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

What Penny Arcade's On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness 3 lacks in variety, it makes up for in hilarity.

After a respite of almost four years, Gabe and Tycho, proprietors of the Startling Developments Detective Agency, are back on the case. Penny Arcade's On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness 3 picks up where its predecessors left off, but much has changed since the duo's last outing. Zeboyd Games has taken over development, and in its hands, the series has taken on the look and feel of a 16-bit, menu-driven Japanese role-playing game.

The good news is that the series' signature offbeat humor is as vibrant as ever, and On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness 3 is worth playing for the laughs alone. The better news is that the combat in this loving tribute to the heroic quests of old is smartly designed and stands up today whether you're a seasoned player of 16-bit RPGs or not. It could have benefitted from a wider assortment of activities for you to engage in, but the few things this game does, it does really well.

No experience with the first two chapters in the saga is necessary to jump into the third. The game quickly brings you up to speed, and though Tycho stuffily spouts sentences of intricate, Lovecraftian lore from time to time, there's little reason to worry if you find yourself a bit befuddled by the finer points of this cosmic struggle. What drives you forward on your quest isn't so much a desire to see what happens next as it is a desire to see who will say what next, or what strange and hilarious monster is just around the bend. The interplay between the pompous and loquacious Tycho and the slightly less intellectual Gabe is filled with moments that elicit guffaws, and though there's no voice acting in this episode, the personalities of the characters come through in the writing loud and clear.

Tycho has a way with words. It's not a good way, but it's a way.

Earlier episodes had a character who stood in for you, but this character is gone, and his or her departure from the series is addressed with a humorous lack of appreciation by the game's heroes. This time around, Tycho and Gabe are joined for the bulk of their quest by a private eye named Moira and a skull in a jar named Jim. You move the party around a map of New Arcadia, but you won't spend any time wandering aimlessly, wondering where to go next. Instead, you can only move from node to node along a restricted path, and as you progress, nodes for new locations (like the dilapidated Pelican Bay boardwalk and the distinguished Bank of Money) open up.

Once in these locations, you can move freely, but there's rarely much room to explore, though you do find the occasional weapon or other goodie in treasure chests just off the beaten path. Still, there's generally little reason to do anything but keep advancing from one group of monsters in your path to the next, and the relentless focus on combat will have you longing for a bit of variety at times.

Your quest takes you back in time in more ways than one.

But at least the combat that you spend most of your time locked in is great. There's nary an original idea at work in the battle system, but the concepts are lifted from a number of games and assembled into something more than just a rote imitation of early JRPG combat. You use menus to issue commands to your party members whenever it's their turn to attack. But this isn't a straight turn-based system. Portraits of each character and enemy in battle scroll along a timeline that's broken up into three sections: wait, command, and action.

When characters reach the command prompt, you issue them orders, and at the end of the line, they carry out your commands before returning to the start of the wait phase. Characters with higher speed ratings move along the line faster and get more opportunities to act as a result. And some of your characters' abilities can interrupt enemies; if you perform one of these on a monster when it's between the command position and the action position on the timeline, you knock it back into the wait phase, staving off its attack for at least a short time.

You need to use abilities like this to your advantage, because you hardly ever fight enemies you can just easily slaughter by repeatedly selecting the attack command. There are no random encounters, so you can't spend time grinding by battling weak enemies. Instead, it almost always behooves you to select your actions with care, capitalizing on environmental weaknesses your foes might possess and perhaps interrupting powerful opponents to give them fewer chances to act.

By default, your characters start battle with one magic point and earn an additional magic point per turn, which forces you to weigh your options carefully--do you use that two-point ability now, or wait a few turns and then cast a devastating five-point spell? Because you can't just plow through most battles on autopilot, your struggles are involving and your victories rewarding. There are concrete in-game rewards for your victories, also; you level up almost constantly, getting more powerful and gaining access to handy new abilities.

It's not your characters that level up. Rather, it's your classes. Each member of the party starts with a default class that cannot be changed: Gabe is a brute, Tycho is a scholar, and so on. But early on, you also begin collecting class pins, and in addition to his or her default class, each character can eventually equip two of these pins, gaining access to the abilities of those classes. With the hobo pin equipped, a character can unleash the life-draining scourge of hoboism on foes, and use the powerful bumfight ability. The gardenar pin lets you conjure gardens that benefit your team (the garden of tranquil waters) or gardens that harm your enemies (the garden of dangerous bees). And the dinosorcerer pin lets you turn into a dinosaur! Awesome!

