PENNY ARCADE EPISODE 3 / Zeboyd Games / PC
Precipice 3 represents a semi-reboot in the series; the story continues, but development is handed off from Hothead (who dropped the series to make Deathspank) to Zeboyd Games (recently of Cthulhu Saves the World and uh ... that other one with the skeleton.) Zeboyd does the game in the style of their previous two games; basically like an early-generation SNES JRPG with a bit less polish (and a lot less playtime) than you'd typically see from a AAA publisher. Zeboyd's previous games worked in spite of the low-budget RPG Maker archaicness, however, thanks to a good genre-savvy sense of humor that was tasteful about not going over the edge into pandering references or Cheeto Nerd obnoxiousness, and also a pretty good battle system that hadn't really been done before. That continues to be the case here, just with the added power of Penny Arcade's Jerry Holkins writing as well.
I sort of lost track of the story in the first game, it's a somewhat messy contrivance that puts the Penny Arcade boys in the 1920s as supernatural detectives, and has various Lovecraftian monsters and gods showing up who then need to be punched back into oblivion. The strength of the story doesn't really matter though, as it's just a vehicle for delivering up various Penny Arcade characters and jokey situations as well as dungeons and battles. The gameplay has changed to focus entirely on the dungeon exploration and battling, however, eliminating the periodic puzzles and fetch quests you would see in the first two games.
The whole thing is also almost entirely linear, as well; at any given time you only have the current dungeon du jour at hand, and you can only go forward into it. Eventually a Coliseum is unlocked with a couple of prizes, but it's very short and offers up only a couple of bonus peices of equipment. There's also an optional dungeon at the end that only opens up when you've maxed out all the classes, but aside from those two things the game is pretty much entirely on rails. To further linearize things, Zeboyd uses a structure similar to their previous two games in how it handles battles and items; you automatically revive and heal up after every battle, and items also renew after every battle so you never have to resupply them, but you can only use a certain amount per battle. For example, at the outset you can only use two healing Potions per battle, but you can find and buy upgrades gradually that allow you to use more and also increase their effects.
As such, the battle system really has to stand up and be interesting for this all to work. Zeboyd goes with the approach of gradually giving you "pins" that represent character classes, which can be switched out and have to be leveled up in battle, somewhat akin to Final Fantasy 5. Each character has a base class that they can't change, but eventually unlock the ability to add two other classes at any given time. Thus, the challenge revolves around finding balanced "builds" for your team that are robust enough to handle varied enemy types. For the most part this is fairly interesting, requiring a deeper level of strategy than a lot of JRPGs. The beginning of the game is a bit tedious, however, simply as you have so few abilities; the very end also gets a bit boring as it quickly becomes apparent that the best build at that point is to buff the hell out of Gabe, debuff the enemies, then let him deliver his most powerful punches to kill them outright in one or two blows.
Will fans of the previous games enjoy this one? I think it's a turn for the better; certainly leaner and less tedious, and the new visual style and battles are a needed rejuvenation. Will other people enjoy this one? If you have an appreciation for old-school JRPGs and the sort of writing seen in the old LucasArts adventure games (just with Moar Cussing), then yeah, probably; it's not around for very long at about an 8-hour playtime, but it's also one of those games you can readily find on sale for $2.50 or so. So in other worlds, if your balls are moderately old, you may well enjoy it.