Dark Cloud 2

Review by Toger
July 2003

I think I finally found the perfect RPG ... it's not dark, depressing or brooding. Nor is it just a random combat clickfest. There's almost no religious overtone, nor is there any political intrigue. And the people of the land don't hate you. Let the dancing begin! Oops, I got a little ahead of myself—let me back up and start from the beginning ...

Dark Cloud 2 is the newest RPG from Sony. It's the sequel to the much-loved Legend of Zelda knock-off, Dark Cloud. The hero of the original Dark Cloud looked so much like Zelda's Link he even had a funny little outfit and pointed ears! I played some of the original Dark Cloud and had issues with it that made me stop playing ... Always having to deal with keeping your thirst at bay was one. (Nothing ruins a fun day of kicking demon butt like having to stop the action, climb back out of the dungeon and locate a bottle of water!) And the truly annoying fact that not only could you break your weapon after building it up but it would disappear once it was broken and you'd be left with your original weapon ... weak and ineffectual against enemies as you made your way deeper into the dungeons. Not my idea of fun.

In Dark Cloud 2, Sony has fixed those issues and made the game much more enjoyable. Thirst is no longer a problem unless a critter inflicts that condition upon you, and weapons no longer vanish when broken. Instead, broken weapons now are simply ineffective against monsters until they've been repaired.

As some English guy once said, "the play's the thing." Dark Cloud 2 is an epic tale of adventure that spans the long-distant past, the present and the future. It covers lost love, abandonment, revenge and a true understanding of why people are afraid, rightly so, of clowns. Clowns are evil, but I digress.

Our story begins in the future when Monica's father is mysteriously attacked and killed. Quick jump to the past, and we're strolling with Maximillian, boy inventor and only son of the richest man in town. Max scores a ticket to the circus, where he overhears the ringmaster, Flotsam, threatening the mayor of Palm Brinks. Max is spotted eavesdropping, and the chase is on with all manner of circus-related henchmen in hot pursuit. With a little help from an oversized monkey wrench, Max holds his own and escapes.

Max learns that the evil Emperor Griffon is out to rid the world of humans by destroying all of their accomplishments. In order to defeat Griffon, Max and Monica will need to rebuild the origin points of those achievements so that the future is returned to its prior state.

In all honesty, Dark Cloud 2 is a difficult game to classify. It's mainly an RPG, which involves the standard dungeon-crawling, battling of monsters, upgrading weapons and running the ever-popular FedEx quests for the local townies, but there's a huge difference from other games in this genre. It's fun and has a lot more going on than your average console RPG.

Along with the dungeon crawl, there's world-building, fishing, photography, an invention system, fish racing, fish breeding and Spehda. What, pray tell, is Spehda? Golf. (Are you laughing hysterically yet?) Spehda is presented as a way to correct distortions in the space/time continuum, but it's really ... golf. Before you throw your hands up in disgust and go back to watching TV, let me tell you that it's not necessary to do everything in order to complete the game. You'll only need to fish twice and play Spehda once to advance the story. The rest of the time, playing Spehda is a way to get access to specialty items, like advanced weapons, and the fishing simply bleeds out all of that excess adrenaline after combat.

The photography portion goes hand-in-hand with the invention system—you take a picture to start a germ of an idea, then put three pictures together to come up with an invention. Throughout the game, Max will come across notes, books and posters that will list three items, so you're not left twisting in the wind trying all of the available permutations. The invention system literally is used to invent just about any object used by Max and Monica, including weapon upgrades and health items. For the most part, I only used the invention system for some advanced weapons not available through normal upgrading. Why invent when I can shop?

As you progress through the game, you'll be called upon to travel between the present and the future to set things right. This is where the world-building comes into play. To correct the future, you'll need to locate a georama stone, found in most floors of the dungeons. The stones contain the information needed to create the origin point—buildings, trees, accessories and conditions that must be met in order to fix the future. Conditions necessary in the rebuilding will vary from location to location. What's necessary to rebuild Sindain won't be the same when it comes time to remake Heim Rada.

One of things that sets Dark Cloud 2 apart from other RPGs is the lack of an actual "party" system of play. Instead of directing two or more people at once, you'll only control one person at any one time. As a matter of fact, the only times you'll see Max and Monica onscreen at the same time are during the numerous cutscenes. During the real-time combat, you can switch between Max and Monica at will, either using the main menu or the R3 button. I loved this method, as I could swap out Max for Monica when her sword did more damage than his wrench. Any NPCs that join your little soiree are used as support characters, simply supplying boosts to stats or repairing equipment, and not as combatants.

