Penny Arcade’s Principle of Darkness: On The Rain-Slick Episode 3 Review

Note: I re-reviewed this game in 2013. Please disregard this original review.

Well… That was shorter than expected.  I was originally going to delay this review, since the game’s website indicated that there would be 22 chapters, but I think it was just the original plotline.  But onto the backstory!  Way back in 2008, two games in the horribly long winded Penny Arcade’s Principle of Darkness: On The Rain-Slick series were released, and then the company who was making them decided that they wanted to make hack and slash titles with a comedic undertone.  But moving back to the title, why do you need two titles in a spin-off of a webcomic?  But a title doesn’t make a game, and for me, the actual gameplay didn’t make the first title worth a purchase.  Now, this was back in 2010, but opening with a 1920’s setting and humping fruit machines taking over a suburb, is just kinda dumb.  But that was nearly 4 years ago, and the third instalment has finally arrived, thanks to Zeboyd Games.  But does this title live up to the other Zeboyd games?  Hit the jump and find out!

Penny Arcade’s Principle of Darkness: On The Rain-Slick Episode 3 Review
Release Date: 25/6/2012
Platforms: XBIG (Reviewed), Android, iOS, PC, Mac
Price I Paid: $4.99

As I stated, I did not play the two previous titles in the Rain-Slick series, and if anyone tells me to just use the full title, how many things are called Rain-Slick?  That’s what I though.  However, on the official website, it states that you can enter this game with no knowledge about the first two games, but I think that it would’ve helped out alot.  There is a lot of lore built up in this world, and the exposition is a bit clumsy.  A glossary would not go amiss, and while relying on a glossary is a very bad idea if it is the first in a series, there is a lot of things that make up and expand a plot that really is not that more complicated than, go around the world and punch people in the face until they tell you who else needs to be punched in the face.  

It could be because Zeboyd Games tend to be very direct with their plots, and the fact that there is over twice as much dialog in this game, but I thought that it was actually pretty alienating to people who did not take notes about the plot, which is really not good storytelling.  But as I said before, I can understand what is going on, but a lot of the motivations and logic is amiss to me.  And if this past paragraph meant anything, it is that I cannot recount what the hell happened in this game to save my life.  Although, it is well written and keeps the staple Zeboyd charm, so you’ll at least get a kick out of the banter between party members and the monster descriptions.  And as a bit of a spoiler, the story does not reach any major conclusion, and ends with a cliffhanger.

Moving onto the gameplay, it does not follow the archetype that was established by the previous two Zeboyd titles, and adopts a gameplay style that I would declare to be a mix of Grandia and Final Fantasy: 4 Heroes of LightFrom Grandia, it takes the semi-active type battle system where every character and monster is represented on a bar that is divided into two pieces.  The larger half is for the cooldown between each character’s actions, and the smaller one is for the time it takes to use the ability that you selected once it reached the end of the larger half, and the selected ability is actually used once it reaches the end of the smaller bar, with items working very quickly, and everything else talking about the same length of time.  

And from Final Fantasy: 4 Heroes of Light, it takes a modified version of the AP system, but instead of needing to defend to rack up AP, you get one MP every turn, the base attack and some abilities cost 0 MP, and defending grants you a bit of a boost next turn.  It ends up being a very unique battle system with a lot of different ways to approach every situation.  Do you place a lot of value on speed, so you can rack up MP?  Do you value defence so that you can cast a bunch of buffs and debuffs?  Or do you try to bum rush the foes, since the still get 10% stronger after every attack?  I am actually very surprised by the amount of variety placed into this game, with the inclusion of items that do something more than just heal you, and the fact that they are only limited based on the individual battle you are in.  MP restoring, revival potions, status healers, base damage attacks, there are only 6 items, but they can be extremely helpful if you upgrade them at a shop, and use them wisely.

