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On the Rain-slick Precipice of Darkness: Episode 3 (PC) Review

/ Jul 10th, 2012 No Comments

trex

Armed with a shotgun, a trusty but dimwitted sidekick, and a vocabulary that would reduce a Scripps National Spelling Bee champion to tears, self-proclaimed eldritch enthusiast and God-killer Tycho Brahe is back to destroy the universe once again in On the Rain-slick Precipice of Darkness: Episode 3. It’s been a few years since the last installment in the Penny Arcade game series, and this latest addition is a considerable departure from the previous two games in terms of gameplay and graphics; rest assured though, with the writer of the PA comic strip still behind the pen, the signature humor of Rain-slick remains firmly intact. It’s hard not to make comparisons to classic JRPGs of the SNES era like Final Fantasy, but Rain-slick 3 manages to keep its gameplay unique with updates like regenerating items and health. While it’s not a very long game, clocking in at ten hours or less, the brisk pace and hilarious writing make Rain-slick 3 a fresh and funny experience throughout while serving as a potent trip down memory lane.

throwback

Ever wondered why everyone kept dancing in 16-bit JRPGs? Now you know.

Penny Arcade is known for its off-beat (and often X-rated) humor, and Rain-slick is no exception. You play as the perennial heroes of the comic strip, Gabe and Tycho, accompanied by, among others, a pickled human skull named Jim. The locale for our heroes’ adventure is the town of New Arcadia, circa 1922. The trigger? A ten-minute phone call filled with complete silence. The story wears its Lovecraftian inspiration on its sleeve, replete with Door Gods, murderous cults, and a plot to end the universe (no Fruit F*ckers, unfortunately); it can be pretty heady stuff, but even if you find it difficult to follow the story completely, the writing is some of the funniest and best out there. The dialogue between characters is literally laugh-out-loud (I mean it; it takes Mace Windu-levels of self-control to not at least chuckle). New Arcadia isn’t very big, but you’ll visit a variety of places, ranging from a jaunt through a mime-infested boardwalk to a run-down mansion to the vaunted “Bank of Money”. There’s also a tongue-in-cheek throwback to the 16-bit era RPG, and you’ll even spend some time on a clone of the USS Enterprise (the space-faring variety, not the aircraft carrier. Jeez).

One look at the splash screen should be enough to instantly transport you to 1994; if you were expecting to have your pixels invisible and transmogrified with the latest graphical pipeline technomology, you’ll be severely disappointed. Even though you can probably count the number of pixels on the screen at any given time on your fingers and toes, the background art design is detailed and looks about as good as a 16-bit game gets. The graphics don’t shine as much in battle though; hitting a cultist with a heavy holy magic attack looks nearly the same as using a normal attack. It’s a shame, considering some of the ability names are practically dripping with intrigue; I half-expected a flood of Linux references when I first used Tycho’s RTFM attack. The same goes for enemies; while their designs are great and supplemented by useful descriptions such as “OH NO A CLOWN”, their animations in battle aren’t very distinct and often look almost exactly like those of your party.

The audio is just about a match for the graphics. While the BGM isn’t going to be replacing my extensive collection of Nobuo Uematsu compositions, it suits the mood for each location well and is distinctive enough that it’s not irritating to listen to on a loop. Most sound effects are to be found in battle, but again, there’s a noticeable lack of variety, with both enemy and friendly attacks sounding exactly the same. I realize that using a 16-bit engine has its limitations, but games like Final Fantasy VI leveraged the same power to create some truly amazing graphical and audio effects, and I would have expected the same from a game created nearly twenty years later. This may sound like a lot of nitpicking, but don’t get me wrong; the art design and the nostalgia-laden soundtrack more than make up for the technical weaknesses of Rain-slick 3.

goat hobo

It’s a long story.

