Back when I was growing up there wasn’t much to do except play video games. When I finally got out of middle school and into high school it was strange to see an enormous amount of new people. Making friends was tough, however I was big into Japanese RPGs and when I brought up the new game I was playing (Chrono Trigger I think it was) over whatever slop they were serving in the cafeteria, it launched the kids I was talking to into a litany of enthusiastic banter that didn’t shut them up until the end of lunch. Not only did I love these games, but I made friends over these games. I shared triumphs with people I still know to this day. Japanese RPGs are important to me and it’s obvious that this genre is just as important to the guys over at Zeboyd.
Penny Arcade: On the Rain Slick Precipice of Darkness Episode 3 (which I’m sure the PA guys love reading knowing they’re frustrating editors everywhere) is fantastic and for $5 it’s 10 to 12 hours of pure old school goodness worth picking up. I could write volumes about Jerry’s fantastic writing, the amazing pixel art, and the chiptunes that solidify the experience. However, as I’ve said, I really enjoy old school RPGs and I would feel that I missed an opportunity if I didn’t bring up a few gameplay oriented criticisms some of which have appeared not only in this game, but in the other two Zeboyd offerings as well.
I’ve played quite a bit of Breath of Death VII and Cthulhu Saves the World and I feel Zeboyd is making a statement with their games. You see, Japanese RPGs were great, but there were so many problems. Random battles, level grinding, crappy writing, characters no one cared about, we pressed on however because often you would find games with just enough story to be cool or an interesting mechanic or class system. I have a feeling the guys at Zeboyd want their games to make up for those deficiencies that they saw in games growing up, to improve upon them. Thus you get things like on screen monsters instead of random battles, and replenishing items instead of a sack full of potions and remedies. Some of these work, and some of these don’t. So like a mother hun wanting to protect its young fledgling development studio from future pain, I level a bit of criticism at PA 3.
First thing, and it’s the biggest. The class system is fantastic, but the classes themselves vary wildly in quality. I love the fact that I can be a Scholar, Crabomancer, Hobo (the job system in FFV was one of my favorites), however the abilities presented in some of these classes like the Slacker or the Masochist are fairly weak and useless. The worst part was that I wanted so bad to have more interaction with each class and character. By that I mean if I picked the Crabomancer who specializes in defense for instance, and could buff my defense up then maybe my secondary would be the Masochist who deals damage to himself to do attacks, but less so because my defense is so high. Or if I buffed my speed with the Cordwainer it would allow me to do interrupts from my main class faster and consistently push enemies back on the timeline. There was nothing in this system that made me feel like a clever player reading the abilities and putting things together in a way that let me steamroll enemies. All the abilities felt disjointed and I often just went back to main class abilities. Zeboyd obviously has to make sure that the players don’t become too overpowered, but I believe the solution to this was to nerf all abilities and make everyone able to buff each other only on an extremely limited basis. The MP starting at 0 system needs to be taken behind the shed like Old Yeller and shot in the face. It is so frustrating to have to wait and wait to get enough mp to do one maybe two decent attacks, but it’s doubly so in a game that increases the enemy damage each round! Combat is the gameplay in this game, that’s why it’s so important to get it right. There’s no fancy Gold Saucer to play mini-games in, no castle management, it’s story and combat just like a lean, mean JRPG should be. However, if you don’t get the combat right it becomes just as frustrating as games of old, and I know Zeboyd doesn’t want that. Little things too like having to remember what buffs are on Gabe (am I in attack stance? did I buff strength?) because there’s no visual representation are annoying and the ending! The ending? Oh man. Talk about a “mana beast turns to snow” moment.
I know there’s a lot of negative there, but I did like this game immensely. The writing is fantastic, combining a developer who knows how to be funny with the guys from PA ends up being gut wrenchingly funny. I am so glad this game is better than the first two because I believe the PA guys deserve to have a vehicle for their art in a medium that they obviously care about as much as the rest of us. I think they are lucky to have found a company like Zeboyd to work with. I do think though, that if an episode four were to come about (and without giving much away it seems very likely) the combat would have to be very polished. If that happens, this may be the start of a truly great series.