By Josh Speer / May 20th, 2020
|Title||Galaxy of Pen and Paper +1 Edition|
|Publisher||Behold Studios, Plug In Digital|
|Release Date||April 8th, 2020|
|Platform||PC, Mobile, Nintendo Switch, PS4, Xbox One|
|Age Rating||E for Everyone 10+ – Fantasy Violence, Language|
I was actually introduced to Behold Studios by the Knights of Pen and Paper games. I picked up both of them for a steal on a Steam sale years ago, and was pleasantly surprised by the clever banter and colorful aesthetic of both games. While I’ve been watching Behold bring those games to consoles in recent months, I was waiting to see if Galaxy of Pen and Paper would make the Switch. When I saw it happen back in April, I knew I had to ask for a review copy, and luckily my request was granted. The only question is how well this series devoted to tabletop RPGs translated to the Nintendo Switch.
Part of the reason I enjoyed the earlier Pen and Paper games was because they played like streamlined Dungeons & Dragons. There’s a large part of me that’s always been interested in playing tabletop RPGs, but for various reasons haven’t been able to devote sufficient time to that hobby. So when I get a game that simplifies the complex bits, such as dice rolling and intensive character creation, and just let’s me experience it solo, I’m a happy boy. Galaxy of Pen and Paper +1 Edition takes that formula from the Knights games, and brings it to the science fiction realm. No more gargoyles and goblins, now we have alien species, robots and other assorted menaces. Thankfully, the general combat, humor and aesthetic come along with that genre transition.
The story in Galaxy of Pen and Paper +1 Edition is split between two perspectives. One is occurring in-game, where your party plays their specific roles and the GM directs you. But there’s another narrative, focused on the turn of the new year (the game takes place in 1999) and all the potential problems that entails. I won’t go into specifics, but there’s a certain event that everybody was worried about back in those days, and it ties into both narratives in interesting ways. That said, because you’re basically directing the entire story, there’s not much in the way of character development. There’s none, really. Though I do feel your selection of class and race might affect statements given in the heat of the moment. For example, I had one party member that was a Simian, and he immediately became the dumb brute on my team. Not by my choice, mind you, though perhaps my decisions for his typing did play a role. Oh and because I’m a fan of many things, I named my entire party and ship after Mega Man characters. Cause I’m that guy.
At the start of the game, you’re allowed to create two party members. You choose everything about them, including their class. That last part is very important, though their race can define passive abilities, such as my Green party member occasionally getting a free ability use, while my Simian would sometimes inflict spread damage on groups of enemies. What’s crucial is that you only have two characters to control for the first Episode of the game, and you’ll have limited class choices. Later on, you’ll be able to recruit two more characters and also take on quests to unlock more classes. Once that happens, the game really opens up in a wonderful way. Unfortunately, getting to that point was more than a bit of a chore. A large reason for that is early on, you can only have one ability equipped per character. What’s crazy is they come to you with a ton of ability choices, and picking just one is tough. As you level up, you’ll gradually unlock more ability slots, which is great. What’s less great is that you need to choose whether to devote those slots to active or passive abilities. Suffice to say, this made combat early on really difficult and grindy. Especially when you factor in your team and most enemies have a regenerating shield, and if you can’t do enough damage each turn to whittle it down, you’re gonna have a rough time actually inflicting damage. It’s no exaggeration that in the game’s first Episode, I constantly lost to battles with just one or two foes. And keep in mind, you’re almost always the one that’s allowed to choose the size of enemy forces arrayed against you. Thankfully, once I got through that first Episode and started to unlock more options, my adventure got easier and much more fun.
Besides the combat, you also generate your own missions, as well as continuing the main campaign. You can only have two mission types active at the same time. What this meant was I would often take on smaller quests, such as searching for resources or hunting dangerous space criminals, to get experience and cash in between the main story beats. You generally only get a minor amount of cash, so it’s good to try the same mission again and again. Just the process of wandering around planets nets you a little experience, and you’ll occasionally come across random encounters that also offer rewards. Often these will be an item or a chance to improve your team’s reputation. I’m not entirely sure what reputation affects, but I never let it dip into the negative either. The bulk of the game is combat though, and it’s both fun and slightly lackluster. It’s standard turn-based RPG fare, with an ATB, attack selection and the like. The tricky thing is that if you’re beaten in battle, you go back to your ship’s med bay to heal up. Sometimes this will cost you, either cash or even experience points. This happened a lot early on in my adventure. I only learned later that you can return to your ship at any time to heal for free, but that wasn’t really spelled out clearly. Boss battles are a bit more interesting than the standard fare, since you don’t have any input on the size or difficulty of those encounters. There’s some really zany foes, including a pop duo, cultist praying mantis and elder deity pasta. No, you didn’t hear that last one wrong, and it’s easily my favorite boss in the entire game.
Once Galaxy of Pen and Paper +1 Edition gets rolling, it’s tremendous fun. This is a great game to just sit and unwind with a few minutes at a time. Though my entire playthrough took some 16 hours, I was also taking my time to just enjoy the experience. It was only held back by a series of unfortunate glitches. Now to be fair, Behold Studios has already addressed one of the worst ones in a recent patch. Namely, the game didn’t showcase how much total money I had acquired. Another patch has made it so that instead of moving from one planet or node to the next, you move a cursor around like a computer mouse to both select and see your environment. Though I’m not sure that last one helped much, the currency problem was a very necessary fix. Unfortunately, there’s a host of others I’ve encountered. They’re more minor, such as planets not displaying properly in mission creation or the cursor on the ATB bar being out of sequence, but they do bring the game down a bit. I haven’t checked if these bugs are present in other versions of the game, but I do hold out hope that Behold will address them as soon as possible. Besides glitches, I also had some issues with the UI at times. Mostly just it being vague about gameplay elements. It’s nothing a tutorial or two wouldn’t fix though. And lastly, there’s some grammatical problems in bits of the dialogue, though overall it’s well written, funny and whip smart.
Aesthetically, Galaxy of Pen and Paper +1 Edition is attractive and reminiscent of many classic games. There’s lots of use of bright colors and a variety of models for friend and foe alike. It looks like a better SNES game, and I had no complaints. Lots of creepy insectoids, arrogant aliens and eldritch monsters. Musically it’s a bit more withdrawn, but not in a bad way. There’s sufficient tunes for space exploration and battle, just nothing really memorable.
In the end, I did have a good time with Galaxy of Pen and Paper +1 Edition. Sure it started slow and grindy, and it does still have its share of glitches, but despite that it put a smile on my face. And for only $12.49, you really can’t go wrong. I had a lot of fun playing it, and hope this isn’t the end of the Pen and Paper series. I think Behold Studios is a talented team, and expect they have a lot more stories to tell us.
Review Copy Provided by Publisher
Behold StudiosDungeon & DragonsGalaxy of Pen and Paper +1 EditionPlug In DigitalRPGtabletop