But the biggest aspect that adds a new level of strategy to this game, is a class system.  But unlike every RPG that I’ve played, classes level up independently of the characters they are assigned to.  Actually, there are not so much character levels, as there are classes exclusive to characters that cannot be unequipped.  Throughout the game, you only really get a party of four individuals, and all of them can pick from a pool of 13 classes, starting with only seven, that can be placed into two slots per character, starting with only one.  And the actual classes are not staples like Warrior, Healer, Offensive Mage, Monk, and Thief.  They are ones like Slacker, Gentlemen, Hobo, Gardener,  Diva, and, my favorite, Dinosorcerer, which lets a character turn into a berserk dinosaur for 3 turns at a time.  But I had a problem with the fact that when you go to select which classes you want to equip, you cannot see how much EXP is needed to reach the next level, until you equip it.  This caused me to spend a good chunk of my playthrough searching for which of the classes had the most EXP needed to level up, when it could’ve been fixed by the designer in a bit less than an hour, I’m sure of it.  I eventually adopted a set of 3 classes per character, with one in rotation, but that still caused me to search between the classes more than I should have needed to during my 13 hour run.

I also had a problem with the level up display.  Now, I was not expecting to see the two option level up return, but I was expecting to see the information of every new move that I earned.  And while I could go and check myself, I ended up having everything level up around the same time, and I cannot look at the information about classes that I do not have equipped.  It is because of this that I did not even know that I had a move that could half resistance to elemental moves, and hit every enemy with pretty tough magic, every turn, for 2 MP, with a character who gains 1 MP whenever he defends.  

And yes, that did simply demolished any bosses that got in my way.  And regeneration spells are still invaluable with a character who can boost everyone’s magic by 40% for 2 MP.  I later learned that the normal class would later be renamed easy, with easy being casual, and hard being veteran, which pisses me off, since there is no normal difficulty then.  If the only class that isn’t called easy, is immediately followed by insanity, you might want to balance out a new difficulty.

As one final difference, the game actually takes from Earthbound by removing random battles, and just having enemies on the map.  And this even happens in one delightful, yet fairly pointless bit that was used to pad out this game, where you are transported into an 8-bit Dragon Warrior style RPG that reuses some assets from the company’s previous titles.  Where there are no visible roaming enemies, but encounters still happen at a fixed location.  And I know that it is Dragon Quest, but I only call the first 3 titles Dragon Warrior, since they have never been released in the US as Dragon Quest.  But what is odd about this, is how once you beat an enemy, they are gone for good.  With the exception of a gauntlet that respawns undead monsters once every chapter, of which there are 10.  This allows for a much better design difficulty curve, since you are now in full control of how powerful the player can be, or how weak they can be if they choose not to go and fight a battle just to get the recycled treasure chest.

Speaking of recycled visuals, there is surprisingly little of that in this title.  Some of the designs are reused, but since the battle view is no longer first person, and instead looks more like an SNES Final Fantasy title, namely Final Fantasy VI.  But in a move that caused me to squee as loud as I did when I saw it done to Pokemon, is the fact that there are idle animations, which is the best way to make me more invested in watching a Japanese-inspired-RPG like this.  And speaking of Final Fantasy, the game looks a lot like Final Fantasy VI.  

Maybe it is the fact that the character sprites look very similar, and the fact that the battle screen does, and how the retro area’s battle scene looks like a mix of the first two titles in the series, right down to the separation bars in part one.  And I really like the world, from the space between spaces otherverse, to the somewhat slummy streets of the hub area, New Arcadia.  And while I do not like seeing a ton of brown urban areas in game, the trips to space to fight Xenomorph wannabes, supply a greater contrast because of them.  And unlike Cthulhu Saves The World, the areas are compact and do not rely on an expansive landscape to demonstrate and epic scope.  Although, since the two main characters killed gods at the end of the past two games, I am a bit disappointed with the final encounter.

As a whole, I really do enjoy Rain-Slick 3.  I thought that the plot could get confusing, since it could have offered a more in depth recap of everything that happened in the past two titles, but it was still followable.  I found the combat to be frantic, strategic, varied, and above all else, fun.  A more restrained grasp from the previous two title allowed for some well applied polish, but things like the class management systems could have used another 30 minute of work to avoid several clicks after every battle.  And it does something that I thought impossible after the love of the dirt spectrum, by actually making a brown and danky city look very appealing.  While I enjoyed Cthulhu Saves The World a little bit more, this title is the most fun I’ve had with an RPG outside of a standard fantasy setting, since The World Ends With You.  My gripes may appear small, and the fact that when you expect a game to go on for another 10 hours, you tend to be a bit bias, so please understand that when I grant this game a score that is above the Metacritic, but still one of its highest,

An exceptional product that merely suffers from a few nagging issues that do not distract too much from this experience.

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