Impressions: Paper Sorcerer

By John Walker on November 26th, 2013 at 7:00 pm.

As we mentioned yesterday, successfully Kickstarted classic RPG Paper Sorcerer has been released. And looked rather attractive. Especially at $5. But is it? IS IT? Scientists say the only way to find out was to play it. So I did. Still am. Here are some thoughts on a rather charming game.

The older I get, the less patience I have. That counts for games, idiots in supermarkets, the loading time of Spotify… I’m an impatient man. Such that often going back in time to play classic games of the ’90s leaves me in wonder at how I ever sat so still for so long doing so little. Also, when the hell did I ever have 200 hours to play anything? So it is that I’m always a bit nervous when a game attempts to capture part of those days of yore, lest it reveal to me how future-addled my brain has become. It’s perhaps one of the most interesting features of Paper Sorcerer that it seems to have taken this into account, and somehow given me the essence of 1988, at a speed I’m now used to.

This is, to some degree, an incredibly traditional RPG. Combat is turn-based, in near-static screens dominated by menus rather than agility. My party of four lines up its swipes and spells, then unleashes them in order at the array of enemies politely stood facing toward me. That’s the classic. The modern is how the enemies retaliate with some degree of randomness – never while you’re racking up your attack, but at different points throughout its execution. So your weakly Witch who needs to cast a healing spell on herself to survive – that may happen in time, or they may attack her first. It adds a good deal of tension to what are otherwise orderly encounters.

Then, to another degree, it’s a first-person game without tiles, letting you move freely around the corridors of the noirish dungeons. The visual style is striking, superbly clever in its minimalism, while still feeling sleek. Monochrome scenes spell themselves out more with shadow than light, genuinely artistic and often very interesting. There’s nothing turn-based as you explore.

But that first degree again. Enemy encounters don’t really take place in that 3D world. They don’t even appear within it. The closest you get is a fuzzy cloud of floating black, indicating a battle will occur when you walk toward it, but not what or whom you’ll be attacking. And then, only sometimes. Other times fights can be entirely random, because the enemy is “sneaky” and you don’t see it coming. This feels madly ancient, almost like those latter text adventures with the meticulously rendered image of the scene created from five hundred lines. Just those lines are in 3D now, and you can move around inside them.

I’ve found this collision of styles to work rather well, as it happens. It’s deeply peculiar, but all rather charming, and the game itself delivers enough nice ideas and added elements that it keeps being interesting. It’s a game where visiting markets and equipping characters all takes place in text, but with a look and feel like nothing of its type.

It helps that the writing is strong. The introduction rather wittily rushes through a tale that would usually form the narrative for such RPGs, the game itself beginning after all that. A party of four heroes, each of differing skills, fights their way through the many levels of a mountain to defeat the terrible enemy, trapped him or her in an ancient magical book, the minions wiped out from the world. Then things start. You’re the terribly enemy, and you’re trapped in a magical book (hence the look of the game). Summoning more minions (the likes of ghosts, skellingtons, vampires and minotaurs) to fight in your party, you’re aided by other baddies trapped inside this device, in an attempt to escape.

But it’s not hokey. That could easily have been such a flippant, even “wacky” idea. Goodness knows, games where you play the enemy are invariably dreadful, assuming that their dulled sense of humour is replacement enough for quality mechanics. Not so here – it’s nonchalantly done, calmly delivered, and more interesting for it. The story, minimal as it is, is kept to text boxes, the core game focused on exploring, looting and battling. And those battles are tough – equipping your crew carefully is essential, and keeping everyone alive is no mean feat. Even in the first couple of “blocks” of the book, and especially in the floors of the bonus catacombs, I was having to revive fallen allies or reload and attempt to do better.

I’m not far enough in to make accurate calls as to the balancing. At this point, I’m impressed with it. Things lean toward difficult, to that point where I’m wondering if I might start over with a better understanding of how to spend my gems and where to focus my talents. But not in that, “Dammit, I have to start over,” way at all. It’s in that, “Ooh, I could try this again, do better,” way – I think players of classic RPGs will understand the difference there. Or I won’t and I’ll carry on, tweaking and fixing and seeing if I can get this mysterious puppet character I’ve now added to my team to be anything useful. I’m getting a lot better at having the enemy attention focused on my Skellington, and keeping the Witch safe to heal the others, while my Werewolf delivers some mighty blows.

Best of all, this entire game is only $5. If you’re not sure, it’s an entrance fee that accommodates that. And there’s lots going on here for something so cheap, while still being a very stripped back RPG for modern standards. The concept is novel, the approach is intriguing, and the challenge enough to keep things interesting. I’d say this is well worth a poke.

