So I’m a fan of the comic Penny Arcade. I’ve played all three Penny Arcade games, and this is the first one I can recommend to people who are not fans of the comic.
Penny Arcade’s On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness 3(OTRSPOD3) is what you remember RPGs being like on the SNES, but with most of the horrible bits surgically extracted. I say surgically extracted, because the genius-types at Zeboyd Games have managed to remove all the little cruft that you thought was integral to an old-school RPG without damaging a dang thing. In fact, when they sewed it all back together it wound up being a lot more wonderful than the Final Fantasy standard model.
The gameplay is solid as hell, with battles usually being nicely-paced affairs. Each character has a certain speed rating, and that determines how quickly they’ll take their next turn. Until you start to really specialize, this usually boils down to a few of your characters going, then a few of the enemies. It gets more interesting as the game progresses and, for instance, your insanely-fast character is able to throw a heal down on a critically injured ally in the time between the enemy selecting their action and actually attacking.
You begin with a single “class”, which provides a small set of skill-attacks to perform and often some passive bonus to a stat. As you progress, unlock both more classes and eventually 2 extra slots which allow you to mix and match for an extensive skill collection. You rarely use anything but skills to attack, as the skills use MP that counts up rather than down as the battle progresses. So every turn you can use a skill costing 1 MP, or do a normal attack or defend and wait for your 2 MP skill. Until the late game, few skills cost more than 2, and some even cost nothing.
During fights, you can also use items, which heal, cure sickness, damage enemies, etc. Rather than purchasing “a potion” and slapping 99 in your inventory, you purchase a use. So if you’ve bought 5 potion uses, you can use a potion 5 times every battle, with them being restored (along with health) after every fight. I cannot tell you how much better an idea this is than the RPG standard-bearer of having to purchase a cruise ship’s worth of supplies to dole out over fights, greedily hoarding each one because who knows when you might need them? It removes none of the tactical decision-making, but makes the game a hell of a lot less annoying.
Speaking of annoying: no random battles! You see every enemy on screen, and you can decide who to engage when. In a move I’ve been wishing for since I was introduced to the genre, they’ve removed the grind. That isn’t to say there aren’t a lot of battles, there are hundreds! But instead of being a stunning number of randomly-generated beasties repeated over and over until you’re leveled enough for the next area, they’re more a series of timed puzzles. You’ve normally got maybe 10 turns max to kill someone before they get you due to each turn increasing the Enemy Power bonus, so you tend to figure it out or croak quickly. And if you do croak? No problem! You’re only kicked back to where you were, no lost progress. It’s the first RPG where I’ve spoken to people about “that one fight with 2/2/2 Swipewriters/Visor Misers/Fleshreapers” instead of a boss. Because that’s it, that’s the one fight with that enemy configuration. It’s incredibly smart and exactly what every game of this sort should have figured out long ago.
The writing is also top-notch tongue in cheek shit the way I like it. Enemy designs and descriptions are all funny, as are the classes and skills. I would say the dialog is probably not necessary for enjoyment of the mechanics, but it’s well considered and a pretty good Cthulu-ish storyline of vast cosmic malevolence and hidden motives.
The only real issues I have are with the manner in which Zeboyd accidentally recreated the horrible old menus at the same time they recreated other aspects of the old-school. The menu system is servicable, but unintuitive. Nothing auto-saves, ever. Which can be a problem in an RPG, no matter how often you’re reminded to save often. You cannot view all the classes easily, you can only select the “view” command on classes that are equipped. Many skills are stat boosters, but you have no way of telling how much they actually do, because stats aren’t displayed in any manner during a battle. There’s no real explanation of the keyboard controls, which left me randomly pecking to find that “q” opens the entirely separate “quit menu”. A lot of little UI issues could do with improvement. BUT Zeboyd knocked this one out of the park. It’s officially some of the most fun I’ve had with the genre, which says a lot when technically you’re making a parody. It’s the “Shaun of the Dead” of RPGs.