Nine Parchments is the kind of game you play when you’re with a few friends and you want to have a drink. There’s no convoluted story to pay attention to, there’s not much in the way of mechanics, and the moment-to-moment gameplay is accessible to anyone. All of these things make Nine Parchments an incredible cooperative game and a strikingly shallow single-player experience.
This dichotomy is, on its surface, easy to comprehend: the twin-stick-spell-flinging RPG is a slog when alone, and only becomes a great experience when you’ve got three other wizards on the screen. It’s this paying attention to other teammates around you that makes the combat interesting. In turn, this exciting combat makes the story satisfactory. If you play by yourself, however, you notice just how uninventive the game is – in more ways than one.
As soon as I left the tutorial, the problems with the game’s single player became clear. You begin with four spells in your choice of two characters. Depending on which one you start with, you’ll eventually run into sections of the game where you don’t have the necessary elements to take down certain elemental-typed enemies and their shields. Of course, tracking down the nine parchments will grant you more spells but the early game is frustrating alone.
There is online multiplayer, though there’s no way to select what level you want to play. This can cause problems especially when you are required to play certain sections of the game to unlock specific characters. Also frustrating is the fact that the game will reset your characters when you switch from singleplayer to multiplayer. I had progressed ninety percent of the way through the game’s story and decided I wanted to play some couch co-op. Sadly, I had to play through the game all over again.
However, here’s where Nine Parchments shines. Sitting down with three of your friends jumping over telegraphed attacks, combining spells, and even accidentally killing them resulted in a fun night – for some. Ultimately the friendly-fire mechanic, though intended to increase difficulty, revealed itself to be clunky and overly punishing. One friend, for example, opted for a chain lightning spell because the rest of us didn’t have one. To our dismay, that chain lightning also chained to nearby teammates. That wouldn’t have been a problem if it were limited to a small area. However, one teammate was repeatedly killed as the lightning would chain across the screen when he had low health.
And though this reliance on a spell that was killing us was frustrating, it was nice to be able to sit down and play with three other people in a way that felt rewarding when done right. The boss encounters are especially fun due to their exciting attacks that would devastate entire areas of the screen. These bosses weren’t necessarily nefarious either. As the game’s simple story reveals, many of them end up stumbling across the parchments and taking a liking to them.
It’s a story that satisfies the call to adventure while remaining simple enough to consume with friends. There’s no worry that the shouting of callouts will drown out some critical dialogue. You’re all just wizards-in-training and that makes the desire to learn more spells make a lot of sense.
Nine Parchments, though wielding action RPG elements, works best as a party game. There are chaos and comedy to be had when you have three other friends sharing the screen, combining spells, chucking heals, and being sure not to stand in the fire. All of these mechanics combined with a lighthearted story lend themselves to a laugh-filled-couch-co-op game that should not be played alone.