Polyversal Kickstarter

GrogHeads Reviews Paper Sorceror

Review by Avery Abernethy,  25 July 2014

                Paper Sorcerer is a turn-based, small party, role-playing game.  Released by Runaway Games after a successful Kickstarter proposal, Paper Sorcerer harkens back to the early days of RPGs such as the early Wizardry, Ultima, and Gold Box D&D dungeons like Pool of Radiance or Eye of the Beholder.  This review is based on my completion of the game after approximately eighteen hours of play on a newish Falcon Northwest personal computer.  My copy of Paper Sorcerer was purchased from www.gog.com on sale for $3.99.  The download was fast and the installation was smooth.

Paper Sorcerer has one of the most creative background stories that I have encountered.  Your main character is an evil sorcerer who has been banished into a book by a party of four good characters.  The book is your prison.  It is also the prison of a host of other evil types.  But a limited number of “good” heroes have also entered the book to keep all of the bad guys from magically breaking the bindings of the book and earning freedom in an unsuspecting world.  The background story is largely told in a short animated sequence at the start of the game and reinforced with minimal background information learned as you explore the dungeon.

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Image from Ultra Runaway Games

In terms of play, Paper Sorcerer is a straight-forward dungeon crawl.  Your main character can summon allies which can be placed in one of four party slots.  There is a wide variety of summoned party members – all of which have an evil motif.  There are proto-typical party members (cleric, thief, magic user and fighter types) and also party members who mix roles.  For example, the Vampire eventually gains skills enabling him to heal himself and other party members while dealing out prodigious amounts of melee damage.  Your sorcerer must be a part of the party.  The remainder of my party was a vampire, cultist (cleric) and abomination (tank/defensive fighter).

Your party fights its way through ten dungeon levels.  There are also a number of above ground levels that I will not disclose in order to retain a few play secrets.  At the end of each level there is a single boss combat.  Vanquish the boss and your sorcerer can destroy one of the bindings of the book – getting you closer to escaping your prison tome.

Combat is very simple.  The character or enemy with the highest agility has the first turn.  During your character’s turn you can either defend (which gains you little), use your standard attack, use a magic item such as a potion or bomb, or use a skill.  Skills vary considerably between characters can include spells, special attacks, healing, cures and the like.  Each skill costs a certain number of energy points and has a specific recharge rate.  Regular attacks take no energy points.  Unlike modern RPGs, the party does not change order, move, or employ barriers or obstacles to influence combat.  For old timers the combat system is like the early Bards Tale or Wizardry releases. Game controls are logical and easy to use and fit the combat system.

Paper Sorcerer is pretty much a straight, turn-based combat game with some minor puzzles along the way.   As you defeat enemies you gain experience levels and pick up treasure.  When you gain an experience level, your attributes increase and you either gain new skills or increase the power of existing skills. Unlike almost all other RPGs, Paper Sorcerer does not allow the player to allocate their additional attribute points or choose skills when they gain an experience level.  The designers made those choices for you.  And there are a lot of experience levels to be gained.  I finished the game at 50th level.

Your party members have a limited number of slots where they can employ armor, weapons, runes, and supporting items like rings or cloaks.  The type of character determines the armor and weapons which can be employed.  The character class will provide obvious choices on which other items should be given to different characters.  For example, a rune which increases magic skill would be useless to a straight fighter character but welcome to a magic user.

You find additional weapons, armor, magic items, and treasure as you vanquish enemies and explore the dungeon.   There is no treasure weight or space limit, so you can haul everything you find along with you.  After you complete a level (or use a magic item) you can visit a home base area.  The home area has your room where you can rest up or swap around items.  It also contains a shop where you can buy or sell items, a trainer where you can buy more attribute points and abilities, and an odd guy that you can give some very specific items to in order to unlock additional side dungeon areas.

Paper Sorcerer has several anomalies.  It is played in black-and-white giving the game a very stylish, retro look.  You can save the game at any time except combat.  But if you load a game saved on a dungeon level all of the doors automatically reclose.  There is no mini-map or game map, so you can either plot out your own map or just bull your way ahead.  I made no maps and found most, but not all of the secret levels and items.  The sounds are reasonable, but I quickly bored of them.  The music was a techno soundtrack that was annoying and could not be silenced.  I played almost all of the game without sound in order to eliminate the background music.

The secret of any good combat RPG is game balance.  Does combat remain challenging, but not impossible as you gain levels and powers?  I found Paper Sorcerer to have good game balance.  I could almost always win without reloading a save game.  But players should be aware that you cannot reset the game difficulty after you start a game.  If you want an easy game, play on easy.  If you want a tough game, play on hard.  But you cannot play on hard and then ramp the game down for boss fights.

Paper Sorcerer is fun.  It held my interest for the eighteen or so play hours needed to finish the game.  Aside from the annoying soundtrack and a small number of broken doors/quests on the 10th level, there were no problems with the game design.  This was a fun, minimal complexity, old-school dungeon crawl.  There is some limited replay value.  Players can try different party combinations or play on different difficulty levels.  But after completing the game I’m not compelled to start another game anytime soon.

I had eighteen hours of fun with my sorcerer, vampire, abomination, and cultist sacking the dungeon, destroying the book, and earning their freedom.  I won’t give away the game ending.  But I found the conclusion amusing if not terribly surprising if you had been reading the book fragments found in the dungeon and engaging in the limited number of conversations possible in the game.  I bought the game for $3.99 on sale from www.gog.com  For the cost of a cheap bottle of wine, you can have roughly 15 hours of turn-based, RPG dungeon crawl.  While Paper Sorcerer is not new, it is well done and at the price I would rate it a solid 83 on a 100 point scale.

Avery Abernethy is Professor of Marketing at Auburn University.  He met his wife of almost 30 years through RPGs.


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