Reviewing mediocre games is tough. The great ones, you get enthused to share your experience and get folks playing. The bad ones, you get an opportunity to make some jokes.
Galaxy of Pen and Paper is not a bad game, but I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it to anyone.
The graphics are pixel art. Competently done pixel art, but largely forgettable pixel art.
You go from place to place fighting things in traditional turn based RPG combat. There are several classes. As you level up you gain skill points. You, erm, buy skills with the points. The enemies get harder. You can use some skills to inflict statuses on your foes that other skills can exploit for big damage. There is nothing new here, but it’s not as if it is poorly executed.
It is the turn of the millennium, and you are playing a group of tabletop role playing folks who are using the internet to play a sci-fi pen and paper game together. You spend the vast majority of the time as the characters the folks sitting around their computers play in the game. The story has lots of references to popular internet memes. Every once in a while the focus will shift to the “real” people playing those characters and the GM. At its most compelling, the lines get very blurred indeed — the main plot cleverly works in the fear of the Y2K bug, something that brought back memories.
The fun, clever story moments are overshadowed unfortunately by the cookie-cutter grind of actually playing the game as well as the cut-and-paste stories presented by the side quests. After a certain point the combinations you are able to pull off become the only rational way to approach a combat instance, so you end up making the exact same tactical decisions over and over again. And when a game is a grind, either the grind itself has to be interesting enough to stand on its own or the story has to be compelling enough to pull you forward. I’d be hard pressed to say that Galaxy of Pen and Paper pulled either of those off.
The controls are fine. You click spots on a map. You click skills and then click what you want to use the skills on. You click to move dialogue forward.
The above is pretty much all you do for the length of the experience. Maps, whether they are on a galactic scale or traversing a specific planet work like this — various points you can click to go to them. The only difference is in space the points are planets. If you are in space, you might get into ship-based combat which involves rolling a die to see how many actions you get (shoot other ship, heal yourself, play defense). If you are on the ground you get into traditional click action, click person to hit with that action combat.
A very bright spot is the soundtrack. In the dozen or so hours it took to complete the game I always enjoyed the music.
Overall, Galaxy of Pen & Paper feels like a missed opportunity. The conceit of the double lives of the tabletop RPG players is a neat idea and has been executed before to fun effect in other media. Here, we never learn anything about our players, and we learn almost nothing about our GM. They don’t feel any more real than the characters they are playing and that we, ultimately, are putting through fight after fight.
The concept here has the potential to be very special, and since there are moments when it really works I think that’s why I felt disappointed even though the game is competently executed.
And yet — just because a work is competently executed doesn’t necessarily mean it is good. The best I can compare this to is a competently executed Big Mac. These can be alright once in awhile, and there is skill in the process of making something accessible. But ultimately, in consuming a reasonably priced and competently produced product like this, it is still possible to be left wanting more, something different. I suppose I could spend more time describing the various classes and skills available but… you’ve heard them all before. If you find a battle you can’t win, you go fight some more things and return later. Just like if you get hungry again, you can always come back and order another cheeseburger.
If you must eat, you can eat a Big Mac. And if you must play a traditional RPG, you can play Galaxy of Pen and Paper. In both cases you are also likely to get your money’s worth. What you are less likely to get is something truly memorable.