Zeboyd has now created 4 RPGs and with each have outdone themselves. Each new title brought with it better graphics, new or revamped mechanics, larger stories, and better dialogue. Penny Arcade 4 is no different. In fact, I would say its my favorite Zeboyd game to date. It is also their most ambitious to date. It still astonishes me to know that a team of only two people can push the JRPG genre more than entire AAA teams.
The story picks up immediately after the first game. There are obvious spoilers here, if you haven’t at least played the third game — what are you waiting for? Anywho, Tycho is dead and the rest of the team are split up in the Underhell. Since there were four Gods protecting existence, and only 3 are dead, existence is still a thing. Granted the world that we know is gone, the Underhell is a that is left, well that and the Overhell. Gabe and Dr. Blood are forced to team up while Moira and Jim(who now has a gelatinous body) work together. The story actually jumps between both stories as they try to locate Tycho, who being dead must be somewhere in Hell. After finding Tycho they discover that they need to reach Overhell and to do so must destroy three pillars that support it. I won’t spoil the ending, but it is the perfect ending to the series.
I could probably talk about the combat and level mechanics for days. It is a beautiful mesh of Final Fantasy and Grandia with a dash of Pokemon, sprinkled with Zeboyd’s own contributions to the genre. Due to physical weapons having no effect on otherworldly more beings our heroes cannot directly fight in combat. Instead, they summon monsters to do their bidding. Monsters are not captured, as in Pokemon, but are instead added to your party as the story progresses. Showing up for the first time in a Zeboyd game is a non-linear weapon upgrade path. Each monster has several weapon and armor types it can equip. The third equipment slot is called Trainer. This is important as it grants the monster all of the trainer’s skills and also determines stat level up bonuses. While most people new to Zeboyd won’t notice this, the system is an advancement of the branching level up system from Breath of Death and Cthulhu Saves the World. Instead of selecting it after each level up though, you chose beforehand what stats you want to increase at the next level up. Being able to choose a sub-set of skills and level up stats is actually an ingenious and subtle way for Zeboyd to combine the systems from all of their previous titles while retaining quite a bit of customization. One aspect of Cthulhu I missed when I played PA3 was switching party members, since PA3 only had 4 playable characters. I’m glad that Zeboyd could expand the roster for PA4. I don’t have exact numbers but there are at least 13, maybe more. A lot of the ideas for classes used in PA3 are expanded upon in this game. They did remove some of the underused or experimental class ideas though, which is a bummer but I understand why they did. As much as I loved the apocalyptic class, it was pretty useless.
The graphics have improved yet again. Still using the pixel sprites to give the game an old school feel melds perfectly with the game for some reason(the same could be said about PA3). But the sprites and maps look a lot better than the previous title. I would say that this is the closest Zeboyd have come to a true 16-bit game. Everything from the opening “cut scene” to the character portraits are masterfully designed. The soundtrack, on the other hand, went a completely different direction. They changed from chip tunes to real music. This seems to be a love it or hate it desicion. I love the soundtrack. The battle music is amazing and there is a certain theme that is extremely catchy. (I don’t want to spoil anything, but you’ll know it when you hear it, its the one with words.)
The only issue I really have with the game is that fighting with monsters took me a while to get into. I felt disconnected from the main cast due to them not directly fighting. The system slowly grew on my but I started out really hating it. I wanted the Pin Class system back, which is probably my favorite JRPG class system. So, I guess that’s a good and bad thing. On one hand, Zeboyd did such a fantastic job with classes in the third game that I wanted more of it. On the other hand I had a negative immediate reaction to the new system. Overall I can’t recommend this game enough. It recaps enough for a new player to jump right in and at $5 for 14 hours of gameplay its difficult not to justify the purchase. And pretty much any PC will run it. Seriously, go buy it today!