This afternoon, after
having soaked up some very unseasonal Winter sun here in Perth by walking Lou’s dog and kicking the football (that’s football, not the other one featuring an ellipsoid and played mostly with fucking hands), I decided to finish up with the 3rd episode of Penny Arcade Adventures: On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness (which, for convenience’s sake, I’m going to abbreviate as PAA3). It’s interesting that not only are two posts in a row going to be game reviews, but both of them are concerning the third games in a series*.
This is a very witty game. I’m not limiting this statement to the dialogue which is, somewhat inevitably, given it’s written by PA’s resident wordsmith Jerry Holkins, up around the Joss Whedon wavelength of the dialogue spectrum. Unfortunately for me, PAA3 is the first game I’ve played in the series, and that did seem to hurt my enjoyment of the back-and-forth a bit by not quite getting all the dialogue explaining Tycho’s family quest to destroy the universe. Most of what I didn’t follow completely came near the end of the game, so for the most part it wasn’t an issue. And of course, there’s always Wikipedia articles to read if you want to understand the full story. Other than the dialogue, there were also little descriptions of each monster that show up in the battle screen that genuinely made me grin at times.
Unlike a couple of other reviews that I’ve read around the place (the one from RPGFan in particular) I think the guys at Zeboyd have done a great job of offering some innovations to a combat system that can often seem grind-worthy. And while the linearity of the game is incontestable in the sense that the maps are linear, the variety of monster combinations and match-ups means that each battle often plays out very, very differently to an encounter five steps back along the hobo-encrusted alleyway. If I think back to most of my early 16-bit JRPG experiences (which the game’s graphical style is emulating), it was often the case that battles were pretty much a matter of navigating to the hardest-hitting spell in each player’s inventory and casting it over and over again. Random battles began to wear thin after maybe the fiftieth time casting ‘Firaga’.
Not so PAA3. In each (non-random) battle, player characters start with full HP, and have to use that fresh slate to take on enemies whose stats grow by 10% each round. Through this mechanic, the game is able to make the player focus on efficiency. This lends it a puzzler aspect, resulting in each battle being more about trying to maximise each character’s input rather than just straight-up using a standard massive attack. It almost feels as though PAA3 is approaching the puzzle/RPG genre divide from the opposite direction games such as Puzzle Quest. I think it’s a really innovative way of doing things in the RPG genre, and I’d love to see Zeboyd Games (the new developers) refine the idea towards a more openly puzzle game-like nature.
One thing that I think is a little lacking it’s that some skills seem to be relatively unused. The class system means there are often a dozen or more skills that can be used by a character on any one turn, so obviously there are going to be ones that aren’t doing much more than getting in the way. I’d also have loved some kind of indication that a spell had been replaced by a newer version, as quite often I’d look for quite a while before realising that a recent level-up had changed its name. Perhaps just a yellow text colour until the player uses it for the first time?
The only other gripe I had was that revisiting previous locations on the map/town didn’t seem to have any noticeable benefit. While being able to go to them made the world seem at least a little bit more open, ultimately it’s more disappointing when repeated visits do nothing. Even if there were maybe one or two items, or perhaps some more amusing dialogue or easter eggs that could be found in this way, it’d be a nice touch.
All up the game took me around 7 hours to complete, and that was on the 2nd highest difficulty. I can’t remember getting too frustrated with any of the fights, although the penultimate boss took me longer than the final one (which is actually kind of a traditional thing, particularly in SNES RPGs). It’s on sale at $4.99 on Steam and Penny Arcade’s online store, or 400 points on Xbox Live. Recommended if you’re looking for a good little adventure that harks back to the good old days of pixelated RPG glory.
*<half life 3 inside joke>OMG MUSTB HALF LIEF 3 SEKRET CODE QUICK EMAIL GABEN.</half life 3 inside joke>