Penny Arcade Adventures, Episode 3 preview

For all their flaws, I enjoyed of the first two games in Penny Arcade's "On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness" saga. It was disappointing to learn that Hothead Games had decided to move onto other projects, leaving the four-part series unfinished. So to hear that the series was not only being revived with Episode 3, but developed by the studio behind the excellent RPG throwbacks Breath of Death VII and Cthulu Saves the World was welcome news.

Both of the previous 16-bit-styled RPGs from Zeboyd Games had a clever, sardonic humor about them, so it seemed like a natural fit for the Penny Arcade Adventures to continue its twisted Lovecraftian tale. I had some time with the game at PAX East 2012, and the game certainly serves as a cheeky delivery mechanism for the humor established by the first two games.

Like Breath of Death and Cthulu, PAA Episode 3 models itself after games like Final Fantasy IV. That means many of Hothead's RPG elements, like timed button presses and a customizable character to join the crew, are missing from this iteration -- at least in the demo, and most likely in the game.

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At the same time, Zeboyd has a tendency to make its own tweaks to the more classical RPG roots. Elements like turning off randomized battles after 30 encounters help take some of the busywork out of the old-school style, modernizing the formula without fundamentally changing it. The demo didn't catalog which of these thoughtful elements would make the transition to PAA, but Zeboyd has been building a legacy of familiarity with its games, so it's likely to take some of the lessons learned. The game auto-restores health after each battle like Zeboyd's previous games, so that's at least one smart shortcut confirmed.

Two new elements include an overworld map with location points reminiscent of Super Mario Bros 3, and a magic system that stacks on itself. Rather than a large pool of mana that is depleted, characters are restricted to 1 MP per turn. You're given the strategic option of using it on weaker spells, or letting it pool for a larger attack. Some boss battles give an initial boost of MP as a bit of a head-start.

The game is planned for PC, Xbox Live Indie Games Channel, and mobile devices, for the budget price of around $2.99. It's set to release for this summer, and I'll be among those eager to find out what happens to our heroes and their battle against the elder gods.