Review: ‘Penny Arcade’s On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness 4’
The best Super Nintendo RPG that will never be on a cartridge.on June 11, 2013 at 8:00 am
I was excited for “Penny Arcade’s On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness 4”. You may have already known that, as I put the third game in the series on my top 5 list of surprises last year. I was even more excited when I got a review code from Zeboyd Games.
Despite my expectations that it would basically mirror the third installment, I was pretty pumped to play the game. I knew I was going to get a great battle system with no random encounters, amusing writing, and a brisk but well-paced RPG experience. I didn’t expect it to really surpass the third game… but it did, and the result is something rather special.
For those unfamiliar with the series, “Rain-Slick 4” is the second Penny Arcade game created by Zeboyd Games. The first two, which were decent but forgettable, were made by Hothead Games. They were an interesting blend of timing-based RPG battles, ala “Super Mario RPG” and point n’ click adventure titles. The two made by Zeboyd are completely different beasts, meant to evoke all of the great RPGs from the SNES era, and Zeboyd have pulled it off brilliantly.
The game starts immediately after the events of “Rain-Slick 3”. If you haven’t played it, go ahead and do that now. It’s worth your time… I’ll wait.
We good? You finish that up? You sure? You’re not lying to me, are you? I mean, seriously, the game is only a few bucks, a couple of clams, a smattering of schillings. A homeless man would charge more for a handy than it would cost to buy the game and you’ll certainly get more pleasure from the game, as well. So, you done?
Alright, picking up after “Rain-Slick 3”, we find Gabriel and Dr. Blood have fallen into the Underhell, forced to team up like they’re in a buddy-cop movie, Tycho is inexplicably missing, and Moira and Jim (now with 100% more body) are elsewhere in the Underhell. Things aren’t looking so good for this ragtag bunch of detectives. Even worse, it seems like Gabriel can no longer punch things. Well, he CAN punch things, it just doesn’t hurt them.
Ah, but this is how you explain why your über-characters from “Rain Slick 3” suddenly suck. See, it’s like Alucard losing his equipment in “Symphony of the Night”. We are given “reasons” that we have to start from scratch.
Turns out, in this world, our heroes have to employ the use of monsters to fight battles for them. Humans are just too weak and brittle. So, your new feral pals are kept in something called a Monster Orb and you summon them to fight for you. Mystical orb in hand, you are now ready to start slaughtering the denizens of Underhell.
The monster aspect of “Rain-Slick 4” is the biggest change from “Rain-Slick 3”. In the previous game, each character was allowed to equip two classes in addition to their base class. This mechanic was the main source of customization and battle strategy. Experimenting with various combinations and trying to find the best synergy was incredibly rewarding and extremely entertaining. It was a fresh take on the class system used in so many RPGs.
“Rain-Slick 4” keeps this… sort of. Each monster does have their own base class but their customization options are slimmer. Instead of manually assigning classes to them, you equip “Trainers” on them, which take the form of our heroes. This is essentially their sub-class and it gives them abilities to use, passive abilities, and different stat boosts upon level up. However, there aren’t as many options this time around, since everyone only has two instead of three classes, but this doesn’t end up being a very big deal.
See, unlike in “Rain-Slick 3” where unused classes gained less experience, unused monsters gain experience at the exact same rate as monsters in battle. This makes it so each and every single one of the buggers is always battle ready. This is important, because changing up your party is a crucial aspect of the game.
When a battle kicks off, you’re given a screen where you can choose to freely switch out your party members. This is good, because you can fully analyze enemies before you commit, so you can cherry pick the monsters you think will be most useful for each and every situation. Instead of going into battles blind, HOPING you have a team that will work, “Rain-Slick 4” says, “Hey, we don’t want you getting frustrated. Here, we’ll show you what’s up and then you can react accordingly. After that, if you still lose, then it’s your stupid fault.”
And then, even IF you manage to pick a poor team, you can use a “Switch” item in battle, which simply allows you to switch one monster for another. Even better, is that the new monster will get a nice MP boost when switched in.
