Game Reviews

Penny Arcade's On The Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness 3

Star onStar onStar onStar halfStar off
Penny Arcade's On The Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness 3

Playing an average old skool JRPG game in the cold light of 2012 can be akin to, well, writing Penny Arcade's On The Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness 3 for the dozenth time.

Many of these old games seem so clunky and bloated after the past decade and a half of streamlining, refining, and - yes - dumbing down, that they lose much of the fun and immersion they once provided.

Penny Arcade's On The Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness 3 itself attempts to whittle away much of that RPG excess, all while simultaneously celebrating and sending the source material up. It's quite a lofty goal.

Letting it off the niche

The first thing we should note is that, regardless of Zeboyd's attempts at streamlining the classic RPG, PAOTRSPD3 is still a defiantly niche game.

For one thing, it's obviously based on the Penny Arcade web comic universe, which, if you're not familiar with it, can feel a little like an inside joke you're not a party to. Thankfully, much of the humour translates to anyone hip to online and gaming culture in general.

PAOTRSPD3 takes the two Penny Arcade protagonists, Gabe and Tycho, and places them in a fantasy world full of JRPG archetypes. While the universe looks like it's been lifted straight from the early '90s, everything's approached with modern eyes and an ironic wink.

Incremental item upgrades are mocked, warped JRPG enemy design is commented upon, and there's a one-line zinger for every role-playing trope in the book.

Active time-saving battle

PAOTRSPD3 wisely cuts well back on many of the features that would annoy a modern casual gamer. Battles, while still turn-based like in the classic Final Fantasy games, are relatively zippy and present themselves in a strictly structured manner.

There's no random element here, and once you've beaten one of the enemies in the game it stays beaten. This also eliminates backtracking and the need to grind (which some will find a shame, but hey-ho).

PAOTRSPD3 does lose some of the sense of exploration that characterised the best 16-bit JRPGs, in that the overworld is a series of fixed on-rails points, but there are usually a couple of routes through the dungeons themselves, along with optional loot to uncover.

Trimming the fat

We should go back to the battle system for a minute, because it's where the vast majority of PAOTRSPD3's gameplay lies. What starts as a fairly dull, generic turn-based system soon gets more interesting with the introduction of a branching job system.

This allows characters to take on a second (and constantly interchangable) job, effectively doubling their move-sets and strategic possibilities.

There are also interesting special scenarios thrown in every now and then, such as enemies who cause quadruple the normal damage, or a particular type of attack that will be especially effective for that round.

These twists on the formula - as well as touches like your party healing after every battle - keep things ticking over nicely, and actually suit the mobile format perfectly. Which is surprising, because PAOTRSPD3 wasn't designed for portable devices at all.

Fighting for control

Penny Arcade's On The Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness 3 was designed for PC, and it shows in one vital area. The controls are, frankly, a bit rubbish.

There's an awkward mish-mash of virtual and direct touch controls. While out in the world it's all about the (rather clunky) virtual controls, in battle you have to touch the menus and enemies directly. It's an awkward shift, and as this isn't what these dated menus were designed for it feels unwieldy to say the least.

While we're criticising, PAOTRSPD3 keeps the old genre trait of going heavy on the exposition. Sure, it's well-written and extremely self-aware, but it's still there in (over)abundance. I also felt that it wasn't as funny as it thought it was, but that's more a personal take on Penny Arcade. Many will disagree.

Penny Arcade's On The Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness 3 is a clever, self-aware take on the classic JRPG. It does much to streamline and subvert the genre, but it's still only likely to appeal to a particular breed of gamer who appreciates the source material.

Penny Arcade's On The Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness 3

A breezy attempt at streamlining the classic JRPG, Penny Arcade's On The Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness 3 offers some neat ideas but arguably doesn't go far enough in modernising the genre
Jon Mundy
Jon Mundy
Jon is a consummate expert in adventure, action, and sports games. Which is just as well, as in real life he's timid, lazy, and unfit. It's amazing how these things even themselves out.