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Penny Arcade Adventures: On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness -- Episode 3 (Xbox 360) artwork

Penny Arcade Adventures: On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness -- Episode 3 (Xbox 360) review

"To keep battles from being stale, a decent number of them have special stipulations which can work in your favor, the monsters' favor or in an unexpected way — such as when you fight the alien leader in an outer space dimension and find that, in homage to the Alien movies, you've entered "Ripley mode" where the one female member of your party has her stats raised dramatically."

I pretty much entered Penny Arcade Adventures: On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness -- Episode 3 blind, as I haven't played the first two installments, have no idea what they're about and, in fact, have only the barest knowledge of the comic strip that inspired them. However, I had played Zeboyd's previous two indie RPGs and really enjoyed them, so I figured that having complete ignorance and apathy towards the subject matter would be the slightest of setbacks going into this game.

I was right.

After doing a bit of research, I found out the first two Penny Arcade games were released as Live Arcade games. However, after the developers decided to put their energy into their own DeathSpank projects, the series stalled until Zeboyd stepped up to the plate to deliver the third entry into what apparently is supposed to be a four-episode story. This probably was a perfect fit, as it seems these games utilize much the same sort of "humorous take on Lovecraftian stuff" style as Zeboyd's Cthulhu Saves the World.

The main character, Tycho Brahe is out to stop other beings from destroying the world…so he can do it the right way, leading to him and his dumb-as-a-box-of-rocks pal Gabe going on all sorts of wild adventures with a couple allies. There's a mysterious tome called the Necrowombicon, an evil god called Yog-Modaigh, a mime cult, dimensional vortexes and a bank where half the vaults lead to alternate dimensions. I spent most of the time with only a bare-bones idea of what was going on around me and didn't feel much more enlightened after the final battles. It was more like I was on this weird trip and might as well just enjoy the ride instead of trying to comprehend just what was happening.

Fortunately, Zeboyd possibly put forth their strongest effort yet in creating a RPG that's a throwback to the stuff I used to play on the NES and SNES. Things were tightened up a bit to create more strategic battles and less frustrating dungeons, while adding a class system to give players a bit more freedom in customizing their characters.

The most noticeable difference lies with the dungeons and how encounters were handled. In Zeboyd's previous games, you'd have a set number of encounters in each place that were randomly generated. If you wanted to fight more, you could, but would have to go to the menu screen to "summon" battles. The problem with this, at least for me, was that these dungeons tended to be large multi-part mazes and it could take a good bit of time to find the correct route to all the treasure chests and then the boss. I'd usually run out of encounters partway through the last section of the dungeon and then have this boring trek through suddenly-deserted corridors until I reached the boss. That issue is solved here, as there are no random encounters. Each dungeon, which seem to be simplified in design to make them easier to negotiate, has icons representing encounters scattered throughout. While you don't HAVE to fight every single one to advance through the game, since there's essentially a finite amount of experience in this game and some tough late-game encounters, you'll probably want to kill everything in your path. Or lurking down those occasional side paths.

Battles are handled in much the same way as in Zeboyd's previous titles, with the exception that enemies power up a bit more slowly. Instead of getting 10 percent stronger every turn, it seems to be every other turn, which turns fights from a sprint to the end to more slow-paced conflicts where buffs and status ailments play more of a role. This ties in nicely with the class system. Each character has their own specialized class and can equip any two of the other dozen or so. Instead of choosing between two power-ups and/or skills upon gaining a level, they get whatever skills are unlocked by their three classes. And there are a lot of skills ranging from powerful attacks to magic spells to status ailments to buffs to more creative things such as being able to transform into a dinosaur or generate a garden that periodically either helps your party or hurts the enemies.

To use the better skills, you'll need to keep battles going for a number of turns. Each character starts a fight with no magic points and gains one at the beginning of each turn. Abilities that cost one magic point can obviously be used each turn, but you'll have to just attack normally or use items for a while if you want to use the more powerful attacks, such as the final skills learned by each class. Some encounters are collections of weak enemies that are only dangerous because you'll be dealing with five or six foes at once; however, a good number of them can best be described as mini-bosses where using some degree of strategy is a necessity. Fortunately, all you have to do is win the fights, as your health is recharged after each battle. This makes it easy to try different strategies for tough enemies because you'll never have to worry about running into a powerful boss with a nearly-dead party.

What makes it easiest to recommend this game is how the typical Zeboyd cleverness is once again on display. I'm not necessarily talking about the game's dialogue, which can get overly flowery and verbose in trying to make virtually every comment come off as the wittiest thing you've ever read; but moreso the attention to detail that goes into making a game like this a treat for old-school gamers like me. To keep battles from getting stale, a decent number of them have special stipulations which can work in your favor, the monsters' favor or in an unexpected way -- such as when you fight the alien leader in an outer space dimension and find that, in homage to the Alien movies, you've entered "Ripley mode" where the one female member of your party has her stats raised dramatically. At one point, you'll find yourself teleported to an eight-bit RPG world where the combat screen has been slightly altered to resemble the NES-era Final Fantasy titles and the battles are faux-random (the enemy icons are invisible, so it looks like fights are randomly generated).

And while, as I said, the dialogue is a bit uneven, when it works, it really works. In the outer space level, the aliens are targeting all the crew members wearing red, which leads to Tycho fervently explaining to everyone that his red shirt is actually a similar, but different, color…while slowly transforming into a monster. Making this gag even better is how it's abruptly dropped at the end of the level with next-to-no resolution. And I had to laugh at how Gabe immediately started to worship a villain because of how he's one of those "super-cool, yet really enigmatic" sorts of baddie.

As an added bonus, I'm guessing this game will be like Cthulhu Saves the World, in that additional content will be added eventually. Much like Dragon Quest VI, there is a temple dedicated to the different classes with braziers that light up as you master each one. So far, nothing much happens when you do this, but I'd be willing to bet that at some point, this will open up an optional dungeon or something like that. Just one more reason to shell out the $5 it costs to purchase this one. Some of the dialogue may fall flat and those of us who don't pay attention to Penny Arcade stuff in general might be completely lost as to what's going on, but for retro gamers looking for a throwback RPG, this is an excellent title to play through.


overdrive's avatar
Staff review by Rob Hamilton (October 18, 2012)

Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.

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zippdementia posted October 18, 2012:

Aw, man! great review, OD! The only question I have now is how does this compare to the previous two games? I'm bummed you didn't play them, because based on this one, if they are similar, I'd like to play the whole series. But if they are completely different, or not as involved with good design, I may not be as interested.
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jerec posted October 18, 2012:

The first two are more like point and click adventure games with RPG battles. This one is a big departure.
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overdrive posted October 19, 2012:

From looking things up on Wiki (had to remember how to spell a few names and stuff), I got the impression of what Jerec said. The first two are Live Arcade games that are $10 or so, I think. Since I never got into the comic or other PA stuff, I ignored them and only bought this one because Zeboyd made it and, from what I read, they completely adjusted things to fit their style.

So it's kind of on this island where I loved the game, but still have no desire to play the first two due to the whole "different company" thing. Although, I do want to play the DeathSpank games at some time, but that's more because I've read some good reviews of them that make them look like the kind of thing I'd like. Point-n-click adventures have never been my thing, for whatever reason.
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zippdementia posted October 19, 2012:

Ah, yeah. I was a big fan of point and click back in my childhood, when Lucas Arts was breaking new ground with them, and Longest Journey is still one of my favorite games ever (also the predecessor to one of the most disappointing sequels ever), but I can't get into them lately. It's like playing a book, and that just feels all wrong to me. And in this case it would be like playing a webcomic.

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