Grab your d20 and settle down folks because Seaven Studio has released Knights of Pen and Paper 2 on the Switch. Part turn-based RPG, part homage to tabletop games, Knights of Pen and Paper 2 attempts to put a fresh spin on both genres. Naturally, as someone who spends every Monday and Thursday night huddled around a table, playing Dungeons and Dragons (5th edition, if you must know), I eagerly volunteered to play this game. Despite high hopes that it would exceed expectations, like many Nindie RPGS, it is a solidly average game.
Publisher: Seaven Studio
Developer: Plug-In Digital
8 Hours Played // Review Copy Provided // $12.99
The plot of Knights of Pen and Paper 2 is what one would expect from a game that takes its inspiration from Pathfinder and Dungeons and Dragons. It follows a party of adventurers, led by a dungeon master (DM). Their adventures start simply enough (such as investigating a vault) but slowly progress to a meta-adventure that touches upon the oft-debated topic within tabletop circles regarding editions, play style, and more. Also important to note is that newcomers to the series (such as myself) will be able to follow along; the plot is structured in such a way that you need not play the first game to understand this one.
As a long-time fan of Dungeons and Dragons, I found this really adorable. Though the story clearly draws inspiration from tabletop games, it cleverly pokes fun at tabletop tropes. Whereas way too many DnD campaigns begin fighting dire rats, this game begins by fighting mousetraps. Thus, the genre is subverted all the while giving knowing players a wink and nod that they’ll appreciate. These sorts of nudges are littered throughout the game and I have no doubt that most tabletop gamers will find the plot delightful. Beyond that, the pixelated art style and Super NES-esque tunes are clearly inspired by the heyday of turn-based RPGs. This adds yet another layer of charm for players.
Beyond the tabletop references, there are also cultural references! 2001: A Space Odessey, anyone?
Because the writing is so on-point, it breaks my heart that the gameplay and mechanics leave something to be desired. In a word, it is grindy. Let me preface by stating that I love optional quests. They allow me to explore the world more fully whenever I feel so inclined. That said, I cannot help but be irritated when progression in the game is halted due to challenging battles that require either grinding or going back to optional quests. At that point, are they truly optional quests? Perhaps this is the hill I will die on, but I feel like a well-crafted RPG allows things such as grinding to be up to the player’s discretion. Despite really enjoying the plot, there were points where Knights of Pen and Paper felt like a chore because I had to grind so much just to progress.
Customization was one of my favorite parts of the game! My game room was looking so good!
That said, there are some truly charming aspects of gameplay. First, the developers clearly wanted to include tabletop mechanics in Knights of Pen and Paper 2. This is executed with mixed results. For example, I loved character creation. You choose a high school stereotype, such as nerd or cheerleader. Each has its own strengths and special ability. Then you choose a race: human, dwarf, or elf. Finally, you pick a class from traditional tabletop options like thief and mage. Leveling up leaned more heavily into a traditional video game RPG mechanic involving improving certain skills. This felt authentic to the Dungeons and Dragons experience, while also managing to work well on a digital platform.
I also thoroughly appreciated the DM’s room. The title screen of Knights of Pen and Paper 2 is a sparsely decorated gaming room. As you progress through the plot and make more gold, you can buy upgrades to his room. Not only are these aesthetically appealing customizability options, they also grant players with various bonuses. A stone table may reduce the damage players take or a Go set might cause status effects to affect all enemies.
My ragtag crew attempts to role saving throws and, well, fails.
Traveling and world exploration also stayed firmly planted in the game’s tabletop roots. Every time traveling is required, gold is required and a die is rolled to see what occurs during your travel. Sometimes you peacefully make it from one location to another, other times you run into monsters or find secret treasure! As a DM who has made many random encounter charts, this really impressed me.
