The trajectory of Zeboyd Games’ indie RPGs has followed the beginnings of the genre. Their first game, Breath of Death VII, had the charming looks of an enhanced 8-bit game. Followup Cthulhu Saves the World moved things to the early 16-bit days with detailed artwork and some nice backdrops. Their latest game, Penny Arcade’s On The Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness 3 looks like it belongs among better looking SNES games. All it needs is some Mode 7 graphics to totally nail the look.
The game stars the characters from the Penny Arcade comics, and while I’m a somewhat unfamiliar observer of the source material, the trademark humor of Zeboyd Games was evident in the 30-minute (perhaps less?) demo I played at PAX East. The duo are Victorian-era detectives who stumble upon some seaside murders involving mimes. Enemies are appropriately ridiculous, such as Optimus Mime and the boss Crabomancer. It’s the humor and writing that made the previous RPGs so memorable, and it looks like that trend will continue.
The gradual modernization of the developer’s RPGs does not just pertain to the graphics. The battles have been totally overhauled. During the fights in the previous game the characters were never seen, like the old Dragon Warrior games. Now they’re animated off to the side as they are in most RPGs from the 90s. It’s certainly nice to see the characters in battle, but the animations slow down the pace of the fights. Battles are always the most tedious aspects of an RPG for me and not being able to speed through them anymore is a bit disappointing.
However, a couple new additions make things interesting. First, random encounters seem to be gone. The enemies sit idly on the map, blocking progress and treasure chests unless defeated. The fights are no longer strictly turn-based, as a timeline at the top of the screen indicates the order of characters’ moves. Timing your attacks on one target can prevent some damage, and eventually characters will gets skills that disrupt an enemy’s timing and force them to strike later. It’s similar to Grandia without the intense pacing. I liked it but I still missed the rapid pace from Zeboyd Games’ other works.
Some streamlined features help pick up the pace. Characters recharge health after every battle, so repetitively navigating the menu to dole out potions isn’t needed. A minor but smart system involves the magic points. Each character starts at zero in the beginning of the fight and each round it goes up. Having to wait might seem frustrating, but it encourages players to use their skills whenever they can since the magic points don’t carry over between fights. I’ve spent far too many years hoarding spells for the inevitable boss fight and rarely using them otherwise. This fixes that perfectly.
To round things out, some fights will begin with unique conditions in play. In the one example from the demo, my characters started with a bunch of magic points so I was able to unleash a flurry of moves and end the battle quickly. Another change that I liked is the removal of the world map. Instead of wandering around lost, the city is turned into different grids (see the above screenshot). Moving along is easy and there’s still dialogue in this map, so it’s not just simply moving from one point to another.
Penny Arcade’s On The Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness 3 is shaping up to be another delightful throwback to the RPGs of the past. Penny Arcade fans left high and dry when the previous game series abruptly ended should find satisfaction in the new direction. People like me who never played them should still have a decent game if pass successes are any indication. The game is coming out this summer to the Xbox Live Indie Games, iOS, Android, PC and Mac.