Finally: A Review Of Penny Arcade’s On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness 4

AA-1The idea that the new Zeboyd Games title Penny Arcade’s On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness 4 correlates in any way to the “Penny Arcade universe” makes me want to vomit brown chunks. I can recognize that the site’s schtick speaks to a certain crowd, but it left a truly talented developer a lousy foundation for a game.

Thankfully, those narrative elements that I could not skip past fast enough seem to be Precipice of Darkness 4’s biggest weakness, and most everything else it does is fairly outstanding.

First of all, it streamlines the role-playing experience. While many people—myself included—happen to enjoy some of the classic elements of role-playing games (like grinding and random encounters), some view them as trite and superfluous.

Precipice of Darkness 4 eliminates most of these things entirely. All of the enemies are clearly visible, HP and MP regenerate completely after each battle, you can save at any point in time, and I found absolutely no need for grinding. Eschewing these things not only makes the game more balanced and palatable to some players, but it speeds up gameplay by a significant margin as well.

In addition, some aspects are simply handled very creatively. The MP system in particular has a unique twist that adds depth to the battles. Essentially, you start out a battle without any MP, and instead you earn it with each successful attack. This allows you to use it in small doses for healing or save it up for a larger magic attack against the more unruly foes.

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As far as battles themselves are concerned, your main combatants in the game are actually creatures that you send to do your dirty work. They can be very powerful, and their abilities are based on which trainer (or character) your pair them with in the game; think of it as having spirit animals who fight for you. These pairings are not permanent, though, so switching trainers and mixing abilities proves to be a fun experiment throughout the game.

Those elements combine with an Active Time Battle system to make the combat relatively robust. Again, it’s streamlined, but between the tweaking and the constant variety of enemies, there’s nothing about a playthrough that ever starts to feel stale.

The biggest negative here is that Precipice of Darkness 4 works on the supposition that this isn’t your first rodeo, and as such doesn’t explain many of these things very well. For example, the Active Time Battle bar isn’t really given its instructional due, and unless you’re unfamiliar with it, the process unfortunately boils down to trial-and-error.

Also, speaking strictly to my personal taste (and not necessarily a metric of the game’s quality), I feel compelled to note that I did not enjoy all of these changes. They are so well done, but I don’t come to role-playing games for anything resembling a “quick” or “efficient” experience; I very much enjoy the slow, metered calculation in a great role-playing game, and that is clearly not what Precipice of Darkness 4 is about. If you grew up on the SNES-era games it apes, the changes might not be for you, either.

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However, these interesting design choices bring me to the second thing that Precipice of Darkness 4 does well, and that’s to further establish developer Zeboyd Games. Its previous titles, Breath of Death VII and Cthulu Saves The World, were fantastic, unique games that showed a truly passionate developer finding its bearings, and Precipice of Darkness 4 represents a significant leap for the team.

With each effort, Zeboyd Games has shown enormous improvement in the quality of everything at work in its titles, and the team’s fingerprint is nigh unmistakable at this point. While changes to the systems might not be welcomed by everyone, lead designer Robert Boyd’s ability to streamline them nonetheless shows a deeply-rooted understanding of a genre he clearly loves; this is someone you want making role-playing games.

With this newest release in particular, the design elements at work are so much more interesting than anything else going on that it becomes impossible to ignore the potential of this team as it finally moves away from the confines of the Penny Arcade brand.

Precipice of Darkness 4 stands as a great role-playing experience; it’s expertly whittled down, allowing its magnificent battle system to really shine, even amidst a ridiculous, overly-verbose narrative. I dare say that if I were pressed to suggest a beginner’s role-playing game to some enterprising youngster, this might be the one I choose. In its streamlining of many of the issues that some people have with these games, it serves as a superb introduction to the genre’s systems. And from here, it’s exceptionally easy to suggest any of the games that clearly inspired this mostly fantastic title.

Pixels or Death gives Penny Arcade’s On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness 4 a 4 out of 5.