Review: Dark Cloud 2 (PS2)

Dark Cloud 2
Genre: Action Role Playing Game (Dungeon Crawl)
Platform: Playstation 2
Developer: Level 5
Publisher: Sony
Release Date: 2/18/03
Official Home Page: Dark Cloud 2

First of all, I want to say thank you for the support that has been given to me by the 411 Staff. I appreciate the kind words and plugs to my reviews. Thanks in particular to Bebito and Alex, who even emailed me their support. But nobody else has emailed me! I’d greatly appreciate any feedback on my reviews, be it positive or negative. So if you like it or don’t like it, I want to hear from you. I may not change the way I write, but it’d be nice to at least know people were reading these reviews I toil over (yeah right). And, now back to our regularly scheduled review.

In 2001, Sony released one of the first Action RPGs available on the Playstation. It played somewhat like a Zelda game, but had a plethora of different playable characters and randomized dungeons. It also featured an innovative system called the Georama system, where you found spheres spread throughout the dungeons that contained parts of buildings and people trapped in them (a la Soul Blazer), and then put it together like a puzzle. Dark Cloud was the name of this game, and while it was a fun game that was decently popular, it had some play mechanics that, although interesting, made the game tedious rather than challenging. The randomized dungeons got very old after a while and the Georama system, while fun, was also fairly dull due to the fact that you could only place buildings in a certain configuration to get the best score, so there was very little customization. Despite these flaws, Dark Cloud went on to be a top seller and is now in the PS2 Greatest Hits line of games, along with some classics like Silent Hill 2, Devil May Cry, Tony Hawk 3 and Gran Turismo 3.

It is now 2003 and developer Level 5 has listened to the fans’ complaints about the original Dark Cloud. They released Dark Cloud 2 (originally called Dark Chronicle) and improved upon many of the play mechanics that made the original frustrating. Dark Cloud put developer Level 5 on the map, and they are now hard at work on Dragon Quest VIII for Enix as well as the oddly titled True Fantasy Live Online for the XBox. But despite these high profile projects, just how good of a job have they done on this game? How does Dark Cloud 2 stand up to its predecessor?

The game begins with a short introduction to the main heroine of the game, who you later find out is named Monica. She is being chased by odd creatures for no apparent reason, and must defeat them to find out what has happened to her father. This is the first taste of battle in the game. After she kills the monsters, she finds her father dead, killed by a sorcerer who had teleported out of the room seconds before Monica walks through the door.

Then we are introduced to the male hero, Maximilian (Max, for short). He is a young boy whose father is very wealthy, and could live in the lap of luxury, but chooses instead to work at Cedric’s Maintenance Shop fixing appliances for people of Palm Brinks and inventing things on his own time. He was very happy with his way of life, when odd things start to happen. First, he goes to the circus only to get his ticket stolen. Then when he finds the boy who did it, the boy vanishes, leaving his ticket on the street! So Max takes his ticket back, makes his way into the circus and is promptly awed by the wonders of the Flotsam Circus Troupe, when he overhears the mayor of the town and the ringleader of the Troupe, Flotsam, talking about things they wouldn’t want others hearing. Apparently, Flotsam has been blackmailing Mayor Need into searching for a valuable Red Stone, in exchange for Flotsam keeping the secret of the outside world from the secluded residents of Palm Brinks. The moment he
hears that, Max accidentally kicks over a bucket (how appropriate) and alerts Flotsam of his presence. Max is spotted and Flotsam realizes that Max’s pendant that was given to him by his father is the same Red Stone he’s been searching for!

Max runs from Flotsam and finds himself in a sticky situation when he’s saved by a friend and introduced to a way outside the town. Max jumps at the chance to see the outside world, not only because he never has, but for another reason as well. Long ago, Max’s mother left town. Max’s father will only say that she’s working far away and will not give him any more information than that. Max cannot even remember his mother’s face, so he’d go through anything to get to see her again.

So as usual, that leaves us with several questions. Why does Flotsam want the Stone so bad? What lies on the outside of town? And just who is Monica and why does she come from the future to help Max? Though the story is interesting, parts of it are just unbelievable. In the beginning, when Max runs from Flotsam, he uses the trapeze and high wire like a pro, and can move like Neo from the Matrix. Keep in mind that this is a very intelligent, but not even remotely athletic boy. Despite that, the characters are very likable and help keep the story interesting.