Each area also allows characters to “investigate” for clues and items. In true tabletop fashion, this involves each character rolling a d20 above a certain threshold. Meet the threshold enough times and you find what you’re looking for. Each time dice are rolled, five gold must be paid. Despite adoring this mechanic in tabletop games, in a digital format, this left something to be desired. I’m not sure if it was faulty programming or my own terrible luck, but I had to roll an egregious amount of times to succeed. I am more than willing to accept a few bad rolls, but I never had more than four successes during one roll while I definitely have across-the-board failures. This just didn’t feel quite right in something that should be truly randomized.
Investigation was more than a bit irritating, especially when I only had two party members.
Dungeon exploration in Knights of Pen and Paper 2 also attempts to straddle the line between tabletop RPG and modern video game. Much like traditional tabletop games, when players enter a dungeon they never know quite what they’ll run into. Because camping, which restores hit points and magic points, is not permitted in dungeons, players must carefully manage their inventory before entering a dungeon. This raises the challenge level for dungeons in a way that I found quite fun. Obviously, it was annoying to be defeated by a boss and having to regroup, but it was a challenge that felt legitimate.
While in dungeons, random events can be triggered. I fully appreciate that during these events, players are allowed to make a choice. Such as, when you see a pool of shimmering liquid — do you drink it or pass on it? The results of your actions are randomly decided, which stays true to the controlled chaos of tabletops. That said, because these events are randomly generated, they can get repetitive. I cannot tell you how many times I ran into an injured troglodyte; it really lost its charm after awhile.
Dungeon exploration in Knights of Pen and Paper 2 feels truly authentic to tabletops!
The game also deals with other modern gaming tropes to varying success. There is a crafting mechanic, which can be helpful in the game. But, at times, it felt a little boring and less magical than crafting mechanics I’ve seen in other games. I was never particularly drawn to keep crafting as I am in other games. Another area that felt rather so-so was character deaths. I was very thankful that I never had to roll up a new character, as one does in traditional tabletops. But, it did irk me that I had to pay to resurrect characters, especially since some boss fights were inordinately hard for the level they were at.
Beyond these gameplay issues, I found the mechanics to be awkward at times. I appreciated that I could use the touchscreen or a controller, but there were times when this became confusing. There are screens that took me a long time to figure out how to get to if I did not want to use touchscreens. This is less than intuitive for a turn-based RPG, but once you figure it out it can be forgotten.
These magazines provide players with fun DLC and lore!
Despite these gripes, it is important to note that his game offers players a lot of content at a very good price. In addition to the main story, which took me about eight hours, there are optional quests galore. Beyond that, there are four Modern Dungeon magazines which serve as included DLC and lore manuals. For a small payment of gold, players can go on new adventures and unlock new classes and characters. I found this to be an especially cute callback to the Dragon magazines of Dungeons and Dragon‘s past.
Clearly, I have mixed feelings about Knights of Pen and Paper 2. The grinding and mechanics made it so that after the first 4 or 5 hours, I just did not have a great time. Playing through felt more like a chore than an enjoyable experience. Before I hit that point, I was thoroughly charmed, so the disappointment was especially potent. However, I am more than willing to admit that players with a penchant for grinding, player customization, and inventory management will really enjoy this game.
Thanks for reading folks! If you’re looking for an Nindie RPG, we’ve had a great time at Nindie Nexus with Golf Story and Cattails. Check them out! That said, if you’re a fellow Dungeons and Dragon fan, consider stopping by our Discord and chatting shop with me or consider giving me a follow on Twitter! Finally, Nindie Nexus is 100% a passion project of all the writers here. Every article, every edit, and every video is a labor of love. Consider buying us a coffee or becoming a Patreon to ensure our website remains ad-free!
Samy is a pug enthusiast who also writes about games. She loves almost all games, but her favorite genres are dating sims, VNs, point-and-click adventures, JRPGs, strategy games, party games, and all things spooky and/or weird. If a game gets weird, Samy is gonna’ like it. Her favorite Nindies are The Lions Song, Oxenfree, Battle Chef Brigade, and Crypt of the Necrodancer.