Humorous and offbeat, PA3 is worth your $5
When Hothead Games, developers of Penny Arcade Adventures: On The Rain Slick Precipice of Darkness Episodes 1 and 2 decided to focus their efforts elsewhere, that seemed to spell the end of the offbeat and humorous RPG series. Fortunately, the two man crew at Zeboyd Games stepped up to take over the development reins of the third Penny Arcade game. While Penny Arcade 3 looks and plays very differently from the first two games, it is still maintains the series' particular brand of oddness and excellent writing.
While there are plenty of jokes aimed at fans of Penny Arcade, you don't need to have much knowledge of the comic to enjoy this game. Each character has their own personality that shines through in the writing. Not surprisingly, Gabe and Tycho are the most fully developed. The former is a somewhat stupid brawler, while the latter is a loquacious, world-weary know-it-all, sort of like the comics. A few other characters round out the party, serving mostly as vehicles for Gabe and Tycho to pick on. During battles, you won't be squaring off against the usual slimes, goblins, or zombies either. In the weird world of New Arcadia, the most prevalent problem are hobos, miming octopi, and crabomancers. Each enemy is uniquely weird, funny, and seemingly thrown in at random.
Though the excellent writing carries over from episodes 1 and 2, the rest of the game looks very different. Zeboyd's take on PA3 is an homage to older Final Fantasy games, specifically Final Fantasy VI. The characters are now 16-bit inspired sprites, as opposed to Hothead's more detailed polygonal characters and settings. On the audio front, the voiced narration is also gone. However, the decrease in fidelity in many ways enhances the charm of this game. The soundtrack is particularly inspired, as it seems lifted directly from an SNES game. The enemy sprites are nicely detailed, if bizarre, and surprisingly varied throughout. Though there are some palette-swapped enemies later in the game, for the most part you'll be facing off against new foes. Later in the game, the developers even take potshots at some of the 8-bit varieties of jRPGs while faithfully recreating their look. The developers of this game clearly understand and have a fond appreciation for this period of RPGs, and it shows throughout.
If you've ever played any Japanese RPG, you'll be right at home with PA3 as it cribs heavily from Final Fantasy for its battle system. Enemies and party members take turns queuing up attacks; your numbers fight their numbers, and whoever has the most numbers at the end wins. There are some unique twists to combat, as your enemies get stronger round after round, so you'll have to decide whether to unleash weaker attacks each round to soften up your enemies, or skip your turn to save up for more powerful attacks. PA3 gets some extra mileage out of this by poking fun at a lot of the tropes of jRPG combat that have crept up in the genre.
Between battles, each character can equip a mix of classes that serve a similar role to the job system from Final Fantasy. Each class gives a character a unique set of attacks and passive skills, and they all serve a specific type of role. For instance, The Brute is a heavy damage dealing character, The Gentleman focuses on healing spells, and The Slacker does nothing - most of the time. Since the game is not very long, you'll level up at least one class after every battle, regularly giving you new abilities with which to mess around.
At $5, I can wholeheartedly recommend grabbing Penny Arcade 3. Though verbose, the writing is very funny and keeps you guessing as to what is going on throughout the game. The battles are just difficult enough to be interesting, but not frustrating, and your constant leveling up makes you want to keep playing to see what abilities you've unlocked.