Paper Sorcerer is on GamersGate for £3.50, or can be bought directly from Ultra Runaway for $5. It’s currently stuck in Greenlight, and you can vote for its freedom here.

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54 Comments »

  1. Premium User Badge

    Bugamn says:

    It sounds good on paper.

    • acoff001 says:

      They should really throw the book at you for that pun.

      • Premium User Badge

        Scandalon says:

        No need for such cutting remarks…

      • Premium User Badge

        SuddenSight says:

        Really people? These comments are textbook.
        It’s not write to waste comment space like this.

        • Premium User Badge

          zapatapon says:

          Pun threads only work when everybody is on the same page.

        • Premium User Badge

          tigerfort says:

          As a side-issue, I’d note that when creating a spellbook you should always take care to write the right rite.

    • MiKHEILL says:

      Your argument will fold if you lack the fibre to give this claim the hard backing it deserves. I think I’d better leaf now.

      • The Random One says:

        We should all leaf. There are no more book puns to cover.

        • Premium User Badge

          SuddenSight says:

          I’m sure I can conjure up a few more. Such as, “I hope the music is bound to be good.” Doesn’t take a wizard to paper over the awkward phrasing.

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  2. acoff001 says:

    Okay nerds, by what incredibly specific criteria are you going to claim this isn’t a “troo RPG”? (For the record I think it sounds neat!)

    • Ross Angus says:

      Well I personally don’t see what it has in common with a shoulder-mounted anti-tank weapon.

    • Premium User Badge

      strangeloup says:

      Wizardry got banned forever due to being constitutionally unable to not be a dick.

      I’m not sure if there’s anyone else around who’s as spectacularly nitpicky.

      • acoff001 says:

        That’s both great news (because much less nitpicking) and sad news (because we lose out on finding out just how pedantic his argument would be).

      • karthink says:

        Wizardry was banned? Aww. His (assuming it’s a he) posts were always interesting to read. As far as I know, he never criticized other people, just games.

        • Damien Stark says:

          “Awww” was my first thought too.

          Sure, the whole “Your RPGs aren’t real RPGs” schtick is generally as tedious as the “all music after 19XX is shit”, but he actually had a lot of thoughtful details in there which were genuinely interesting to read.

          I miss him.

    • Ich Will says:

      I guess I would say that it’s not a Troo RPG, because it is not set in or even related in anyway what so ever to the commune of the Loir-et-Cher department in central France.

    • Premium User Badge

      jrodman says:

      I think some would say there’s too much narrative, so not enough ability to form your own stories etc. I don’t subsribe to all that, myself. My idea of an RPG is all exploration and mechanics, which this looks to fit precisely.

    • FCA says:

      I don’t think anyone would complain about the lack of RPG’ness, as it seems (except for the art style) very much inspired by Wizardry, Wizardry IV to be exactly. I’ve seen the ‘codex’ complain about bugs, lack of difficult puzzles, and easy battles, not one complaining about it not being a `troo rpg’.

    • Premium User Badge

      Don Reba says:

      Obviously, if it was a true RPG, you would not be asking this question.

  3. Premium User Badge

    tigerfort says:

    “games where you play the enemy are invariably dreadful”

    Like the universally poorly regarded Dungeon Keeper (and DK2), you mean?

    • acoff001 says:

      John was probably referring to Overlord, which while okay kind of wore out its premise very quickly.

      • Premium User Badge

        tigerfort says:

        “X are invariably dreadful” is not actually quite the same as “one example of X was OK but a bit overlong”.

        • acoff001 says:

          I agree with you actually! (and of course Dungeon Keeper 1 and 2 are some of the best games ever!) But failing that I can’t think of many more games that would qualify for what he’s talking about.

          EDIT: I’d add that TIE Fighter is another game that serves as an exception to his rule- playing as the Empire was totally sweet.

    • Premium User Badge

      strangeloup says:

      I’ve recently been playing Of Orcs and Men, due to it being super cheap in a PSN sale, and while I’m not sure if RPS covered it or not, it’s pretty decent. A sort of trope inversion where the orcs are the Proud Warrior Race and the humans are the conniving Evil Empire. Rough around the edges, like every other Spiders/Cyanide production, but there’s definitely some meat to it.

      I’m not sure if there’s anything I’d describe as outright dreadful where you play a bad guy, or a character that traditionally ends up as such.

  4. Heavenfall says:

    This game is incredible, the only thing I’m missing is a little more specificity when it comes to abilities. Everything is just “increases stat strength” or “deals ice damage” (and to be fair, “deals a lot of ice damage”). So much stuff is hidden that combat usually devolves into chucking big numbers at your enemies, nevermind what you or they have. I’m not saying I necessarily want three decimal points on every number for specificity, but I’ve been playing for 20 hours and I have no idea how damage is rolled or what accuracy or blind ACTUALLY does.

