by Amber Hall
reviewed on PC
A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away... well specifically in a galaxy imagined by the GM (Galactic Master) and long ago as in the 1990s, Galaxy of Pen and Paper took the player on a quirky sci-fi adventure! Even having never played the series predecessors, I knew this game would be my (space) jam from the moment I saw it, and it proved me right almost every step of the way. Cheesy references aside, Galaxy of Pen and Paper is the perfect turn-based RPG for anybody looking for a simple game with an imaginative presentation.
Galaxy of Pen and Paper is a metagame in that the game itself is the story of characters and events created by a group playing a tabletop RPG. In the beginning, you create your players and your Galactic master, or GM. The character creation for the GM is entirely cosmetic, but there's a slew of nerdy clothing and accessories to choose from, of which I promptly chose the Darth Vader attire and named my GM "Darth Spidious." Sadly, the RPG player creation has no cosmetic options, but there are several classes, races, and characters to choose from, each affecting that player's stats, abilities, and personality. And so Choto the optimistic gadgeteer and Bro Dudious the simian trooper were born!
The player, enslaved and without a ship, begins the game on a desert planet with hope to escape and explore the galaxy. The obligatory sand planet tutorial level was a great place to start out because the game didn't use it to overload me with every mechanic the game has to offer. The tutorial showed me the basics and then, once the crew escaped the planet, more mechanics were introduced overtime. The real meat of the game comes in two parts, combat and dialogue.
It's not rocket science
Combat is simple, but there are some interesting synergies to be made using different character builds and ability combinations. My personal favorite abilities included poisoning enemies to get through their protective shields and then using abilities that activated area of effect attacks or healing when in conjunction with poison. I found myself enjoying this simplicity and I felt satisfied when I was able to pull off a few good synergistic poison-based attacks. However, most enemies are able to rid themselves of status effects like poison and stun all too often, and many enemies were altogether immune to them. This, in turn, took away what made combat feel enjoyable in the first place, and so the moments where I was able to pull off something impressive and feel accomplished were few and far between. Moreover, once done with combat, the player needs to either use items to heal or backtrack all the way back to a medbay. Backtracking for healing was something I found myself doing often, and I wish that there had been a way to simply heal myself after small battles.
My issues with the combat system don't end there, however. One of the biggest issues I encountered was a bug where shields were no longer a factor. Shields are sort of a secondary health bar in the game which one needs to either take down before dealing damage to health or get around using specific abilities. But eventually, enemies would attack my characters and, instead of taking down part of their shields, they instead hit my health directly. Luckily, this bug also affected the enemies and their shields, because not having shields on my characters made many battle situations harder than they should have been.
Another factor in making battles harder than they should have been were important NPCs becoming stuck in my group. Upon taking on one of the game's many side quests, a NPC joined my ranks and, when I found that the side quest I had taken was too difficult for my current level, I abandoned it. But the NPC stayed in my group, and eventually I found that if he died in battle, the battle was considered a failure despite my other characters being alive and well. This boots you back to the medbay which costs money and experience points each time, and so this extra character became quite the burden, especially given that he cannot be directly healed. I tried everything I could to get rid of this NPC to no avail, and it seems he will only part from me upon completing his quest line, which I am still unable to beat due to an especially difficult boss and my lack of aforementioned shields.
Other than these issues, character combat is mostly fun and rewarding, with a system that lets the player take on as many or as few enemies as the player desires, rewarding the player for tackling more difficult fights with bonus loot and XP. However, where character-based combat is enjoyably simple, space combat is simple to a fault. A die is rolled which gives the ship power and then that power can be spent on attacks, health, and shields. However, I found that I was able to spam the attack option and win without healing or strategizing at all. Unlike your characters, your ship gets no abilities that the player can swap in and out, and this makes ship battles feel like a chore.
But where the combat system is a hit or a miss, the dialogue in Galaxy of Pen and Paper critically hits every time with its nerdy referential jokes and puns. Every NPC name feels like a name the young GM would have made up on the fly and there are references throughout the dialogue and the game's various settings which tickle me in that nerdy "90s kid" part of my heart. But this isn't to say that the game's writing doesn't stand on its own. Galaxy of Pen and Paper follows a complex storyline filled with mystery, and I often found myself wondering what would happen next while away from the game. The plot made me feel like a part of their role-playing group and, by extension, as if I were part of the adventure itself. There are some crazy twists and turns which kept me thoroughly interested in the story, and the occasional times where the game lets the player choose their character's actions kept me on my toes. It's a shame that these options don't seem to have more bearing on the events of the story, but I enjoyed trying to pick the most beneficial options for my characters in any given situation.
Galaxy of Pen and Paper isn't a game that'll change your life, but it's a blast to play and I found myself smiling and laughing the whole way through. It's a great game for anybody looking for something more focused on story rather than gameplay complexity, and especially for those who are interested in sci-fi popular culture. I personally loved the game, and it's likely that I'll check out the game's fantasy-based predecessor, Knights of Pen and Paper.
Imaginative metagame presentation, enjoyable writing/humor, Simple yet synergistic combat system (when it works).
Some major bugs, overly simplistic space combat, repetitive side quests, backtracking for health