As you wander the various dungeons, you won't get that annoying "take-three-steps-combat-take-three-steps-combat-take-three-steps ..." ad nauseam usually found in console RPGs. Instead, critters are scattered throughout the dungeon, and you'll see them appear as red dots on the dungeon map as you enter a particular room. Dungeon floors are cleared once you've killed off everything on that floor. Once you leave that floor, the creatures and treasure chests will respawn, but in most cases it's not necessary to travel those floors again unless you're pumping your stats.

While rebuilding the origin points of each location, you can save at any time at any one of several glowing pink save points—each location sports at least two save points; the town of Palm Brinks has five. Saving in the dungeons occurs just prior to entering each floor or once you've completed a floor. You can choose to leave the dungeon at any time; however, if you haven't cleared out all the monsters, you will incur the penalty of losing half of all the gildas you've collected so far.

Gameplay is somewhat linear. This isn't a "wander where you will, do what you want" kind of game. You'll definitely need to rebuild origin points to near completion before you can move on to the next location. On the other hand, I was able to rebuild only 90% of Balance Valley before moving on to the next town.

Each dungeon has its own unique decor and music ... the sea caves of Veniccio are huge echoing caverns flooded with ankle-deep water. Moisture drips from the ceilings, and sea mist fills the air. Here you'll battle long-dead pirate captains, trident-bearing Medusa-like sea slugs and snapping sea turtles. In Starlight Canyon, home to walking stone golems, crazed cudgel-toting elves and evil circus performers in flying masks, the sunlight is so bright during the day I kept reaching for my sunglasses. While battling though the belly of Mt. Gundor, you can feel the searing heat of the volcano as you wander along paths tucked between rivers of flowing lava.

Music is as varied as each dungeon and location. The types of music run the gamut from a jaunty little French accordion ditty in Palm Brinks and medieval flutes and drums in Mt Gundor to Celtic Yanni/Enya/New Age melodies at Stonehenge and jazzy speak-easy tunes while battling one of the level-end bosses.

Dark Cloud 2 simply is a gorgeous game! We're talking bright, bold, beautiful colors and fluid cel-shaded animation. As the sun marches across the sky, shadows will lengthen and change position. The sunrises and sunsets on the coast of the world map were breathtaking. There were times I stood in wonder as the sun slowly dipped into the far horizon. Water rippled when droplets hit water surfaces and bubbled realistically as it flowed from great heights. Even the level bosses were brilliantly colored. No dull, drab, lifeless evil in this world! Characters are animated in more of a Disney style rather than the Japanese look you'd normally expect in a console RPG, although the two main characters, Max and Monica, do have that long-legged anime appearance.

What really knocked my socks off was the attention to detail as the action changed from player-controlled to cutscene. In most RPGs, the look of a weapon will change as it's built up, but you'll only see that change as you wield the weapon during combat. Dark Cloud 2 goes one step further. Not only will you see the changed weapon in player-controlled areas such as combat, but the alteration will carry though to subsequent cutscenes as well.

Surprisingly, there's quite a bit of voice work in DC2. And it's very well done. Most RPGs will use voiceovers for the cutscenes, but in Dark Cloud 2 there's also vocalization while fighting, sustaining damage, dying and lifting heavy objects. And that's just from the main characters! As you take on various monsters, some of them will voice their objection to being pummeled. Conversations with NPCs are text-based, unless it involves a cutscene. All conversations, including cutscenes, are subtitled.

I have to tell you ... Dark Cloud 2 consumed me for a solid month. It was the only game I played. The game clocked me at 60+ hours at the end of chapter 7 (the eighth and final chapter is considered a bonus level), and that didn't include the few times I had to redo a dungeon level because both characters died. This game made me laugh out loud and gasp in astonishment. When an end level boss made the "bring it on" gesture with his hand, I almost blew the battle I laughed so hard.

Dark Cloud 2 has a great story, lots of adventure, unique characters and monsters and Spehda! What's not to love? This one is a keeper! The End

The Verdict

The Lowdown

Developer: Sony
Publisher: Sony
Release Date: March 2003

Available for: PlayStation 2

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