Jim may not wear shoes, but he can still harness their power!

You can't ever have all of the pins equipped at once, but pins you don't have equipped continue to level up, so you can freely switch between them without putting yourself at a disadvantage. Experimenting with the varied abilities of the classes and continuing to unlock new abilities as you progress is another element that keeps the combat compelling.

And then there's the humor. It's not just the dialogue between Tycho and Gabe that will have you laughing. It's the names, descriptions, and abilities of the monsters you encounter. The description for hostile, animated cabinets--stabinets, as they're known--informs you that these pieces of furniture are "great for storing your excess rage," while the description of a certain type of enemy clown helpfully states, "OH NO A CLOWN." Tycho dismisses one foe's verbal threats as empty; the foe proceeds to use a special attack called Kill Tycho, which kills Tycho. Each new area brings with it an assortment of amusing new enemies. At times, the pace flags as you find yourself repeatedly fighting the same types of powerful enemies in lengthy battles, but these minor slogs are worth enduring for the new enemies and areas that lie beyond.

Sometimes the descriptions of enemies may tell you a bit more than you care to know.

Those areas complete the illusion that this is a game from the 16-bit era, and the colorful variety of environments makes this game pleasant to behold in all its quaint glory. The combat is terrific and the writing is hilarious, but it's unfortunate that there isn't more to do. It's convenient that a lot of typical JRPG busywork like stocking up on potions has been streamlined right out of the equation, but at times you might wish for a town to explore freely or some other break from the near-constant combat treadmill. And though the combat is pleasantly challenging throughout, a massive difficulty spike at the end of your roughly 12-hour quest makes the final encounter an ordeal the game hasn't prepared you for. But it's the journey that matters more than the destination, and at the refreshingly modest price of just $4.99, the bounty of laughs and the satisfaction of hard-earned victories aplenty make On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness 3 a journey well worth taking.

The Good
Laugh-out-loud funny
Satisfying combat with tactical considerations
Good assortment of classes and abilities
The Bad
Not much to do but fight
Huge difficulty spike at the end
7.5
Good
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5529319
5529319

On the latest Steam sale, I got both this and Episode 4 by selling all of my Steam Trading Cards on the Market. Also, I still have $1.64 left. This and episode 4 will give me more trading cards, which allows me to later sell it and get other games. I basically got this game for free. Score.

StarsiderSajun
StarsiderSajun

Rain-Slick 3 is down to 3 dollars now, and is quite possibly one of the best purchases I've ever made. Sure it has a few flaws, which Carolyn mentions, but the hilarity of the game and the excellent class system and combat more than make up for it.

Latin_D
Latin_D

Good review as always, Carolyn. Thanks for sharing.

majinkamesennin
majinkamesennin

i think this game is showing a generation gap; the youngins dont seem to appreciate the history.  back in my day we used to play 16bits, up hill in the snow, both ways... none of this 3d razmataz or full symphonic tracks bringing the.... "dope beatz"....

 

as much love as i have for the glory days, why dont we get it on the ps3?.....

sadness :(

DeadrisingX1
DeadrisingX1

Looks pretty good. I might consider picking it up.

Borderlands666
Borderlands666

Loved the first two, don't mind the 16-bit look too much but really that menu fighting system looks kind of crappy, they could have put a few more details in the battle area. Honestly I do wish this game had the same look as the other 2 games and while graphics aren't too important, I love the art style of the other games something this one just doesn't have. This ones a pass for me.

 

Yakol
Yakol

They talked about this at PAX East. They only did not make a third because the previous publisher did not see it as a profitable game and cancelled the series. They have always wanted to continue and i believe this is the avenue they chose. Sure it does not look as awesome the the two previous, but if you focused on the graphics in these games then to be honest you're doing it wrong. The dialogue and fun game play is what it is all about in these games. I think they chose this route of a completely indie function with easy graphics so that they were in complete control of the game because it is thier property and they wouldn't have to sell it to some company that would want things a certain way. This way they can tell the story they want, the way they want, and with the words they want to say. I have it and played it, it is an awesome game I completely agree with this review 100%.

face_ripper
face_ripper

is it me or is gamespot giving indie games higher scores than $60 games?

mooooo99
mooooo99

looks pretty good,and i thought that they werent going to be making another one..

Ovirew
Ovirew

It appeals to me since I like Final Fantasy and JRPGs, and I think it looks more clever than the first two, despite possible lack of originality.  Still, I probably won't ever play it, but I have to say I'm shocked that a third one finally got made!

