I wrote about Part 3 of this game series when it came out, so it seems only fair to write about the conclusion here too, since it’s out and all. And at $4.99 they’re practically just giving it away for a new-release title; I have to say that I don’t have as much gaming time as I used to before I had a real job and responsibilities and so forth, but I am enjoying the new world of digital publishing and indie developers that sell new games at under the $10 price point.
If you played the third one, this one picks up right where that one left off. Gabe and Tycho managed to destroy the entire universe at the end of Part 3, or at least that was Tycho’s plan, his idea being that it sucked so badly that it should start over again, under the benign guidance of his niece Anne-Claire. Unfortunately the plan didn’t quite work, since only three of the gods have been defeated and there’s one more remaining, holding a teeny-tiny bit of reality together.
And that is why your party finds itself in Underhell, which is supposedly much worse than normal Hell.
I really liked the writing in this one. I mentioned in my previous review that the third game suffered from sticking too closely to the prose story that had been written when it didn’t look like the game would actually be made. Without similar shackles here, and being designed as a game from day one, there was a lot more room for actual Penny Arcade humor. I’ll be perfectly honest and say that not all of it works, but they keep it coming fast enough that it doesn’t really matter. If one joke falls flat, there's another one just behind it.
One of the quirks about Underhell is that normal squishy people can’t hope to hurt its denizens, so you actually do most of your fighting with summoned monsters, a la Pokemon. The monsters are assigned a trainer, and they get level up bonuses affiliated with the trainer’s stats, and one slate of abilities associated with them as well. For example, if Moira trains Brodent, then he’ll get extra speed on leveling up and will be able to use her Gumshoe abilities, but if Jim trains him, he’ll get extra magical defense and be able to use Necromaster abilities. He’ll still have his own slate of special attacks either way.
Like in the previous game, your characters return to full HP after each battle, your items can be used a certain number of times in every battle, and MP increases by 1 per round (subject to other effects), meaning there’s no reason to hoard items or not cast your best spells whenever you can. Your enemies also increase in attack power and speed after every combat round, so you need to take them out quickly or risk being overwhelmed. There are also a fair number of fights where you have additional combat restrictions or modifiers like I’ve seen in other tactical RPGs.
The game is also relentlessly silly. Like I said above, it’s got lots of Penny Arcade humor throughout, and they’re basically daring you to take it seriously at any point, such as when a super dramatic reunion suddenly gets stuck in Japanese language mode, helpfully back-translated translated by some sort of brain-dead Babelfish knockoff. Ostensibly you’re trying to go about destroying the entire universe, but it’s played for laughs throughout. By the time you’re stabbing an evil god in the spleen you’ll be thinking it’s a perfectly normal day at the office. I bet it’s also fun for the “real” Tycho to write for Tycho in this game, but I’m pretty sure in the first and second games he wasn’t such a raving psychotic. I guess we’ll never know. But everyone treats out-and-out murder as about as controversial as picking up a lotto ticket at the gas station.
I felt like this one was easier than the third one, or at least it didn’t kill me quite as much. This may have been because I got familiarized with the combat style previously, but I’m not sure. There are at least eighteen summoned monsters, most of which you will never use if you are anything like me. The combat system basically forces you to inflict as many status effects and repeating-damage spells as you can for long fights on pain of grisly death, and that means that monsters which can’t do that for you are not going to be part of your party. There’s maybe six or seven that have such abilities and I found a party of four that pretty handily took out everything the game threw at me, even the scary optional boss. The game design really emphasizes its stripped-down nature, but Zeboyd may have finally stripped down a little much in this instance. I found myself having the same fight over and over again and always winning, and by the end I was getting a little bored. At least you don’t have to grind, as such, as once again all the encounters are right there on the screen.
The game is also pretty linear. You will basically follow the plot for ten chapters and then get an airship, which you can use to access some secret areas and get some powerful items. Or you can skip that if you want and just go straight to Overhell. This is a one-way trip but you are warned about it, it’s not a surprise and it’s up to you. I got some of the bonus stuff, but I don’t think I got all of it. I’d say that the game is five to ten hours long, depending on playstyle. I also don’t think there’s necessarily any replay value unless you thrive on playing the increased difficulty levels. Perhaps I should have been on one of the harder modes, but I am essentially too apathetic about it to go back and see.
So I said that the third game was great, go get it. The fourth game is also good, with nice humor, good storyline, and all that jazz, but at some point I felt that I’d had enough of it and I was glad it was done with. Nonetheless, still a good show for Zeboyd and PA, and probably worth the $5. As far as I can tell there’s no plan for DLC, so this does appear to be the end of this particular endeavor. Congratulations to the PA guys on their first foray into game design, and maybe next time they’ll do something with a little more substance to it.