    One thing that should be mentioned which gives the game a fair amount of depth is the stacking of buffs/debuffs. In almost all cases, they are applied in a row and each turn your top one can expire (depending on its duration). So you can stack up 4-5 great buffs and have them last a long time, losing one at a time. But it works against you as well – a nasty poison or bleed effect can really hurt over time if you’re buffed up, not to mention a sleep.

    • aliksy says:

      Oh, yeah, opaque systems are becoming a peeve of mine. Maybe I’m spoiled by pen and paper games, where the system has to be simple enough that people can do it quickly. Computers let you do complexity, but also let you be really lazy and opaque.

      • pepperfez says:

        Curiously, I’m moving in the opposite direction: I’d much rather a game explain skills and items evocatively and vaguely. I think it helps save me from min-maxing myself into tedium.

        • GunnerMcCaffrey says:

          This is why I can’t play Oblivion after learning how its leveling works.

    • Premium User Badge

      Riaktion says:

      Quick question, does anyone know what I do with the Avatar pack I got with the game? I can’t seem to figure out what I do with the files and where I put them… no read me or anything to guide me. Hmmmm….

      • RunawayDev says:

        Oh, that’s just a fun little thing I put together to give to people that are interested in the game. The avatar pack is a zip of images you can use for forums and the like. If you need more info about how to use it for that purpose, I made a blog post here: http://runawaygames.blogspot.com/2013/11/paper-sorcerer-avatars.html

        • Premium User Badge

          Riaktion says:

          Ahhhhh right! I understand now, I completely got the wrong of the stick to what they were for. I thought they were extra avatars for characters or whatever :)

          Thanks for clearing that up for me!

    • RunawayDev says:

      I’ve put some of that kinda stuff in the Info section of the menu, but I haven’t expounded upon specific abilities or skills yet. I’ve got an explanation for all the stats and status effects in there. I’ll look into adding that kind of stuff in a future update if there’s enough demand for it.
      I wanted to make the stacking of buffs/debuffs a valid strategy, glad to see you liked it!

      If there are any other suggestions you;d like to make for future versions, feel free to email me or post about it in the forums: link

  5. Janichsan says:

    The concept of playing a villain trying to escape banishment while building a party consisting of what generally are considered monsters reminds me a lot of Wizardry IV – Return of Werdna.

  6. Fumarole says:

    The style reminds me of the great hand-drawn FPS Pencil Whipped. The sound design in that game is fantastic.

  7. Premium User Badge

    Riaktion says:

    And from that write up… it is purchased. Like the man says, even if I have gauged this so so wrong and I despise that Paper Sorcerer was ever made… it was only $5 (£3.19 via PayPal)

  8. Ganrao says:

    I’m trying to figure out how you can reliably defeat the Knight in the 4th floor without anyone dying. So far the best team I can come up with is Cultist, Skeleton, Minotaur and even then everyone but the Minotaur died when I defeated the Knight in Hard mode. I cannot imagine how you win this battle in 1980′s difficulty setting.

  9. Frank says:

    The web demo seems a bit broken. I’m getting an “invalid data file” message

  10. Ganrao says:

    I do want to warn anyone getting into this that it seems like the boss of the first 4 floors is a total crap shoot on any mode harder than Normal. The ideal team seems to be Skeleton (tanky), Cultist (heals with enough hp not to be 1 shot), Werewolf (good armor / hp / dmg without needing equipment, which brings me to the next point…). Even with this team though it is entirely random whether you’ll survive the encounter or not because it is almost entirely dependent on which items the RNG gods decide to give you in floors 1-3. I was lucky in my last attempt, managed to get a Leather Helmet for all 4 party members and a nice sword for my Skeleton (2-10 + 3), but most important I found a 25 armor breastplate for my Skeleton to wear to the boss fight. Out of 10~ attempts to beat that boss on Hard mode this was the only time I found that piece of armor and it really did make all the difference in the world. Even with all that and on Normal mode the bastard went after my Cultist twice in a row with a special attack that did nearly his entire max hp in damage (so of course, killed him on 2nd try despite potion use).

    So I guess what I’m saying is, be prepared to be frustrated by the “tutorial” since the boss fight at the end is completely unfair and you will likely need to restart the game multiple times to get past it on Hard mode (not just the fight, your entire game, so you can attempt to get better random items). As I mentioned above I can’t imagine how you defeat that boss on 1980s mode.

  11. Truckse says:

    A few months ago I complained about how the developers of Betrayer ( http://www.rockpapershotgun.com/2013/08/15/whats-black-and-white-and-dead-all-over-betrayer/ ) had taken the easy route by using a filter to make everything black and white.

