Like many gamers who played the first two episodes of Penny Arcade’s On the Rain-slick Precipice of Darkness series, I was disappointed when Hothead Games announced in 2010 that they were stopping development of the series to focus on other endeavors. I enjoyed the first two games, and reading the remainder of the storyline in text form wasn’t going to provide nearly as much entertainment. It wasn’t until over a year later that Zeboyd Games announced they’d be picking up the series, with the caveat that the graphical style would be completely different. Since one of my favorite things about the previous games was the combination of 3D and comic book style graphics, I was conflicted. I wanted to play through the rest of the story, but would the game be as fun with a totally different look? I didn’t know it then, but the answer would be a resounding yes.
It’s rare that a video game series can survive completely changing their look and style, which is why many gamers wrote off the third Precipice of Darkness title before it was even released. The differences are immediately obvious; 3D graphics have been replaced by simple 16-bit images, flashy attack animations have been replaced by a RPG-style combat menu, and the goofy and nonsensical storyline has matured into something a bit darker (but still goofy and nonsensical). In terms of the plot, this game continues from where it’s predecessor left off. You’ve just killed the second of four gods, which means the third is (naturally) right around the corner.
Your custom character from the first two adventures won’t be tagging along this time, but that doesn’t prevent you from getting into the game. In addition to Gabe and Tycho, you’ll be joined on your quest by Anne-Claire (briefly), a fellow detective named Moira, and a silent skull in a jar named Jim. Each member of your party is assigned a default class indicative of their personality. For example, Tycho’s default class is Scholar, while Gabe’s is Brute. As you advance in the game, new class-specific buffs and attacks are unlocked. Additional classes discovered later in the game allow you to expand your arsenal of abilities, with each character going into battle with up to three classes equipped. The choices range from the somewhat typical like the Elemenstor, which offers a range of element-based magic attacks, to the ridiculous Dinosorcerer, which allows you to transform into a T-Rex or velociraptor mid-battle.
On the topic of combat, any fan of old-school Japanese RPG’s like Final Fantasy VII can tell you how surprisingly engrossing menu-based combat can be. The array of classes and items at your disposal add a nice strategic element to the game, but it isn’t just a matter of which skills and buffs you use; it’s also a matter of when. The game expands on simple turn-based mechanics with a timeline of the battle. As their turn approaches, characters and enemies move from the “Wait” section of the timeline into the “Command” section, at which point their next move is selected. Finally, their attack is executed at the end of the timeline, and they return to the beginning for their next turn. Characters with more speed traverse the timeline faster which results in less time between turns, and some well-timed attacks can “interrupt” your opponents and delay their action for a few more moments. You’ll face a diverse and entertaining array of enemies, which does help to make it feel like less of a grind. Even so, the “cases” you solved to piece the plot together in the first two episodes are gone, and the more combat-centric gameplay is a noticeable shift.
The JRPG-style battles feel right at home surrounded by the equally old-school graphics and audio, though. 16-bit graphics are certainly nothing new or groundbreaking, but they suit the game well. Similarly, the soundtrack is pleasantly retro and very catchy, with music changing intensity as the gameplay demands. Overall, the game provides roughly 10 hours of fun, charm, and wit for a very affordable $5 price tag. What it lacks in flashiness, it makes up for in strategy and humor. If you’re at all interested in Penny Arcade, retro RPG’s, or tranforming into a dinosaur, it’s hard to go wrong with this one.