If there’s one genre of video games that never fails to punch me right in the face with its fierce gloves of nostalgia, it’s the RPG. Forget those new fandangled KOTOR-esque Action RPGs, I’m talking Chrono Trigger, Legend of Legaia, Lufia II. Classic, time-tested, turn-based JRPGs. Sure, they had their flaws (fuck you, random encounters), but I love them nonetheless. I’m also a fan of the hit webcomic Penny Arcade, along with what seems like the vast majority of the internet. That’s why I was excited by the prospect of Penny Arcade’s On The Rain-Slick Precipice Of Darkness 3. Despite having the longest title in my Steam library (never a positive), POD3 (as it will be referred to herein) boasts that it’s an “old-school RPG mixed with modern design sensibilities.”
This latest title from Zeboyd Games, who you may know as the studio behind Breath of Death VII and Cthulhu Saves The World, is the third in the series of RPGs based around Penny Arcade. No prior knowledge of Parts 1 or 2 is assumed, though – I’d only played about fifteen minutes of the first instalment before jumping into this one, and despite maybe a couple of jokes being missed and it taking me a little longer to get a grasp of the story, there’s no penalty for having missed the previous games. Parts 1 and 2 were developed by Hothead Games and originally released four years ago, featuring an art style much more based around the comics. In those games, you developed your own player-character, with Gabe and Tycho acting as party members. Even so, there’s no way to transfer your character into Part 3, so you’re really not missing out on much if you dive right into this one.
Gabe and Tycho (if you’re lost already, you might want to close this window) run a PI agency called the Startling Developments Detective Agency. After receiving a mysterious phone call made up of ten minutes of silence and leaving to investigate, they return to find their prized possession and their spoils from Part 2, the Necrowombicon, has been stolen. From here, they follow leads to museums, mansions, banks and even an alleyway populated by the homeless (aptly named Hobo Alley), in an attempt to find out who plotted to steal the Necrowombicon. Accompanying your heroes is Jim, a skull preserved in a jar, and Moira, Tycho’s cynical ex-wife. Initially, Tycho’s genius nephew Anne-Claire accompanies you at the amusement pier, however she’s abandoned as a party member rather quickly and with disappointingly dismissive reasoning, as though she was originally meant to be a regular party member but the person who wrote her lines took their annual leave.
As one would expect from a game that bears the Penny Arcade name, POD3 is heavily reliant on humour. Jerry Holkins is credited for 100% of the writing – his sense of humour may not be to everyone’s tastes, but if you’re a fan of the writing in the comic then you will appreciate the video game. Holkins’ oddball humour, full of obscure, somewhat dated pop culture references and oft crude jokes is perfectly woven into every section of the game that features words at all. Even the word “necrowombicon” is sort of a play on H.P. Lovecraft’s recurring grimoire, the Necronomicon. Creature descriptions, spoken dialogue, item names – every single line in the game seems to have some sort of joke behind it. Dialogue can really drag on, though. As much as I loved the witty one-liners and whatnot, I found that some of the spoken dialogue was just wall after wall of text. Sure, it was funny, but Holkins’ sense of humour benefits from being short and sharp – four or five paragraphs of dialogue from one character in one hit is simply too much.
With a young, yet generally fantastic developer like Zeboyd Games, one would expect near brilliance when it comes to gameplay. One would not be disappointed. Combat seems like a fairly standard turn-based affair at first, but there is a much deeper side to it than that. There’s a quasi-real time “action bar” on the top right corner of the screen. About two thirds of this bar is the “command” phase, with the other third being the “action” phase. When a character’s portrait reaches the end of the former phase, a command is issued, which after a small wait (the latter phase) is acted upon. This provides a surprisingly deep strategic side to the turn-based formula. Also included is a triple class system, by which every character has one set class and two interchangeable classes – ever wanted to play as a Brute Slacker Crabomancer? Now you can! Each class earns experience individually, developing distinct special abilities as they level up.
When I think old-school RPG, there’s a couple of key factors that have to be crafted to perfection, and the soundtrack is likely the most important factor of those important factors. In POD3, the soundtrack has been crafted to perfection. Every single music loop fits into its setting like the last piece of a jigsaw puzzle; each track is a sublime blend of 8-bit glory and modern composition. Additionally, the music couldn’t be a better match to the SNES-esque graphical style once again employed by Zeboyd, contributing to the overall nostalgia slap that so much as starting up the game will provide. The linear world map screen inherently lacks the feeling exploration that is a cornerstone of the traditional RPG – you can’t wander around the map, discovering towns and dungeons, but are rather locked into following a set path around the town of New Arcadia, with fixed destinations and routes.
Penny Arcade’s On The Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness 3 is an excellent retro-styled RPG. Plot-wise, it’s rather linear, but the hundreds of possible class combinations will ensure that combat never gets too tiring or repetitive. Every single creature you’ll come up against will have a hilarious, chuckleworthy description. Dialogue can become tedious at times, even for people who are usually fans of Holkins’ writing, yet Zeboyd Games has done such a brilliant job on bringing the characters of the comic to the small screen that I’ll put up with any issues this game might have and enjoy every minute of it.
Select Start Media was provided with a review copy of Penny Arcade’s On The Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness 3 by Penny Arcade, Inc.