-Console: Playstation 2
-ESRB Rating: Teen
– #Of Players: 1
-Difficulty: Easy with a occasional dash of “Cheap Ass”
-Published by: Level 5
– Memory card usage: 502kb for each individual save *whimper*
– #Of Disks: 1
The sequel to the love it or hate it Dark Cloud, Sony’s PS2 launch RPG has arrived, and like its predecessor it is a mixed bag. Though it easily improves on almost every way compared to its predecessor, there are some things that will make you wonder why you bought this game in the first place.
You play the role of Maximilian, a boy who is just trying to go to the circus that has come to his town. After accidentally eavesdropping on a conversation between the circus leader and the mayor, Max is drawn into an adventure that will even affect the fabric of time itself. It starts off well, though outside of the circus leader; none of the bosses are memorable. Nearly every one has some kind of past event that is so sad, it takes all of the fun out of killing them. Since the story revolves around these guys, it leads for some unmotivated boss battles. Players never feel truly compelled to beat them. They seem to just be there to give you a challenge, or a change from the normal enemies that inhabit the dungeons. With major story events being spaced out between dungeons, it is easy to get bored, and loose interest in what is going on.
The music is pretty average. It doesn’t have the “sleep inducing” qualities of the original, and it actually sets the mood of a storybook adventure. Though not much manages to be memorable. One song in particular reminds me of some songs from the 16-bit era, but in a good way of course.
The voice acting is good, and there aren’t any noticeable areas where mouths are moving without sound coming out of them. Though the game suffers from the occasional amount “hit and miss” characterization, there is one instance where a character’s audio lines don’t match the text that shows upon screen. Luckily the voice-overs that may get on gamers nerves don’t have many audio lines. Characters seem to be on cue with what is going on, and often express the concerns of what is on the player’s minds at the time.
Fighting is pretty much unchanged in this installment. Players lock on to an enemy with the circle button, and attack with the “X” button. New to the system are the abilities to throw nearby items to stun enemies, and to absorb and throw back elemental attacks. Throwing items takes a while to get used to since the monsters have much more mobility than you do when you lock on. If a gamer is feeling lucky they can also pick up some monsters and throw them at a groups of enemies for a similar effect. Though sometimes it is just better to not lock on at all. Blocking doesn’t always work, and when that situation arises that you would need to do so, you will still take damage, though not as much compared to not blocking at all. The added evasive back flip works in a few situations, but it isn’t a lifesaver. It could use some work overall, but outside of battles it is responsive and easy to understand.
In the new installment, the people at Level 5 have decided to give the game a Cell Shaded art style. It fits the game perfectly. Each of the characters that are beautiful and imaginative. Weapons are even pretty cool to look at too. Each area is a treat to behold, and you never know what environment you will see next. None of the dungeons have the bland, boring areas that the original had. It is a wonderful improvement.
The gameplay in itself is what carries Dark Cloud 2. It sports some nice improvements in the sequel. Weapons that break don’t disappear this time. Players still have freedom in customizing the traits and abilities of their weapons. The system is streamlined to make the experience much easier for new players. There are extensive help menus that can be accessed at any time. So now gamers actually have an idea of what they are experimenting with, and what effects their experimenting will have.
Dungeons still randomly generate every time you enter them, and they are a great deal more complicated this time around. The pathways also diverge as you progress through areas reducing linearity. Also once the certain story conditions are met, you can fish and play a unique game called “Spheda,” upon clearing the area of monsters. Spheda is a strange fantasy version of golf that is as addicting as it is aggravating. Unlike fishing only in outdoor areas in the original, you can now fish anywhere there is pond even in dungeons, once the area is cleared. Upon completing these challenges that show up on each floor, you can get medals showing the achievements players have made. Medals can be exchanged for costume items further customizing your characters appearance.
The amount of playable characters has been reduced from 6 to 2. Main characters are now equipped with 2 weapons, one long range and one for up close fighting. By killing a monster with one of these weapons, weapon experience is given to the weapon that delivered the finishing blow. I was disappointed that the option to attack enemies in 1st person mode with ranged weapons didn’t make it into the sequel. Players can take an extra “buddy” character with them that will give an added ability. For example, one of the buddies that you can carry allows the character to tell the difference from real treasure chests and mimics. They are helpful, but it would have been nice if they showed up with the main characters in the dungeons. The inclusion of the super cool Ridepod (a sort of customizable mech), and monster badges that allow you to transform into monsters, talk to other monsters of the same species, and level them up much like your weapons fill the void.
The Georama system makes a return as well, allowing for more options in sculpting your new world. Buildings can actually be rotated and placed around to a greater degree. Players can make additions to all houses, like putting on a chimney, or a lamp outside the doorway, and even painting the exterior. Now instead of finding Atlamillia balls inside of dungeons, you will find geostones that give players the information to build these structures and successfully reshape the future in a much better image. Since houses don’t build themselves, items in the dungeons are used to “make” them. The option to simply pick up a house and move it to another place is sadly missed, especially when players have to repaint, and add all of the extra design options on a house over and over again, which costs money, and is an all around pain when if players decide the placing isn’t right.
New to the system is the camera. Players can take pictures of objects in their immediate surroundings and use them for inventions. It is a nice addition. Some items are only found by inventing, and successfully making items can allow a player to get something really nice early in the game.
Upon clearing the lengthy story quest, players can explore an extra dungeon, try to get all of the medals for each of the floors in all of the areas, and continue to participate in the Fishing Contests and Finny Races (a type of race where players race fish against the computer for prizes). Inventing new items can become a side-quest as well. Players that choose to restart a new adventure can also expect to find that the clothing customization options that were unlocked in the original quest will be available to both characters in the beginning allowing to start off with your own unique costume. Monster Badges take a long time to level up and are pretty difficult to find. Also players can try to finish the other various side-quests.
Final Score: 8.5/10
Even though the story is one of the most disappointing I have ever experienced, this is still a great game. Unfortunately the quest is too lengthy. By the time I made it to the last dungeon, I just wanted to fight the boss and be done with it. With so much to do it is likely that players won’t get it all done in just one play through. Completing all of the sidequests alone will easily go over the 100+ hour mark. Customizing your very own ridepod of destruction is fun and fulfilling. My favorite moment was going around attacking enemies in my robot modeled like a clown traveling on roller blades equipped with two bloody katanas. Overall, this game manages to improve drastically on its predecessor in nearly every way. If you are looking for a dungeon crawling styled RPG with no concern for a good story, Dark Cloud 2 will be your knight in shining armor.
By Plumbum Sol