaint of mine stems from the side quests. By design, side quests are meant as supplemental activities to the main story progression. In other words, they should be considered optional content. In Knights of Pen and Paper, you will likely be doing the vast majority of side content out of necessity for the experience, money, or both.
Each quest has a recommended level in which you should tackle it, but often times, quest chains will lead you to places much higher than your average party level. Conversely, many times higher level content (especially escort missions) will pit you against trivial enemies, which feels like a waste of time more than anything else. I just would have preferred a more consistent level of difficulty rather than the roller coaster ride that is its current form.
The game runs exceptionally well, both docked and undocked, but I did experience a singular, strange bug. It happened on a day where I docked and undocked the system multiple times, though I’m not sure that had anything to do with it. Regardless, I ended up having to deal with some slowdown, and the music volume muting itself every time you used the “rest” mechanic in-game. Closing out and starting the game up again fixed the problem, and it didn’t happen to me again after that. Other than that, it was nothing but solid performance.
Knights of Pen and Paper is a game oozing with tabletop RPG-inspired nostalgia. Those that love customizing and building their own teams while blasting through a ton of turn-based battles will immediately fall in love with this game. You will gravely disappointed if you’re looking for anything beyond that though (ie. a story with depth, or varied forms of content). All in all, it does a pretty good job simulating a night around a game table with friends, minus the pile of Cheeto crumbs and half-consumed mountain dew cans.