Classic JRPG stylings with a modern touch
Developed by Zeboyd Games, makers of fine retro-RPGs like Cthulu Saves the World and Breath of Death VII, the third act in the four part Penny Arcade series is a successful tribute to SNES-era Japanese RPGs like Final Fantasy and Chrono Trigger while simultaneously improving on the formula and modernizing many of the obnoxious tropes for which the genre is known. Enemies in New Arcadia can be seen and avoided in dungeons, though most of them seem to block crucial pathways or treasure chests, and world map movement is restricted to a board game-like mechanic where new areas open as you complete dungeons and progress the story.
The tale that Episode 3 weaves is a nonsense melodrama that features a wide array of silly characters, like Tycho’s ex-wife Moira the Gumshoe, the evil art thief Dr. Blood, and Jim the skull in a jar of green goo. You will journey across a mime cult-infested boardwalk, a bank with vaults that lead into the 8-bit world, and a ruined world-between-worlds known as The Periphery. The writing is enjoyable for the most part – as this series mostly acts as a delivery mechanism for the Penny Arcade team’s humor, your enjoyment of the comic will probably match your enjoyment of the game’s jokes. However, even though I’m not the biggest PA fan, I still found plenty to chortle at and I appreciated the well-roundedness of some of the characters. The attempt to spark some drama from Tycho and Moira’s past was a nice touch, and could’ve used more moments like that.
Combat is presented similar to Final Fantasy games, where your party and the enemies trade blows and spells. Skills are drawn from the classes you assign to your characters via class pins. Each character can have up to three skills, with two being a mix and match of classes from your assorted pins. As you level up your classes, you gain new skills, and pins you don’t have equipped still gain experience albeit at a slower rate. The class system provides an opportunity to experiment with the best combinations and see what works best with your playstyle. I found a comfort zone with a class distribution that allowed me to cast spells that affect all enemies and damage them over time, skills like the Hobo’s Rat Swarm, which inflicts hoboism obviously, and the Gardener’s Garden of Dangerous Bees. Once I had stacked up these damage over time skills, I stalled for time to build up MP – you start a turn with plus one MP, and skills use a certain number of MP and the points add up if you manage them correctly. Stockpiling MP on a single character allows you to use devastating abilities, like Gabe’s Pulverize attack. Along with your party’s HP, your stock of items rejuvenates after each battle, the number of uses for such items can be upgraded – this makes things like inns, traditional shops, and item hoarding completely obsolete. Failing a fight restarts you just before the battle, making Episode 3 as streamlined and smooth as possible. Combat is satisfying, and a variety of tough enemies means that each encounter is a puzzle that needs to be solved with various fireballs, machine guns, and punches. An optional coliseum opens up with challenging fights that grant you items once you clear the milestones – I actually found myself completing all the fights simply because strategizing each combat scenario was satisfying and entertaining. An extra scenario fills in the gap between Episode 2 and 3, and revealing what becomes of the player-created character from the first two episodes.