I’m not the biggest fan of games which utilise cards as their main mechanic, they are usually overly complicated and often confuse me. However, although Book of Demons revolves around crawling through dungeons, organising a collection of cards to aid you along the way, the concept is rather simple and is no different to equipping various weapons and armour in an RPG game. I became slightly obsessed with this papercraft adventure game over the last week, a game which I had no knowledge of up until I was sent it for review.
Published by 505 Games and developed by Thing Trunk, with help from SONKA, Book of Demons is a super addictive game which you’ll be hooked to as soon as you begin your journey. Filled with humour, action, strategy, and procedural adventures, even after you’ve finished the main campaign you’ll want to carry on playing within the never-ending mode. But, let’s not jump the gun, allow me to explain what I loved about this game (and also what I think needs to be adjusted)…
Book of Demons takes place in the fabled Paperverse, a land inhabited by what can only be described as papercraft people. You’ve returned to a small town only to find that they are in dire need of help as the dungeons below their peaceful home have become the breeding ground for demons and satanic creatures, beasts who have slaughtered, kidnapped and chased away all but a few of the townsfolk. After a little persuading from the delightful barmaid, you agree to help them out and become the exterminator to their pests.
What started as a simple request for an upset local quickly turns into a massive adventure which takes you through a maze, the catacombs, and even Hell itself! You’ll make your way through procedurally generated dungeons which progressively become harder as the amount of enemies increases along with the unit types and strength. Not only will you face lowly minion scum, but you’ll also have to man-up against numerous bosses which would love to see your blood splattered against the walls and your body torn into pieces.
Once you’ve made it through the three themed hallways of death, you’ll unlock the Freeplay mode, a mode which lets you continue forever, choosing various options to customise your experience and prolong your journey into the unknown. I can’t recall exactly but I believe my first playthrough, from beginning to completing Hell, took me around 15-20 hours on the normal difficulty – if you’re going for the platinum then you can easily expect to be playing for around four or five times this length due to certain trophies and requirements (and a spot of RNG).
I love the various mechanics within Book of Demons, it’s all rather simplistic yet strategic at the same time. Once you enter a dungeon, you walk around set paths – you can explore the entire area but you can’t leave the track, just like a train. Your objective is to find the staircase and leave the floor your on so that you can proceed. However, the game encourages you to kill all the enemies on the floor, wipe out all the bosses, open all chests, and pick up all the items and gold the deceased demons drop during death.
The protagonist auto-attacks as you move around, shooting a projectile if they’re in range but far away, and melee attacking if they get up in your face. But, you can hold Cross to provide a constant stream of attacks one after another (which is much faster) at the expense of being unable to move. You can also use the aforementioned card system to line up a bunch of spells (both offensive and defensive) which can be called upon to help you out as long as you have enough mana.
The gameplay is very simple but it does take a while to get used to, due to the standing still whilst attacking mechanic, but you’ll soon become accustomed to it and easily slaughter anything that moves. Although you can’t actually upgrade your weapon in order to make life easier, you do still level up which unlocks more health or mana points, as well as have the ability to upgrade your cards to provide more support whilst in battle. So, although progression is a little limited when looking from the outside, it has enough to ensure you constantly feel like a badass – until you’ve completed the main game…
You can pick from three protagonists once you reach level 5 with the warrior. These are the warrior, mage and rogue. Each one has their own weapons, rate of attack, style, and even a set of unique cards which only they will find whilst exploring. Surprisingly, and a welcomed feature, you have three save slots per protagonist, rather than simply three save slots for all of them combined. This makes switching between the various styles and adventures incredibly easy and efficient.
The actual story of the game doesn’t change along with the person you pick, which is a shame, but you’ll find yourself forced to play as all three if you’re going for the platinum as that’s one of the long trophies – completing the game as all three and collecting all off each of their cards, cards which are dropped at random and each one has multiple variations. You also need to get at least one character up to level 50, a feat which is going to be incredibly difficult. You see, I completed the game at level 30 which meant I had earnt, let’s say, about 350k experience points so far. To get to level 31 I now had to earn another 350k!
