Indie Review: Penny Arcade 3

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Yeah, yeah, I realize the title of this game is Penny Arcade’s on the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness 3. I’ve also seen the game referred to as Penny Arcade’s Rain-Slick 3. But just like I don’t say “Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb” when I talk about Dr. Strangelove (watch it if you haven’t, heathen), I’m not going to mention any part of Penny Arcade 3′s long title again, and you can lick a block of salt if you don’t like it.

Enough bullshit: Penny Arcade 3 is one of the best RPGs of the last five years. Zeboyd Games, responsible for the overrated Breath of Death VII, hit a home run with this game — amazing, given that the Penny Arcade web comic is pretty annoying.

Graphics

This game could have been released on the SNES and would have looked good next to Final Fantasy III. That’s a high compliment from a retro standpoint. People can say all they want about “improved graphics” and “polygons make me so hard/wet,” but SquareSoft SNES games, for the most part, remain great things to look at if you value personality and art direction. Like Final Fantasy III (or VI, whatever), Penny Arcade 3 has a slew of well-designed enemies, and the locations benefit from the very pixelated style, detail-wise. The spells and attacks, while simple, get the point across perfectly. And the goofy dinosaur transformations are worth a chuckle.

Sound

Penny Arcade 3 also sounds like a SNES RPG. The impressive part? Zeboyd Games could have coasted on nostalgia and included variations on timeless themes, but the soundtrack is distinct and gives Penny Arcade 3 its own identity. In other words, the music is good because it fits the game, not because it hearkens back to the 16-bit era. Hell, I would often screw around in locations just to hear certain tracks again. On the other hand, I’ll admit my appreciation of the sound effects is based more on nostalgia; the effects are fun with their archaic crunchiness.

Gameplay

The great thing about Zeboyd Games — even in a weak and ugly game like Breath of Death VII — is that the company doesn’t blindly follow the traditions of turn-based JRPGs. Instead, the developer seeks to set new standards. Penny Arcade 3 follows in the footsteps of Final Fantasy III with its emphasis on unique actions that go beyond attack, defend, magic, and item. Essentially, Zeboyd Games has revolutionized the in-depth special attack/Esper system from Final Fantasy III. Meanwhile, SquareEnix struggles to live up to its 16-bit legacy.

Rather than have characters stick to one class at a time during battle (as in Final Fantasy Tactics), Penny Arcade 3 allows each character to operate in three classes simultaneously, giving you incredible flexibility and a slew of options in the middle of battle. These extra classes are witty or weird (Hobo, Diva, Gardener, Dinosorcerer, etc.), but they are very useful in their own way, though the Slacker class seem to be a commentary on the useless attacks that you always find in RPGs.

Penny Arcade 3 also streamlines the things that can get tiring in RPGs, such as managing large inventories and healing after battle. Your party heals automatically after every victory, so items are only used during battle. You also buy upgrades for items to increase their effectiveness or the number of times you can use them in a battle. Random encounters have also been ousted and enemies do not respawn, so the game forces you to be strategic about what classes you level up. The interruption system is another clever strategic element, giving you the ability to screw with an enemy’s turn.

Of course, what is an RPG without text? As opposed to the web comic, Penny Arcade 3 is enjoyable to read. The comedy is more about pounding ideas into the ground until they’re funny rather than making good punchlines. This is why Penny Arcade is funnier as an RPG than as a short web comic, a format that requires sharp timing. At the same time, the enemy descriptions in the game tend to be fairly entertaining one-liners.

Replayability

Penny Arcade 3 has very good length for a cheap indie title. The main quest might run about 10 hours, but the game features a couple of sidequests that are both challenging and rewarding. In the Xbox Live version that I played, there is a prequel quest called “The Beginning of the End” at the title screen. Also, unlike many traditional turn-based RPGs, Penny Arcade 3 has multiple difficulty settings that can be changed during the game. But rest assured, the normal difficulty can be quite challenging at times. Throw in some goofy zombie and furry skins for the main characters, and you have several potential (good or bad) reasons to play again.

Conclusion

For $3 on Xbox Live or your phone or $5 on Steam, you can play one of the best and most original turn-based RPGs in years. Penny Arcade 3 is a triumph in strategic gameplay and offers several good jokes to help the bizarre story go down smooth. From shitty web comic to RPG masterpiece. Thanks, Zeboyd Games.

Overall Review

Score
Total
9 Excellent

User Ratings

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Review Pros and Cons

Great Twists on the Classic JRPG Formula
Effective Pixelated Graphics
Distinctive Soundtrack
Superb Content for the Small Price
The Story ... WTF
Nostalgia Factor Varies by Player

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