Category Archives: RPG

REVIEW: Penny Arcade’s Rain-Slick 3

Since honesty is (unfortunately) always the best policy, outside of the first two Hothead-developed games in the Rain-Slick (eventual-)Quadrilogy, I’ve never been much of a Penny Arcade fan. Ditto for Zeboyd Games; I haven’t played either of their previous and well-received RPGs. Zeboyd’s track record and the Penny Arcade name are an obvious boon to the XBLIG channel, though, and On the Rain-Slick Precipice of… um, I mean Penny Arcade’s Rain-Slick 3 (400 MSP) is at once both a familiar sequel and a whole new experience on it.

Gone are customizable protagonists and the comic-style art, but Gabe and Tycho more than manage in ‘your’ absence, as the series’ signature wit and charm are in full 16-bit bloom, thanks to both Zeboyd and Holkins. Prior time with the originals is not needed, though for fans the references and returning characters / locations of New Arcadia are plentiful.

The battle system remains turn-based, but receives a boost to speed and fun. Counterattacks are replaced with interrupts here, which are just as important in turning the tide in tougher fights. It also has its share of complexity, and PA3 gradually ropes you into the loop with its Class-Changing Pins (vaguely The World Ends With You-ish and awesome), which allow you passive abilities and unique skills to call upon in battle. The pins’ effects split their worth between serious and comical (change into a velociraptor… clever girl), but each has its effectiveness. Equipped class pins (2 slots per character) earn XP faster in battle, though the game graciously levels up all pins, even those not currently in your employ, as incentive to continuously combine and experiment.

Your health refills after every fight, same for items, leaving you to buy ‘upgroids’ to increase potency and usage only if you’d like. PA3 may take the form of an old-school menu-driven RPG, but it’s built with less micro-management in mind. For that, I am grateful. I quickly settled into a comfortable pin setup and pattern, which held its ground for the majority of the game but made some of the lesser battles stale as it wore on. I played on Normal, and maybe was in danger of dying once or twice (save for the second-to-last boss, cheap bastard).

Of course, fighting becomes secondary to the bizarre ride PA3 takes you on; the Necrowombicon book rears its blank pages again, the-villainous-after-all Dr. Blood picks a side, and all manner of Brahe family secrets come out. You can only find an eloquent, tuxedo-wearing T-Rex or a faithfully-recreated, conventional JRPG world to poke fun at in so many games, you know, buoyed by the great writing / character-building and even greater humor you expect. The quest will run you about 6 – 7 hours, and you’ll want to examine every nook not just for treasure, but the next hilarious anecdote or enemy description.

Penny Arcade’s Rain-Slick 3 picks up right where I left off, enjoying the hell out of it. Oh, and it’s an excellent reintroduction / continuation to the series… blah blah fancy review-speak, etc., not that I ever really doubted it would be. Easily a leaderboard game that has my money for the 2013 conclusion already locked in. The price may scare some off, others by critics that claim XBLIGs are a waste of time and money, and to that I say it is truly their loss.

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REVIEW: Monster King

Monster King (80 MSP) marks the second JRPG I’m playing in as many weeks, Mortal Legacies (review) being the other. In a quick vote between the two titles, Monster King is the superior, though when taken against the whole of the indie RPG catalog, it falls somewhat short.

As the eponymous hero, you’re told that monsters have besieged the lands of… somewhere. It’s never elaborated upon. You don’t get a proper name or any speaking lines. You’re just told to fight. It doesn’t matter if you’re personable, as you’re not accepting sidekick applications. The whole setup is bare-bones. In every way, you’re lone wolfing it in MK

Combat is of course turned-based, via the typical menu selections; Attack & Magic, use a potion, flee a battle. In a nice gesture, you automatically equip the best weapon and armor for the job, and shops in the various towns will only sell to you if its beneficial for you (a completely foreign concept in our reality). Exploration is minimal. Outside of potions or new weapons / armor found in scattered chests, there’s not much to see. Mostly you fight random battles in the field, covering ground until you reach a bridge or bottleneck, at which point you’ll take on a boss for the right to pass, then repeat. So long as you’re well-leveled, battles are fast, if uneventful, though there is an interesting wrinkle.