It was probably like this all the time but this is when I first noticed it – I had to earn ALL the experience I have had so far (in 15 hours) just to get to the next level. Sure, the end-game content allows you to bump up the difficulty and earn more experience than usual, but getting a single character to level 50 is easily going to double, or even triple the time it takes to complete the game. Basically, despite the trophy list looking fairly straight-forward, it is a rather long game if you wish to 100% it.
Although the procedural nature of the game is quite basic, as you’re essentially a train who can’t leave a set track within each dungeon, the game does some really clever things. First of all, you can set how long you wish to spend within the dungeon by picking the size of your next session. Initially, you’ll only have access to ‘very small’ which is essentially one or two dungeons. However, as you progress you’ll unlock small, medium, big and very big, each one either increasing the number of dungeons or simply making them ‘bigger’ in size.
The fun thing here though is that Book of Demons will give you a rough estimate of how long it will take you to complete them, such as 12 minutes, 20 minutes, or 31 minutes in my case. This isn’t a number plucked from the air at random, the game monitors how long it takes you to complete dungeons based on size, the number of enemies, and bosses – it then uses this data to try and accurately guess how long it thinks you’ll take to complete the various sized dungeons you can pick from. For me, this resulted in 12-51 minutes per dungeon session.
In terms of the design of each dungeon, it’s all very similar. Sure, there are three visual styles, each with a few new enemies as well as recurring minions, but the overall designs are almost the same. But, I never felt bored or like I was simply doing the same thing over and over due to the enemies the game threw at me and the strategy of swapping around your cards to change-up your gameplay style. Will you use a card which makes two arrows shoot out the butt of whoever you shoot? Maybe you’ll strike fear into all who get close to you, causing them to run away? Or, maybe you’ll just swap between the various elemental arrows so that you can set enemies on fire or poison them?
There are two types of bosses in Book of Demons, the mid-level ones and the main end-of-area boss. The mid-level ones are tike your standard enemies, only with more health and require a bit of strategy to take down. They have a long life bar which is split up into segments, each one will require you to either stay alive (a clock) or inflict a certain amount of pain (a heart) towards the enemy. Usually, this is whilst they spawn enemies or attack you with their heavier attacks. Once all segments have been cleared – the thing returns to Hell.
The main bosses (of which there are three) are much bigger and tougher, yet they also have their own designated levels designed around them. For example, the first boss has you find keys whilst you blow up pots, pots which multiply as they’re destroyed and contain explosions, enemies, or the elusive key. The second one strips you of all your cards, forcing you to find them all, remember what you had equipt and do it again, then face him. You can even replay these boss battles at higher difficulties once you’ve completed the main game – although the game constantly crashes on my PS4 Pro when repeating the first boss due to the countless amounts of explosions and debris caused by multiple pots blowing up and making long chain reactions.
However, this has been reported and the developer is looking into the issue – it only happened post-game as well.
The town consists of four people, a healer, barmaid, sage and fortune teller. Other than offer you gossip and tell you the story as you get deeper into the dungeons, these four will support you on your journey. The healer will give you a free health and mana potion should you require it upon returning to the town, the barmaid lets you claim secret treasures, the sage will identify hidden cards, and the fortune teller can upgrade your cards to make them stronger and more useful.
Let’s expand on a few of those points… as you crawl the dungeons, you’ll find random ‘ingredients’ which go into the barmaid’s cauldron. You can pay her (which progressively gets more expensive) to turn those items into rewards. One item will give you a bronze reward (gold or a potion) yet three bronze items combine into a silver reward, giving you all three bronze rewards and a single silver-rated one. But, should you also collect three silver rewards, they become a gold one which splits into three silver rewards and nine bronze ones! However, should you die before you’ve paid to redeem these, you lose them all!
Also, when you level up you can choose more health or mana – the opposite of what you pick also goes to the cauldron, granting you the missed upgrade when you redeem the other rewards.
