When I reviewed Penny Arcade Adventures: Episode One, I did not have much good to say about it. The game had a solid battle system and some amusing dialogue, but it was sorely lacking in just about every other area. The plot was incredibly tedious and the game itself was a major slog. At the end of that review, I stated that I had no interest in playing Episode Two as a result of the first game’s failure to provide a quality experience. However, I ended up changing my mind seeing as how I felt as if I should at least play this one if I was going to play Episodes Three and Four simply for the sake of having the full experience. I did not have high expectations going into Penny Arcade Adventures: Episode Two, but I was pleasantly surprised.
Not only did I find Penny Arcade Adventures: Episode Two to be a much more enjoyable experience than Episode One, but I would also say that it is among one of the better indie RPGs I have played. The funny thing about this, however, is that there really is not that much of a difference between Penny Arcade Adventures Episodes Two and One. At points, I have considered that I simply might have not been in a good mood when I played and reviewed the first game, but it turned out that Episode Two simply executed its various aspects better than the first game. In my review of the first game, I have criticized it for using a gameplay setup that I thought was inherently flawed. While technically my complaints do still apply, Episode Two did prove to me that it was indeed possible to make a good game out of that apparent “flawed system.” I am ultimately glad I decided to give this game a chance, and I encourage you to consider this one if the first game did not quite catch your interest.
The story of Penny Arcade Adventures: Episode Two takes place a few months after the events of the first game when your main character, Carl or Carla, accidentally has his or her house destroyed again. However, unlike last time where it was destroyed by a giant robot, this time Gabe and Tycho, the two characters from the Penny Arcade Web comic, accidentally destroyed it as a result of their own incompetence. Carl decides to help them out on a case, once again, seeing as how he no longer has a place to stay and has nothing better to do. The plot then proceeds to finding out more about that giant robot introduced in the first game, which is what should have been given focus to begin with.
While the premise may not sound that much more interesting than the first game, Penny Arcade Adventures: Episode Two manages to have a more interesting and well told story regardless. One of the key things that makes Episode Two’s story more interesting is the addition of conflict and villain presence. A major problem that I had with the first game’s story was that it was incredibly mundane due to the lack of any significant threats or compelling goals to accomplish. What perfectly illustrates just how bad that the first game was at this aspect is that the main conflict introduced at the start of the first game, is the focus OF THIS GAME! Literally nothing of any importance to the overall plot of the series happened in the first game and it made for one of the most boring narratives a game can have.
While the story for Episode Two may not be award winning by any stretch, it does at least always have a central conflict and something interesting going on. For example, one of the first things you are doing is trying to track down the guy who invented the giant robot from the first game. The problem is that he was committed to an insane asylum despite him not being insane and the asylum itself does nothing more to treat its patients other than shocking them with electricity. When the group meets up with the creator, he agrees to talk if they could get him released.
While this does sound like basic plot structure that should normally be expected, it is once again something that emphasizes just how much more competently this game’s story was written than the first. At the beginning of the game, they have a both an interesting setting and a mission that contributes to the overall plot. It may not be Oscar worthy by any sense, but it succeeded at making me interested in what was happening, and it still had its moments as well. Like the example I mentioned before with the insane asylum. While the depiction of how the patients are treated is heavily exaggerated for the purpose of comedy, it actually is rather accurate given historical track records. A lot of mental wards in the past were run horribly and incompetently throughout history.
The game world also has more than just two areas this time and it makes you feel as if there is a lot more progress being made and that you have a bigger world. While the game is still technically linear, it generally felt like you got to see more of the game’s world. One of the best things to come out of an improved story is that the more positive aspects of the first game suddenly stand out a lot more. Both games had some clever and humorous descriptions for various objects in the game, but it feels like they were funnier in this game than the first, and I will admit that it could be entirely possible that I felt that way due to simply enjoying myself more. Granted there are some elements that are legitimately better in Episode Two that are not hard to see.
In the first game, a lot of the humor just came across as unpleasant. For example, a recurring joke in the first game was that there is a scientist whose work consists on urinating on various things and seeing what happens as a result and that he treats it as if it is an actual science. Another joke is about the apartment the main character staying at being literally named “the shithole” while being very gross and unpleasent. The problems with these jokes are that they have no punch lines other than being disgusting, and it just makes the game much more awkward to play. In the second game, however, the game has less of this “gross out” type of humor and it was genuinely funny a lot more of the time.
