Brazil-based Behold Studios has a fancy little niche going for them in that they specialize almost entirely in RPGs that play up nostalgia and pastiche. From their very first kaiju fighting title Monster Jam to their more recent sentai tactics RPG Chroma Squad, when you load up a Behold app you can expect a game piled with an aggressive helping of 1980’s and 1990’s retro media. When game developers typically flirt with a title that plays up on nostalgia, or offers a nonstop stream of parody, they often risk putting out a product that falls flat at best, or comes off as grating at worst. Behold’s games, however, have consistently managed to be charming, fun and carry a surprising amount of depth, and Galaxy of Pen and Paper is no exception.
Galaxy of Pen and Paper takes place in the year 1999. You are a Game Master running the most recent edition of the Sci-fi tabletop RPG DURPS. Joined by two other players, your starting combat party, you set out on an adventure where you start as two indentured servants to a vindictive 1950’s gangster stereotype on a desert planet named Tanton. You then set out on a quest to fight sand raiders and find a ship to get you off Tanton and out from under the grips of your slimy business associate. If this all sounds vaguely familiar, like some potential Disney copyright infringement, that’s because it is. The Behold experience is often very meta. You are playing a game within a game, and that game tends to play up experiences that have been ingrained into our collective childhood memories. After Tanton the game begins to expand its narrative having you visit more pop culture inspired planets, such as the heavily Akira and Blade Runner inspired Neo Tokeo, and sending you out to track down mysterious DICE probability drives to power your even more mysterious spaceship.
If you’ve played Knights of Pen and Paper you’ll find that Galaxy doesn’t stray very far from the formula. You’ll be creating your party from a list of pre-made characters and classes. You can also select one of three science fiction races, from Greens, primates and the very alien humans. While you could create your team purely for vanity, it’s still more beneficial to make sure your player, class and race synergize well with each other. The class system itself is a bit more complex and you’ll want to save up the points you earn each level so you can curate the skills and abilities you believe will be more beneficial to you. While you can customize the look of your GM in this game, gone are Chroma Squad’s and Knight’s wider customization options to juggle benefits for your party.
The customization aspect instead focuses on the questing. You’re no longer just running from one objective to the other, but now you can ‘create a quest’, choosing from a list of different quest types, NPC quest givers, the planet your adventure will take place on and even the types of baddies you’ll have to eliminate or goodies you have to fetch. While it’s quite nice that you get to choose how your adventure unfolds, it becomes quickly apparent even with the create a quest function your options are still pretty limited. A fetch quest is still a fetch quest, a bounty is still a bounty, and quest givers only have so many lines to cycle through.
Combat is slightly different from Knights, albeit not entirely unfamiliar. The main differences come in the forms of the energy shields and party formations. Formations are exactly as they sound, some characters are better off in the back row while others are great meat sacks, enemies will protect their back-lines and you get a ton of options for disrupting their formations. Shields meanwhile will soak damage in lieu of your health bar. The longer your shield is up, the longer your character can last without taking direct damage, the same goes for the enemies. While Knights and Chroma Squad felt relatively foolproof, you could basically go with any class and character combination and still race through the game with ease, Galaxy feels as though it has more definite right and wrong choices. While this isn’t a major deal as Behold games are old school in story only, thankfully not in gameplay, different party compositions directly determined how quickly I steamrolled content. This comes almost entirely down to the shield system, as some characters are just better at ripping apart shields (or ignoring them entirely) than others, while you have some classes that specialized in shield regeneration.
RNG also plays a greater role in this game. A very active dice roll dictates every single thing that happens in battle, whether your special attacks hit, whether debuffs are applied, how much energy my ship gets to attack each turn. I had to estimate whether a move was worth casting at all, lest the roll determines I wasted a turn. I admit this is very aggressively tabletop, this is what you would have to do during the real thing, though I would think a kind game master would rig things in my favor every once in awhile. On the other hand when it comes to the realm of video games I would think careful skill curation, in-depth knowledge of your classes and general skill takes precedent over a title’s hidden RNG rolls. At least one class, the Gadgeteer, comes with promises of hacking the game, yet I’m unsure if this means they can impact dice rolls directly.
Yet even with the injection of shields, rolls and formations I found myself wishing there would be a lot more strategy in Galaxy of Pen and Paper. Knights wasn’t chock full of tactics to get the gears churning, sure, but there was no end to the interesting ability combinations I was granted to complete a battle. Chroma Squad displayed a greater amount of maturity in terms of combat, and while it was never fatally hard like say Fire Emblem on Classic, I could sometimes ponder a move for a good few minutes before I was sure I wanted to make it, always careful about where I wanted a squad mate to go, their move timing, controlling the battle to the best of my ability. Galaxy simply lacks that, even compels you to brute force health bars rather than apply real tactical measure.
The last new addition to Galaxy of Pen and Paper is the inclusion of ship battles. Probably the first time Behold has used the real 3D components of Unity3D. As you’re venturing through the cold inky void you’ll sometimes have a chance of encountering an enemy space ship, and boy do they not enjoy letting you violate their personal space. Thrusters engaged! Fire photon torpedos! Scramble the vipers! And other science fictiony space talk. Honestly though it’s not as exciting as all that. Each turn you and your opponent roll a die which determines how much energy you have to act. You then exhaust as many moves as you have points, be it firing your lasers or healing your ship. It’s just not very interesting sadly. Especially coming off the heels of some truly intense, and exciting to watch, big mecha battles in Chroma Squad.
Yet I can’t understate how quirky and funny this game is. The music is amazing, the pixel art is well done. It was Knights of Pen and Paper’s humor and story that drew me to it first. Fighting the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and having Doc Emmit Brown dictate my campaign as G.M. Chroma Squad was a great all around game, but it was my long, enduring love of sentai that it caught me right in the nostalgia feels. Galaxy of Pen and Paper continues the tradition, from the very first seconds where I have to edit my Game Master out of a series of looks paying homage Star Trek, Star Wars, Men in Black, X-Men, Stargate, The Matrix and other bits and bobs of sci-fi, to customizing my party with classes inspired by Mandolorians and StarCraft’s Space Marines, to going on bounty missions where I had to hunt Metroids to extinction, and a bizarrely naked Clark Kent chased off his doomed planet, Galaxy kept me entertained.
The fact Galaxy is more of the same doesn’t bother me, in fact I believe it’s a pretty great thing. No need to fix what isn’t broken, while innovating in small ways here and there. It’s quirky humor, fun characters and story with a hook containing mysterious precursor artifacts and a spaceship with more black boxes than a jewelry store would even be enough to propel this title into a 4 or a 5. However there’s one thing even a great game can’t escape from, and that’s bugs. Galaxy of Pen and Paper is simply a buggy game. I played a build that was a week from launch, and while I’d like to give the benefit of the doubt most of the title’s problems will be ironed out by release there’s just too much wrong at this point to give it a solid recommendation. These bugs go from the mundane, such as quest text revealing snippets of game code and music dropping out entirely, to the utterly game breaking, including a save file that was rendered worthless and corrupted after hours of play.
Galaxy of Pen and Paper is a nice push forward from the Pen and Paper series, and maybe a third Pen and Paper (Knights 2 doesn’t count) or a future update of Galaxy end up being a truly worthy successor that cements the series’ legacy. For now however Chroma Squad remains Behold’s most mature game. I would suggest holding off on this one for at least as long as it takes them to iron the bugs out, and if you’re really itching to play through a Behold title, I would suggest downloading the original Knights or Chroma Squad instead, as Galaxy is far, far away from being a truly worthy release.