On the surface, Dark Cloud 2 plays like the original, as well as many other Action RPGs. In fact, many may call it a Zelda clone, but they are sorely mistaken. Battles are done in real time and like the original, enemies can be locked on to when attacking. Max uses mechanical tools like a wrench or hammer to fight, while Monica uses a sword. Unlike the original, each character has a secondary, long range weapon. Max has a gun and Monica has a bracelet that allows her to use magic. Many weapons from Dark Cloud return as well. In another change from the original, each character has an alternate mode of attack. For Max, it’s a Robopod that he rides in that has its own attacks and has energy that depletes over time, as well as when he is damaged. The Robopod is named Steve (after the talking slingshot in Dark Cloud). By getting experience, Steve can “buy” upgrades. Monica can turn into several different
monsters, each with different attacks, and each monster has an upgrade path you can choose, similar to weapons. In a change from Dark Cloud, Max and Monica are the only two playable characters available to you. You can gain support characters that will assist you in certain ways, but they do not fight for you.

Other than battles, almost everything else in the game is unique in some way or another. For example, returning from the original Dark Cloud is the ability to level up your weapons, rather than your character. As you defeat enemies, you will gain ABS, which is like weapon experience, and your weapons will gain levels over time. You can use many different items on the weapons to increase the stats. Unlike the original, you can do so at any time, as long as you have synthesis points, which are gained as the weapons levels up. So you no longer have to equip crystals or gems to your weapons. Another nice thing is that basically any consumable item, be it food or gunpowder, can be used to increase
the stats of your weapons. And just like the original, you can Build Up your weapon (which is to change it into a stronger weapon) once it meets certain stat requirements. In a change, this can be done at any level, rather than weapon level 3.

Like the original Dark Cloud, all the dungeons are randomized, but the dungeons aren’t near as boring as the original. They added a lot more variety to the design so it SEEMS like there’s more to it than floor after floor of the same boring stuff. Like the original, you have to get collect certain items from defeating enemies to move on to the next floor. But unlike Dark Cloud, you can collect medals on each dungeon level, by fulfilling certain requirements. For example, if you kill all the enemies in a level within a certain amount of time, or if you complete a level without healing, you gain a medal, which can be used
to get new costumes and such for your characters. One of the nice changes in the game is that your characters no longer get thirsty and don’t require to be given water all the time.

A really cool innovation in this game is the Invention system. Early on, Max is given a camera that can be used to take pictures of basically anything. The pictures form ideas, and you can use 3 of those ideas to develop an invention. When you have an invention planned, you then need to get the raw materials to make it. Using this technique, you can invent items, clothes, weapons, and upgrades for the Robopod. It’s a really fun game mechanic that adds a lot to the game, because you can go around and try to get all the different pictures of things, and all the different inventions. You can also take pictures of enemies doing certain moves for a Scoops album. As you take more pictures for ideas,
and get more scoops, you get photographer points. Every 100 photographer points you get gives you a photographer level up, and you can pick up an item from Donny, Max’s friend in the sewers.

But the big selling point of Dark Cloud 2, like the first in the series, is the Georama system. The basic premise is that in the future, an evil man named Emperor Griffon wants to take over the world, so he sends his henchmen back in time to destroy the origin points of certain lands and elder beings. Max and Monica need to restore those origin points in the past to save the future, and prevent Griffon from fulfilling his wishes. To do so, you have to retrieve Geostones from dungeons, which is the equivalent of a disc with data on it. The data can then be used to make different buildings and help restore the origin points. The Georama system in Dark Cloud 2 is greatly changed from the original. Rather than having Geostones scattered all over every level, there is only one on each floor, that usually contains information on how to make multiple buildings or trees. Another big difference is that you have to have certain items to make the buildings, rather than just plopping the buildings down. In addition, to repopulate the area, you have to find friends from Palm Brinks and convince them to set up shop in the new area. As with before, there are certain requirements that must be met, and with meeting requirements and achieving goals, you can gain prizes. The requirements aren’t quite as strict as the previous Dark Cloud, and there is a lot more customizability. You can even paint your houses if you want. So needless to say, the Georama system has been greatly improved.

One thing to note is that this game may draw more comparisons to Kingdom Hearts than Zelda, for some things. When you defeat monsters, they drop money, items and ABS on the ground that you actually absorb, making a funny noise when it happens. Fortunately, the comparison ends there, since the battle system is much more refined, and camera control is better. One thing to note that’s annoying is that outside of dungeons, R1 and L1 move the camera, but they are opposite what you’d (well, what I’D) expect. R1 moves the camera left, and L1 moves it right. In dungeons, those buttons have different functions, so you have to use the Right Analog Stick to move the camera, but fortunately, using that method, the camera moves the direction you point it. So if you get in the
habit of using the Right Analog in and out of the dungeons, you don’t have to worry about the oddness of the reversed R1 and L1.

