Confession time – I own the first two episodes of this series, and I’ve never finished them. I got probably 75% of the way through the first one, and was just bored with the combat. I put it aside and took a break, and told myself I’d come back for it. Well, that plan backfired. Now that episode 3 is out, I thought I’d try again, but in the intervening time, I’d forgotten almost everything about the plot and/or what I was supposed to be doing. In the interests of getting something done, I ended up just skipping straight to this game, the latest installment.
The graphics (and to a lesser extent, the art style) have changed this time around. I honestly kind of miss the more high-resolution art, as the art is one of the things I really like about Penny Arcade. However, the 16-bit era throwback art here is still pretty darn good. The sprites and animations evoke the 16-bit Final Fantasy style, down to the “prayer” animations the characters go through as they prepare to cast spells.
The gameplay is also radically different from previous games in the series. It’s also significantly different from the previous games from the Zeboyd team, who are taking the reins from Hothead. There’s a strong “Final Fantasy 5” job system/turn based combat vibe. The combat is fairly fast paced, and each encounter seems like a worthy challenge, although I failed only once or twice to dispatch my enemies in the first attempt.
The only issue I really have is with class balance. It seems like the classes were all chosen based on how funny they are, or how much they subvert genre tropes, and not how useful or fun they are to play with. Most classes have an eclectic mix of skills. Although each character has one “base class” which you can’t change, and 2 classes you can pick, there’s not a lot of awesome classes and combos to choose from. When I thought I had synergy between two classes’ worth of skills, it often turned out that there was a lot of skill overlap. Where there was skill variety, there tended to also be a ton of useless cruft. I found myself typically only using a handful of skills from maybe one of the elective classes per character.
My basic strategy was to focus on letting Gabe deal massive damage (by boosting his strength consistently, and focusing on his top-tier special attacks) and have the rest deal damage-over-time and debuffs to the enemy. I didn’t really have to vary this strategy much, even against some of the harder optional boss enemies. In some cases there were some of my characters who barely contributed, or who just used “gag” commands to see what they did.
About the only thing that hasn’t changed is the writing. The dialog and plot are still consistent with the previous episodes, and it mostly works. The issue I tended to have with previous Zeboyd games is that the dialog was pretty entertaining, but it was few and far between. This game has far more dialog, and it’s almost universally good. The only downside is that I had trouble really following the plot. Reading the online prose-only version of the game’s intended plot made it make a lot more sense, but I don’t really see why we couldn’t get more of this exposition in the game proper.
Overall, though, it’s a fun few hours. There’s a lot of “weird, but novel and satisfying” things you can say about it, from the writing, to the art, to the combat. If you’re a fan of the Penny Arcade universe, and you’re interested in playing a 16-bit-era RPG with a few twists, it’s worth the price.