In a world with fewer and fewer Diablo-esque action RPGs, the idea of Nine Parchments sounds like a breath of fresh air on Nintendo Switch. In practice, the game world is illustrious and gameplay fun, but odd mechanical and systematic decisions hold Nine Parchments back from being the Switch’s next phenomenal indie hit.
As previously mentioned, Nine Parchments is a top-down, action RPG in the vein of Diablo, except the difference is your main method of combat is using arcane spells to damage enemies and heal yourself and your party. Each of the game’s unlockable characters starts out with three spells in his or her arsenal, and as each of the game’s titular parchments is found, you will unlock a new spell for your chosen character. Enemies are varied and many, and you’ll often find yourself swapping spells on the fly, as some enemies are resistant to certain elemental spells. Health and mana regenerate slowly over time, and once you’ve cleared a particular area of all its enemies, your health and mana will be fully restored. Constant movement is key to survival, as certain enemies will charge at you or cast spells of their own, so making the most of your Blink ability and jumping over grounded spells is crucial. Combat is generally fun, especially in cooperative multiplayer, and your party’s spells can combine in interesting and unexpected ways.
As you progress through each level, you gain experience by way of defeating enemies and finding random chests along your adventure. Chests also have a chance to drop a new hat, but these are purely cosmetic. Certain enemies might drop a new staff, though, and different staves have different properties, such as healing your character upon dealing damage. At the end of each level, you earn a skill point for each level your character has gained during that stage, and you can allocate these points toward different perks, like increased spell damage or increased charges for each spell.
As mentioned earlier, Nine Parchments is at its best when playing with two to four people. Difficulty and enemy types scale depending upon how large your party is, and four player co-op is frantic and hectic fun. Different spells can combine in a myriad of ways, and the best moments in the game are when these unanticipated combinations happen on the fly. One thing to be careful of, however, is that friendly fire is enabled, so inattention to where you’re casting could prove fatal to your fellow party members. You can slightly change up that mechanic, however, as the game’s settings allow for reverse friendly fire, meaning the player takes damage when casting a spell at a party member. Additionally, you can modify the game to where your entire party takes half damage from spells, but the entire party takes damage, even if only one player is hit. These options can change the game up in significant ways, so it’s nice to see that power lying with the players.
The troubling part about Nine Parchments is not the action of the game itself, but the wrappings around the game. Nine Parchments gives the player multiple characters, hats, and staves to mix and match as he or she sees fit. If you unlock a new character during the course of gameplay and want to try that new character (and their spells) out, be warned: selecting a new character wipes any story progress you had with your previous character, including any additional learned spells. Even if you go back to your previous character, your story progress is lost forever. The same is true of going between single and multiplayer. If, for example, you were ten levels in during single player but decide you want to tackle a particular stage with a group, that won’t fly in Nine Parchments. As soon as you create or join an online lobby—even if you never connect with another player—the progress from whatever game you were playing last is now gone. The experience and levels you’ve gained are retained, but all skills and story progress are reset if the player deviates from his or her last play session. This is particularly dismaying when considering the biggest draw of Nine Parchments is the supposed seamless ability to pick up and play with friends. In my time with Nine Parchments, I had to restart the game no less than three times because I wanted to try playing the game online and realized I’d lost my single-player progress. While the game does support drop in and drop out co-op, the fact that you cannot seamlessly go between single player and multiplayer, or even change your character, without losing your story progress is, at times, downright infuriating.
That said, the game still plays and runs beautifully on Switch. Background environments are lush and lovingly detailed, and it’s easy to see how heavily influenced the game was by the Trine series—which makes sense, considering they take place in the same universe. Boss encounters are colorfully vivid and epic in scale, and you can’t help but feel a sense of accomplishment after downing one. The game runs at 1080p and at 30 frames per second docked, and at 720p and 30 frames per second in handheld. The game’s music is beautifully scored, and interjections from the player character and the game’s narrator add to the overall charm of Nine Parchments.
The best way to play the game is with the Switch Pro Controller, but using the Joy-Cons in handheld mode or split do a fine enough job. When playing local multiplayer, I prefer using the Joy-Cons in the grip, or just using the Pro Controller. Single Joy-Con play is serviceable enough, and it can work in a pinch, but it’s much easier to use one of the aforementioned control methods.
Nine Parchments on Nintendo Switch is a beautifully crafted and fun cooperative spell-slinging adventure, but it isn’t without its faults. The fact you can’t roll a new character or switch between single and multiplayer without losing your story progress hurts the experience, but if you’re willing to replay the same levels over and over again, Nine Parchments is a fun cooperative game for Nintendo’s hybrid console.
Disclaimer: A review code for Nine Parchments was provided by the game’s publisher.