After my short expedition into Knights of Pen & Paper 2 several weeks ago, I finally found myself last week able to delve into the final game.
Developed by Kyy Games and released last week on iOS and Android, with a PC release due sometime this summer, Knight of Pen & Paper 2 is simple, it’s silly and it’s stupidly good fun – a worthy second helping of satire which pokes fun at the established RPG tropes. As a disclaimer, if you’ve already read my preview, I’ll be covering similar ground here.
There’s a lot to love about Knight of Pen & Paper 2, and very little to criticize. If you’re only here for the short story, then here you go – great pixel-art graphics and simple chip-tune music, simple but fun gameplay, and brilliantly funny quests and story-lines. My only real criticism lies in the grinding that is sometimes needed to get enough gold, which I’ll discuss more later. However, this does little to taint my high opinion of Knights of Pen & Paper 2.
To briefly explain the premise, you play as a group of individuals who’re playing a tabletop role-playing game, very similar to Dungeons & Dragons. Everything that occurs in-game takes place in the imagination of the role-players and the game master. The players all sit around a table facing the game master and they never actually get up from their seat – instead, the world molds itself around them. You get to customize each of your players’ backgrounds (such as jock, cheerleader, goth or hipster) their character’s race (human, elf or dwarf) and their character’s class (such as mage, thief or warrior), and more player backgrounds and character classes can be unlocked throughout the course of the game. Each of these three categories affect your character’s traits, abilities and stats, ensuring that each member of your party is unique and brings a particular skillset to the table (all puns intended). After creating your first two characters (you can eventually add three others for a total of five) you’re ready to set off on your quest through Paperos.
Once your journey begins, you can immediately appreciate the beauty of the world that Kyy Games has created. Much like the first game, Knights of Pen & Paper 2 has stylized pixel-art graphics, though here they’ve been upgraded from 8-bit to 16-bit. The art is crisp, clear and pleasing to the eye; everything manages to simultaneously represent a genuine piece of an immersive fantasy world, but also maintains the humorous edge that Knights of Pen & Paper 2 does so well. Characters all have costumes to make them look like they’re part of the game world, but small features hint at their true lives. Cheerleaders wear uniforms undearneath their costumes; hipsters have thin moustaches and an air of superiority; and surfers have a look of potentially illegal (or perhaps medicinal) contentment. The contrast between these characters with the amazing environments and monsters perfectly captures the glorious absurdity that is tabletop role-playing. I dabble in Dungeons & Dragons myself, and it’s incredibly good fun. Knights of Pen & Paper 2 pokes fun at traditional RPG culture and tropes, but always does so lovingly, without any of the sneering superiority which often often goes hand-in-hand with using the genre for comedy.
Many games fall down when it comes to using their subject matter as a source of humor. Often they end up committing the same mistakes that they joke about, or cross the line into outright cheese and cringeworthy gags. Thankfully, Knights of Pen & Paper 2 manages to straddle the line with aplomb, and I was genuinely left laughing out loud on more than one occasion as my own precious nerd culture was poked fun at again and again. I felt like screaming out “Stop! Stop! It’s already dead…”, but never did I feel as though Kyy Games’ didn’t share the same love of role-playing games and culture as I do. The relentless satire could become tiresome in the wrong hands, but here it only strengthens the game, striking the right chord again and again. There’s a knowing reference in almost every line of dialogue, and almost all of the place-names poke fun at various gaming and fantasy tropes, such as Spawn Point Village and a post-apocalyptic dwarven vault that’s a clear nod to Fallout – complete with ghouls dropping jumpsuits and PIP boys when they die.
Not even the monsters are spared from the satire, from undead cashiers to fowlbears (great, crazed chicken beasts). The entire game delivers a very satisfying fantasy RPG experience, while at the same time affectionately poking fun at it.
The sound design and music are equally on point with the graphics, mimicking the glory days of 16-bit classics, just in a more modern, stylized way. Every area has its own piece of music to accompany it, which range from glorious chiptunes to intense dungeon crawling melodies. The soundtrack goes a long way in setting the scene, and also helps maintain the charade Knights of Pen & Paper 2 has going, walking the line between parody and a genuine fantasy experience. I found that the certain tracks from the game quickly got stuck in my head; I started humming them as I went about my daily life, at times even pretending I was an adventurer out on a glorious quest to make a sandwich.
Ok, that last part was a lie (or was it?).
Actual gameplay is simple, but also rewarding and fun. Combat is based on the JRPG style, with turn-based combat heavily reliant on selecting abilities from menus. When you first start playing it
seems as though combat is very simple; each character has only four abilities, some of which are passive and some of which are activated. Your character stats also affect aspects of combat – initiative determines when characters take their turn, threat determines how likely a character is to be targeted, and critical determines how likely your character is to get a critical hit. Besides the combat, there are also various minigames throughout, adding some diversity to Knights of Pen & Paper 2. Outside of combat, you can order your characters to search an area, with success determined by a simpe luck-based minigame that determines whether or not you find any loot. Certain dungeons (like the aptly named Nearby Cave) have a dungeon-crawling minigame, in which your characters travel from room to room, encountering monsters, traps and treasure (much like an actual tabletop game). Outside of combat and exploration, decisions are made via a simple multiple-choice series of on-screen options, much like a traditional adventure book – similar to the likes of Sorcery! or the traditional Fighting Fantasy game books of old.
All of these positives are only offset slightly by the mini-transactions for gold in-game. On various occasions I found myself in desperate need of gold, and it took quite a lot of grinding to gather it. It didn’t happen very often, but when it did it was a little frustrating. I felt like I was being pushed into making in-game gold purchases, to save me from having to grind enemies. However, I always managed to get by without having to spend any of my real life money, it just took me a little longer. As I said, this is only a minor criticism, as it spoiled my immersion a little and made me feel like I was being slightly penalized for ignoring the micro-transactions.
It’s also very similar to the first game, the definition of evolution over revolution. It’s bigger, the script is slightly sharper, and the artwork is a definite improvement, but if you were left cold by the first game there isn’t much here to convince you to give the series a second try. Kyy Games knows its audience then, and there’s a purity of focus that’s admirable; but it also means that many of the same criticisms that could be levelled at the first game can also be levelled at its sequel. Though combat is more tactical than it at first appears, this is still very much rpg-lite, and while that accessibility means than newcomers to RPGs can dive in, veterans mind that that accessibility comes at the expense of the depth that they’re after. And it’s also a little too easy to wander into a quest woefully under-equipped to tackle it, even though your characters meet the level requirements stated in the quest description.
Still, those little critcisms aside, If you’re into board games, tabletop roleplaying or classic RPG video games, you’ll have a great time with Knights of Pen & Paper 2. Even if you’re not into any of those things, you’re bound to find something to love in it. Whether it’s the great humor, the endless pop culture references or the highly enjoyable gameplay, Knights of Pen & Paper 2 is a great little RPG that presents excellent value for money with much to love.