The fortune teller can not only upgrade your active and passive cards, but she can also upgrade and fuse together your upgrade cards. There are five upgrade cards – Sun, Moon, Life, Death, and Truth. Two Sun make Life, two Moon make Death, and a Life and Death make Truth. So, you’ll have to fuse and combine in order to create the upgrade cards you need to make yourself stronger. There is a lot of layers to this game, a lot more than you first realise when looking at footage of it.
My personal issues
Other than the constant crashing in the post-game boss battle (which is being fixed), there were a few other things which annoyed me at times. First of all, the controls. Book of Demons was developed as a mouse and keyboard game originally, having you move the mouse to choose your targets and the keyboard to move and swap spells. This has been recreated as an almost twin-stick shooter layout on the controller – which is fine. However, it also means you have to take your thumb off the right Thumbstick (which is for aiming and locking onto objects) if you wish to hold Cross to attack or Square to smash things. As such, I initially remapped these options to the shoulder buttons via the PS4 accessibility options and later just opted to use my programmable NACON controller with rear buttons. The official DS4 rear buttons would also work really well with this game.
Second, the menus within the card management aren’t very user-friendly. As you move the cursor over the cards, it gives you a pop-up telling what the card does (which is great). Only, the pop-ups are huge, they constantly flip their location based upon where the cursor underneath is, and it makes navigating quite fiddly. Having a button to open this detailed info would have been better in my opinion.
Finally, there’s a bunch of in-game achievements (over 200 of them). At a glance, these are great, they track your progression and even give percentages – for example, my one for killing 1000 ghosts says I’m at 29%. However, this section hasn’t been properly implemented for a controller. You can go up and down the list but you can’t hover over the individual achievement and see what the numbers actually are – well, not unless it’s in the middle column and you scroll to the exact pixel where the clearly invisible mouse is stuck on the screen. For example, I have one called Frequent Patient, which is being healed 100 times. I’m on 16% yet if I line that achievement up precisely, a pop-up appears saying I have to get 84 more in order to complete it.
That’s only a small issue though, as are my problems with the menu. The game itself works fine (other than the one location where it crashes) and I thoroughly enjoyed playing all the way through it multiple times.
I personally love the art style in Book of Demons, the papercraft visuals add a unique personality to the game, making it stand out from games with a similar concept. When the action gets quite intense on-screen, and it does quite often as you get further into the game and more and more enemies spawn around you, it never buckled or dropped frames on me (other than the one boss level). Although set in a dark dungeon deep underground, the lighting which is provided via the lava, lights, explosions, and special attacks all look really cool, brightening up the environment with their colourful effects.
The music also suits the nature of the game, offering a mysterious tone within the town and more intense tracks as you proceed on your journey. The voice actors are also very well casted – especially the ‘Something Special’ treat you get when you complete the main game!
Book of Demons is a very interesting take on the hack-n-slash, dungeon crawling and action-adventure genres. Its unique gameplay mechanics, card-management abilities, and procedurally generated construction, all combine to make a never-ending experience which will surely entertain you for hours upon hours – even if you’re not interested in the platinum. Although rather simplistic to look at, there are more layers than an onion as you delve deeper into the customisation, levelling up, planning out your runs, and using the enemies weaknesses against them. The only thing I wish was included would be actual papercraft activity sets to make our own characters IRL!
Book of Demons£19.99
- - Funny dialogue and and interesting story
- - Strategic elements in the combat due to organising your cards and learning the enemies weaknesses
- - Pretty visuals set within a papercrafted world
- - The music really builds the atmosphere perfectly
- - Will provide many hours of gameplay, even if you're not going for the plat
- - The inventory management window is a bit fiddly
- - There is an issue with one boss causing crashes post-game (should be fixed soon)
- - Some of the trophies will be a bit hard to achieve (or very long)
- - The controls could have been mapped better, maybe even offered us Mouse and Keyboard support? Works great with rear buttons though