So, erm… my original plan for this week was to play and review Zeboyd Games’ On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness 4, in much the same way I reviewed the third installment of the series when it came out. And I did! The playing, I mean. I spent all week playing On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness 4 (‘Four’), finishing it up just hours before I sat down to write this review. Then afterwards, in thinking what I wanted to write about, I replayed some sections of On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness 3 (‘Three’) and reread my review on that game, and discovered… well, basically, that that review and this hypothetical futureview would turn out to be largely the same.
You can imagine this upset me.
To say that Three and Four are merely similar is to do their overlap something of a disservice. I won’t say they’re identical, either, but it’s definitely more towards that end of the scale. As an example, here’s two screenshots of Three and Four’s menu systems. Can you tell which belongs to which?
Now, I figured I could just write a full review on Four. Doing so, however, would be an inefficient use of both my time and yours. Instead, I’m going to use this review to point out and talk about some key differences and similarities instead. Mostly the former, I think. This will require some foreknowledge regarding the entire structure of Three, but that’s okay: frankly, if you’re interested in this game at all, you really ought to play One, Two and Three first anyway. In that order. Meaning that I can, and I will, assume that everyone who’s still reading this review has done so. And if you’re the kind of crazy rule-breaker who’s only just decided to jump straight into part four of an ongoing, largely narrative-driven game series, there’s nothing I could say or do to influence your experience anyway.
Four differs from Three in a few aspects: narratively and aesthetically on the one hand, and mechanically on the other hand, especially in the area of combat.
Narraesthetically speaking, Four is the first game of the series that no longer takes place in the faux 1920′s New Arcadia that the previous three games inhabited. Instead, the bulk of Four’s story is confined to a place called Underhell. Minor Three spoiler: at the end of that game, your actions bring about the end of the world.
This mostly means that the environments you run into in Four are a little less this:
And a little more this:
Or even this:
It’s not really a major thing, but it at once allows lots of different vistas and removes the aesthetic focus of the previous three games. It makes Four stand out in both ways, allowing both things like this:
Alright, so maybe that last part wouldn’t have been out of place in Three either. The madness, I mean. The bone-enhanced desert is pretty new.
Mechanically, the strict point-to-point overworld movement system of Three has been replaced with a more traditional RPG world map. This is probably the only difference I’ll talk about that I unequivocally consider for the better: this new world map provides more freedom and a greater sense of control, and allows the addition of lots of interesting side-quests and sub-challenges. Later on, when your movement options drastically expand… but let’s not spoil too much about that.
The continent of Underhell looks and feels a lot bigger than New Arcadia. It might be because of that that the game jumps between two parties, switching between Team Gabe and Team Moira every now and again. As is often the case, the jumps often happen at the exact moment you’re least interested in leaving your currently active party. They do help you see more of the world, however. Call it a mixed blessing.
Related to this, simultaneously the biggest and the smallest change can be found in the combat system. Here, have a screenshot:
As you probably remember, Three’s combat system was based around the four main characters — Gabe, Tycho, Jim and Moira — equipping various pins to gain classes. It was basically an interesting take on (among others) Final Fantasy V’s job system, allowing you to mess around with different party setups and different class combos more or less on the fly. It was a part of Three I greatly enjoyed, so of course it’s gone.
If Three is like Final Fantasy V, Four is like Final Fantasy VI: both games are inherently about a large collection of characters. Over the course of play, about twenty-or-so characters join your roster, each with some unique and some less-unique skills. Four characters take part in active combat at a time, with various ways of switching that roster up both in and out of combat.
Four initially presents itself as taking a more Pokemon-esque approach to things…
…but it really isn’t. Characters join your party at preset intervals, with zero player action or A+B mashing required. Some characters are plot-mandated, some characters are off the beaten path, some characters are quite secret. Do you see where I’m getting the Final Fantasy VI vibe from?
Combat itself is largely unchanged from Three: Active Time Battle, you gain MP per round, items are limited per combat but essentially unlimited, enemies have elemental weaknesses and grow more powerful over time. You know the drill.
The ‘monsters’ that make up your active party have two ‘classes’ in Four: one unique to the monster, and one corresponding to the ‘trainer’ assigned to it.
And… well, that’s really it for major differences in combat. There’s some small stuff, like how the Energite and Panacea items have been replaced with Interrupter and Switch items. But that’s really the extent of the differences we’re talking about.
Does it really matter what I think of Four on its own? If you’re played the previous three games, you’ll want to play this one as well. If only to see the story through to its conclusion. And for what it’s worth, Four is pretty fun: it contains all those Zeboyd RPG elements that make most of their games entertaining to play, cutting out most of the ancillary nonsense in favour of just having fun. And Jerry Holkins’ writing, which I’ve professed to enjoy before, is out in force again: equal parts serious business and poking fun at itself, with a interesting meta-twist about two-thirds in that managed to make me re-evaluate everything that came before.
Having said that, Four is definitely the weakest game of the lot. Like Two to One, Four is so similar to Three that it feels more like an expansion pack than an actual new game. I understand why it’s a full game, for reasons both narrative and mechanical, but it’s a feeling that’s just hard to shake. It’s fun overall, but it coasts at times, and later ‘levels’ follow an incredibly predictable floor-floor-floor-boss structure that leans on the combat just a little too much. And it has the same problem that many of this large-collection-of-dude RPGs have, which is that there’s hardly ever any reason to switch away from the one setup that works for you. Though my reluctance to do so is probably a major factor in my inability to defeat the game’s more ridiculous optional challenges.
It also feels a tad unfinished at times. There’s some odd spelling mistakes, like ‘Murch’ and ‘Strangetown’, for instance. And later on, when you get the capacity to travel back to earlier areas, the NPCs you talk to just repeat the same dialogue verbatim, regardless of world state. Which wouldn’t be so bad, but your characters do the same thing. Which wouldn’t be so bad either, if it wasn’t for the fact that the game doesn’t actually check which characters are in your active party.
On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness 4, and you can tell the review’s coming to a close because I’m using its full name again, is a good example of a fairly fun game in a fairly fun series that clearly needs to end. And it does end, so, you know, good going. It’s a decent story overall, and the gameplay’s okay; I’m not entirely sure I’d recommend it to people who haven’t played the previous games before, but that’s mostly for story reasons. As for the ones who have… man, why are you even reading this review? You know you want to see the Universe end, and I know you do. Go get to it.
On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness 4 can be obtained from the official site in a number of ways.