Monday, June 10, 2013

Second Opinion - Penny Arcade's On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness 4

At long last, we have finally come to the end of the Penny Arcade Adventures: On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness tetralogy started by Hothead Games just over five years ago and concluded by Zeboyd Games just over 2 days ago. This series has presented a very interesting spin on Penny Arcade lore, creating an interesting universe wherein Johnathan Gabriel and Tycho Erasmus Brahe, members of the Startling Developments Detective Agency, must defeat 4 Dark Gods known as the Four Below before it is too late for the universe. Since the release of Episode 3 from Zeboyd after such a long time, I was hooked on the possibilities of what Episode 4 would possibly bring to the table, especially after having a small conversation with Jerry Holkins (Penny Arcade's and OTRSPOD's writer) at last year's San Diego Comic-Con about upcoming features. After finally getting my hands on Episode 4 the other day (at the amazingly low price of just under $5 due to a discount on Steam), I have to say that I was genuinely surprised by what the final installment had to bring, and I believe the entire journey to be worth every second of play.

The final verse in the Quartet for the Dusk of Man.
Penny Arcade's On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness 4 starts off from the end of Rain-Slick 3, following the aftermath of Gabe, Dr. Blood, Jim, and Moira falling to Hell and Tycho being torn apart by energy from Yog Modaigh, God of Doors. The first four are split up into two groups at different locations, each finding out that they have landed in a place called the Underhell, a place beneath Earth where undead souls and monsters reside. Dr. Blood takes Gabe, who had just been punching him for centuries, to find his lost love Hestia while Jim (who is now able to talk) and Moira, who are far away from the other group, decide to set off and locate Tycho in order to get some much-needed answers. As each group finds their answers, each one only raises further questions as they discover more about the history of the Brahe clan.

The story, while darker than the previous entries, is very interesting and the execution only makes you want to keep playing until every lingering question has been answered. Of course, the overall tone of the game is counterbalanced by the usual Penny Arcade charm, but it presents a very interesting situation for the characters and it really sucks you into the setting and makes you want to learn more about the characters' situation(s). The plot is also filled with several twists and turns that fully come together at the end, including the unexpected identity of the fourth and final Dark God; not only does it take the form of the Overhell that exists above the Underhell, it also turns out to be the narrator of the entire series, which I must say is a very unique and original twist. The ending of the game, and thus the entire OTRSPOD saga, is a bit bitter-sweet to say the least, but I won't spoil anything here about it. What I can say, however, is that it does feel like your actions actually had some value in reaching the final goal.

Combat in this game is similar to that of Episode 3, but this time with a twist. The Class Pin system from the previous installment in dropped in this game in favor of a system wherein you capture monsters into a Monstorb; these monsters are then used to fight enemies in the Underhell, as humans are unable to harm them (as shown when Gabe attempts to punch one at the beginning). Up to four monsters that can join you can battle at a time, each one possessing a unique class in addition to the class of their assigned Trainer; as an added bonus, all monsters and Trainers level up at the same time, allowing you to have a comparably powerful army of monsters as you advance through the game. This is one of the aforementioned features that I learned about when I talked to Jerry Holkins and, while it does have some similarities to Pokémon, it also has some improvements to Pokémon's battle formula as well, making combat much more versatile and opening up many possibilities for handling the situation (plus, you are able to switch the assigned Trainer for each monster, allowing further Class and power customization to create your ideal party during battle).

Jim's Monstorb. Monstorbs can take on other forms as well.
I don't have much to say in terms of the graphics, since they are similar to those of Episode 3, but I do compliment the variety and creativeness of the new enemies found in the game, as well as the design of the added overworld map that gives the game more of an RPG feel. The music is also much different than in Rain-Slick 3, but in a more positive way rather than negative. There's definitely more range to be found in the soundtrack, especially in the middle of combat, becoming more atmospheric and cinematic to create a more immersive experience. I especially praise the music during major boss battles, as it really increased the epic nature of each fight quite nicely.

Overall, Penny Arcade's On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness 4 is not only an amazing game, but it also serves as a satisfactory conclusion to the On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness series as a whole. The sense of scale has been increased from the previous games in multiple aspects while exploring more with its gameplay in a fun way. The feeling of dread increases the more you reach the end and several twists and turns help to up the ante and lead up to a big payoff before the credits roll. If you haven't already played any of the games in this tetralogy, especially if you're a fan of Penny Arcade, I would suggest first starting with Episode One from the Hothead half of the series and playing everything in the suggested order, since this game is where everything comes together. For those wanting to save money, there are currently bundles for each set of two episodes available on Steam for a low price (a total of $20 for all four games if you go that route). The journey you take throughout this series is well worth the total investment.

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