This allowed me to create teams for a variety of different situations. I had a team that could throw out cheap but effective spells that hit every enemy. I had boss teams and mini-boss teams, magic teams, physical teams, status teams, whatever. The point is, I was always playing around with my monster set-up and always playing around with different strategies. That’s one of the things that makes RPGs so satisfying and “Rain Slick 4” allows you to do it so effortlessly.
Even more fun is the actual monsters themselves. Instead of going out, throwing orbs at monsters’ heads, and hoping to add them to your menagerie of doom; you get monsters as part of the story or as you explore hidden areas and convince them to come with you after you’ve hit them in the face enough times. There is no randomness, no inventory of balls to keep track of, and no breeding. Shame on that last one though, could’ve been sexy.
Anyways, your group of misfits is a colorful and lively bunch of creatures, which makes them a blast to use. Now, stay with me here, but I’m going to go into informercial mode.
Got eyes that need clawing out? Summon Mr. Beaks to remove those tough to remove optical sight-bringers!
Like juice but hate juicing it yourself and trying to defend it from baddies at the same time? Well, saddle on up to fruit enthusiast Fuschia and have her make it, feed it to you, then smack a foe in the face!
Like soda but hate having to carry it around? Simply scream, “Vendorr, be mine and so much more,” and you’ll have access to your very own, sentient vending machine!
If you like Penny Arcade, then you’re already familiar with how versatile and useful all of these monsters are! If you’re not, then this is the perfect time to order and find out for yourself what EVERYONE is talking about!
But wait, there’s more! Order now and find out what Twisp and Catsby talk about when no one’s listening.
But wait, there’s still more! For the next 30 minutes, we’ll throw in Murch…for free! ORDER NOW!!!
Alright, got that out of my system.
Right, so as soon a new monster forced its way into my orb, I would immediately throw ‘em into the fray and see what they were all about. They didn’t always make it into my rotation, but I saw their potential. That’s really what will draw a lot of players into the game: the potential of so many different teams and strategies for any given situation.
Each and every battle, even against disposable henchmen, requires your undivided attention. You can not simply mash the attack command and win. In fact, I found myself rarely using the basic attack, because it’s usually the least effective. Since you go into every battle at 100%, the game expects you to give 100% to them. This constant engagement makes you more invested in what’s going on, instead of just going through the motions like a lot of RPGs.
It’s such a simple concept, but one that RPGs rarely seem to get right. They almost always seem to take the lazy way out, leaving the player with a plethora of tactical options that are useless. You’re give a massive spell list, items out the wazoo, and various status effects you can employ. And yet, the basic strategy is almost always attack, attack, attack, heal, attack attack, heal, attack attack attack, heal, attack, win. If you make a game where just attacking and grinding is the most effective method of winning battles, then where is the fun?
Besides, you can’t even grind in “Rain-Slick 4” if you want to. Monsters don’t respawn and there is no colliseum to fight in like “Rain-Slick 3”. Zeboyd expertly balanced and paced their game in such a way that the old RPG grinding mechanics became irrelevant. If you lose, it’s because you’re not thinking enough, not because you’re underleveled. I’m going to say that the balancing and pacing are some of the best I’ve seen.
Then we have the battle system itself. It’s good, really good. Sure, it may seem like it’s a standard turn-based affair, similar to “Final Fantasy” but you’ll realize that’s wrong once you start playing. Up top, you have a meter which tells you turn order and how close everyone is to getting their turn. Then, once someone has selected an action, there is another meter that shows how close that action is to being completed (similar to “Grandia”). You can interrupt actions and knock enemies out of them if timed correctly. This is very crucial to winning tougher fights.
MP, used for magic and skills, is gradually gained as you fight. So you’re constantly left thinking, “Ah, should I use this cheaper move now or save up for something more powerful down the road?” These kinds of decisions happen a lot, because enemies get more and more powerful as each turn passes by. If you play too defensively, you’re going to die. Battles have to be won as quickly as possible, otherwise you’ll reach a point where you’re simply unable to keep up with the onslaught.