Like many other games that have been coming out recently, Dark Cloud 2 features Cel Shaded graphics. I’ll state up front that I’m NOT a big fan of cel shading. It was interesting on the first few games that it appeared on, but now it is basically overdone. Many games use cel shading just for the sake of using it, like Wild Arms 3, but Dark Cloud 2 uses cel shading very well and it fits the style of the game excellently nicely. It’s safe to say that never before has cel shading been used as well before. In this game, the black outlines that define the cel shading technique are very thin, which is better than most games. The only game I’ve seen anything about that may have Dark Cloud 2 beat as far as cel shading goes is the new Zelda game, which did away with the black outlines entirely. If more games could reach the high quality of graphics of these two, then the future looks very bright indeed, and perhaps cel shading will finally become more than a fad.

Speaking of the style, the game has an industrial age style, with a lot of
primitive machinery. The Ridepod, for example, has a barrel body and has hoses as arms and legs. The game uses quite a few colors though, and while it doesn’t feel like it’d fit in the industrial age, it all looks good and it has the look and feel of a cartoon or comic book, but that’s mostly because of the shading. The characters all have a nice design and complement each other well. Some of the characters have overly exaggerated features (typically hands and feet) but that goes well with the whole cartoony theme.

If there was a big letdown to the game, it would be the sound. With everything else done so well, the sound leaves some to be desired. The music is pretty good, but it tends to be very repetitive, but if you don’t pay attention to it, you won’t notice it. When you are in the proximity of an enemy, the music changes to a battle theme, which is a decent tune, but it is another aspect of the game that reminds me too much of Kingdom Hearts. One good piece of music is at the beginning, right before your actual adventure begins when it rolls the opening credits. The song is good, but not spectacular, and is pretty standard
for opening themes in RPGs.

The actual sounds effects are, again, average. Nothing special. The biggest disappointment is in the voice acting. After getting used to some pretty good voice acting (Skies of Arcadia Legend) and really good voice acting (.hack//INFECTION), I’m subjected to substandard voice acting. While not awful by any stretch of the imagination, there are some pretty bad voices in the game. The main characters are pretty good, but many of the supporting characters are really bad and extremely annoying. Mayor Need is the standard whiny, sniveling character, while Donny has a really bad hick accent. And Flotsam himself is probably my least favorite voice. The voice may fit the character, but it goes from part friendly talking-to-a-child voice, to a psycho I’m-gonna-kill-you voice. I think it was meant to sound like Kefka from Final Fantasy VI, but it ends up sounding like an evil clown, which is basically what he is. These problems aren’t necessarily because of bad acting. I couldn’t find out who was doing the voices to see if they had done voice work before, so it could have just been a matter of actors new to the business, or even bad voice direction. Either way, the voice acting could have used a lot of help, but don’t detract too much from the game, since the voices are mainly during cut scenes and the rest is just standard text.

Fun Factor
This game screams, “PLAY ME!! I’M FUN!!!” First of all, it’s a collectors dream. There are so many different items to collect that if you want everything, you’ll spend more than 100 hours playing. You can get medals, coins, ideas and scoops (both photographs), and inventions. Getting all the medals is a challenge, but it’s fun to do and rewarding since you get new costumes. You also can get different books, like the Monster Memo and Scoops Memo books to fill with fun and informative data. There’s even one for requests, so that when someone asks you for something (to get to join your party as a support person), it keeps track of it. And then there are the minigames.

Like the previous Dark Cloud, there is a fishing minigame. Like before, the better and bigger the fish you catch, the more points you get, which can be used to get prizes. There are many more fish in this game and more you can do with them, so it makes this part of the game more interesting. You can gain medals by fishing. In addition to the fishing, there is now a game called Spheda, which is a lot like golf. Basically, there is some sort of distortion that causes a fragment of the world to fall out, and you have to make it go back in the hole using several different types of rods. Like I said, it’s golf. Every level in a dungeon has a little spheda to play, and winning nets you another medal.

I’ve always felt that the perfect game would not only have quite an array of things to do related to the story, but also a whole variety of mini-games and side quests to let you take a break from saving the world. Well, this game has that department taken care of, and it does so very well. So if you’re like me, you’ll go all over the place, taking pictures of everything, trying to make as many inventions as possible. So to put it mildly, this game has fun covered.

Gameplay: 9.5
Graphics: 9
Sound: 7
Fun Factor: 10

Short Attention Span Summary
Fans of the original Dark Cloud, rejoice!Everything that could be improvedupon, was. Annoying “features” were removed, especially the thirst meter.If you like action RPGs of any sort (ie Zelda or .hack) then you will be very happy with this game. Casual gamers may enjoy the game as well, because of the prettygraphics and not too deep storyline. Any RPG fan of any sort should buy this game, because it could be the sleeper hit of the year. Or you could wait on it a while, because at some point, it will be a Greatest Hits title too. But with the minigames and side projects in the game, it has become one of the year’s first “must have” games.



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