As in Meat Loaf?

MK subscribes to the theory that ‘Hokey religions and ancient weapons are no match for a good monster at your side’, enabling you to first weaken and then add the game’s monsters to your armament, Persona / Pokemon style. The idea works well in practice too, adding a degree of experimentation to fights despite the expected ‘try fire vs. ice, etc.’ checkmates. Given the high cost of some magic, it’s an effective option once you’ve learned each monster’s weakness. And though you’re not rewarded with anything for doing so, there is a strange sense of accomplishment once you’ve captured the lot of them.

And that roster of creatures is diverse, if nothing else. Psychic rats. Brains in jars. There’s a Tree Killer (doesn’t kill trees, oddly) that is timber with an uzi, and a Not Ready, which looks like a pixel Quagmire (maybe it’s the prominent jawline). That’s worth a chuckle, though some of them are duds (Snowman, blah. Hover Dude, really?).

In terms of excitement there isn’t much, a few hours of old-school monster-slaying, but I found it charming. Grinding out progression, one character level and one stat increase at a time, evoked Dragon Quest for me (the first monster, Sludge, is an easy stand-in for a Slime). Nostalgia is a factor, sure, and it’s an innocuous RPG without much of a story (till the very end), but it moves swiftly and doesn’t overstay its welcome.

REVIEW: Mortal Legacies

Despite the allure of the bigger-budgeted, Hollywood-visuals RPGs, there’s plenty of market space left for independent role-players to set up pixelized shop. The Breath of Death / Cthulhu one-two, EvilQuest, and the upcoming Penny Arcade 3 are all good examples of indie development gone right. And while they can’t ever hope to match the look and scope of a retail release, I’m here to say they can beat the big guys at their own game, with quirky, original stories and / or characters that strike some chord with the player. It’s all about ideas.

Mortal Legacies‘ (80 MSP) box art (looks a bit like Desmond from Assassin’s Creed, doesn’t it?) seems to tease a darker, more modern take on old school turn-based JRPGs, though the truth is much duller. Assuming the role of blue-haired Valloc, you’re given a fateful directive (from your Mom, of all people), to explore the land of Elisia in search of the King’s lost crown and prevent the shadow from engulfing the world. Not that the world much pleads its case for salvation. It’s as bland as they come, and nobody has much to say to about it. From townspeople to party members, a sentence’s worth of exposition about does it. All the castle’s guards communicate via the Skyrim meme, which has seen enough use but to me never gets old.

What does get old is the combat. I realize the turn-based system is inherent to retro role-players, but here the random battles tend to come back to back a little too frequently, and you’ll constantly buff and restock those allies in your group with spells / attacks that hit multiple enemies, just to get the damn battle over with rather than necessity.

Casting Devastating Blow? Yeah, to Fun.

The game is too linear and too short to set up a decent plot or characters, with party members that fill every RPG support role stereotype (mage, rogue, priest), and have zero personality, backstory, or reason to be there. Same too for the quests and objectives. It’s all stuff you’ve seen / done previously (pirates, bandits, oh my).

You also level up at an incredible clip; on medium difficulty, it’s nearly every other fight. I’m sure good intentions were there (making it easier to pick up and play, and thus, more enjoyable), but the lack of proper balance favors the player in almost every battle, leaving the endgame devoid of any challenge or joy. The game’s brevity (hour+) is therefore a blessing. Beating the game unlocks a new mode that turns Valloc into a demon (no explanation given, and the narrative doesn’t change). With the weapon and armor you’re able to then equip, you’re over-powered from the start, which just highlights the game’s balance problems even more.

There’s no need to go on. With the absolute barest of character-building and story-telling frameworks in place, a cumbersome inventory, and frequent, protracted fights, it’s no surprise that Mortal Legacies is a completely skippable experience.