Friday, July 6, 2012

GOT 'IM - Penny Arcade's On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness 3

Oh damn, it's been over a month and I am so very behind on blog posts. This is one of four that I'll hopefully roll out before I leave town for a wedding this weekend, so I have a lot of writing in my immediate future. For now, let's review the long-winded Penny Arcade's On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness 3.

EDIT: I totally only finished this one post before leaving for the wedding. Damn.

My review for Rain-Slick 2 was brief because it was so very similar to the first game that I just linked to that review and added a few details (here's the Rain-Slick 2 review). Not so much this time around. Rain-Slick 3 has a new developer: Zeboyd Games, retro RPG devs of Breath of Death VII and Cthulhu Saves the World, two of my favorite RPG discoveries of 2011. Zeboyd brings their retro visuals and Penny Arcade's Jerry Holkins brings his verbosity and humor and the result is a very funny and entertaining retro-styled RPG.

If Breath of Death VII and Cthulhu Saves the World looked like early-90s Dragon Quest games, Rain-Slick 3 more resembles a mid-90s Final Fantasy game. The battles are no longer in the sorta-first-person view of Zeboyd's first two games and have moved into the Final Fantasy-esque isometric side view, with the team of heroes oriented on the right in a line. Character sprites are tall and identical to the battle sprites, which is true for Final Fantasy VI but not FF IV or V. Bottom line, at a visual level this game belongs right in 1995. And it looks great.

Combat in Rain-Slick 3 features a shared timer bar, extremely similar to that of the Grandia series. Like Grandia, Rain-Slick 3 has all characters and monsters moving up the bar to take turns, and manipulating enemy position via canceling attacks. If you're not sure what any of that means, check out by Grandia II review here: boom. It works really well for the most part, presenting a good idea of how turn order and summon skills work; interrupts are less crucial than in Grandia games, EXCEPT for boss battles. Keeping bosses pinned down and having them act as little as possible is a great booster.

HP is handled how you'd expect in a classic RPG, but MP and items are a little different. Each character starts with zero MP for the round and gains a single MP each turn. There are skills and accessories that increase these amounts, but for the most part that's it. Skills can cost anywhere from zero to nine MP, and conserving MP and using items wisely are key to battle. Items are essentially infinite once you discover an item type (there are only six), but there is a limit to how many times you can use a particular item in battle. You can upgrade item effectiveness and the number of uses of each item by finding item upgrades in chests or purchasing them in shops. I spent nearly all of my cash on upgrading items in the shop, and I think it was a good call - if you put some resources into upgrading your items, you can base entire character builds on item use. Just another interesting design choice that Robert Boyd of Zeboyd Games made for Rain-Slick 3.

So the combat is all right and the visuals look good for the time and budget of a Zeboyd Games title. But neither of those two aspects were what really sold it. Rain-Slick 3 has a fluid, entertaining RPG class system that is straightforward, yet offers a good deal of customization. The classes themselves have ridiculous names and interesting, distinct skill-sets. Characters don't have base levels or stats; instead, each character has their base class (can't be removed) and chooses two support classes (the game has about 12-15 of those) and each of them level up to form your character's skillsets.

To give you a brief taste of how manipulating these classes works, I'll describe my setup for Gabe and Tycho, Rain-Slick 3's duo of main characters. Gabe's base class is Brawler, which is physical oriented with a little bit of fire magic. For his secondary classes I gave Gabe Dinosorcerer, which gives a huge HP boost and allows him to turn into berserk dinosaurs, and Masochist, which grants a large strength bonus and powerful attacks at the expense of HP. Tycho is a jack-of-all-trades type of character whose Scholar base class can heal and use ice magic, and I went the utility route with him. Gardenar [sic] class for creating support gardens and for a defensive bonus, and the Hobo class to infect enemies with the Hoboism stat and for extra help with physical damage and interrupts.

Dinosorcerer, Hobo, Gardenar, Masochist, Gentleman, Tube Samurai, and Cordwainer are just a few classes in Rain-Slick 3. It's fun, easy to manipulate, and gives a good feeling of power and control that I crave when I play RPGs. Rain-Slick 1 and 2 had a nice thing going with their timed hits and colorful visuals, but this class system and smooth combat is a lot more fun. I don't have to use twitch reflexes to defend against attacks, and I get to turn people into fuckin' DINOSAURS. Yup.

Outside of swapping between classes, each character equips a unique weapon type and a for-anyone accessory to complete the customization systems in place. It's not much in the way of equipment management, but each character's weapons are differentiated enough that different endgame weapons are viable for different character builds. Basically, with maybe one or two exceptions, there is no "best" class, weapon, or accessory for any character and the tweaking elements in place, while not the most elaborate, are well-implemented.

So the game looks like FF VI, has okay combat, and an extremely entertaining job system. That's nice, but the real ace is humor. Rain-Slick 3 is hilarious. The doofus Gabe, the wordy Tycho, the silent Jim, and the sarcastic Moira are all entertaining-enough characters that deliver absurd and amusing dialog. The story takes a few interesting turns that poke fun at Dragon Quest, Final Fantasy, and Star Trek among others in interesting ways. The monster design is exactly on the border of cool and weird, and the "flavor text" descriptor that's under each monster's info might elicit a chuckle or two.

Two of the knocks against Rain-Slick 3 I can say are that it's extremely short at only 7 or 8 hours and that the environments, while interesting and fun, are the framework for dungeons that are brief and extremely linear. Less forgivable is the lack of sidequests and optional content; outside of the main storyline and the most rudimentary of tasks (i.e. going to the Shrine to see what the classes do or buying things in the item upgrade shop) there's a combat arena with a sorta-challenging boss and that's about it. There isn't even a bestiary to look at the game's enemies, which disappointed me more than it probably should have.

The plot, while at times contrived, is clearly part of a larger whole that Jerry Holkins of Penny Arcade has planned for some time. Without going into specific details, it's a heavily occult-themed story in which two investigators of the paranormal (one enjoys conspiracy magical theories, the other enjoys punching things) seek to prevent the resurrection of a dark god of a netherworld dimension of sorts. The game ends on a slightly-disturbing endgame revelation and a cliffhanger ending that obviously sets the stage for a sequel. There's definitely a Rain-Slick 4 in the works.

So Rain-Slick 3, with its good combat, great class system, and fabulous humor, is held back by being short and lacking in extras. It's 100% worth the five bucks that Zeboyd charges, but I think it could have benefited from an extra month or so of development just to include an extra dungeon or two and a few menu features like a bestiary. It met my expectations and I definitely enjoyed it, but if you take away that great class system I wasn't blown away like the first time I played Breath of Death VII.

Games Beaten: 2012 Edition

1. Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins
2. Radiant Historia
3. Mass Effect
4. Mass Effect 2
5. Breath of Death VII: The Beginning (Hard mode)
6. Grandia II
7. On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness - Episode 2
8. Mass Effect 3
9. Journey
10. The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker
11. Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP
12. Star Ocean: Second Evolution
13. Red Dead Redemption
14. Penny Arcade's On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness 3

Targets: 4/12


Most of the reason why there were no reviews between June 1st and now was Persona 3 FES. That is a long, involved game that I have been involved with for over a month. I finished the game late last night and the review is in the works; hopefully it's up in the next few days. Thanks for reading, everyone.

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