Frivolous Waste of Time

Sci-fi, fantasy and video games

Penny Arcade Adventures: On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness Episode 3 for XBLIG, PC, Mac, iOS and Android OS

Penny Arcade’s foray into the actual making of videogames rather than the mockery of them has been far from without a hitch. The first two episodes, created by Hothead, were decent RPGs with a dash of a classic adventure game. They were pretty good games, but fairly simplistic and short, and whilst they were both moderate critical successes, they failed to achieve any meaningful commercial success. It was a shame really, the games were no masterpieces, but the Lovecraft influenced world of New Arcadia was a fun one to explore, and the verbose eloquence of Jerry ‘Tycho’ Holkins and the instantly recognisable art style of Michael ‘Gabe’ Krahulik led to an entertaining script and plenty of fun characters plundered from the 14 year old web comic. Hothead later opted to not produce further Penny Arcade games, in favour of making Ron Gilbert’s Deathspank games. Holkins eventually concluded the series through a short novella that was published one chapter at a time on the website. It was therefore a very pleasant surprise to find that the series would in fact get a (playable) conclusion, and that it would be produced by Zeboyd no less. Zeboyd rose to their modest success with the release of Cthulhu Saves the World in 2010, and have become known for the nostalgic throwback nature of their games, emulating the style of the NES Final Fantasy games which simply doesn’t exist today.

The games are centred around a poem known as ‘The Quartet for the Dusk of Man’, which tells of four Gods, based on the Old Ones from the Cthulhu mythos, who a group of allied cults seek to raise. In the first two episodes, Yog Sethis, the God of Silence and Yog Kathak, the God of Gears had been summoned and destroyed by the heroes. These heroes are the somewhat insane genius Tycho Brahe, last scion of a household bent on ending the world, but won’t let anyone else do it first, and Jonathan Gabriel, his dumb yet rather loveable companion with a passion for violence. At the conclusion of the last game, the gang were betrayed by Dr. Raventon Darkalton Blood (something of a parody of the character design of Todd MacFarlane), as he steals the Necrowombicon, a dread tome which allows the summoning of the final two Gods. It is here that the third episode begins. In the original two episodes, the player created a character who joined Gabe and Tycho on their adventure, but this aspect has been cut from the new release. The player is replaced by two new characters; one is Jim, a head in the jar who in the comics was a former roommate of Tycho and Gabe who had died behind their TV whilst trying to hook up their Nintendo 64.  The other is Moira, an entirely new character, a private detective and ex wife of Tycho. Together, this group attempt to hunt down Dr. Blood, regain the Necrowombicon and halt the rising of the third God. The story is relatively thin, but Holkins, a man who has claimed to ‘have a judo-grip on the English language’, provides consistently funny dialogue, which particularly shines in the glib descriptions of the wide variety of enemies the gang face.

The battle system is class based in a Final Fantasy III sort of way, with each character having a base class alongside the ability to equip two more. These classes are where a lot of the fun comes in, and are as interesting and unique as one would hope for from great minds such as Holkins and Krahulik. My favourites include the ‘Dinosorcerer’ which involves…well, turning into dinosaurs and stomping your foes into oblivion, and the ‘Gardener’ in which ‘gardens’ are laid during the battle which cause different effects, such as persistent damage to the enemy or the healing of the party. Working out which combinations of classes go best with each character is pretty fun, and the feeling of satisfaction of having got together a move set which just works is rather special. The battles themselves are a fairly standard turn based affair, and whilst they may not be the most complex in the world, it really doesn’t need to be. The combat is simple and retro and that’s exactly how it should be. The game is really about ferrying you from battle to battle, and it may perhaps have been nice to have a few differing game play mechanics introduced to keep thing interesting, like the Twisp and Catsby minigame from Episode 2.

The visual style is fairy hit and miss. The character and enemy designs are great, often stylised interpretations of figures from Penny Arcade lore, such as the Deep Crow or Rex Ready the time travelling T-Rex. The actual environments are generally unimpressive however, and at times look like they were made with freeware RPG maker software. I’m aware that the style is intentionally basic, but the classic 2D RPGs of lore never looked this bad. There are some exceptions, such as a sojourn into a parallel universe fantasy land which directly mimics the style of the first Final Fantasy, which is certainly a charming diversion, but these are exceptions to a largely unexceptional style. The music is pretty good, if somewhat repetitive. The main battle theme is fairly catchy, and certainly captures the energy of the battle themes of the early Final Fantasy games.

PAA:OtRSPoD Ep 3 to give it it’s catchy acronym is a fun little diversion, but little more than that. I can’t really recommend this to people who haven’t played the first two, but if you have then there is plenty to enjoy here. It’s damn cheap, which certainly helps.

7/10

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