I will admit that the first game did still have some pretty good moments, but the second game is a serious improvement in this department. Just to give an example that perfectly illustrates this improvement; the same “urinoligist” from the first game did make a brief return, only they managed to make a much better joke regarding him. He stops to say how his work is successful, and he is trying to get a grant in order to become an astronaut, and become the first person to urinate on the moon. Despite still technically being a somewhat unpleasant subject, it was actually funnier given that there is an actual punchline to it; as well as there being more subtle humor involved seeing as how it would actually take a legitimate amount of effort to pee on the moon when you are wearing a space suit.
In my review of the first game, I have praised the game for it having nice graphics and aesthetics by indie game standards. That praise naturally still stands here. It is definitely refreshing to see a developer that does not use “retro” style graphics in an attempt to avoid creativity. It also looks very nice and everything fits the nice, cartoony style that Penny Arcade is supposed to give off. The game does look like something out of a comic book which is exactly what it intended. Again, these things also applied to the first game as well but, once again, I cannot stress enough just how much easier it is to notice these things when you are playing a better game.
The music is also a noticeable improvement. While it is not the absolute most memorable soundtrack I have heard, it does tend to have more lively and catchy tunes. It does still have the same distinct style of music that the first games has, but it executes it much better and there are just a lot of much more pleasant songs. The game’s battle themes admittedly are still rather bland and the game is silent outside of battles and cutscenes, but it does do some things noticeably better; one major example is the game’s boss theme. The song was actually used in the first game, but the first game has so few boss fights that you did not get a chance to hear it. In Episode Two, on the other hand, you have enough boss battles to have you recognize it, but not so much that it gets old. To add further to this, it fits every situation it is used in. Some other notable tracks are the final boss theme, and the ending credits theme.
In terms of gameplay, Episode Two is mostly unchanged from Episode One, which is a good thing seeing as how the battle system was probably the best aspect of the first game. There are a few welcome improvement s here and there that do add to the game. One of the first is that there is a greater variety of enemies in this game. As great as the battle system in the first game was, it did have the tendency to get rather repetitive seeing as how you only had a few enemy types throughout the game. Episode Two thankfully gives us a wider variety of enemies to fight which keeps the gameplay fresh and makes the game overall more interesting. It also helps that the game decided to include more boss battles which helps make the game feel like things are moving along quicker.
Some other nice changes to the battle system are that you have fewer items that can revive dead allies. This means that you need to be more conservative with your items overall. Thankfully it is easy to get a hold of more items and they do infinitely respawn so, at worst, all you would need to do is a bit of farming. Also there are added item chests that can only be opened on the unlockable insane mode, which adds more incentive to try it out. The puzzles in Episode Two are also more varied and interesting than the first which keeps the game from getting stale.
The great thing about the battle mechanics in both games, but even more so in Episode Two, is that almost every battle feels unique. Unlike most RPGs, there are a fixed amount of enemies you encounter throughout the game that do not respawn. This means that level grinding is not an option. Some enemies do tend to both have a lot of HP and are capable of easily knocking you on your ass if you are not careful. They also happen to heal themselves so you need to be efficient in how quickly you manage to kill them. This will require you to use a lot of different techniques such as saving guest character special attacks, and using specific attack items. I would even go so far as to say that some felt more like boss battles.
A lot of what I criticized the first game for is still here in Episode Two, it is just less noticeable. The game world is still pretty small, the story is still slow and seems like it takes itself more seriously than it should, there is still a lack of music on the overworld, and the game is still a bit short by RPG standards. In the end though, it is the execution that matters and nothing sums this up more perfectly then the comparisons between episodes one and two.
Penny Arcade Adventures: Episode One was a game that had some good elements, but ultimately felt rather bland. Penny Arcade Adventures: Episode Two had the exact same elements and was able to craft a much better game out of what it was given. There was very little changed from Episode One to Episode Two, but what little was changed made all the difference in the world. Penny Arcade Adventures: On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness: Episode Two is basically everything the first game should have been. Despite the fact that it is far from a perfect title, I can still safely recommend Episode Two, and if you enjoyed Episode One, then you are in for even more of a treat with this game.
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