Finding a balance between offense, defense, and support is key to winning battles. And don’t think you don’t need to learn, because the game is difficult. Even on Normal, I found myself losing a lot more than I did in “Rain-Slick 3”. They really upped the difficulty this time around but it never felt like it cheap or unfair. Now, I didn’t even bother delving into Veteran or Insane, but I imagine their names are not just for show. There is a suitable challenge to be had here.
Hell, even if decided to start a game on Insane, it wouldn’t matter how many times I died because the game would just let me keep trying, anyways. It just has a heart that big. You can save anywhere and immediately retry battles with no punishment for losing them or fear of losing progress.
Zeboyd has created a fully-realized JRPG that has an explorable world map filled with secrets, a strategic and fun battle system without tedious resource management, no random encounters, no grinding, and it clocks in at around 12 hours. While that may seem unusually small for an RPG (especially a JRPG), It’s 12 hours of meaningful gameplay. It isn’t a 60-hour game with 20 hours of actual gameplay, 20 hours of grinding, and another 20 doing fetch quest bullshit for padding.
It’s like Zeboyd took every annoyance from the games they love, fixed them for contemporary gaming, then wrapped it up in a 16-bit package. It manages to feel modern and retro at the same time and I love that combination.
There are a few issues that mar an otherwise remarkable game. The menu screen for checking monster status and equipment takes too long to navigate. It’s the exact same one found in “Rain Slick 3” but now that you have 20 or so monsters, in addition to your trainers, it makes perusing it take too long. It could’ve used some cleaning up.
Sometimes it’s not entirely clear what a piece of equipment does. For a game that is full of modern design elements, I’m not sure why this relic from the past was left in. I had so many accessories where I was left wondering just what the hell they did. Even more frustrating is when you pick the item up and you’re given a more detailed description of its function than when you’re viewing in your inventory.
The shop design needs an overhaul as well. It only shows you one monster at a time and… eh, it’s just weird, trust me. It’s more difficult to use than it should be. Not super-intuitive or quick to use. Though I do appreciate the ability to instantly equip items you buy. RPGs don’t always include that.
And my biggest issue with the game is that I miss the more chaotic insanity of battles from the third game. The games feature spells and attacks that will add extra effects to the turn-meter, like summoning extra creatures to attack or health regeneration. The problem is that the fourth game just features a lot less of those types of skills. In the third game, I absolutely loved having two summoned creatures out, various effects going, and an impending apocalyptic spell that would rain fire, ice, lightning, and locusts on my foes. Once you had all that stuff set up, battles felt truly epic and I feel like that sense of grandeur is slightly lost here.
Don’t get me wrong, I think you need to think more carefully about your battle strategy now, especially since this is a harder game, but I do miss how next-level-bananas the fights could become.
Really though, those are fairly small flaws in the grand scheme of things. At this point, I’m nitpicking.
I can’t wrap up the review without mentioning the game’s humor. Jerry Holkin’s writing is hilarious, though I do think “Rain-Slick 3” was funnier. Also, the monster designs and descriptions consistently make me chuckle. That’s another thing this game does very well, it has a ton of different creatures to fight and they’re all incredibly unique. Very rarely will you ever see a the same monster in more than three separate battles. You won’t be fighting hundreds of multicolored slimes in this game, no sir.
While the world itself may evoke a sense of familiarity with Zeboyd’s other games, since it takes place in a world filled largely with demons which is similar to both “Breath of Death VII” and “Cthulhu Saves the World”, it’s stuffed with enough unique quirkiness that it will feel new. There is no backtracking, unless you absolutely want to for some reason, and each area feels new and unique as you come across them.
Really, this whole game just makes me wish I owned it on a cartridge where I could shelve it with the rest of my games. It’s easily the best JRPG I’ve played in a long time and it’s not even made by Japanese people. My god… what is the world coming to?!
I sincerely think this is one of the most stellar examples of the genre on the indie scene today. Seriously, if you like RPGs, you need to buy this game. Hell, you need to buy “Rain-Slick” 3, play that, then buy 4 if you haven’t already. They’re an amazing value for the quality of games you’re getting.
I don’t know how Zeboyd is making any money off this but it’s clear they put a lot of love and care into these games, and the best games always come from people who actually give a shit about what they’re doing.