After helping Cthulhu save the world, Zeboyd Games teamed up with the minds at Penny Arcade to resurrect the third installment of On The Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness from development hell. After four years and the disappearance of the player-created character, Gabe and Tycho are back to fight the gods where they wait on their windowsill, but this time in glorious 8-bit. If you’ve played Zeboyd’s previous titles, then you’re in familiar territory. But if you’re just coming from the two previous episodes, the rules have changed.
Gone are the 3D environments, active time battle systems, copious amounts of flavor text and narration. In their place are lush, 2D pixel art, a speed-based wait system and unique battle conditions. The art style still feels decidedly Penny Arcade and the larger, longer game leaves much more opportunity for cameos. Be sure to look out for Robert Khoo, Ben Kuchera, Skull the Troll and many others. There is even a style shift for a small section in the latter portion of the campaign that is a beautiful ode to the very games that inspire Zeboyd, and it feels just as natural as the rest of the sheer insanity this plot has in spades.
While the player-created character added some humor in the previous episodes, I feel that without them, Gabe, Tycho and the other characters really shine. I’ve been a fan of Penny Arcade from the beginning. A long-winded, classic RPG like this really gives Jerry Holkins plenty of space to really get deep into dialog. I do miss the funny flavor text of the environments in the previous episodes, and while that’s in episode 3, it’s to a much lesser extent. I think that the “smaller” scope of a 2D game allowed much more of the effort to be put into specific encounters, battle system and story than making sure that Gabe’s hair doesn’t clip through anything.
We’re left with a smaller visual scope, but the plot is able to go to so many more different places. Journeying into the Periphery, several alternate versions of the same mansion in time and other insane locals brought a new flair to the series. The plot reveal towards the end of the game, while not a plot twist, did turn the perspective I viewed the story with completely on its head. The ending is hopefully an indicator of a continuing partnership with Zeboyd…or one of the biggest dick moves by a game writer ever.
The new battle system feels like a natural evolution and refinement of the traditional formula. Each turn is broken into phases with a wait period, a selection period and an action phase. If you use an interrupt move on an enemy while they’re in between the selection and action phase, the interrupt action works better and pushes them further back along the timeline. It isn’t just delaying an attack either, enemies get stronger as each turn passes. After every battle your party is revived and brought to full health, and healing and attack items recharge their uses.
This new system takes the emphasis of stringing every battle into one long encounter from balancing potions and “phoenix downs”. It leads to each enemy encounter feeling like a boss battle and the boss battles feel like arduous fights against death itself. Thankfully, death only means a rewind back to before the battle started. The new class system that allows characters to have up to two additional classes that level up alongside them really let me customize my party so that each battle was on my terms. My brute/tube samurai/cordwainer fit well with my scholar/crabomancer/dinomancer.
Penny Arcade: On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness Episode 3 is something I thought would never happen. As strange as it is for an episodic game to completely switch styles like this, it feels like a natural, slight improvement over the previous episodes. Zeboyd has outdone themselves and created the best modern turn based RPG around. There’s at least one episode left in this plot line, and I hope Zeboyd is on board to finish this series because their methodology is fantastic. At only $5 and with no previous experience in the series necessary, this is an RPG that you should definitely play.