Ladiesman17
Ladiesman17

why this one looks so ugly than 2 previous series?

 

unbelievable.

 

Toysoldier34
Toysoldier34

I loved the first two games. I was very upset when I originally heard they canned the third game, then a few months back I catch word that they finally got around to it. Bought the game as soon as it came out.

dudy80
dudy80

Good review, im enjoying the game so far even tho i never played the first 2. Caught my eye because i like Zeboyd's other little rpgs.

evilweav
evilweav

never played the other two, but I might give them a try now.

Tidal_Abyss
Tidal_Abyss

 @InnerSenses

 This is available on Steam, and also on the Steam log-in, there is a Ps3 sign in area, not sure how Ps3 ties in since I don't use it but perhaps you can download a game from Steam onto the Ps3? Worth checking into if you're that interested in the game. Perhaps someone here will know more about how that works.

RPG_Fan_I_Am
RPG_Fan_I_Am

 @majinkamesennin Your day wasn't that long ago. Why, back in my day we had 8 bit's, and it took 2 games to play, one that you would play, and the other to hold the game down. And blowing things was a cure all for everything. Well, that or a good wack or two...

snxx
snxx

 @face_ripper That's because indie games, since World of Goo, are becoming really great, and the best indie games can easily beat up the average "more of the same AAA sequels" we get every year.

Jaxith
Jaxith

 @fang_proxy

 I don't mean this in a confrontational way, so please don't take it that way as I just can't help myself but to ask: What's wrong with 16 bit?

thepyrethatburn
thepyrethatburn

The other two didn't do well.  After Tycho finished the story on the site, they came into contact with Zeboyd who has made Breath of Death VII and Cthulu Saves the World.  Zeboyd made it for them in the same style as those RPGs.  (Bear in mind that this is an XBLIG game.)

carolynmichelle
carolynmichelle moderator staff

 @Ladiesman17 It's deliberately in the style of 16-bit RPGs, both in terms of its visuals and its gameplay.

evil-zodiark
evil-zodiark

 @Gelugon_baat thing is this one can be made with RM 2000(not even XP or VX) but i think i'll get it....

stan_boyd
stan_boyd

 @Gelugon_baat Indie games are getting good reviews because they are unique, the indie devs put stuff into games that are different, they take the risks and end up being fun because its not the same run of the mill games that we have been getting from the big devs.

fang_proxy
fang_proxy

 @Jaxith well there is nothing wrong if you have nothing wrong with playing 16 bit graphics game in 2012,i am a old skool gamer but playing 16 bit game after playing witcher 2.......it's just i don't have that kind of patience now... i might go for castlevania symphony of the night 11th time

stan_boyd
stan_boyd

 @carolynmichelle I got mad respect for you carolyn, it takes guts to be transgendered and be in the media. Unfortunately society still looks down on people like you, or anyone who is "different". My sister is gay and she used to get harrassed about it alot when she was still in school, but no matter what she is she is still my sister and I love her all the same. It takes a special person to be honest and truthful in the way that you are and to put yourself in a position for all to see. You're a very brave person and I am glad that you have been successful in your life and hope it continues.

Jaxith
Jaxith

 @Gelugon_baat

 I'm certainly not suggesting that it being new would somehow make the graphic style fresh again.  Just that it can be a real nice change of pace for some people.  Yeah it's a nostalgia trip and that doesn't instantly make it a good thing, but that doesn't instantly make it a bad thing either.  It's an artistic choice.

 

Still, I feel like this has drifted away from the original spirit of my question.  I suppose what it comes down to in the end is that, 'Just not being a fan of the art style,' (if I could paraphrase your earlier response) is a sufficient enough answer.  Though, when I asked it, I really thought there'd be more of a reason than that.  Then again, I can't really imagine what other reason there could be.

Jaxith
Jaxith

 @Gelugon_baat

 I'm not sure I follow your logic.  Wouldn't most people today be more familiar with modern hi-resolution graphics?  So if familiarity breeds contempt, wouldn't it be easier to assume that 16 bit would be a breath of fresh air in our era of realistic graphics and capped out framerates?

 

Besides which, just saying 'familiarity' or 'nostalgia' doesn't really explain the 'why'. 

s0273977
s0273977

 @Gelugon_baat lighten up, dork.  leftel was trying to be funny.  you can get out too, and take your, "Indeed", crude language, and poor sense of humor with you.

Penny Arcade Adventures: Episode Three

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