Penny Arcade’s On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness 4 is stylized as a mid-90s RPG, but with modern sensibilities applied to its core game mechanics in combat and customization. Its soundtrack has a similarly modern touch, with over twenty unique tracks of beautiful music that definitely succeed as an RPG soundtrack, but belie Rain-Slick 4’s retro aesthetic. Chiptunes these ain’t.
My first exposure to Irish composer duo HyperDuck Soundworks was their stellar soundtrack to Dust: An Elysian Tail. Virtually every art asset and line of code in Dust was created by animator Dean Dodrill, but he trusted the game’s audio to HyperDuck, who delivered a beautiful and atmospheric music experience in Dust’s hills, forests, caverns, and ruins.
In late 2012, Zeboyd Games (Breath of Death VII: The Beginning, Cthulhu Saves the World) contracted HyperDuck to compose the soundtrack to their fourth RPG, Penny Arcade’s On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness 4. Rain-Slick 4’s soundtrack isn’t as consistent as that of Dust, but it’s excellent RPG music that’s worth picking up.
Most pieces on the album have self-explanatory titles, like “Desert,” “World Map,” or “Boss Battle!” Rain-Slick 4 is a humorous game that deliberately exposes and points fun at RPG stereotypes, and running a gamut of traditional RPG settings is part of the joke.
More often than not, the titles fit the bill. “Jungle” and “The Second Pillar — Yggdrasil” are set in lush jungle environments and feature elaborate percussion with a tribal sound. “Airship” is an up-tempo song with powerful strings and drums that give a tremendous feeling of forward momentum. “Battleground” is an interesting blend of guitar and synth brass, backed with very heavy staccato percussion. The snare drum invokes a military march sound, and combined with the melody it feels like a collaboration between John Philip Sousa and some heady 80s rock like Extreme or Winger.
However, songs and settings don’t always match perfectly. “Desert,” a rather beautiful track with strings, winds, and piano voices passing the melody back and forth, doesn’t evoke the image of a desert. Its rolling pace evokes the feeling of a journey, but the only hint of a desert sound is the occasional open electric guitar chord. “Steam City” sports crunchy guitar and intimidating chorus sections that make it seem like a villain’s entrance theme, but it plays in a neutral, metal-plated factory town in Rain-Slick 4’s story. The music feels incongruous at times, but even with that said the individual pieces are stunning.
There is an incredible variety of styles and instrumentations in Rain-Slick 4’s music. “Battle!” employs straightforward rock power chords and drums for a soaring hook; “Castle Brahe” uses a harpsichord melody and very smooth strings to create a Gothic minuet of sorts. “Fish Force” is a fully-voiced villain anthem whose vocalists seem inspired by Pokemon’s Team Rocket; the first time “Fish Force” played in-game I burst out laughing. It’s cheesy and hilarious.
If there’s a unifying thread for the Rain-Slick 4 OST it’s the echoing soundscape. “Caverns,” “The First Pillar — Climbing the Tower,” and many others sound like they were recorded in a huge space, with notes frequently hanging beyond their initial tone. Another recurring element that I found pretty interesting was the cascading piano phrases sprinkled at various parts (“The First Pillar — Climbing the Tower,” “Desert,” and “Airship” each have them). HyperDuck also employs bold, lively percussion in most of their up-tempo songs; “Battleground” and “Tycho” are my favorite drum parts on the album.
While I wouldn’t identify the Rain-Slick 4 OST as belonging to a specific musical genre, it’s obvious that HyperDuck’s musical goals go beyond creating catchy melodies that loop nicely. The majority of Rain-Slick 4’s tracks build into second or third phrases that pay off into satisfying finishes before calming down and repeating. “Airship” establishes its signature chords in the first twenty seconds, and incrementally adds voices and complexity before bridging to a piano break, then begins new variations on the melody before dropping into the opening chords again right at the climax. Several songs on the soundtrack trade the melody like that. My favorites were the interplay between winds, piano, and strings in “Desert” and the strings and synth voices working together in “The Third Pillar — Future Tower.”
The Rain-Slick 4 OST is 23 full-length in-game tracks plus Victory and Defeat jingles. Three of the tracks voted as fan favorites via Twitter (“Airship,” “Battleground,” and “Tycho”) received arrangements using “faux-SNES” audio that make for an interesting second listen. In addition, the album contains two tracks composed by HyperDuck Soundworks for the playable DLC of Rain-Slick 4’s predecessor, Rain-Slick 3 (Alex Mauer composed the rest of the Rain-Slick 3 soundtrack). All told, it’s a hell of a package for under $7 US. Strongly recommended.