Luckily, the gameplay is definitely not subpar, drawing influences from a wide range of SNES games. You traverse New Arcadia on a map that looks strikingly similar to the Super Mario World map screen; when you get to a location on the map the camera reverts to a top-down perspective familiar to anyone who played the SNES Final Fantasy games. The game is committed to advancing the story, going so far as to almost completely eliminate the grinding that is so endemic to many RPGs. There are no random battles in Rain-slick; enemies are visible on the area screen, and when you approach one you’ll enter the hallowed RPG arena that was pioneered and perfected in the early ‘90s. Your characters line up on the right side of the screen, facing the enemies on the left, with a plethora of menus and numbers taking up the bottom of the screen. There’s a bar at the top of screen showing you the order in which the characters will act, with faster characters moving faster along the bar. The actions you can take range from the standard physical and magical attacks to healing to turning into dinosaurs (my personal favorite is the velociraptor). There’s also an interesting interruption mechanic where you can force enemies to regress along the action bar. The magic system is a departure from the usual pool of magic points; instead, MP begins at 0 and is generated each turn. This along with the interrupt mechanic leads to some interesting strategies. Because the game is turn-based, not real-time, you can take time to ponder your next move. Should you use your cheaper abilities to interrupt and damage the enemy, or should you save up to unleash more powerful attacks? After each battle your items and health are completely regenerated, a bit like Final Fantasy XIII (sorry, I couldn’t help throwing another Final Fantasy reference in there).

trex

Yes, that is a T-rex in a tuxedo. Don’t ask.

Your individual characters don’t have levels; instead, they are equipped with classes that keep their own XP and level count a la Final Fantasy V (last one, I promise). Each character has their own unique class: for example, Tycho’s sleuthing ex Moira is a Gumshoe, while intellectually challenged Gabe is a Brute; you can equip up to two additional classes to supplement their abilities, such as the Hobo (with the power to force enemies to embrace the hobo lifestyle!) and the Diva (steal MP from your worthless allies: you arethe star, after all). Even classes that aren’t equipped gain experience, albeit at a slower rate, so if you ever decide that you want to switch up your playstyle, you won’t find yourself suddenly underpowered. Some of the classes do feel a bit useless and underpowered compared to other classes; once youfind an effective playstyle there’s not much incentive to switch between other classes. The game itself isn’t too much of a challenge on normal, but ramp up the difficulty to hard or insane, and you may find yourself tearing your hair out in frustration at having to restart battles multiple times (my personal record was 10). It’s a good thing that there’s no penalty for dying; you simply respawn in front of the enemy you just fought, allowing you to shuffle up your classes and battle strategies. The game design is such that it never feels cheap when you are defeated; the lack of grinding makes sure that you are always pitted against hobos and gentleman werewolves who are roughly at your power level.

The narrow focus on story advancement is also a weakness; since enemies don’t respawn except in the small and optional Colosseum, there’s no reason to go back and revisit any of the previous areas. Essentially, the only thing you do is move forward and fight, with the occasional trip to the shop to purchase equipment and item upgrades. In a longer game, this might get old fast, but Rain-slick 3 is short and engaging enough that it never feels monotonous. While it might not reach the heights and scope of its JRPG influences, the latest game in Penny Arcade Adventures is one of the funniest games out there; at five bucks a pop on Steam and also available for XBox 360 and mobile platforms, On the Rain-slick Precipice of Darkness: Episode 3 is a worthy throwback to the legendary 16-bit days of yore, and while its graphics and audio might not be completely up to snuff, its gameplay and humor make it a quirky, hobo-filled romp worth checking out for any fan of the genre.

Overall Ratings –
On the Rain-slick Precipice of Darkness: Episode (PC)

Gameplay:

8/10

Graphics:

7/10

Sound:

7/10

Presentation:

9/10

OVERALL SCORE:

79%

Dustin Liaw

Dustin Liaw

Contributor at Gaming Illustrated
A polymath in every sense except for that of reality, Dustin Liaw is a historian, critic, writer, musician, poet, dreamer, scientist, programmer, linguist, bureaucrat, and all-around geek who happens to enjoy tabletop RPGs, anime, and video games in his spare time.
Dustin Liaw

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