After a hiatus of nearly four years, Penny Arcade’s episodic series On The Rain-slick Precipice of Darkness makes its triumphant return by way of a 16-bit RPG with modern gameplay mechanics.
The first two entries in the Rain-slick Precipice series were both developed by Hothead Games (most famous for their roles in developing The Maw and the Deathspank series.) The first two Rain-slick episodes were presented as old-school adventure games, with the vast majority of the artwork handled by Penny Arcade’s very own Mike Krahulik, and with a story by the other half of PA, Jerry Holkins. While the first two episodes were an enjoyable throwback to early 90′s adventure games, they were far from perfect: they were a little too short, the graphics a little too primitive, and aside from a few choice moments, felt like they just had a Penny Arcade skin, rather than being actual Penny Arcade games.
Fast forward to four years later, and we’ve been granted with the third entry in the series. Big changes abound, the largest being that the series is now being handled by Zeboyd Games, the dynamic duo behind Cthulhu Saves the World and Breath of Death VII. What this means is that instead of a low-polygon 3D visual style combined with adventure-like gameplay, we get an RPG modeled after something you would have expected to see early on in the SNES’s lifespan. Detailed sprites, catchy music, plenty of skills to choose from and level up…the whole thing feels like a love letter to days gone by, which is what Zeboyd does best.
Aside from a different developer, the other biggest change includes Holkins not only being the story wrangler, but writing almost all of the dialogue and flavor text entirely by himself. This comes through in every line of dialogue, which is carefully crafted with Holkin’s signature writing style and humor. The script is filled with sharp-biting wit, eldritch humor, and the occasional spiritual euphemism. The various flavor text throughout the 8-10 hour experience is just as expertly [Love]crafted as well: enemy descriptions, item descriptions, skill descriptions, NPC descriptions…nearly every one of them will have you looking over your shoulder in an attempt to find someone you can repeat the lines to.
Don’t let the old-timey 16-bit visuals fool you: there’s a TON of character customization and class combos to choose from here. Classes range from Cardboard Tube Samurai to Hobo to Crabomancer, with everything in between. You can eventually assign up to three classes to each character, and you’ll have a max of four characters in your party, so you can have up to 12 classes in play at any given time (I’m not sure how many classes in total there are, but you’ll never run out of class-combos, that’s for sure.) Each fight has your characters start with 0 MP, which you can increase every turn by using a standard attack, or by using certain skills. Do you attack early on with something weak, or wait so that you can cast something more powerful a few turns later? There’s also a “fight order” to contend with, which can be altered by using certain skills that “interrupt” attacks that your enemies have queued up.
Items also have their own unique system: instead of being “consumables” in the traditional sense, they recharge after every fight. By making purchases from shops that are run by digital doppelgangers of the Penny Arcade staff, you can increase the number of times you can use an item in a single battle, as well as how strong it is. Items don’t really become all that useful until you get towards the end of the game, and even then, the item system is well balanced. Not having to run back to town to stock up on potions or other whatsits makes the “regenerating item” idea worth it to me…besides, if nothing else, at least the devs are trying to do something out of the ordinary.
Much like their two previous titles, Zeboyd has created an incredibly fun (albeit linear) old-school RPG, complete with fantastic music and great enemy designs. As previously mentioned, it will take around 8-10 hours to beat this entry in the Rain-slick series…while it would be nice if it were a little longer, it’s still plenty of time to deliver the plot and set things up for the final entry in the series. Zeboyd has been tasked with closing the series out with the fourth episode, which we hopefully won’t have to wait on for long.