    I’m glad to see developers who actually planned and crafted the game that way instead of just adding a filter.

  12. RunawayDev says:

    This is the developer here, thanks for the impressions, I really enjoyed reading your take on the game. If you guys like the art, I released a free set of forum avatars for everyone to use: link
    I also just released a new version today, v1.9

    If anyone has any questions or comments about the game, feel free to comment here or e-mail me.

    • Ganrao says:

      RunawayDev! Are there hints or tips somewhere for how to prepare for the Knight boss fight on Hard or 1980s? Is it really just getting lucky with random loot that determines if you can pass him?

      • RunawayDev says:

        The key point about the Knight is getting past his high Defense, once you do that you should start making a lot more damage.
        The most important thing is that I designed the game around using skills more than basic attacks, so you should be trying to use skills at every opportunity. The Knight is vulnerable to the status effects Blind, Cripple, Seal, and Knockdown. So if you used a character to either Cripple or Seal him, you could lock him out of using physical attacks or skills respectively. Also at that point the Sorcerer should have Frost Fall, which can Slow the Knight, which can cause him to miss turns occasionally, leaving you opportunity to heal or get in some extra damage.

        For the summons you’re already using:
        With the Skeleton, using Defender is important to buff up everyone’s Defense.
        The Cultist’s Divine Power ability can buff up everyone’s strength, so that you can get past his Defense more quickly. It should especially help Strength oriented characters like the Werewolf.
        If you focus on the Werewolf’s Bone Claw ability, it does extra damage to HP and Defense, so you can get past his Defense faster.

        I hope that this helps, if you have any other problems, feel free to get in touch with me, or post on our forums. forum link

        • Ganrao says:

          Thanks for the quick response. Based on my observations the Knight is too hard of a barrier into the real game. I have a friend who beat him on Normal and still died 3 times before winning, but then goes on to say the rest of the game is very easy after the Knight because he can go train up his guys and fight with real equipment (he is on block 6 now and has only had 1 party member die since the Knight).

          I want a good experience after the Knight so I keep trying to win on Hard. Maybe I don’t understand how stats work in your game because it seems Divine Power only gives +1 Strength to most of my guys and that is only 1/2 of a damage point, right? Hardly seems worth taking the turn to cast it. Also Skeleton’s Defender ability raises everyone +2 max defense, but it doesn’t restore any defense, so is that actually helping anything? I was under the impression once your Defense value is 0 the stat doesn’t matter any more for damage calculations (which is why the Knight was able to one-shot my Vampire w/ 79/79 hp by doing 80 dmg with a normal attack).

          I get it that you want to give people a hard game, but the Knight is just too much. It seems to rely entirely on what random gear you find before you fight him, and if you can’t get any good weapons or armor you just won’t win on Hard. I can’t even get past the 2nd fight in 1980s mode without someone dying.

          I’ll look into Blind, Cripple, Seal, and Knockdown though. I have tried using Skeleton, Cultist, Witch, Vampire, Goblin, Troll, Minotaur, Werewolf, Shade, and Ghost and did not see any abilities called any of that. I guess I just got lucky and picked all the wrong summons for that fight :D I was using Frost w/ my Sorcerer on the Knight constantly and it never “missed” a turn, so I’m not sure what you’re talking about. My fights w/ the Knight are always him doing more damage in one round than I can heal without potions and once I run out of potions people start dying. This was true even in my Skel / Vamp / Cult team w/ Vamp and Cult healing constantly.

          Also I have a minor request: can you make it so your team heals up for the amount of hp they gain on level ups? It doesn’t make much sense that your team gets “injured” (missing hp) while getting stronger.

    • GunnerMcCaffrey says:

      Is there an option to invert the Y-axis in the full game? The demo doesn’t have one that I can see and this is very close to a deal-breaker.

      • GunnerMcCaffrey says:

        Oh wait: the Controls button on the main menu is all but hidden behind the New Game button. Is that on purpose? Seems strange.

    • Charles de Goal says:

      Hello,

      Is it expected that the game loses your original orientation after a combat or is it a bug under Linux?
      I’m asking because it makes the level where zombies are continuously spawned quite tedious (I ended up drawing a map to avoid getting myself lost).

      • RunawayDev says:

        That is an odd bug. If you don’t mind, could you follow up on the forums?
        I respond to posts there a bit faster, and it’s easier for me to keep up with bugs there.

  13. Premium User Badge

    Don Reba says:

    I have a set of books that I adore with illustrations made in a similar style. The style alone already makes me want to try this game.

  14. SuicideKing says:

    Rock, Paper, Sorcerer!

  15. theworm says:

    “The concept is novel” – I see what you did there.
    More usefully as a comment, I see no harm in picking this up for £3 or so.