To start things off, I will disclose that I am not too familiar with the Penny Arcade web comics or even the website itself. I have seen a small amount of the web comics but they did not seem to have any effect on the game itself for me. I would assume that big fans of the web comics may get a bit more out of this game. Penny Arcade Adventures: On the Rain Slick Precipice of Darkness: Episode One, or simply Penny Arcade Adventures as I will refer to it from now on, is really not good enough to appeal to anyone who is not a big Penny Arcade fan. The game unsuccessfully tries to combine elements of point and click adventure games with turn based RPGs, and ends up as a game that fails as either of them. It is not necessarily a bad game, but I would not recommend it unless you are a hardcore Penny Arcade fan.
The main story of Penny Arcade Adventures has what I would describe as a rather dull plot. The reason for this is because it does not move forward even the slightest throughout the entire game. Even the main conflict that kick started the adventure is never resolved in this installment. The game starts out where our main protagonist, a random player created character who has the default name of Carl or Carla but is never referred to by name, has his house destroyed by a giant robot. He follows the giant robot and meets up with Gabe and Tycho from the Penny Arcade comics. Together the three of them try to find out what was up with that giant robot and find Carl a new place to live.
Ignoring the fact that the idea behind this plot is rather uninteresting, the plot never even goes anywhere. Instead you get a series of unrelated fetch quests that you do for no other reason than because the game says so. Normally these are the type of quests that would be reserved for smaller side missions, but in Penny Arcade Adventures, they are the main plot and are just as mundane as ever. Hell they could be even more mundane seeing as how you do not even have a main villain introduced until near the end of the game.
The worst part of this is that the game plays these aspect straight. While there is some comedy in the game, it usually is present in the form of the banter between characters, which I will admit can be amusing at points. The game even has the nerve to leave a cliffhanger at the end of the story. That is the main problem with Penny Arcade Adventures; it is clear that based on the content that it is not meant to be taken seriously, but half the time the game sounds like it is.
Admittedly there is an interesting charm the game has that prevents the story from being completely worthless. As I said, the game’s characters are likable in their own way and the dialogue is amusing, although not necessarily funny. Secondly, the game’s enemies consist of hobos, mimes, clowns, and barber shop quartets, so it is hard to not get at least some kind of laugh out of them. These unfortunately are not enough to make the plot interesting or for the game to move faster. The game took me twelve hours to beat but those twelve hours felt a lot longer than they should have.
The graphics in Penny Arcade Adventures are surprisingly good for an indie game. Granted they certainly do not reach the standards of any major developers, but they are of higher quality than most indie games. The game is set in a 3D environment where the graphic quality looks like what you would expect from a Dreamcast title. Just about every object you see you can click on to get a rather amusing description, which adds a nice amount of depth to the game’s world that is otherwise lacking. The cutscene graphics are presented in a comic book style that greatly resembles the style of the webcomics.
The game is quite weak in other areas of presentation though. First of all, you only have three areas in the game which gives you very little feelings of freedom or exploration. In Penny Arcade Adventures, each area you go to is only two to five screens long and you will be backtracking through these areas over and over again. The problem with the game’s setup is that fans of point and click adventure games will find the battles intrusive and repetitive, and RPG fans will find that the game is way too restrictive and linear. As a result you end up as a game that tries too hard to combine two separate game genres and ends up alienating fans of both.
The music in Penny Arcade Adventures is usually either nonexistent or uninteresting. I wouldn’t say that it is bad and I kinda liked the main boss theme (which I think only plays in the final boss of Episode One and is the main boss them of Episode Two). Most of the tracks serve their purpose adequately but don’t stand out much.
As I have stated earlier, Penny Arcade Adventures is essentially a cross between a point and Click adventure game and a turn based RPG. Exploration is done in point and click adventure format where you control your characters by clicking to where you want them to move, which will then prompt them to move to that spot. Everything else you interact with is also done by clicking on it. Any chests or objects you want to examine or done by clicking on them, and dialogue is advance the same way. The game is advanced by performing any tasks that are available and getting whatever fetch quest item you need to advance further in the game. The only RPG elements that are in this game are that there are battles and that you gain levels and experience. There is no currency, no weapons or armor, and there are a fixed amount of battles in the game which meaning it is impossible to level grind.
Despite having a premise that sounds really bad on paper, Penny Arcade Adventures manages to handle it as well as possible. The battle system in this game is active time based where a certain amount of time needs to pass before your character gets their turn. Unlike most games with an active time battle system, certain actions require different amounts of time for you to be able to perform them. For example, you need to wait longer to use a special attack than for a normal attack. Items, on the other hand, take up the shortest amount of time to use and are readily available in the case of emergencies.
Unlike most RPGs, Penny Arcade Adventures does not have a defend command. Instead, the only way to defend against enemy attacks is by pressing the space bar at the time during the attacks. Also what is unique about Penny Arcade Adventures is that being able to successfully time a button press will actually have a significant effect on the damage done and has a major effect on gameplay. Thankfully, enemies in Penny Arcade Adventures actually have their attacks telegraphed by having their health bar flash at the correct instant you need to respond and do not simply leave you to guess the correct timing at random. The game also includes other elements such as enemies being weak or resistant to certain types of attack, action command in special attacks that increase the amount of damage an attack does, and having characters team up to perform one single attack.
Despite it sounding just like any other turn based RPG, the battles in Penny Arcade Adventures are a lot more hectic and strategic, and they require a lot more quick thinking and timing. The game does allow you to change the difficulty setting at any time, but I never needed to take it off the hardest difficulty setting. No I am not just saying that brag either. I am saying this because having an RPG handle difficulty a setting correctly is surprisingly uncommon, let alone being handled correctly in a game where you cannot grind. The reason they are handled well is because the battles have much more of an emphasis on strategy and quick thinking than raw stats.
Despite having a very well crafted and well thought out battle system, Penny Arcade Adventures suffers in just about every other aspect. The game literally provides nothing for the player to do other than go around fighting battles and walking around talking to the same people in order to accomplish a certain task. As a result, the game will become repetitive rather quickly. The story was dull and bland, there was no sense of sense of freedom or exploration, NPCs were boring and constantly repeated the same lines, and the game will be played the exact same way each time. As I have previously stated, being a fan of the Penny Arcade Web comics may make the game more enjoyable to you, but otherwise I would not recommend it.
My original review had a lot of much harsher words for this game, and I needed to heavily edit it for posting here. My earlier reviews had the recurring flaw of being unnecessarily harsh for certain games, and this review was one of them. I was actually so self conscious about this review that I deleted it from GameFAQs way before I decided to re-edit it for posting it on this blog.
My overall opinion on Penny Arcade Adventures Episode One is that it’s… okay. I enjoyed the second installment much more since the plot was more eventful in that one, but this game still has some moments. My overall opinions are still mixed though so I wouldn’t say it’s a must play by any means.
This review was originally posted to GameFAQs in January of 2014 and it has since been re-edited with enhanced presentation.
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